Everyone has the friend. They checked out CrossFit gym across town and now all of a sudden, all they talk about is lifts and eating chicken breast. Next thing you know, your friend is a full blown Olympic lifting fool and they’re declining your dinner and wine invitations because they’re doing the Paleo diet.
So What the Heck is the Paleo Diet?
Your friend is declining your dinner invitation because following a Paleolithic diet, or Paleo as its affectionately known in the nutrition community, means eliminating most things you would find in a restaurant. Instead, the diet encourages people to eat along the lines of what our ancestors would have eaten – things that were readily available. Think along the lines of foods they could scavenge or grow themselves. So, the wine is definitely out.
Although many people have been building on the idea of a Paleo-style diet since the mid-1970’s, Dr. Loren Cordain published his book “The Paleo Diet” in 2002 (and revised it again in 2010) and officially trademarked the term shortly thereafter.
What Do I Eat?
According to his website, the official can-eats of a Paleo-style diet include grass-fed meats, seafood, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and healthy oils such as olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil. Things to avoid include items such as grains, legumes, dairy, refined vegetable oils and anything processed or with added sugar. The official Paleo Diet also forbids potatoes and salt.
Dr. Cordain has a long list of accreditations backing his research as well as almost 100 medical and scientific journal citations listed on his website. He’s worked actively as an educator since the late 1970s and currently works as a professor emeritus at Colorado State University in the department of health and exercise science and the college of applied human sciences, where he served as a professor for over twenty years.
Although many may associate “eating Paleo” with simply fitting more greens into their diet, the principals actually run much deeper. Cordain has spent the better part of thirty years perfecting and accumulating the science behind his programming. According to his website, it includes increasing protein, fiber, vitamins minerals, antioxidants, plant phytochemicals and potassium intake while ingesting lower amounts of carbs and foods with a high glycemic index and sodium. The diet also encourages eating higher amounts of the villain of the 90’s – fat – but making sure it comes in healthy forms such as polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and Omega 3’s and 6’s. Lastly, you should be balancing the amount of acid you consume in your diet with alkaline foods.
It’s a lot to take in, but it’s really on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of research Dr. Cordain has put into perfecting what he calls the world’s healthiest diet. For a full list of Dr. Cordain’s research, his publications, his credentials, and all of the science backing the official Paleo Diet, click here.
Contrary to popular belief, the CrossFit Journal endorses The Zone Diet over a Paleo lifestyle – more on that later – but eating Paleo can be a great starting point for those who would like to start eating healthier or a great lifestyle for those who don’t feel the need to adhere to stricter eating plans such as The Zone and Whole30.
How Do I Get Started?
So how do you make the swap? Start with the way you grocery shop. Eliminate any and all processed foods whether it’s from your cabinets or your grocery cart.
Yes, this even means the things that are “fat free” or “natural”. Most of the time, if it’s in a box, it’s loaded with additives and preservatives, not to mention added sugar. The stores are now packed full of items with buzzwords like “from nature”, “healthier”, “less sugar” and “whole”, but don’t be fooled. Truly, you’ll do well to steer clear of the aisles in the grocery stores. When you do have to venture down one to pick up some chicken stock or a can of diced tomatoes (for those of us who don’t have time to chop. every. single. thing. all. the. time.) be sure to check your labels.
When you get home, your pantry should be almost bare and your refrigerator and freezer should be packed because most Paleo-compliant foods have an expiration date. Make sure that you take the time to do research on how to properly store and preserve your fruits and vegetables. There’s nothing more infuriating than spending money on high quality food only to have it rotting in the fruit bowl three days later because you didn’t care for it correctly.
Speaking of money, don’t buy into the hype that eating healthy is more expensive. If you are living in poverty or in a food desert, following a Paleo-style diet may be difficult for you, but if you have access to a grocery store or a Wal-Mart, picking up healthier foods shouldn’t be that much of a challenge. Although at first you may panic when you see the amount at the bottom of the receipt, I’ve found that it balances itself out. Think of all the money you save from eliminating the twice-weekly dinner-and-wine scenario I mentioned earlier. Think of how much you spend on your Frappa-whatevers each week or how many sodas you consume a month. Once you subtract those expenses, eating healthier isn’t quite as expensive as it sounds.
Read this next part carefully: meal prep is your friend. More than a friend really – meal prep is someone you want to be seriously involved with. Western schedules glorify staying busy and cramming as many activities into a day as possible, which can make cooking a disaster. No one wants to come home from the gym after a long day at work and spend three hours preparing a Paleo-friendly dinner. Instead, take the time to pre-chop your vegetables and grill your meat. Buy stock in Tupperware and section off at least two or three hours a week to prepare several meals at once. Some people prefer to keep their ingredients lists short and simple while other (more talented) individuals can mix up five-star worthy dishes in no time, but either way, meal prep should be a priority.
When you first start eating a Paleo-style diet, it may feel like there aren’t a lot of things you can eat, which is so far from the truth. The Internet is a plethora of information including a wealth of Paleo recipes. Some of my favorites include Nom Nom Paleo and Stupid Easy Paleo, both of which are so accessible that they even have apps.