Paleo Diet 101

what is the paleo diet

Before we get started, I want to say that there is no perfect way of eating that works for everyone all the time. As you learn about the Paleo Diet, don’t get stuck in dogma. The healthiest people in the world don’t have a single nutrition philosophy. You can do well under a variety of nutritional conditions, as long as your gut is healthy. To heal a leaky gut, the Paleo Diet is quite effective because it removes the most common inflammatory foods from your diet (for more on that, read Is the Paleo Diet Good for Your Gut Health?)

Are Grains Harmful?

To eat grains or not to eat grains, that it the question! It’s also the main point that makes the Paleo Diet the Paleo Diet. Yes, there are other food restrictions, but grains are the only whole food group that the Paleo Diet eliminates. Let’s talk about why.

Was Our Traditional Diet Grain-Free?

First, I want to specify that I don’t agree with the basic tenet often taught when it comes to the Paleo Diet, which is that cavemen did not eat grains and were healthier. Many traditional cultures throughout history have enjoyed excellent health while eating grains (think about the Meditteranean Diet and the Blue Zones). Now, some (like the Weston Price Foundation) will say that traditionally, grains are soaked or fermented. According to those who recommend soaking grains, it is a method of preparation that helps reduce phytates, enzyme inhibitors, and lectins, which are antinutrients that leach nutrients from your body.

Why We Avoid Grains on the Paleo Diet

It turns out that soaking your grains doesn’t reduce the phytic acid in your grains. Sprouting does take care of the enzyme inhibitors and some of the lectins. It’s a good idea to favor sprouted grains over unsprouted ones (you can even buy them sprouted now). However, if you struggle with inflammation or any autoimmune disease, you should avoid grains at least temporarily. Our bodies have been weakened by leaky gut and an incredible amount of environmental toxins. Consequently, many foods that are supposed to nourish our bodies are becoming inflammatory. After all, we have seen people react to sunlight, chicken, and spinach. Grains are one of the common foods that will worsen your symptoms over time. Grains have many health benefits, but while you heal your gut lining, I recommend you avoid them.

What is the Paleo Diet?

Most people have heard of the “Paleo Diet”, and many know that it means removing grains from your diet. Grains have been abused in so many ways as cheap food and in processed foods. Our gut often lack the bacteria necessary to digest them. However, there is more to the Paleo Diet than eliminating grains. Let’s look more in detail at what the Paleo Diet entails.

What is the paleo diet
What to eat and what not to eat on the Paleo Diet
Feel free to use this infographic as long as you link to this page

Foods To Focus On When Eating Paleo

1- Vegetables: Eating Paleo will not be enough unless you eat ample amounts of vegetables. Dr. Terry Wahls talks about that in her books. If you want an amazing story of healing through foods, look her up. She is a source of inspiration and knowledge.

2- Fruits: Contrary to what most people believe, eating Paleo doesn’t mean eating low-carb. Some people do better when they eat less carbs, but you will need to find out for yourself what works best for your body.

3- Healthy Fats: Eating seeds, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados will help you get enough fat in your diet to keep you satiated. They can help with weight loss, reduce the risk of heart disease and decrease inflammation.

4- Meat, seafood, and eggs: The Macro ratio used to dictate how much meat you will consume will vary. Some people are even vegan or vegetarian as well as Paleo.

Foods to Avoid When Eating Paleo

1- Legumes (Beans, lentils, green peas, chickpeas, soy products, peanuts, etc.): If you start researching the Paleo Diet, you will definitely learn about phytic acid. Many suggest that legumes and grains should be avoided because of their phytic acid content. Phytic acid is considered an anti-nutrient because it binds with other important minerals in your body and may cause deficiencies. However, I tend to side with Chris Kresser on the topic of legume consumption. Read what he says here.

2- Dairy: If you are just getting started and are not sure you can keep up with the whole Paleo lifestyle, start by eliminating gluten and dairy. I am convinced that the vast majority of health issues could be improved if people avoided these two foods.

3- Grains and pseudo-grains: Grains, pseudo-grains, and legumes all contain certain chemicals that may be inflammatory. Lectins, phytate and phytic acid are the main ones. Lectins are plant proteins that bind to carbohydrates. Many types are not harmful, but prolamins and agglutinins often cause issues in people who consume them. Again, the issue here may not be necessarily about the foods and their compounds themselves, but about leaky gut. These proteins may cross the gut lining and reach your bloodstream. Your body recognizes these particles as foreign invaders and reacts.

4- Refined vegetable oils: These oils are relatively newcomers in the food industry. They are highly processed and contains a high level of polyunsaturated fat. These fats are highly unstable and oxidize easily. They may cause oxidation and mutation in cells. Moreover, their Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is very imbalanced.

