Nearly four years ago, I sat in a cramped booth at the Chipotle restaurant down the street and ate my first bite of meat in almost 20 years. I was reluctant to dig in, afraid the tiny pieces of chicken that I stabbed with my plastic fork would leave me feeling ill or simply grossed out. And in fact, I was only able to swallow a few pieces that first day. But after 9 years of eating vegan and many more as a vegetarian, I was ready to make a drastic change. Chronic health issues, creeping weight gain, and numerous food allergies led me to decide to give the Paleo diet a spin.
My previous, vegan diet was also gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free, plus limited in fruits and nuts due to allergies. I ate mostly vegetables — TONS of vegetables in every form imaginable! As you might expect, I was always starving. I needed mounds of food to feel satisfied, and despite my relatively low-calorie options, I was gaining weight, always feeling bloated and uncomfortable, and I was so tired all the time!
Switching from hardcore vegan to Paleo was a dramatic change for me. The Paleo diet is inspired by our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and relies heavily on meat, seafood, eggs, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables. It was — and still is — hard for me to eat substantial amounts of meat. But I’ve learned to like eggs (I spit out the first few attempts!) and bone broths. I’ve added tons of healthy fats to my diet, from fresh avocado to coconut oil. Eliminating grains was not difficult, as I was already eating gluten-free. And overall, I was happy with my results. Within just a few months I was back to a comfortable weight, but more importantly, I had a lot more energy. I was able to get back to the things I loved to do, like playing with my son at the playground and teaching him to play tennis. While my health issues were by no means completely resolved, I enjoyed feeling pretty well for the first time in years.
Since then, I have often strayed from a strict Paleo diet, usually returning to it within a couple of months. Instead of limiting myself to a label and a strict dietary lifestyle, I’ve learned to follow my body’s lead and eat what feels best. The majority of the time, that ends up being mostly Paleo foods. I like to call it “Paleo inspired,” and while years ago I could never imagine giving up veganism, I now can’t imagine going back to it. I love the balance of the Paleo diet. When I follow the Paleo guidelines, I don’t feel hungry constantly, but instead satisfied. Lifelong struggles with reactive hypoglycemia give way to stable, balanced blood sugar levels. These are the reasons so many have jumped on the Paleo bandwagon.
Eating Paleo can help you:
- lose fat and gain muscle
- boost energy
- improve overall health
- lower the risk of disease
- keep blood sugar stable
- reduce toxin load
- decrease inflammation
- reverse digestive problems
Getting started on the Paleo diet is not particularly difficult. This is a whole food, unprocessed diet that mimics what our ancestors would’ve eaten in the hunter-gatherer days.
Foods you can eat on the Paleo diet:
- meat, fish, seafood, and organ meat
- vegetables, except potato, corn, and legumes
- healthy oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, clarified butter
- fruits, in moderate amounts
- nuts (except peanuts) and seeds, in moderate amounts
- herbs, spices
Off limits foods to avoid on the Paleo diet:
- grains (wheat, oats, corn, rice, etc.)
- legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts, soy)
- dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
- refined sugar or artificial sugar substitutes
- corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil
- alcohol (beer, wine, liquor)
- processed foods
Paleo purists (one of which I am not!) will stick solidly to these lists, and may also eliminate salt, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets, and butternut squash, and natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. When you are first starting out, especially if you have a lot of health issues, you are best off adhering as strictly to these food lists as possible. Once you have a good handle on how your body responds to various foods, you may find you can ease up on the restrictions and allow some natural sweeteners and maybe even a bit of dairy. Ideally, the Paleo diet would include no processed or packaged foods, but the realities of modern life can make this standard too difficult to adhere to. Examples of packaged convenience foods that could fit into a laid-back Paleo diet include almond milk, coconut yogurt, grain-free granola bars, beef jerky, applesauce, no nitrite deli meat, and veggie chips.
Paleo Nutrient Powerhouses
Bone broth is a mainstay of the Paleo diet. It is loaded with nutrients, collagen, and glucosamine, and can help heal the gut and improve nutrient absorption. To make bone broth, all you need to do is follow the directions found here. I make mine in a crockpot and let it simmer overnight. If you don’t have time to make bone broth or dislike the taste, Perfect Hydrolzed Collagen or Perfect Bovine Gelatin are quick and easy alternatives to add to your diet.
Organ meats are another Paleo staple. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would not have eaten only part of an animal; they would consume the whole thing, right down to the organs. The vitamin and mineral content of organs is higher than that of muscle meat; organ meat is a concentrated source of vitamins A, D, K, and B vitamins, plus numerious minerals and essential fatty acids. If, like me, you are repulsed by the idea of eating organs, try Perfect Desiccated Liver capsules or powder and you won’t even have to taste it. Cod liver oil can also provide the necessary nutrients. Vitamin D is particularly essential, especially for those who live in cooler climates or seldom spend time exposed to the sun. While you can’t obtain adequate vitamin D from foods alone unless you eat liver regularly, desiccated liver and cod liver oil are both excellent alternative whole-food sources of vitamin D.
Aside from vitamin D, the one other nutrient you need to be conscious of on the Paleo diet is magnesium. Our ancestors would have gotten plenty of magnesium from plants found in hearty soil, but over the centuries, our soil has become depleted of this important mineral. As many as 75% of adults are deficient in magnesium due to soil depletion and municipal water supplies. You can get your daily dose of magnesium from Natural Vitality Natural Calm or Ancient Minerals topical magnesium.
So what can I eat on the Paleo diet?
These sample Paleo menu plans offer ideas of the types of meals you can eat on the Paleo diet. Many of your favorite meals are likely already Paleo or can be converted easily by eliminating any unapproved ingredients. One of my favorite things about the Paleo diet is that it forces you to be a bit more creative and to try new foods — don’t hesitate to experiment! For more Paleo meal ideas, check out our Paleo Diet Friendly board on Pinterest.
Sample Paleo Meal Plan #1
Breakfast: Paleo Baked French Toast
Lunch: Tuna salad made with Paleo Mayo, stuffed in lettuce leaves or bell pepper halves
Snacks: apple slices with almond butter, Paleo Almond Crumb Muffins, hard boiled eggs
Dinner: Spicy Chicken and Sausage Soup
Dessert: Paleo Fruit Crisp
Sample Paleo Meal Plan #2
Breakfast: Egg Muffins
Lunch: Salad with Paleo Ranch Dressing
Snacks: Paleo Pumpkin Granola, fresh berries, mixed nuts
Dinner: Zucchini Noodles with Kale Pesto and Artichokes, topped with sauteed shrimp
Dessert: Raw Walnut Fudge