Paleo stands for Paleolithic, and it is a lifestyle that tries to emulate the dietary patterns of early man. Things that you could find on the ground, hunt, fish, etc. Think of a caveman and what they could obtain in their daily life, and that is what you can eat. You would be surprised but this leaves quite a few options available!
In a paleo diet, you are staying away from grains, essentially, since they were not really processed back in the day. This means no pasta, bread, cereal, etc. This is a good thing, because you should mostly be avoiding these things anyway…. right? Paleo also consumes very little sugar, and the little sugar you will obtain are from fruits and vegetables. All of this restriction severely limits the amount of carbs you eat.
I’m sure you have heard talk of “keto” before, a keto diet, etc.. well, Paleo tends to push you into a ketogenic state. Ketogenesis occurs when you don’t consume carbohydrates, which limits the amount of glucose you have available. When your body doesn’t have glucose available, it begins to produce Ketones, which begin to break down fat for energy. This is good news if you are trying to lose fat. The hard part for most people is limiting their carb intake, which does require some willpower. It is also worth noting that you cannot binge on carbs occasionally while in a ketogenic state. Once you elevate your blood glucose levels, you will stop producing ketones and you have to start the process all over. After about a week of carbohydrate restriction, you will begin to produce ketones.
In a paleo diet, all of your macronutrients are derived from proteins and fats. The only sugar you will get is from fruits and vegetables. Now, shitty starchy white bready substances don’t really have any place in any diet, but this is especially so in a paleo diet. In order to enter a ketogenic state, you absolutely have to restrict your carbohydrate intake to nearly zero.
There is a benefit to eating this much protein in your diet. Most diets should include more protein than other macronutrients, somewhere in the 50-60% range. As you probably already know, protein is the most satiating macro you can eat, which means that protein will keep you full and make you feel full longer. Another benefit of this is that you can practically eat as many vegetables as you want and still come in on your Calorie budget. Compare a good meal of a large salad, three chicken breasts, a pound of broccoli, finished off with two cups of lite greek yogurt. This meal sounds like a ton of food, right? That whole meal comes in under 1500 Calories. Now, take your standard chicken sandwich meal with large fries from a fast food place. It is about 1/5th the amount of food, and the same amount of Calories. Which sounds more filling? That’s what I thought.
So, all of this sounds pretty restrictive, right? Well.. it is true that you will definitely see a restriction on what you can eat, but there are still plenty of paleo friendly foods you can consume! Most paleo foods are either dead animals, or derived from things dead animals make. Here is a short list:
Meat. Meat. Meat and more meat. And then more meat.
No.. really. You will eat lots of meat. That is ok. Meat is delicious.
Meats – If you are eating red meat, stick to grass fed meats.. they cost more, but they are worth it. Beef, Mutton, Goat, Venison, etc.. Remember that most of these meats are fattier than other meats, so keep that in mind. Chicken, Fish, Turkey.. Basically if it roams around on four legs, has wings, or swims around, you can eat it.
Some other things that are derived from dead animals; eggs. Eggs are a great source of nutrients and you can do a hundred different things with them. Mega omelette full of meat, veggies sounds pretty good, right?
Other things, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. For the most part, all vegetables are fair game. Depending on how strict you plan on adhering to a ketogenic style of paleo diet, starchy tubers are off limits (like potatoes and sweet potatoes). Most paleo adherents will eat sweet potatoes because they are a clean, scavengable source of carbs. If you do eat them, keep them restricted to training days in order to restore some of that glycogen. Just remember that eating more than 30g~ or so of carbohydrates will mess up your ketosis.
There you go, basically you eat fat and protein. Eggs and bacon sounds good? well then, you are set. Want to eat a giant steak and some steamed broccoli? Set. Giant salad full of grilled chicken, nuts, and avocado sounds tasty huh? Eat away.
Tips and Tricks
Everyone eating a low carb diet will get to that point where they just want to eat something carby. Fortunately for you, there are a few tricks you can use to simulate some of your carby friends when you feel like you just have to eat something carby!
Cauliflower is a Ninja. It can substitute for a surprising number of things. Some of my favorite substitutes for cauliflower are Rice, Mashed Potatoes, and Bread. Ya.. you heard me. You can make very convincing rice out of cauliflower, and it has hardly any Calories. Check out my post about Cauliflower Hacks to see some of these tricks!
Another great paleo hack is nut flour. You can use almond or coconut flour in place of wheat flour for most baking applications and it will turn out remarkably similar. It is worth noting that nut flours will not rise like wheat flour, but it will give the baked item texture and substance. Almond flour is really awesome when you just need to eat some chocolate chip cookies or something!
What about pasta? No problem there either, you have some options:
The two most popular paleo pasta substitutes are Spaghetti Squash and Shirataki Noodles. Shirataki noodles are a zero carb, virtually zero Calorie noodle made from the Konjac Root, which is kind of like an Asian yam (although, it isn’t a tuber). They have a unique scent and texture that is not for everyone. I suggest rinsing them for 4-5 minutes under warm water, and then boiling them for another 6-8 minutes to warm them through and remove as much of the fishy smell/taste as possible. After that, you can use them in place of noodles in whichever dish you prefer; I tend to use them for stir fry.
Spaghetti squash is the other pasta substitute, and while it contains more Calories and carbs than the shirataki noodles, it is still only roughly 45 Calories and 5 net carbs per cup. To prepare spaghetti squash, preheat your oven to 375 and get a tall baking dish big enough to hold two halves of the squash cut lengthwise. Now, cut the squash lengthwise and separate the two halves. The middle will be kind of like a pumpkin, so get a spoon and dish out all of the innards (you can save the seeds and roast them like pumpkin seeds, if you want).
Now, take your two cleaned halves and apply a little bit of oil (olive oil or your favorite oily substitute), some salt and pepper and you are set. Place them face down in the baking dish and then put them in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Test them after 30 minutes or so and see how they are doing by inserting a tooth pick in the middle.. It should give some resistance, but not be hard to penetrate. When they are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool a bit. After they are cool enough to handle, get a fork and put the squash on a plate. Starting at one end of the squash, stick your fork in and start to pull it through the flesh. You will soon see why they call it spaghetti squash! Continue to “spaghetti” all of your squash, and then use it in place of your normal pasta for whatever dish you prefer.
Well, there you have it, a primer into a paleo lifestyle. This is by no means a fully comprehensive survival guide into living paleo, but it should give you a good idea as to what it takes and what it entails. If this lifestyle sounds interesting to you, by all means give it a try. Do whatever it takes to be the best version of you!