You have decided to embark on a whole food, happily grown, fresh-caught, well-sourced food plan. Welcome to your paleo program. There are many benefits to making the switch to a paleo lifestyle, but there are a few rules of the game to which you must adhere.
Some paleo principles, if not followed, will leave the results you are hoping for unrealized. So, what are the basic premises of your new plan? To set a strong foundation, let me give you five“paleo pillars.”
- Ditch Dairy: Yup,“Sorry cheese, bye-bye ice cream,” Here is the deal with dairy. Dairy products are, unfortunately, thought in many circles to cause inflammation(1). Why you might ask? The problem with dairy is that we decided, to acquire the best milk, butter, and cheese, we needed to load poor “Betsy” with grains, antibiotics and toxins instead of grass. Queue inflammation attack. Our systems are intelligently sensitive and appropriately react to large proteins, and unfamiliar chemicals. So yes, eliminating dairy as part of living a cleaner lifestyle is a serious commitment by many paleo enthusiasts. After a while, once your system has healed from years of exposure to dairy-containing foods, a little grass-fed cheese or ghee, (clarified butter that does not contain any dairy solids) may be tolerated. But first, as a paleo newbie, it is recommended you take some time to let your system rest.
- Later Legumes: What is wrong with beans? Don’t they contain lots of fiber and protein? Yes, they do. But they also contain a host of inflammatory-causing components as well. Phytic acid, a chemical prolific in legumes, can block the absorption of nutrients in your intestinal tract(2). In that sense, it is considered an “anti-nutrient”(6). Also, the lectin contained in legumes can irritate the gut and potentially lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome(3). By the way cashews, often thought of as a legume, are actually a seed, and thereforeacceptable on the paleo plan. But lentil, white, black, kidney, and garbanzo are out. And soy, the most toxic of all beans, is best responded to by a quick turn and run.
- It’s Not All Meat: Many people associate the paleo lifestyle with some kind of cavemanmascot. Historically cavemen are often associated with eating large portions of meat. Brontosaurus burger anyone?Let’s put this one to bed. The paleo lifestyle embraces organic vegetables and fruit just as much as lean, well-sourced protein. Your plate should be 2/3rds fresh vegetables, and a 4-6 ounce portion of animal protein. No brontosaurus burgers here.
- Goodbye Grains: This is probably the most difficult change for many people on a paleo plan; however, the paleo community has done an excellent job of designing recipes for paleo breads, biscuits, crackers and cookies to satisfy all of your grain cravings. Almond and coconut flour have been a Godsend for many who miss all the different grain-containing products to which they have been accustomed. But be careful. Transitioning to paleo is not about mimicking your old diet by replacing favorite food items with paleo-acceptable foods. It is about transitioning to a plate with unrefined and unprocessed whole foods. These acceptable flours are still processed, so use them in moderation.
- Sayonara Sugar:Sugar is refined, often genetically modified, and highly inflammatory(4). Sugar has also potentially been linked to obesity, diabetes, and cancer. I know most people are aware of these factors, but it is worth a mention because not only do you need to give up refined and artificial sugars, you also need to take a look at how much sweetener is in your diet as a whole. While honey, maple syrup, stevia and palm sugar, are on the thumbs up list, it is still recommended to keep them to a minimum.
These are some ambitious changes if you are coming from a traditional American diet. But here is the good news. People who diligently embark on a paleo programreport many positive outcomes such as weight loss, increased lean body mass, stabilization of mood and sleep, decreased acne and other skin conditions, improved energy, decreased foggy brain, and a host of other benefits(5). So be gentle with yourself. Take your time transitioning to this new food plan one step at a time. Once you are on the paleo protocol, you are going to experience notable changes quicker than you can say “caveman.”