The Paleo Diet is also known by other names, such as the Paleolithic diet, the Stone Age diet or the caveman diet. There are actually slight variations among versions of the Paleo diet, so chances are you won’t find the same exact recommendations in every book or website talking about the diet. The basics of the Paleo diet, however, are always the same – and these are the things you need to learn about.
The Paleo diet is a nutritional plan and weight loss diet that mimics the diet of our ancestors – especifically, those living back in the Paleolithic era. Back then, agriculture hadn’t been developed yet, which means the Paleo diet is a grain-free diet.
Technically, the Paleo diet is a low-carb diet, since no carbohydrates or sugars are allowed. However, this is not the goal of the diet — and you can easily modify the diet to increase the amount of carbs you consume. How? By adding more root vegetables, fruits and vegetables.
The most obvious benefit of the Paleo diet is weight loss. This occurs naturally – and without you having to count calories or combining foods – because the diet asks you to cut sugars and processed foods. Highly-processed foods are the main culprit of today’s obesity epidemic, according to the World Health Organization.
The Paleo diet is also high in fiber, thanks to the many fruits, vegetables and nuts present in it. Fiber is great for weight loss because it contains very few calories but it can fill you up, helping control hunger and cravings. Fiber also helps balance your blood sugar – and when your blood sugar is stable, you don’t experience ups and downs in energy or that desperate need to eat sugars or white flours, which is common among people who eat lots of processed foods.
Another major benefit of the Paleo diet is that it contains lots of healthy, omega-3 rich fats. These are the fats found in nuts, seeds and fish. Unsaturated fats are good for your heart, and can help lower the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Although you’ll be eating saturated fats (from eggs and meats) as well, chances are you won’t be consuming as much as most people do. Why? Because dairy is one of the main sources of saturated fat in the American diet, and the Paleo diet bans dairy products.
Perhaps more important of all, the Paleo diet is a “clean diet.” That means it doesn’t include any preservatives or chemicals — which are common in highly-processed foods. In the Paleo diet, you’ll be eating all natural foods, preferably organic, so you’ll be getting all the nutrients the original food contains without any of the additives commonly found in processed foods.
How to Start
Before you do anything else, you need to decide how you’re going to make the switch. A gradual transition might be easier, but it will also delay results. You won’t notice weight loss, changes in energy level, or a flat stomach if you’re taking weeks to transition to the Paleo diet. On the other hand, doing it cold turkey would be a lot tougher, but it would mean experiencing the benefits after just a few days.
If you still want to do a gradual switch, try giving up processed foods first. Then cut down on sugars and salt, while slowly introducing more and more foods in their natural state.
Clean Your Pantry
Once you’ve decided to switch to the Paleo diet, you need to spend some time rebuilding your pantry. That means throwing away all processed snacks and replacing them with unsalted nuts and seeds, dried fruits, nut butters, banana and plantain chips (no sugar added). If you miss potato chips, you can get a similar texture from cassava root or taro root chips. They are available at most health food stores.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are best, but you can also buy frozen and canned – as long as you read labels and make sure what you’re buying doesn’t have any added sugars or sodium. In many cases, this means a trip to your local health food store to search for organic canned and frozen products, since cheaper, mass-produced brands tend to add lots of preservatives and salt to canned products.
What To Eat
Since the Paleo diet doesn’t require calorie counting or the measuring of portions, you can basically eat as much as you want as long as you stick to the approved foods. For example, you could eat a vegetable salad for lunch, or you could grill a number of veggies and then top them with nut butter or coconut oil. Try combining different foods in different ways to prevent boredom. Or try using approved sauces and condiments to spice up the flavors. Good options include salsa, tomato paste and enchilada sauce.
Other staples to stock up on include: milk alternatives (coconut and almond milk) and healthy fats, such as avocado oil, coconut oil, walnut and sesame oil and olive oil – especially cold-pressed olive oil.
Aside from obvious fresh meats, you should also look for additional sources of protein. That will keep things interesting so you have more options when it’s time to cook. Try canned wild salmon, smoked oysters (canned in olive oil), ground sausages (look for “no added preservatives”) and organic eggs. Ghee is a great source of fat with a very particular flavor that goes well with meats and vegetables.
Weight loss occurs fast in the Paleo diet. That’s because you’ll be giving up the two things that cause water retention: carbs and sodium. Of course, that also means that the initial weight loss is likely to be just water weight, rather than fat weight. Depending on how much sodium and carbs you were consuming before, you could lose up to 5 pounds within a week (sometimes more). This rapid weight loss is only going to happen during the first week or two, so don’t get discouraged when the process slow down.