This morning I went to open gym. One of the kids in his forties started asking me about my weight loss and eventually he got to his point. “Chuck, I am thinking about ‘going Paleo’, but I don’t have any idea where to begin.”
This is actually easier than one might think. Focus on consuming whole foods. Avoid “factory foods”, “Frankenfoods”, and “Food-Like substances”. My rule of thumb is simply this, if my grandmother, who was born in the 19th century would not have recognized the food or it’s ingredients, it is suspect. I really don’t have to turn the way-back machine to the stone age to find my nutritious alternatives to the Standard American Diet.
Paleo isn’t always Paleo. That is because our English language gets co-opted and words lose their original meaning over time. For the sake of this discussion, let’s simply consider the term “Paleo” as shorthand for an ancestral diet from days long before industrialized mono-culture farming. Get that into your head and you’re more than halfway there.
Beware of the Paleo Police who will nitpick you into oblivion, and drive you right back to your comfort zone of pizza and Twinkies. The Paleo Police will insist that dairy is not Paleo, grains are not Paleo, etc. That may be 100% accurate. BUT, that doesn’t not mean that they aren’t an acceptable food product. You must do your homework.
In response to the Paleo Police, “Paleo is actually never Paleo”, that is, 1) no one really knows what a Paleolithic era human ate, because no one was here to witness it, and they didn’t leave a Time Capsule for us. 2) A Paleo era man in the frozen north would not have the same indigenous plants and animals for food, as their Paleo cousins in a tropical climate. I’ll guarantee that a cave man in Wyoming wasn’t eating bananas and almond butter.
Be prepared to experiment to determine what works for you. For example, a homemade yogurt may be a very viable alternative to factory yogurt which often has cooked the life out of the very cultures that are supposed to provide a probiotic benefit to you. They also fill the cup with various sweeteners, and chemical ingredients. Read the label before you buy it. A quick rule of thumb, make it at home, or be prepared to pay a premium for a quality yogurt with pure ingredients.
Back to experimentation. Dairy is not considered Paleo, but it may be a wholesome food for you, but not for me. If one is lactose intolerant, yogurt is something to scratch from your list. I love eggs, you may have issues with them. Trial and Error is a useful tool in dialing in your “Personal Paleo Blueprint”. What is your genetic predisposition to certain foods?
Another point worth noting, you may want to discard your notions of what is appropriate for a given meal. You may enjoy meat and vegetables for breakfast. Soup or chili is OK for breakfast. Perhaps bacon, eggs and guacamole for lunch. Open your imagination to the fact that any wholesome food can be served at any time of the day, for a meal.
The Starting Point
If you want to begin experiencing some of the benefits of Paleo, without having to work out every detail, then start simple. Reduce simple carbohydrate consumption (avoid processed foods, flour and sugar), increase quality fat consumption, consume quality sources of protein (ethically raised meat and eggs). Don’t go overboard with Paleo “Treats”.
- Oils & Fats – Eliminate factory oils from your pantry. No margarine or faux spreads, no vegetable oil, no canola oil, no hydrogenated shortening. Replace them with Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil, Grass Fed Organic Butter, Lard, Duck Fat, Olive Oil and Ghee. These are all natural (assuming they are sourced from organic producers), and do not produce gut inflammation.
- Grains – Begin by eliminating all grains from your diet. Yes, even “whole grains”. Try this for at least 30 days. This will reduce gut inflammation and will reduce carb consumption that creates insulin spikes. Grains convert to sugars during digestion and are often stored as fat. Please note that cattle are fattened for the kill by eating grain, not butter. Check the grocery store aisles, most packaged foods contain corn, wheat, soy or sugar.
- Sugar – Studies suggest that Sugar is more addictive than cocaine, though it is in every manufactured food under the sun and is subsidized greatly by government farm programs, that is, your tax dollars. Most artificial sweeteners have issues of their own.
- Plants – eat plenty of green vegetables. Root vegetables are fine, but they are higher in starch (carbohydrates that convert to sugar, but not at the rate that processed foods do), so eat them in moderation.
- Meat & Fish – Eat it. If you want to discuss Vegan or Vegetarian alternatives go to Google, because you will not find it here. I love organ meats, particularly hearts and livers. I love red meat, grass fed and grass finished beef and bison are wonderful. For fish, I love salmon. I always have a couple cans of cat food, I mean, Sardines on hand too. Get the ones packed in water or olive oil.
- Eggs – Farm Fresh, and free range.
This quick summary should get you started. For more detail, print out this cheat sheet.
The “Go To” Experts
Paleo, Primal, Ancestral, Whole Food – I don’t care what your preferred moniker is for a healthy diet. But here are some of my favorite experts in this conversation. They are listed alphabetically and linked to their web sites. You can find their books on their sites, or on Amazon. One day I’ll be smart enough to get an affiliate link for all the business I send their way, but at the time I’m writing this, I get zilch.
Robb Wolf (Robb’s site is down as I am writing this, so I am providing an alternative link)
My favorite Top Five Paleo Cookbooks or Recipe Websites
I am not a nutritionist. Many nutritionists aren’t either, if they are still following the old textbooks and conventional wisdom surrounding diet. I have learned what I know by doing the work, and all I have provided you here is a jump start. If you want to be healthy, take ownership of it yourself, and that includes digging for viable information and personal experimentation. It may also require you to politely challenge your doctor’s advise.