As promised, my first order of business in the Food for Thought series is assembling a Cavegirl’s guide to going Paleo. When I first undertook the transition I was overwhelmed with the amount and breadth of the information out there. After all, Paleo isn’t so much a diet as a lifestyle, and there was a lot to figure out at first. It was easy to get lost in the nuances of nut milk production and dead lifting. Almost a year later I’ve read a lot, experimented, and have more or less figured out what works for me. It’s an ongoing process, but I think it’s important to focus on the big picture and figure out the smaller stuff as you go.
A Top 5 List for Going Paleo Without Going Crazy
First of all, you’re here reading about going Paleo, and that’s the first giant leap in the right direction. You’ve most likely already learned some of the health benefits of making the transition to a more primal lifestyle, so I’ll jump right into the how-to. There is a great deal written about the finer points of Paleo-style living, but here are the main ones you need to worry about first:
1. Eliminate processed foods from your diet. The rule of thumb is that if your great-grandmother, or better yet a cave person, wouldn’t recognize something as food, don’t eat it.
2. Include generous servings of quality meats and fats in your meals. For many of us who were trying to make healthy choices by eating vegetarian or diets with minimal animal products, you may have to to reintroduce meat back into your diet slowly.
3. Strive to make as many of your produce and meat choices organic as you can. There are ways to be strategic about this without breaking the bank, and I’ll cover that in another post. In general, though, I tend to follow the food chain rule: The higher a food source is on the food chain, the more important it is to go organic.
4. Exercise. As you may have realized by now, I’m a runner, which many proponents of primal living would disapprove of. Personally, I believe the jury is still out on “chronic cardio,” but regardless, do what works. It’s more important that you find an activity you enjoy than that you do the perfect regimen on of something you hate. Most workouts can be adjusted to be more Primal, but worry about that later.
5. Relax. You will not be perfect at this. Don’t stress too much over the finer points as you’re making the transition to Paleo. If you make it a goal to replace processed snack foods with fruits, you’re making a significant positive change. There’s no need to worry about the glycemic index of apples versus peaches for now.
Now, if you’re still with me, fantastic. You’ve got the basics and now you want to learn more. The Paleo community is wide, welcoming, and enthusiastic, and there are a ton of resources on the web. Before we get there, though, I think it’s helpful to get your bearings with a good solid overview of the science and nutrition that drive the Paleo philosophy.
If you’re only going to read one book on the subject, I would recommend The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. It’s very clear and concise, and does a great job presenting the big picture.
For those who don’t mind a little more homework, my next choice would beThe Paleo Diet, or The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain. These books get more into detail on nutritional science, and the Paleo Diet for Athletes is a great guide for those who choose to pursue endurance sports while cutting their carb consumption.
Other helpful reads include Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, and Real Food by Nina Planck. Though neither of these is strictly Paleo, both explore why the fat myths are wrong and are excellent choices if you’re still worried about ignoring the conventional wisdom on healthy diets.
Paleo in the Kitchen
Now that you’re on board, where can you find recipes to get you started? I would argue that the first source can be the cookbooks you already own. Many standard recipes can be made more primal by choosing organic meat and produce and though simple substitutions. There are also a few staples your Paleo kitchen should not be without. When you make your first primal shopping trip, try to pick up the following:
Real butter, if you’re including dairy (Kerry Gold is my favorite)
A selection of unsalted (or lightly salted) nuts
Free range Omega-3 eggs
These will take you a long way in making your cooking more Paleo. Almond flour can be used for breading chicken and fish, and also for the occasional baked treat. Coconut oil is healthy and affordable fat for cooking. Coconut milk can be used in smoothies, as a dairy substitute, and to make delicious Thai-inspired Paleo dishes. 🙂 There are plenty more ingredients that could go on this list, but I believe these make a good starting point. I’ll do a later post on Paleo cookbooks and the many recipe sources available on the web, but I want to emphasize that the transition need not be a complete overhaul. You can still make many of your favorite recipes and it will be a lot easier if you don’t jump into kale smoothies on Day 1.
I’m sure there are many more great books and sources out there, so if anyone has any suggestions for titles and links that should be included here, please let me know. Good Luck!