5- Refined sugar: You know sugar is bad for you, right? Just keep in mind that refined sugar comes in many forms like beet sugar, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, dextran, dextrin, sucrose, maltose, maltodextrin.

Here we have it! Obviously, apart from these restrictions, you also need to use common sense. You may be allowed honey, stevia, and coconut sugar, but it doesn’t mean that the bulk of your diet should be paleo treats. You still need to use common sense and ensure you are getting a balanced diet. Eating store-bought “paleo” snacks all day is not going to serve you well.

What about potatoes?

Yes, of course, potatoes deserve their own section! I don’t know about you, but my family loves potatoes! Some people say that they should be avoided and others say that they are loaded with nutrients, but are they “paleo“? As you can imagine, there is controversy about that too. I guess it depends on how you define Paleo. The way some people define Paleo (and I side with this) is eating whole, nutrient-dense foods and avoiding inflammatory foods. However, for some people, Paleo eating is about duplicating the lifestyle of the hunters-gatherers as much as possible. Again, you need to make your own decision on that. This article is a great starting point for researching this question. It talks about the health benefits of potatoes and why they have become so controversial. In my family, we eat potatoes. They are nutritious, and we don’t react negatively to them.

Why You Might Want to Consider Going Paleo

The Paleo Diet is all about healing your gut and reducing inflammation.

Leaky Gut or Phytic Acid?

The more you research health, the more you will find that leaky gut is the root cause of everything, not lectins or phytic acid. All plant foods contain these compounds, its a matter of degree and of how your body processes them. Your gut health will determine how your body absorbs nutrients and reacts to foods. Over the years, I have found many ways to nourish my gut (read my post: Most Healing Foods for the Gut and my post Rebuilding your Gut Flora in 5 Simple Steps).

Paleo Diet Benefits

How to Heal Your Gut for Free

The Paleo Diet is an excellent way to heal your gut because:

  • Eliminating processed foods helps improve your gut health.
  • Eliminating dairy products reduces inflammation.
  • Eating a varied nutrient-dense diet helps promote a rich microbiome.

If you would like to learn more about how the Paleo Diet can help you heal your gut, read: Is the Paleo Diet Good for your Gut Health.

Fasting is another great way to heal your gut for free. It dramatically improves your microbiome, boosts your metabolism and helps your body regenerate itself. If you are curious about how you can use fasting to improve your health, read How Fasting Can Improve your Gut Health Fast Starting Today.

Supplements for Gut Health

I had been Paleo for years when I hit a plateau. I was tired again and I couldn’t get rid of some extra weight. Sometimes, you need some extra help. Our food supply is depleted and it’s hard to get enough nutrition into our bodies. When I started taking an anti-inflammatory probiotic and drinking a superfood shake every day, real change started happening. I was able to lose the cravings, the weight and start eating foods that were making me react again.

If that is something you would like to learn more about, contact me here.

Other Benefits of the Paleo Diet

Some randomized trials have compared the Paleo Diet to other diets like the Mediterranean Diet or the Diabetes Diet. The Paleo Diet is promising and shows many benefits such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Improved glucose tolerance
  • Better blood pressure control
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Better appetite management

If you are ready to dive deeper into the Paleo Diet, don’t forget to check out my course Paleo for Beginners.

Paleo for Beginners

A Sample Paleo Menu Plan

If you are ready to give the Paleo Diet a try, I have a free ebook to help you get started. It’s called 7 Days of Healing Meals for the Busy Moms . In this book, you will get a meal plan, grocery shopping list, and recipes all under 30 minutes!

Paleo Meal Plan
Click here to get your free ebook

Let me give you some more practical help as well. Here’s what a typical day looks like in my family:

Breakfast: Some children eat gluten-free toast (we are not all strictly Paleo). Some eat eggs, and sometimes we make smoothies. Every Saturday, I like to make Paleo pancakes. For more easy Paleo breakfast ideas your children will love read Quick Paleo Kids Breakfast Ideas.

Lunch: We often have leftovers from the night before for lunch. If we don’t have enough, we tend to make something simple like cold cuts and veggies. I love making a big salad or soups for lunch as well. Read How to Pack Easy Paleo Kids Lunches for more inspiration.

Dinner: Dinner is when you get to have fun preparing different foods and trying new recipes. For dinner, we sometimes keep it simple by eating a roast chicken with homemade potato or sweet potato fries with roasted veggies or a salad. Some of our go-to meals are pasta sauce (you can eat it over zucchini or sweet potatoes noodles), chili, stir-fries, chicken breast with any easy accompaniment I have on hand. Sometimes, I like to try different recipes (probably twice a week or so). Follow me on Pinterest for some more recipe ideas.

