What exactly is Paleo? How is it different from other “diets”?
If you are new to Paleo you might be wondering what is Paleo? Why it’s beneficial and how it’s different or similar to other “diets” out there. To be completely transparent, I am not 100% Paleo. I try to eat mostly Paleo, which is why the site is called mostly clean eats, not 100% clean eats. But let’s talk about what Paleo is before we figure out the ways you can cheat on it 🙂
I put the word “diet” in quotes because it isn’t really a diet but rather a lifestyle. The word diet just makes me think of deprivation and calorie counting and being hangry, and that is that not at all what Paleo is about. Paleo is about eating real food made from real ingredients. It is often called the cave man diet, because it is about getting back to basics aka what the cavemen used to eat. In a nutshell it’s all about unprocessed whole foods. Fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts, and meats, seafood, eggs and healthy fats, are all good. What isn’t allowed? Nothing processed, no gluten, grains, dairy, legumes, or refined sugars. This includes soda, fast food, cakes, muffins, bagels etc. Below I’ll break down each category a little further as to what you can eat, what you can’t and tips for each.
All fruits and veggies are 100% go
This is what I like best about this lifestyle, and my biggest problem with Keto. I hate anything that restricts veggies. Nobody gained too much weight or became unhealthy because they ate too many apples and strawberries, and nobody can convince me otherwise. Also seeds and nuts are all allowed. This is great and allows for so many substitutions. If you like to bake get ready for almond flour to be your new best friend! You can also find lots of dairy alternatives made from nuts, everything from yogurt, to cream cheese to regular cheese! However, if you are trying to lose weight, you’ll want to limit the amount of nuts you are eating because they can be extremely calorie dense. While there is no calorie counting on Paleo, if your main goal is weightloss, you want to be somewhat aware of how many calories you are consuming vs exerting each day.
Meats and seafood are a Paleo staple!
You want to make good choices when it comes to meat, so grass fed, nitrate and nitrite free, hormone free are important. While no chicken in the US is allowed to be raised with hormones, that is not the case for other types of meat so be sure you are checking label. Sometimes gluten can be hidden in things like sausage or meatballs so be careful of that. Again it’s simply about making healthier choices, while meat is allowed, something like a McDonalds chicken nugget that used to be meat and is now something else completely, would not be allowed. You get it! Smart choices!
This was rough for me! I was never one to drink milk on it’s own, but I realized that I was adding cheese to almost every single meal! While I still allow myself cheat meal with cheese every so often even, taking it out of my diet has made me realize how much my body does not agree with it. But the good news is there are lots of dairy alternatives that are Paleo friendly!
- Milks- Last year the dairy industry lost almost a billion dollars, yes billion with a b, to plant based milk alternatives! Coconut milk is great to make recipes creamy, just make sure it is FULL FAT, reduced fat often has hidden sugars in it. Almond milk is another great swap for recipes, again be careful of hidden sweeteners.
- Yogurts & Cheese – If you absolutely need yogurt or cheese there are now more and more alternatives coming out. Just read the label and make sure there is not hidden sugars, or other ingredients that you don’t want.
- Make your own – When in doubt you can always find a recipe to make your own, I have found recipes to make sour cream, coconut cream whipped cream, I even make dairy free ranch dressing. The internet is an amazing resource. Use it 🙂
Sugars & Artifical Sweetners
Since Paleo is about minimally processed foods, this includes getting rid of all refined sugars and artificial sweeteners. I know your next question, what constitutes as a refined sugar, and what the hell am I going to use to make my food taste edible? Refined sugars are sugars that have been processed so much that they become the simplest form of carbohydrates, since all the work has been done, our body needs to do very little to break it down and so it spikes our blood sugar quickly. When blood sugar spikes quickly we release lots of insulin, this is our fat storing hormone. When we release lots of insulin, our blood sugar dips very fast, this causes the lows, making us want to reach for another cookie to bring our sugar up quickly, hence the constant and ups and downs we often feel when our blood sugar goes unregulated. Below are the sneaky alternative names of refined sugars, and how to spot them.
