I was chatting with a friend the other day who was expressing their enjoyment following my instagram (@brookelibbypaleo) feed. Thanks! They explained they are loving all of the healthy meals I was sharing, but my friend was confused by one thing. He asked me “what the heck is Paleo?” It occurred to me that perhaps this should have been one of my first blog posts, but better late than never right? For those of you following along on this journey of mine, that may be a little confused about what Paleo means, this post is for you!
You’ve probably heard your fair share of different “diet” terms; there’s the popular low carb, atkins, south beach, vegan and vegetarian diets; and also the not-so-popular like detoxes, cleanses and the cabbage soup, or vinegar diet. Another term you may have heard is the Paleo diet. To me, this is not a diet in the conventional use of the word, but more of a way of living. It is not a challenge you do for 10, 30 or however many arbitrary days for a certain desired result and then go back to your old eating habits. Paleo is a way of eating that supports health and wellness by using food for fuel and fueling your body with real whole foods, the foods that have always been food. The food that your grandma would recognize. The idea behind Paleo is to eat like our ancestors who suffered from far fewer chronic diseases than we do today. For more on why we eat this way in my household see this blog post.
Many medical disciplines point to our modern food landscape full of refined foods, trans fat, sugar and artificial ingredients as playing a major role in the development of many disease processes and conditions such as obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression, anxiety and infertility among others. In my opinion, if a food has to be refined in a factory before it is edible, it should probably be called a “food-like substance”, and not actually food. The Paleo diet helps to cure digestive problems and stabilize blood sugar which are the root of many diet-related health problems. Refined foods such as grains, artificial sweeteners and vegetable oils (canola, soybean, sunflower etc.) cause inflammation in the body, and therefore the act of removing these from the diet helps to reduce inflammation and therefore improve health.
We cannot improve in a factory what nature provides naturally!
On a (strict) Paleo diet, you avoid the following foods: Low Quality Dairy, Grains, Processed Foods, Added Sugars & Legumes (beans).
When I first started eating this way, I followed the “rules” to a T. I noticed many positive changes including increased energy, better sleep, more appetite control, less severe blood sugar swings (good-bye hangry feelings) and my skin improved. I enjoyed these new feelings and noticed when I ate refined, processed foods I felt bloated, lethargic and it effected my mood. I knew I wanted to stick to this way of eating, but it was a bit too restrictive for me. I slowly started to add things back into my diet to see if I could tolerate certain foods more than others. To my surprise, there were a few things that would not be considered Paleo, that I actually do really well with. So as a write this today, I follow what I call a “Paleo-ish” diet. I would encourage anyone trying to make a dietary change to do this self experimentation. You should never eliminate a total food group from your diet just because the diet plan or nutritional challenge you are taking part in has declared that food as bad, or off-limits. Try eliminating it from your diet for a certain period of time, and then add it back in to see how it makes you feel.
At first glance, you may say, well if you don’t eat all of those things, what do you eat? If you follow my instagram feed, you may have an idea! We eat very tasty, nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory meals made up of proteins, fruits, veggies & nuts, covered in healthy fats and also, plenty of bacon! In addition to eating the types of food considered to be Paleo, we focus a lot on the quality of our food; buying local and organic when possible. For meats we look for 100% grass-fed and finished, pasture raised animals who were treated well and not given antibiotics.
Interested in moving to a more “Paleo-ish” diet? Here are some tips:
- Ditch the highly refined oils (vegetable, canola, sunflower, soybean, anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated) Replace these oils with healthy fats like real butter, extra virgin olive oil (Kassandrino’s EVOO is a favorite in our house), avocado oil, avocado, coconut oil or lard.
- Try eliminating gluten, grains and soy. For many people these foods can wreak havoc on normal digestive function. Try eliminating them for 30 days, and then add then back in slowly to see how you feel. If they don’t make you feel crappy, then they probably aren’t a problem for you. But if they do cause problems you could try spiralized noodles (using a spiralizer like this one) in place of pasta, lettuce wraps in place of buns, nut or seed based crackers (Jillz Brand are delicious) or my favorite, cauliflower rice.
- Cut out added sugars. Added sugars can mess up your blood sugar regulation in a big way. Replace with fresh fruit, honey or maple syrup.
- Eliminate dairy for 30 days. Like gluten and grains, dairy can cause problems for a lot of people. For some people however, after 30 days without dairy you may find when you add it back in slowly that you are able to handle some like yogurt and soft cheeses better than others. For some you may be able to tolerate all dairy. Again, it’s about finding what works for YOUR body. You can try coconut milk or almond milk in the meantime.
- Try going without legumes (beans, chickpeas, peanuts). For a lot of people these foods cause gas, bloating and other digestive issues. Try using more nutrient dense vegetables diced up in place of beans in your recipes.
- Shop the perimeter at the grocery store. This is where you will find the fresh produce and meats. generally speaking, the middle aisles are where you will find all the highly processed “food-like substances.”
- If the food has a label, read it carefully. You may notice a jar of mayo labeled organic, non-GMO, natural, healthy and then turn it over and notice the first ingredient is a highly refined (damaged) vegetable oil. The front of the package doesn’t tell the whole story. The most important information is on that ingredient list.
- Spice it up! Adding spices to your meals increases the flavor and makes it more exciting! A dinner made up of chicken and vegetables doesn’t have to be boring! We really love the Balanced Bites Spice Blends found here. The bottles are huge and they are already all mixed up for you in the right quantities. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
As always, if you have any questions on transitioning to a more whole foods based diet, or questions on where to find certain ingredient swaps, please let me know!
Want to read more about the Paleo Diet? Check out these books available on amazon.com or at your local book retailer.
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
Hungry for more? Check out this Paleo recipe for Chicken Salad with Green Apple from Stupid Easy Paleo: