How to Start Eating Paleo: A Guide to the Paleo Diet

NutritionWhen people find out that I follow a paleo lifestyle, there is one question that is very often asked: “How did you start? And how can I start a paleo diet?” It’s a simple enough question, but one that I often struggle to answer.

You see, how one starts a paleo diet is dependent on so many factors, from the person’s current eating habits and overall health, medical history and activity level, to their reasons for beginning a paleo lifestyle.

If you’re doing it to treat a medical condition, I’d definitely recommend seeking the advice of a holistic medicine doctor or nutritional therapy practitioner for a professional opinion. But if you’re looking to improve your overall health, lose some weight or just get closer to real, local food, then try out my tips below for a smooth transition to a paleo diet.

1. Clean out your pantry. When you’re planning on changing your diet, you won’t be successful if you don’t also change the food that is in your house. You can shop at all the farmer’s markets in the world, but if you have cookies, chips and candy in your pantry, it highly unlikely you’ll choose asparagus over the processed junk. So go through your pantry and get rid of anything that has ingredients you can’t pronounce or identify, ditch anything with lots added sugar and get rid of the rice, pasta and traditional flours.

2. Hone your cooking skills (and tools!). If you’re going to be tossing the processed foods in your home, you’re going to need to do a lot more cooking. I’m not suggesting you’ll need to make complicated meals, but you won’t just be boiling pasta any more. So make sure your knives are sharp, invest in some good pans, and then head to YouTube. There are tons of great cooking demos you can find online to about roasting, sauteing, boiling, scrambling, flambe-ing and basically any other cooking term you can think of. Sharpen your skills and you’ll feel confident to begin cooking more meals at home.

3. Find replacements for your favorite traditional foods. While some may find success going completely cold-turkey into a paleo diet, that kind of drastic lifestyle change just isn’t for everyone. Just because you’re no longer going to be eating sandwiches and pasta doesn’t mean you have to move away from your favorite meals all together. Love spaghetti and meatballs? Learn to make spaghetti squash and meatballs. Love chicken and rice? Try some cauliflower rice? Are sandwiches a lunch time staple? Stuff a lettuce leaf full of your favorite clean meats and veggies. If you’re feeling really adventurous in the kitchen, you could even try making some plantain tortillas for tacos or some grain-free biscuits to eat with breakfast. As time goes on, try branching out from some of these replacement foods and try some new things.

4. Don’t be afraid to go slow. Just because you have the motivation to change your life doesn’t mean you’re a super hero. It’s not easy to completely change the way you eat, so don’t be afraid to change slowly. I waited 8 months before cutting out dairy because I couldn’t handle another change to my diet. And guess what? I still lost weight, I still improved my health and I still felt great. I didn’t beat myself up about it either, I went at my own pace and as a result, I was able to successfully made a lifestyle change I know will be life-long. Go too fast, and you may find yourself falling back into your old habits.

5. Find your tribe. Making a major diet and lifestyle change is a lonely road if you try to go it alone. So try to get your family on board, or find a friend interested in changing their health. While you can’t expect everyone in your life to jump on board the real food, primal train, you’re likely to find someone who wants to join you on this journey. If you can’t find a friend or family member to join you, head online. There are tons of Facebook groups and online paleo forums where you can find a virtual support group. Try a nutrition workshop at a local gym, or head to a paleo book signing nearby. Chat with some of the other people in attendance, and you just might find a new friend who can be a support for you during this transition.

Looking for more great tips? Check out the infographic below from Paleo Living Magazine on what to eat on a paleo diet to start stocking your fridge and pantry with delicious, whole foods. Like what you see? Check out Paleo Living Magazine for more great resources! Paleo Diet Food List Infographic ImageVisit us to find out more about what to eat on a Paleo diet.

Have you already transitioned to a paleo lifestyle? Share your best tips in the comment section below. Have more questions? Share those, too!

