There Are No Stinkin’ Rules…okay, there’s a few.

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.

The Rules

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’s Left?

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.

Organically Speaking…

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.

Just live.

Jimmy’s Cookies

I’m always looking for noshy, munchy things, and I found these cookies while I was shopping at Walmart one day. They were in the freezer section with the gluten-free and paleo foods, and I was instantly intrigued, thought it took me a while to try them. There are, to the best of my knowledge, two varieties — Chocolate Chunk, pictured here, which are pretty much just chocolate chunk cookies, and Pecan Chocolate Chunk. They are both very tasty.

There are a few cons with this product. One is that they are expensive. A tub of 18 costs $9 at Walmart. The second is that they stay frozen and have to sit out for an hour before you can eat them.

There are a few pros with this product. One is that they are expensive. A tub of 18 costs $9 at Walmart. The second is that they stay frozen and have to sit out for an hour before you can eat them.

Yeah, I know the pros look exactly like the cons, but the fact is, at that price, I’m not going to sit and eat the entire tub, and with the need to thaw them, I’m not going to eat them impulsively.

These are great for stashing in your freezer for a rainy day. You just take two out and put them on a plate while you make yourself a nice bowl of soup. Then, after lunch, you can make a cup of tea and have your cookies.

Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate

When I was young, I would have told you that I’ve always liked dark chocolate. Now, of course, I know the difference between Hershey’s Special Dark and good dark chocolate.

Chocolate is important to me. It has some great health benefits and yes, it’s Paleo, if you use it right. The darker the chocolate is, the better, and I’ve had 100% cocoa. I usually have my chocolate at bedtime with a little black coffee, kind of a non-alcoholic nightcap. This is not something where I sit and eat the entire bar. I have a square. Usually, I buy the bag of Ghirardelli squares so eating one at a time is simple.

I find that a square of dark chocolate is all I need, and I love Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark line for the flavors I can get. A lot of other companies pair their flavors with semi-sweet chocolate and ruin the value of the dark chocolate altogether. These bars, though, come in raspberry, cherry, sea salt, and my personal favorite, Cabernet, which has blackberry and blueberry undertones. The chocolates are very rich, and I don’t feel like I’m short changing myself on a “diet” rather than enjoying something I’m allowed to eat.

RX Bars

I was technically homeless when I started my Paleo-ish lifestyle. I spent my first two weeks at my daughter’s while she was in England, but moved into my car when she came home. I was unwilling to undo everything I’d worked for over the previous two weeks because I didn’t have a kitchen, so I started to think about portability, things that keep and were cheap.

I had actually discovered RX Bars when I was an Uber/Lyft driver. I would be in my car 15 hours a day, and, depending on how the day went, I didn’t necessarily have time to stop and eat. I would pick up these bars at a 7-11 that sold them 2 for $5, and I’d buy $20 of them at a time.

I don’t usually like nutrition bars, but I am really impressed with these. They are just what they say on the front of the package. The egg gives them a little more staying power than, say, a Lära Bar, which is another favorite of mine, and they are more of a meal bar than just something to deal with my sweet tooth. They can be a little pricey — a box of 4 is $6.50 at Walmart, more at other stores —but they are so worth it, particularly when I’m on the road. They come in some great flavors: chocolate chip, chocolate sea salt, coffee, mixed berry, blueberry, chocolate coconut, and, even though they aren’t paleo because of the peanuts, peanut butter and peanut butter chocolate.

Lära Bars

One of my carry-along staples, even now, is a Lära Bar. These are date and nut bars that come in a variety of flavors. These are not meal replacements but more of a candy bar replacement. They’re sweeter than RX Bars and Epic Bars that have egg in them. Those tend to be heavier, if that makes sense.

I always have one of these in my purse. If I need a little something, it’s enough to take the edge off of hunger without filling me up if I have a meal shortly. They’re great to have at work for that reason. They’re also my go-to if everyone around me is munching on candy bars.

They’re pretty straightforward — no refined sugar (except for the minuscule amount if there are chocolate chips in a bar), no grains, no dairy. Just dates, nuts and possibly some other kind of fruit depending on the flavor of the bar.

My go-tos tend to be the Almond Butter Chocolate Chip and Coconut Pie. In a good Whole Foods, Alfalfa’s or Sprouts, there selection is a little better and you can find a huge range of flavors, but there are some good basics in Walmart.

Silk Dark Chocolate Almond Milk

Once upon a time I ate several small meals over the course of the day because that’s what my schedule allowed or even demanded. A few bites here and there between the schedules of two full-time jobs, and I was good. A lot of my meals tended to be the same things every day, and many of the items under the “Favorite Things” tab helped me through the day. One of my end of day favorites was a single-sized dark chocolate almond milk by Silk and a banana.

I’m not a huge almond milk fan. Not to just drink it, at any rate. I will cook with it, have it as ice cream, etc., but I will never just sit and have a glass or cup of milk. Unless it’s the chocolate stuff. I’m picky that way.

I like this particular product because it tastes like the cow-made stuff and have a good regular texture rather than being watery. I occasionally get a little bit of a craving for something “creamy,” and this is something that is a great substitute for a cup of two-percent milk and too many scoops of Quick chocolate powder.

The single-sized servings do not have to be refrigerated, which makes it convenient to take with me on trips or chores. It looks like a little carton of kid’s milk, complete with straw, so drinking it is easy. They can be pricy — nearly seven dollars for six servings — but all almond milk tends to be a little pricy. These little servings, though, especially chilled, feel like a treat. Yes, they have a little sugar in them, but really, if you’re Paleo, you’re not cheating when you drink them. It just feels like it.