Me. Want. Eat. Healthy. That is basically what the cavemen were saying back in the Paleolithic Era, right? Well, with the popularity of the paleo diet these days, it seems like that was about all they were concerned with back then. If you have heard about the paleo diet, then you are probably wishing you had the diet of those back in the Stone Age, and if you have not heard about it yet, then you may just be living in the Stone Age! But what does it really mean to eat how a caveman would have eaten, and does it really work over time? We have all the answers about the paleo diet for you below, so keep reading to figure out which foods you will really have to give up, and how easy it actually is to create your favorite recipes while sticking to the famous Caveman Diet.
What Is the Paleo Diet?
You have most likely heard that those on the paleo diet are trying to “eat like a caveman would have eaten.” But seriously . . . who knows what a caveman would have eaten? Though there is a technical answer to that question, the paleo diet is a bit different than what actual science suggests cavemen would have eaten (so we will not go there). The paleo diet, at a most basic level, eliminates anything that is bagged, canned, or processed in any way, or contains any ingredient that is bagged, canned, or processed. After you remove these items, your diet consists heavily of meats, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts. You can think of it as anything that is “raw” in a sense. But are we expecting you to eat raw onions and chicken every night? Of course not. You are absolutely allowed to cook your foods, but under the paleo diet, you are supposed to avoid any modern cooking methods as well--frying, breading, or anything that involves non-paleo oils (paleo oils include olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, and coconut). If you could make it yourself from the land (in theory, you don't actually have to), then you can eat it, but if it requires any machine or technological processing, then it is out!
There are a few exceptions to this basic rule of thumb for the Caveman Diet. Paleo dieters are not supposed to eat anything that our ancestors “could not” eat as described above, but you are also expected to avoid any foods they “would not” have eaten. This is where the science part comes in. For instance, legumes and starches like peanuts and potatoes were both around during the Paleolithic Era. However, evidence suggests that humans did not eat either of these at that time, so neither is acceptable on the paleo diet. Also, a few foods have been taken off the paleo diet due simply to health reasons. The main purpose of the diet is to restore humans to their natural or evolutionary health standards, which many believe were far superior to our typical standard today. Most foods on the paleo list have certain things in common:
- High in protein
- Low in carbohydrates
- Low score on the glycemic index
- High in fiber
- Moderate to high in fat intake (mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats)
- High in potassium and low in sodium
- Net dietary alkaline load that balances dietary acid
- High in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant phytochemicals
List courtesy of The Ultimate Paleo Guide.
Therefore, a few foods (see: lentils and legumes) have been removed due to being high on the glycemic index or too starchy for the positive health benefits of the paleo diet. It is up to you how strictly you follow the paleo rules and restrictions, but to get the full benefits, we always recommend diving in 100%! Of course, if you have any illnesses or deficiencies, please consult your healthcare professional first to discuss the right course of action.
How to Still Maintain a Balanced Diet
Anytime you adopt a new eating plan, certain foods are added to your daily intake and certain foods are removed. It is important to pay attention to which nutrients you add and subtract to ensure you are maintaining a balanced diet on your new plan. With the paleo diet, you will have a lot of protein and fiber, so take that into account. Increasing fiber content significantly in a short period can disrupt your digestive system, so increase your fiber gradually. Too much protein can also have negative health consequences, so just remember to ease into the new diet so as not to disrupt your system with drastic changes.
On paleo, you will notice that there are fewer grains and carbohydrates. This is typically okay as vegetables can be a good source of healthier carbs anyway, but make sure you do not eat too much of one type of vegetable, as you will need a more balanced nutrient profile overall. We always love the tip of making sure your plate has three or more colors on it. This keeps you from only eating greens or eating too much meat and ignoring the other important food groups.
Popular Paleo Substitutions
Going paleo may cause you to notice a few significant absences from your typical diet. For one, without bread or processed grains, it can be tough to find a “base” for your foods. A lot of foods are served on some sort of staple food, be that rice, pasta, bread, tortillas, or many others. Without these, what do you put your vegetables and meat on? Popular options are to create dough-like substances out of cauliflower or other vegetables. You can even use coconut flour to make pastries or crusts. For pasta, spaghetti squash, and zucchini are two favorite ways to recreate noodles.
Potatoes are another large absence--you may not initially think so, but potatoes are one of the most common foods served in the United States. Think of how many meals this week alone have included fries, hash browns, or mashed potatoes! Cauliflower makes a wonderful mashed potato substitute, and for chips, you can bake almost any vegetable for a delicious, crispy snack. We personally love to munch on kale chips!
Speaking of snacks, that is an area that is tough under any diet plan, and paleo is no exception. Sure, you have your meals planned out to a T, but what happens when you just need another bite around 2:00? You may start feeling hungry sooner when on paleo, too, due to the lack of those filling--but empty--carbohydrates we are used to eating. For snacks, it is always best just to keep it natural. A fruit salad or a handful of nut mix is always delicious. Those kale chips we mentioned will serve you well too. We have a large selection of paleo-friendly appetizer recipes that will definitely hold you over for the next meal.
Now the terrifying part where we discuss pastries and sweets. We know, we know, you love your morning scone and a brownie every now and again. We do too! But being on the paleo diet does not mean you have to give these up! Your first thought may be that without flour, you will never have cake again. However, there are a huge number of paleo-friendly flours on the market, including our best-selling Bob’s Red Mill Paleo Baking Flour, and more are popping up every day. You can see our entire recipe collection for pastries and sweets that are paleo-friendly here. Some of them use a special paleo flour, but many of them make other substitutions that will leave you (pleasantly) surprised and leave your sweet tooth satisfied!
The paleo movement has been around for about 30 years now and is probably not going anywhere soon. It is sometimes considered to be a high protein diet alternative, in contrast to the Ketogenic Diet. Other people simply use it to lose weight or cleanse their body of processed foods and starches. No matter what your reasoning for starting out on the Paleolithic Diet, this is a perfect time in history to do so. With its rise in popularity over the last 10-plus years, there are a myriad of products out on the market to make this process easier for you. If you check out any of your health food stores locally, you are sure to see paleo-friendly substitutes for many of your staple foods. Not to mention that there are literally millions of paleo recipes for anything you could possibly want! We even love these Paleo Pancakes--can you imagine fluffy pancakes without wheat flour? Check out all the recipes out there and let us know what your favorite substitutions and new meal ideas are, you may even like the paleo version better than the conventional!