The Paleovangelist Meets the Ketovangelist: New Podcast!

NutritionI was super honored this May to be interviewed for a brand new podcast, “Ketovangelist,” hosted by Brian Williamson, the author of Ketovangelist.com and the e-book, “The Beginner’s Guide to the Keto Diet.” (Clearly, great minds think alike when it comes to picking blog/podcast names!) This week, the episode with my interview went live! I’d love so much for my readers to check it out, learn more about my story and support this great new podcast.

Brian’s website and podcast is a fantastic resource for all things keto, and is a great way to learn more about this high fat, low carb diet (which is very similar to a paleo diet). While I personally do not follow a ketogenic diet, it was a lot of fun to chat with Brian and talk about the differences (and similarities) between keto and paleo.

Ketovangelist

In my interview I share more background on my own transition to paleo and how I went about making the change, why I’ll never completely give up cheese, and how other podcasts, including Balanced Bites and The Paleo View, helped inspire these changes in my life.

You can read more about the interview and listen to the podcast online here. Search “Ketovangelist” on iTunes to download the podcast to your phone or device, and while you’re there subscribe to the podcast and/or leave a review!

Thanks to everyone for their continued support! Click here to listen to the episode online.

 

Is the Paleo Diet Expensive? Eating Paleo on a Budget

eating paleo on a budgetFor many people thinking about following a paleo lifestyle, the potential costs associated with the primal diet are often a concern. It was for me when I first learned about the diet, and I wasn’t sure it would be possible to follow paleo on a budget.

I learned about the benefits of grass-fed, pasture-raised and free-range meats and poultry. I knew the merits of organic fruits and vegetables, and the reasons to eat cold-pressed, high quality fats like coconut and avocado oil. But I was nervous. How could my meager budget support this kind of lifestyle? And would I still see results if I couldn’t buy the highest quality meats and fats?

So, is the paleo diet expensive? My answer today, after more than a year of following this lifestyle, is a resounding…it doesn’t have to be.

I won’t lie. I spend more money now on food than I did before starting a paleo diet. But in part, that’s my own fault, and it’s not all the time. In fact, the only reason I do sometimes over spend in the food area of my budget is because I am so excited to try all of the paleo friendly products I hear about, and because I love to develop new recipes and frankly, that requires a lot of food and new ingredients.

But in all honesty, the paleo diet does not have to be more expensive than a Standard American Diet (SAD). In fact, I think it can be even less expensive. When I was eating SADly, I was buying meats, fruits and vegetables, but I was also buying pasta, rice, bread, cheeses, canned soups and beans and pre-packaged convenience foods.

Have you ever really thought about how expensive those items are? A can of pre-made soup costs anywhere from two to four dollars at my local grocery store. And who doesn’t eat the whole can? That’s a single serving of soup for $4! Buy your own bones from the butcher (or save them from a prior meal) to make bone broth and add some veggies, however, and you could spend $10-$15 to make 10 servings of soup! It’s cheaper, just as easy and far healthier.

The key is this: while you will likely spend more on meats, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats on a paleo diet than you did following a SAD diet, it all evens out. You won’t be buying processed dairy products, you won’t be buying chips (unless they’re Jackson’s Honest, of course!), you won’t be buying granola and protein bars (unless you buy Epic Bars, Lara Bars or the Granilla Bar!), you won’t be buying pre-made and pre-packaged convenience foods.

Instead, you’ll be investing your money in your health. And that, in the long run, is the best way to reduce your costs. (Do you know how expensive diabetes testing supplies are?!)

