The question I’ve been seeing a lot is “What are the Paleo diet rules?” I think it’s a valid question. After all, doesn’t every diet have rules? Aren’t there things you are NOT supposed to eat if you follow a paleo diet?
Well, yes. That’s the short answer. Even with its restriction, Paleo is not very restrictive, and particularly not the way I do it because I am, after all, just “practically Paleo.”
Yes, Paleo has some restrictions, but really, they only set the parameters so you know what it is. After that, there is really not much in the way of rules when it comes to the Paleo lifestyle.
Paleo is grain, dairy and sugar free.
There. That’s it. Those are the rules, and even those can be bent to a certain degree.
This is not a “gluten-free” diet, although, just by virtue of the fact you aren’t eating grains you are gluten-free. No, this is grain-free. So, those non-glutenous grains that people eat instead are no-nos. This is hard for us. We, as a pretty agrarian society, eat a lot of bread. We eat a lot of rice. We think corn is a vegetable. You want to see what I’m talking about? Walk into any restaurant and try to order something that does not have grain. It’s not easy. Everything has bread. The salad has croutons. The side dishes are corn. Every breakfast comes with muffins, toast or pancakes. Dinner meats sit on beds of rice pilaf. We use these things as fillers to keep us from getting hungry too soon. It’s everywhere. And by grains, I’m including pseudo and ancient grains like amaranth and quinoa.
Legumes. Say what? Yep. No beans. No peanuts. No lentils. No chickpeas. No soy. There are a few things we call legumes that are okay. Peas. Nuts other than peanuts. It has to do with phytic acid. It’s not that they have it. Other foods permitted by Paleo have phytic acid. In this case, though it has more to do with how the phytic acid in legumes affect the body. That’s why some legumes (sugar snap peas, nut, green beans) are allowed, but most are not.
Dairy is out. Same restaurants. How many cream sauces or gravies are there? Think about how much food we coat in cheese. How much is swimming in butter (We’ll be talking about butter.)? Coffee comes with a side of cream whether you use it or not. We are not a diary-free society. We have even found ways around lactose intolerance. I’m not one of those people who think milk is bad (I’m allergic to it, but that’s totally beside the point), it’s just not Paleo.
If you thought we used a lot of grain and dairy, you haven’t yet considered how much sugar we, as a society, use. I’m talking anything processed — sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, corn syrup — and that includes artificial sweeteners. The best rule of thumb is this: If it’s processed, don’t use it. That doesn’t leave much. Honey. Maple Syrup (The real stuff. Don’t be thinking Aunt Jemimah and Log Cabin). Bananas are a great sweetener.
What does that leave? Everything else, and that’s a lot. Any meat. Yep, any. Fish, bird, pig, cow, sheep, rabbit, deer, bear, crustacean. I’m not kidding. If it has meat that you can eat, it’s fair game. Is it lean? Eat it. Fatty? Have a ball. Organ rather than muscle meat? Yep, it’a all good.
Then there are vegetables. All of them. Real veggies, I mean (Corn is not a vegetable. See the grain rule). Squash, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, peppers. They’re all good.
Then there are fruits. Yep. Eat them up. Like berries? Have them. Peaches? Go for it. Like munching apples? Have at it.
Eggs are Paleo. Not egg whites. The whole egg. Stop separating them and throwing away the yolks. This is good food!
Nuts. This is one of those things that breaks the legume rule. Nuts are good for you. They make a great snack, and almond flour and almond milk are your friends.
Chocolate. Do I have your attention? Chocolate is good for you, but it’s got to be specific. Good dark chocolate. Not semi-sweet. Dark. The darker the better. I try never to go below 70% cocoa, but I have had chocolate chips that are only 60% cocoa. I tend to hang out around 90% cocoa.
When Do You Eat?
Another short answer. You eat when you’re hungry. Do you like breakfast at 10 a.m. Have it then. Are you hungry two hours later? Great! Eat! Starving? Eat a lot. Not so hungry? Don’t eat so much. The rule here is that you eat when you’re hungry, and you stop eating when you’re full. There is no trying to stuff down a meal or snack when you don’t feel like eating because you have a plan to stick with. There is no starving between meals because it’s not time to eat yet.
People who know me know I like to eat big breakfasts. Not big, HUGE. I may not eat again until 1:30 p.m. or 2 p.m. That’s okay. It’s just how I do things. But I’ve had days when I’ve gotten up and decided I just wasn’t hungry. I munched down a hard-boiled egg and a banana and went on my merry way. How do I quantify that? How do I keep up with my calories? I don’t. There is no measuring in Paleo unless you’re following a recipe, and there is no counting calories. There is only eating when you’re hungry and not eating when you’re not.
Cheat days? I don’t have them. I eat my Paleo meals and go about my life. Party at work? They’re serving cake? Have a piece. No. Seriously. Have a piece of cake. You haven’t cheated. Don’t forget, this isn’t a diet. When you’ve enjoyed your cake, go back to your regular Paleo lifestyle. There is complete freedom here.
There is a lot of talk about where our food comes from. Should we only be eating organic food? What about GMOs? What if I don’t have a Sprouts or Whole Foods near me?
I shop at Walmart.
My life is topsy-turvy crazy. I have been homeless. I have lived in a hotel. I have worked mostly entry level jobs, and, when I have a decent paycheck, my bills take all my money. I can’t afford organic. I can’t afford Whole Foods. But I can afford Walmart. And with Paleo becoming more and more mainstream, even places like Walmart are carrying Paleo-friendly foods. The fact is, though, if you’re eating just food and not a lot of processing, you can get your food pretty much anywhere.
I may one day be able to shop organic at Whole Foods. The fact I can’t now, though, doesn’t stop me from eating Paleo.
A little bit at a time.
Don’t go home and throw away all the food in your cabinets. Like anything else, you have to ease into this. Some manage it faster than others. As you run out of something, replace the food with good, clean foods and just move forward. There’s no plan. There’s no rules…well, almost no rules.