This Paleo for Beginners guide clearly explains what is and isn't allowed on a Paleo diet and provides Paleo Meal Planning & Meal Prep tips.
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Many years ago, before I learned all of the intricacies of the Paleo lifestyle, I thought it was overly restrictive. I thought it had too many rules and was simply not for me.
Fast forward to today and my family eats “Paleo-ish”. I also head a meal prep company offering Paleo meal plans to thousands of people across the world.
Well, I learned what Paleo actually was. I learned that it's an approach to eating that emphasizes real, whole foods and high quality ingredients, things I can definitely get behind.
I also learned that Paleo is a spectrum, something I'll talk more about later. But first, I want to give you the basics, Paleo for beginners if you will.
Paleo for Beginners – What can you eat on Paleo?
As with any new diet or habit you're trying to adopt, I recommend focusing on what you can have, rather than what you can't. So I want to start by outlining all of the delicious foods you can eat to your heart's content with Paleo.
Paleo-Approved Food List
- Vegetables: Vegetables make up a huge component of the Paleo diet. Paleo eaters generally try to buy organic / non-gmo produce whenever possible. For Paleo eaters who don't wish to limit carbs, vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets and winter squash are a great way to incorporate whole-food, unprocessed carbs in a healthy way.
- Fruit: Similarly, those following a Paleo lifestyle eat a variety of whole fruits, focusing on organic and non-GMO when possible. Fruit is another way for non-low carb Paleo eaters to incorporate healthy carbs into their diet. Using fruit is also an excellent way to naturally sweeten desserts. (Try my Paleo Peach Cobbler and my Chunky Monkey “Nice” Cream!)
- Nuts and Seeds: The Paleo approved food list includes all types of nuts and seeds. One thing to note here is that, despite their name, peanuts are legumes, not nuts, and thus are excluded from the Paleo diet. Also pay attention to what oil (if any) your nuts are cooked in. When you buy roasted nuts, they're often roasted in low quality oils. Make sure to read the ingredient list or buy raw nuts and toast them yourself. You can also look for dry roasted nuts, which do not include any oil.
- Grass-fed / Organic Meat and Eggs: Again, with meats and eggs, the focus is on quality. You'll want to look for grass-fed and finished meat or pasture raised chickens and eggs whenever possible. Here I find it helpful to use online delivery services to take the guess work out of finding quality proteins. I personally like ButcherBox and US Wellness Meats. If you prefer to shop in person, don't be shy! Talk to the butcher at your local market and ask about the grass-fed, pasture-raised and organic options.
- Wild Caught Seafood: Similarly, the Paleo lifestyle welcomes high quality, wild caught seafood. As I live nowhere near the coast, I personally love to purchase wild caught seafood from Vital Choice.
- Tea and Coffee: You'll likely be happy to hear that unsweetened tea and coffee are totally acceptable on a Paleo diet. The not so good news – alcohol is not. Read more about that below!
Foods to Avoid on Paleo
Now that you know all of the nutritious, tasty foods available as part of a Paleo lifestyle, let's talk about the foods that are off-limits, and why.
- Grains: If you've decided to go Paleo, you're likely aware that grains are off limits. This is because grains contain phytates, also referred to as antinutrients. The paleo diet asserts that phytates are unhealthy because they block nutrient absorption.
- Legumes: The Paleo diet excludes legumes for a similar reason. They contain phytates, and also lectins. Some people choose to avoid lectins because consuming too many lectins may block nutrient absorption and possibly damage your gut.
- Most Dairy: We'll talk more about this in the next section but the question of dairy is not a simple one in the Paleo sphere. Those who do reject dairy do so because many people have at least some degree of dairy sensitivity. Some also believe dairy causes inflammation. Since dairy is a bit of a grey area with Paleo, many recommend eliminating it for a period of time. You can then carefully reintroduce it to better understand how your body reacts to dairy.
- Alcohol: Again, the issue of alcohol is not black and white. However, a strict Paleo diet prohibits alcohol because it contains toxins and is processed. Many choose to include red wine, hard cider or 100% agave tequila in moderation though.