Want more tips to save money on a paleo diet? Here are some of my best:

1. Choose high quality meats wisely. My husband and I can’t afford to always buy the best quality meats. We just can’t. I wish we could buy all our meat from a local farm, or from the Whole Foods butcher counter, but we can’t. Still, we do it as frequently as possible, and we do it strategically. For example, we may not be able to buy the grass-fed sirloin and filet, we can afford to buy grass-fed ground beef. And why not eat ground beef? It has the same healthy fats, vitamins and minerals as the sirloin and filet, and it’s super versatile. Whip up some lettuce wraps, burgers, meatballs or meatloaf, or just throw it in a pan with some veggies for a stir-fry. Similarly, when we’re buying high-quality chicken we try to select fattier (read: less expensive) cuts of meat. Not only are they full of healthy fats, but cuts like chicken thighs are significantly less expensive than chicken breast. Buying full roasting chickens is also a great option to save money because you can use the leftovers for later meals and use the bones to make broth for homemade soup.

2. Don’t be too dogmatic about organic produce. Yes, organic produce is great. And if you’ve got plenty of discretionary income, then go ahead and buy every organic item you can think of. For many people, that’s just not an option. So don’t skip on nutrient-dense fruits and veggies because you can’t buy the organic version. Instead, follow the guidelines for the “dirty dozen”, those fruits and vegetables most likely to contain high levels of pesticides, and focus your organic produce budget on those foods. Everything else, feel free to buy conventional produce. Wash your produce well, and then move on. It’s better to eat a plate of conventionally grown kale than to not eat it at all.

3. Be strategic about meal planning. Meal planning can be a challenge. It requires you to select meals days in advance and create a schedule for meals that can be hard to stick to. But in my experience, it is absolutely key to saving money. By planning out meals that use similar ingredients, you can get in and out of the grocery store without buying every vegetable available, and without bundles of expensive herbs, obscure ingredients and a variety of meats. One of my favorite things to do is to make a big batch of a meat, like pulled pork, beef roast or a chicken, and use the meat throughout the week for other meals. So don’t plan to eat pork tenderloin one night, chicken thighs the next, burgers the night after that, then a grilled steak. Instead, make a big pork tenderloin one night (or make two at the same time), use the leftovers to make pork fried cauliflower rice or pork lettuce wraps the night after. Make double the baked chicken thighs you need for dinner and use the leftover meat to make a quick chicken, zoodles and tomato sauce dish the next night. Making a beef roast? Have it with some veggies and potatoes one night, use it to make omelets for breakfast the next day. Use the leftovers for tacos and stir-fries, or just put it on top of a baked sweet potato for a quick, simple meal.

4. Don’t be afraid to buy frozen. A lot of people who start a paleo diet think it means they need to swear off the frozen food section. And while there are many things in that area of the grocery store that are certainly not worth anyone’s time (or money), there are plenty of budget-friendly options that are perfectly healthy, too. Especially at a store like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, you can find plenty of organic frozen vegetables, fruits and other items that can make meal prep simpler and less expensive. Trader Joe’s even carries frozen riced cauliflower! Just be sure to check labels on frozen products carefully. A lot of frozen fruit, for example, contains added sugar, while some frozen vegetable products may contain industrial seed oils you’re trying to avoid. But as long as you’re careful about choosing the highest quality frozen products, there’s no reason to avoid them!

5. Don’t be afraid to buy local. Are you a regular yet at your local farmer’s market? Well why the hell not?! It’s a pretty common misconception that the produce and other items at farmer’s markets are more expensive than those found in grocery stores. And while this may be true in some cases, I’ve found it’s usually just the opposite. Farmers are often willing to negotiate, and if you’re buying local than you’re buying what’s in season. Joining a farm share is another great way to get fresh, local foods at a good price. While farm shares often require a lot of money up front, the per week price breakdown is actually a great deal and is a fantastic way to get the freshest produce possible (and try items you may never have thought to purchase!). A lot of farms in my area also offer more than just fruits and vegetables in their farm shares, with options to get free-range eggs, pasture-raised pork and grass-fed beef once a week or once a month. Some farms also offer the option to buy a whole cow, or half a cow, and have it butchered to your liking. Again, this requires a big ol’ pile of money upfront (not to mention a lot of freezer space), but if you plan in advance and save up the funds, you’ll be getting great prices per pound for high quality meat and will dramatically reduce your grocery bill for months.