- CHECK THE LABEL!! I can’t stress this enough! First if you glance at a label it will say total sugar, if this number is very high 10+g, I guarantee you there is added sugar. Just put it away. However sugar does naturally occur in things like fruit, so you can check the total difference for sugar vs. added sugar. For example tomato sauce might have a 1gram or two of sugar, but that can be from the tomatoes themselves, so check to see if there is any added sugar. If that’s 0 then you are all good.
- Next thing you want to do is check the actual list of ingredients. They don’t make it simple and just call all sugar because informed consumers is not good for business, so keep a list out for the following names corn sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, cane crystals, invert sugar, or any kind of fructose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, or syrup.
But luckily there are still sweeteners you can use that are paleo friendly. While these sugars are better than any of their refined sugar counterparts, keep in mind no sugar is always the best option. This is one of the biggest differences between Paleo & Whole 30, they are very similar in terms of what is considered complaint, but one major difference is that Whole 30 does allow for any added sugar or sweeteners. Most of us can get though 30 days, but when you are talking about a lifestyle we’re all human and sometimes you got a craving to curb, so a dessert cooked with these will be a better choice than downing an entire bag of Resses, or eating 4 donuts.
- Raw Honey – while honey is paleo friendly, it is still very very sweet and is calorie dense so it is considered a paleo treat, but used sparingly can be a great way to curb your sugar tooth
- Maple Syrup – Now I am not talking about the Mrs. Butterworths stuff we all grew up loving, that is a perfect example of a refined sugar. I mean the real stuff straight from the trees!
- Coconut Sugar- This unprocessed sugar comes in close to the same range of calories per teaspoon as table sugar, however it’s big benefit is it is low glycemic index, which is a score of how quickly a food will raise your blood sugar, (the lower the better) also it has added fiber, and antioxidants. Just make sure you read labels and the ingredients is always only “coconut sugar”
- Monk Fruit – Chinese herb is a delicious zero-carb, zero calorie sweetener that is 20 times sweeter than sugar. I personally have not cooked with it, but lots of people who cook paleo and swear by it. You can use the dried whole fruit powder, and has a flavor similar to chocolate or molasses.
Yes, this means no rice, corn, wheat, barely, or oats. This has to do with the inflammatory effects that grains often have on our body, but once again lucky for us there are lots of great alternatives!
- Cauliflower- This little veggie can become anything, but one of the best subs in my opinion is as a rice. You can find tons of cauliflower rice dishes out there. I think the frozen kind is the easiest. Just make sure you check the label and cauliflower is the only ingredient. Oh did I mention it can also be a pizza crust, but I’m sure you already knew that 🙂
- Sweet Potatoes – These little guys are so versatile. They can be made into burger buns, chips, even noodles for a pasta substitute! Get creative!
- Cassava flour- Personally I’ve never cooked with it. But alot of paleo friendly products that I buy use it as their grain free base. Making great breads, chips, and tortillas out of it!
- Lettuce – Whatever you were going to put over pasta or rice, put it over lettuce call it a salad and voila! This is great if you are stuck in a bind when you are out, Chiptole for example has a Whole 30 and Paleo approved bowl by swapping out the rice for lettuce. It’s also a great sub for wraps and buns!
- Plantains – If you are chip and dip fan like myself, this will be your savior. I’ve made everything from nachos, little barbacoa sliders on these guys. They are also amazing on their own dipped in salsa or guac!
What is a legume? Legumes consist of beans, lentils and peanuts. So although you can have nuts on Paleo, peanuts are a no go! Although many consider them part of a healthy diet due to their high fiber concentration and low cholesterol, they are not allowed on paleo because their high in because of their high content of lectins and phytic acid, which are inflammatory.
Now that you know what Paleo is, how do you get started? Below is a few of my favorite easy paleo recipes to get you started on your journey, and links to a few other paleo food bloggers whose recipes I make all the time 🙂
Here are a few of my other favorite food bloggers that have some awesome paleo reipes. Juli from PaleOMG Lexi from Lexis Clean Kitchen Michele from Paleo Running Mamma the ladies of Laughing Spatula and Michelle of Nom Nom Paleo
Hopefully this gave you some answers to your questions about what Paleo is! Leave any questions, tips or other info in the comment section!