- Sugar: Processed sugar and artificial sweeteners are also prohibited on Paleo. It's easy to see why these items are not in line with the paleo philosophy of eating more closely to how our ancestors ate, to how humans were designed to eat. Don't panic if you have a sweet tooth though! Many Paleo eaters incorporate other, more natural sweeteners into their diet in moderation. These mainly include honey, pure maple syrup, maple sugar and coconut sugar. Dried fruit like dates also makes an excellent natural sweetener. Check out some of my naturally sweetened desserts here!
- Processed Foods: While avoiding “processed foods” may seem a little vague, it is a major component of paleo eating. A good rule of thumb is to determine whether you could make something in your own kitchen, if you had the time and inclination. If you could, it's probably minimally processed. For example, if you looked at an apple pie larabar, you could easily obtain all of the ingredients and make the bar yourself if you wanted to. Alternatively, if you look at many other granola bars, they have long lists of unrecognizable ingredients…probably not Paleo-friendly. You'll want to avoid most packaged foods to stick to a paleo lifestyle.
Remember, It's a Spectrum
Realizing that “eating Paleo” is a spectrum rather than a list of rigid rules is what led me to adopt more of a Paleo lifestyle myself.
Some Paleo eaters choose to include grass-fed dairy in their diets while others choose to have a glass of red wine at night. Some even choose to include white rice in moderation.
While in some ways it's easier to follow a strict set of guidelines, it really is up to you to determine what you feel good eating. I encourage you to experiment to see what makes both your body and soul feel good!
Don't give up on Paleo because you can't imagine giving up Greek yogurt or never having another cocktail. There's almost always a happy medium or a delicious substitute. You can feel great in your body without feeling totally deprived.
Paleo Meal Prep Ideas
One of the best things you can do to stick to your eating goals is prep ahead. Whether you have 2 hours to meal prep or just 30 minutes, it's always worth it to do what you can to set yourself up for success. Here are a few Paleo meal prep ideas to incorporate into your weekly routine:
- Wash and chop produce: This is always my number one tip for anyone wanting to incorporate healthy meal prep. If you do nothing else, wash and prep your produce, preferably right when you get home from the grocery store. This is great for two reasons. First, it makes it super easy to grab something healthy even when you're crazy busy. Second, it is so much more efficient to get your cutting board and compost bowl out once rather than every time you want a snack or want to make a salad. Trust me on this one!
- Make and freeze a healthy paleo treat: If you're like me, there will be times when you crave a treat and simply must have it! If you have nothing healthy or Paleo-friendly on hand, it's easy to get off track in these situations. I like to always have a healthy treat stocked in my freezer. Chocolate Bliss Energy Bites, Homemade Fudgesicles and Pumpkin Swirl Brownies all work well for this.
- Prep a protein: Even if you don't prep a full meal plan, choose 1-2 proteins to prep for the week. This way you can easily assemble lunches and dinners with your prepped veggies & protein. Hard boiled eggs, chicken salad, meatballs and slow cooker shredded chicken all make great meal prep proteins.
Bonus: Have a few extra minutes? Prep a sauce or homemade salad dressing for the week!
Even if you do nothing but these three tasks, you'll be pretty well set up for the week. If you'd like to take it a step further, make sure to check out my easy paleo meal plans below!
An Easy Paleo Meal Plan
If you feel a little overwhelmed with all of this information, you are not alone. It can be a lot to take in.
This is a major reason I provide Paleo Meal Prep Meal Plans.
Each week, Prep Dish subscribers receive a Paleo meal plan, designed specifically with meal prep in mind. The Paleo meal plan includes 4 dinners, 1 breakfast, 1 snack and 1 salad. In addition to the recipes, subscribers receive an organized grocery list and detailed meal prep instructions.
These instructions walk meal preppers through exactly how to prep a week of Paleo meals in just 2-3 hours.
For those with less time, all subscribers also receive a weekly gluten free, low carb keto and super fast meal prep meal plan. Super fast meal plans take only 1 hour to prep and, while not strictly paleo, most of these meals can be modified to fit a paleo lifestyle.
Want to try out a paleo meal plan for yourself? Use the button below to get your Prep Dish free trial!
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