What are your best tips for eating paleo on a budget? Share your tips in the comment section!

Are Whole Grains Bad for You?

NutritionWhen people find out I follow a paleo lifestyle, they typically ask the same questions:

  • Isn’t it expensive?
  • So what DO you eat?
  • But aren’t whole grains good for you?

I’ve already addressed what I eat, and I’ll cover the costs of following a paleo lifestyle in another post, but today I want to focus on the third question. This is a question I hear all the time, and one that I completely understand.

After all, it was barely more than a year ago since I stopped filling every meal with every whole grain I could find, firmly believing it was the right thing to do for my health and well-being (meanwhile, wondering why my butt wasn’t getting any smaller and I wasn’t feeling any better).

The fact is, conventional health wisdom (and dietary guidelines from the USDA) heavily promote eating whole grains.

Whole grains lower cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease; the fiber in whole grains improves digestion and keeps you full; whole grains provide vital nutrients and are an essential part of a healthy diet. This is what I was always taught. It was what I always believed.

In fact, I believed it so unfailingly that I never questioned the fact that my devoted consumption of grains didn’t actually seem to be making me healthier.

I was still struggling to maintain my weight without extreme calorie restriction. I was still having blood sugar issues, out-of-control hunger, near-daily headaches, body pains and random spells of tunnel vision. I was still anxious most of the time and worried constantly about why I just didn’t feel right. At one point during my senior year of college, I was so concerned I scheduled an MRI, convinced there was something horribly wrong with me.

But throughout all of this,  I never questioned my food choices. I figured I might be eating too much, or not working out enough, or not getting enough fiber, but I never- not once- questioned whether the food itself might be the problem. It was clearly something wrong with ME. I mean this was, after all, what I was “supposed” to be eating to be healthy.

Not so.

In fact, there are many reasons that whole grains aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Among them:  the fact that they don’t provide vitamins or minerals that you can’t also get from meats, fruits, vegetables and seeds; they cause digestive issues for many people; they are often highly processed; the list goes on.

And over the last year I’ve discovered that I feel so much better without grains in my diet. I feel so much better without processed foods and “diet” foods. I feel so much better when I focus on getting the most nutrient-dense foods with every meal, when I cook my own food from scratch and when I focus on getting foods that have been raised and grown responsibly.

In fact, over the last year I can count the number of bad headaches I’ve had on one hand (and can pinpoint their cause- WORK- quite easily), I’ve completely gotten rid of the strange symptoms I experienced that led to the MRI, I’ve cleared my skin dramatically, learned to be a great cook and dropped 30 pounds.

So how does this answer the question of whether grains are bad for you? I guess it doesn’t. What it does tell you, however, is that grains are bad FOR ME. And they could be bad for you, too.

I’m obviously not suggesting that whole grains alone are what is causing America’s obesity epidemic, or that people who eat whole grains can’t be healthy. That’s just not true.

But it’s also not true that we NEED grains to survive. You will not become “gluten deficient,” if you switch out grains for whole, unprocessed carbs like vegetables and fruits. In fact, you’ll be getting far MORE nutrients and might find yourself feeling better and getting healthier.

Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that each individual person should explore their food choices on their own. No one should take one person’s dietary advice without doing some research and some experimenting of their own, and no one should feel pressured to eat a certain way.

What is right for me may not be right for you. But it may be! And if you’re not feeling completely 100 percent, if you you’re heavier than you want to be or feel like you’ve not reached your optimal health, then try something else! That something else just may be a paleo lifestyle.

It’s not easy, at least not at first. But if you’re like me, it will be completely worth it.

