The Paleo diet is associated with many things: cavemen, improved health, fitness, and more, but at its heart the paleo diet is first and foremost about eating the whole, nutrient dense, real foods our bodies were designed to eat. As the paleo diet becomes more popular though, it’s easy for this central tenet to get watered down and even changed entirely from the true goals of paleo eating. Live your best paleo life with The Definitive 2016 Guide to the Paleo Diet & Real Food.
Focus on the Good
Unlike many diet systems, the paleo diet is really more a lifestyle than a true diet. Rather than controlling portions, counting calories or adding up points, your primary focus becomes eating good, nutrient dense foods that fuel your body to be its best. This means building your dietary intake around the natural, wholesome foods our ancestors ate. Fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats are the building blocks of the paleo diet.
Avoid the Bad
Just as good foods fuel our bodies to be their best, poor food choices rob us of energy, promote inflammation, lead to illness and more. For these reasons sugar, dairy, processed foods, industrial oils, grains, beans and legumes are not part of the paleo diet.
With these basic tenets in mind, you have a great start to building your paleo diet, but even among the healthy building block, all foods are not created equally, leaving room for confusion. To get the optimal nutrition and benefits from the paleo foods you are eating, focus on choosing these selections as the bulk of your diet.
Proteins: Grass Fed Beef, Pastured Pork, Free Range Chicken and Eggs, Wild Game and Wild Caught Seafood
When the meat and seafood you eat is raised in its intended environment, eating the foods they were designed to eat, and without chemical pesticides the animals aren’t the only ones who benefit; you benefit greatly as well. This is because when animals are raised properly they have better quality meat with higher nutrient levels as well as evidence of fewer chemicals and contaminates. Studies have shown that beef from grass fed cows has a higher ratio of desirable omega 3 fatty acids. The same has been shown with chicken, wild game, and seafood. Other studies have shown greater levels of vitamin and minerals. Though buying these varieties of meat may have a higher up front cost, the health savings you will gain long term make them worth the initial investment.
Produce: Responsibly Grown Local Fruits and Vegetables
Buying your fruits and vegetables locally supports your local economy and supports a healthier body. When produce is shipped from around the world the time and conditions they may be exposed to on their journey causes nutrients to degrade significantly before they make it to your table. Contrast this to produce that is picked days or even hours before it hits your town’s farmers market and it’s no wonder that research has shown higher micronutrient levels in local produce.
Added to this benefit is the advantage of how local farmers typically grow their crops. Though they may not have gone through the official certification process to be labeled “organic,” many local crops are grown using organic farming practices. Check with the folks at your local farmers’ stand to verify, but you are likely to be getting produce grown organically even if it doesn’t carry an official label.
Fats: Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil, Ghee
You no longer need to fear fat on the paleo diet, but it is important to choose the right types of fats. Avoid processed, industrial oils and instead choose healthy options such as coconut oil, avocado oil, and ghee. The medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil make it a great option for energy and not promoting weight gain. Avocado oil and ghee have high smoke points which make them a great option for cooking without degrading the structure of the oil. In addition to these top options, walnut oil and extra virgin olive oil are two other good options to check out because of their essential fatty acid content.
Animal Products: Free Range Eggs and Collagen
In addition to selecting high quality meat, poultry, and seafood, you want to make sure that the animal products you choose also come from high quality sources. For eggs this means opting for eggs from free range, organically fed chickens or better yet pasture-raised organic chickens. You can often find these high quality eggs at your farmers market alongside the local produce.
Collagen is a key protein required by our bodies for a multitude of functions, but it can sometimes be overlooked, even in paleo diets. Collagen is key to almost every function in your body from skin health to brain function and everything in between. It comes from the connective tissues of animals so you want to be sure that your collagen sources comes from a grass fed or free range source. You can achieve this goal by making your homemade broths from the bones of such animals or purchasing plain gelatin from a grass fed cow. If those options are not practical or desirable for you, it’s also possible to by a collagen supplement. Just look for hydrolyzed collagen supplement from a grass fed source because it’s the most bioavailable form. As with any supplement, look for one with no fillers or additives.
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Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds make a great addition for both meals and snacks. Just be sure the nuts and seeds you choose have not been roasted in industrial oils or coated in sugars and chemicals. The closer to its natural state a nut or seed is the better.