We don’t eat a lot of snacks because I find my children won’t eat their meals when they snack. However, when we do, here are some helpful ideas: fruits of any kind with nut butter, dried fruit, hard-boiled eggs, baby carrots, celery or any “Paleo” homemade or purchased snacks like bars, balls, and cookies.

Example of a Paleo Shopping List

Here are the foods I usually buy when I go grocery shopping:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies: Apples, bananas, avocados, lemons, lettuce, spinach, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, potatoes, carrots, celery, peppers, and tomatoes are the fruits and veggies I buy almost every time.
  • Frozen fruits and veggies: I love the convenience of frozen fruits for smoothies. I buy berries, pineapples, and mangoes. I also buy frozen veggie mixes for convenience. I use them for stir-fries, stews, and soups.
  • Meat: I buy most of my meat from Butcher Box, but I do buy some from Costco occasionally. I buy ground beef, ground turkey, and chicken breasts from Butcher Box. I purchase my whole chickens from Costco.
  • Eggs: We have our own chickens, but we sometimes don’t have enough eggs at home, so I get them from the grocery store. If you cannot have your own layer chickens, try to buy your eggs from a local farmer. It makes a real difference when the chickens are allowed to roam free-range. The yoke yellows are so much brighter and the nutritional content is far superior; plus you support healthy farming practices rather than factory farms that often mistreat animals.
  • Flours: I buy almond flour and my pancake mix from Costco. I also always make sure I have coconut flour, tapioca starch, and arrowroot flour.
  • Canned goods: I purchase canned tomatoes and fish.
  • Nuts and seeds: I love adding them to salads and I use them in baking.
  • Nut butters: For baking, snacks, and breakfasts.
  • Legumes: We talked about the fact that some don’t do legumes on a Paleo diet, but we do.
  • Fats: Coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oils are the oils I buy most often.

Video of my Paleo Grocery Shopping Haul

Frequently Asked Questions About the Paleo Diet

Here are some questions people often ask when they go on the Paleo Diet:

Is the Paleo Diet expensive?

If you are used to feeding your family processed food, you will notice an increase in the cost of your groceries. It is more expensive to buy whole foods than processed foods. White flour is cheaper than almond flour, White wheat pasta is cheaper than gluten-free or grain-free options. Rice is cheaper than using cauliflower to make cauliflower rice.

However, if you have been eating a whole-food diet already, you won’t notice much of a difference if you keep it simple. The more veggies you eat, the cheaper it will be. Instead of replacing grains for meat and fancy Paleo foods, just eat more veggies! Every Spring, I crave more veggies and I tend to eat Paleo Vegan. It’s cheaper to feed my family this way. Fruits and veggies are not very expensive as far as whole foods go. If you avoid specialty foods, you will save money. For more info, read my post How to Go Paleo on a Budget.

How many calories should I eat?

No need to count calories when you start on the Paleo Diet. Many people lose weight just by giving up the inflammatory foods that have kept them stuck for a long time. However, if you don’t lose any weight after a few weeks and weight loss is one of your goals, use my Calorie Calculator to figure out how many calories you need to be eating.

What is the Paleo macronutrient ratio?

Many people come to the Paleo lifestyle with a Keto or low carb frame of mind. The Keto diet puts a lot of emphasis on macros. Technically, you don’t need to count carbs, protein, and fat on the Paleo Diet. You can eat as many carbs as you want! I recommend you experiment for yourself and decide what works best for you.

Can I drink alcohol?

Technically, alcohol is not allowed on the Paleo diet because its production requires agriculture; which in some definitions of “Paleo” is not part of the caveman theme. However, most health and wellness experts say that it’s ok in moderation.

Can I eat Paleo if I am pregnant or nursing?

Absolutely! The Paleo Diet is a whole food diet that will give you and your baby all the nutrition you need.

Can I eat pseudo-grains like quinoa because technically they are seeds?

Although some will tell you that you can have pseudo-grains on the Paleo diet, they tend to act like grains in your gut and cause inflammation. Avoid them until you reach your health goals and reintroduce them to see how you feel.

What are some Paleo sugar alternatives?

Honey, maple syrup, maple sugar, coconut sugar, blackstrap molasses, sucanat, evaporated cane juice, dried fruits, date sugar, and stevia.

What is the Paleo Diet

In Summary

Archeological research demonstrates that early human diets may have included grains as early as 30,000 years ago. Consequently, grains are not some kind of harmful food that humans should not be consuming. However, they may cause inflammation in today’s world where most people suffer from leaky gut.

The Paleo diet is a good way to heal your gut, reduce inflammation, and lose weight. Paleo-friendly foods include meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, fruits, and veggies, along with healthy fats and oils. Avoid processed foods, grains and sugar.

Don’t forget to sign up for my free Paleo for Beginners e-course to learn everything you need to know to start with the Paleo lifestyle today.