What questions do YOU have about following a paleo lifestyle? Do you want tips for making the change? Let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Every Food in Moderation

NutritionIf you grew up in the United States, it’s very likely you were raised on the conventional nutritional wisdom, “everything in moderation. ”

Throughout my years of transitioning toward a healthier lifestyle, I interpreted this phrase in many different ways.

As a kid, my family followed this mantra to a T, having treats for special occasions and on weekends every once in awhile, but sticking primarily to a wide variety of foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables and meats. All in all, it really was pretty healthy (if not in line with the way I eat today for optimal health).

In college, I took this conventional wisdom to mean that on days when I planned on going to a party and drinking beer, I should probably eat only egg whites for breakfast, and lettuce for lunch and dinner. Not the best plan, actually. And honestly, I spent most of college periodically eating as little as possible, to make up for the times when I drank beer and ate pizza and candy. While I must say the junk was delicious, the times I spent trying to make up for those treats was anything but.

In the lifestyle I follow currently, I have been doing a lot of thinking about “everything in moderation” In theory, I like the message it is sending: to not go too crazy with one’s diet in any direction (obsessively healthy or overly junky). Still, the more I learn about the foods that the human body really doesn’t need (or, in many cases, tolerate), the more I’ve begun to think the phrase should read something more like, “every FOOD in moderation.”

Let’s face facts, people. Cheetos and doughnuts, they’re not food. They are factory-made food products that offer absolutely no nutrition. No, they fill our bodies only with chemicals and sugar. Nearly nothing else. Am I saying I will never, ever eat a Cheeto or a doughnnut again? God now. They’re freaking delicious!

What I am saying is that suggesting everything can be eaten “in moderation” often leads people to be eating way too many of such things. The fact is, these processed food products are not food, and should not be eaten in moderation. If you’re looking for optimal health, these things should be eaten as infrequently as possible.

When it comes to real, whole foods found in nature (things that have ALWAYS been food), however: moderate the hell of out that sh**!

Like I said, I am not perfect in this sense. At Christmas, I ate my weight in cookies, candy and other things I normally wouldn’t eat. And I do believe there are times when such gorging is not a big deal. But, I’ve also gotten better and better at satisfying cravings with gluten-free, sugar-free, made from scratch treats, and I feel SO much better for it.

I’ve found that those times when I do give in to a craving for “real” junk- the kind of junk you can only find in a vending machine- I always regret it. I always feel like crap after. And to me, that’s just proof of what I put in my body: crap.

So that’s how I feel about that. What do you think about this idea? Do you eat the occasional gluten-filled, sugary treat? Or are you a super human with willpower the size of Texas?

Overcoming Paleo Perfection

NutritionWhen people learn that I follow a Paleo lifestyle, one of the most common questions they ask is, “So, like, you’re just never going to eat bread?…or pasta?….or pizza?… or, like, anything, anymore?”

This is not my favorite question, but I get it. What the average person knows of a paleo diet is that it’s gluten and grain free. And compared to the “standard American diet,” that’s a huge thing.

Still, it’s not the fact that people are focusing on the grain-free aspect of going paleo vs. the eating real, whole foods aspect, it’s the word “never.” I know, I know- not a big deal, right? WRONG, PEOPLE!

“Never” implies that I will no longer go near a piece of bread ever, that I will forever avoid pizza like the plague, and that holiday cookies and birthday cake have lost their place in my heart. Essentially, it implies that I am a total party pooper. And let’s get the record straight: I am not.

See, what people outside of paleo tend not to understand, is that the best thing about following a paleo lifestyle is that it is a lifestyle. It’s not a strict set of rules that one must follow perfectly in order to be successful.

Yes, there are specific rules and guidelines to follow if you want to be “squeaky clean paleo” and I’m sure there’s plenty of people who will disagree with my thoughts on “paleo perfectionism,” but there’s also a whole community of paleo peeps out there trying different foods, experimenting with their diets and learning what they can and can’t tolerate in search of their ideal health.

There is no failing in paleo.

There may be days when I don’t do what is best for my health. Heck, there were a few weeks around my wedding and honeymoon when I definitely did not do what was best for my health (read: drank about four frozen tropical drinks a day and ate bread at dinner every night).

But you know what? I didn’t wallow in my mistakes (I prefer to call them “choices”), I just went home, went back to my normal life and went back to the style of eating that I know works best for me.

Finding your best health is a process, and there are no hard and fast rules. I strongly believe a paleo lifestyle is the best path for me and that it’s likely a healthy path for a lot of people. But I also know that I love cheese and that, sometimes, I just really need a muffin (thank god for PaleOMG’s chocolate chip espresso banana bread muffins!). I also know that’s OK.

What this lifestyle has taught me is to not tear myself down every time I stray a tiny bit from the path of paleo perfectionism. It’s taught me to find healthier ways to treat myself when I need it. And most importantly, it’s taught me to be more in tune with my body and how it reacts to certain foods.

Right now, for example, I eat a pretty moderate amount of cheese (I know, I know, so not paleo) and I feel great eating it. But I also know that if one day my Kerrygold aged cheese no longer feels so great in my belly (please god, don’t let that day be soon!), I will have the self-awareness to make the choice to eat less dairy.

Because if there is one thing paleo has taught me more than anything else: it’s that feeling great and feeding my body well is SO much better than a slice of pizza (unless it’s made on cauliflower crust.)

So I guess what I’m saying everyone (paleo or not) is to JUST RELAX.

Eat what feels good. Eat what will make you the best you possible. And just focus on eating real food that comes from nature, not from a factory. I promise, you’ll be fine.

That’s SO Paleo (or is it?)

NutritionIf you’re considering a switch to the Paleo lifestyle, you probably have a million questions. I know I did when I first decided to take the leap. For most, making the commitment to “go Paleo” means completely changing one’s eating habits, and going against the nutrition teachings we often hear growing up in modern day America.

I grew up in a household that avoided junk food whenever possible. We hardly ever ate at restaurants and often made dinner together. But even our nutrition choices were not perfect. They were, however, what we thought we were supposed to do.

These choices played out like this: margarine (never butter!) on the table at dinner, low-fat chicken breast and ground turkey instead of beef, low-fat or fat-free yogurt and string cheese for snacks, lots of whole grain cereals and skim milk, and plenty of whole grain bread with low-fat Miracle Whip.

Now, this is in no way a bad diet. In fact, compared to many of my friends’ houses, where Fruit by the Foot, Lucky Charms and pizza bagels were the norm, my family might as well have been nutritional role models. But now that I’ve changed my eating habits, I’ve realized that our family diet was flawed (though well-intentioned).

I’m sure many of the people reading this will have the same memories of childhood, and likely have continued following the low-fat, whole grain “Standard American Diet” (guys, that spells SAD…) ever since. Again, I must be clear: I am not suggesting a sandwich with low-fat cheese and whole grain bread is going to kill you. No, in fact, I’m sure you’d live a long, healthy life with a lot of purpose and meaning. You’d probably have a lot of happiness, too, not to mention all the bomb sandwiches you’d get to eat over the years.

No, I’m saying that I think you could be healthier. I think you could have more energy and be happier. And while the Paleo lifestyle certainly does not work for everyone, every person I know who has tried it has not regretted it.

So, what IS Paleo anyway? While we could get really in-depth about this, I LOVE these simple rules from Liz Wolfe, co-host of the Balanced Bites podcast:

Nutrition100Wds_2013

 

Isn’t that great?! To me, it just makes sense. To you, it may not. And that’s OK. But if you’re looking to improve your health and just plain ol’ feel better, you may want to give it a shot. Try it, for two weeks, for one month, for however long you feel like it- and just see how your body responds.

Anyone else have success with this lifestyle? Anyone planning on taking the plunge? What are you most afraid of/looking forward to?