the paleo diet: a beginner’s guide plus meal plan

Michael Mc Laughlin, SATI STAFF

The Paleolithic diet, the caveman diet or the stone-age diet whatever you want to call it is all about getting back to basics. The essence of paleo is to focus on food that was once upon a time only available to Paleolithic humans. Back when prehistoric people inhabited the earth, they did not have the luxury of choosing what to eat. If they had a skilled hunter they ate meat on special occasions. Nothing was farmed everything was eaten as soon as it was caught. It’s been a long time since men held spears and chased deer on the savanna, but the paleo diet has stood the test of time.

Not only standing the test of time but also standing up to rigorous scientific scrutiny, the diet of the paleolithic man gives us everything we need to energize ourselves for an active lifestyle. As cavemen went on week long hunts, it was sometimes the case that they would eat little or no food for long periods of time. This way of eating can be advantageous for modern people.

Paleo 101

So what is the paleo diet? Who is it best suited to? And, is it safe to do? These are some of the questions that paleo freshmen want to know.

What can I eat?

The main tenet of this ancient diet is a focus on eating real food that is consumed before any processing can occur. You make a choice to eat only natural food sources and try to eat the way that nature expected us to and the way our digestive system was designed [1].

The diet of the modern man is relatively new [2]. For thousands of years, up until the agricultural revolution, humans could only get their food by hunting [3] gathering [4] and foraging [5]. This made it significantly harder than walking to a supermarket, but cavemen were stronger, fitter, and built for this way of being. Do you think you could handle it? Most office dwellers would really struggle if tomorrow mankind regressed to hunter-gatherers.

However, you can still enjoy the caveman diet. The Standard American Diet (SAD) [6] has heaps of sugar in it. Did you know that there are 61 different names that sugar is legally allowed to be described as on food labels [7]. That’s a lot of names for the same white stuff that humans managed to survive without for 10,000 years. In fact, sugar is toxic [8] for us, and it is wreaking havoc on the diets of everyone from Mexico City [9] to China [10]. As a health food enthusiast you might be au fait with the destructive effects of sugar on the body, but for millions of people, they are still in the dark.

Ten diet guidelines for paleo debutants

1. High in fat

A classic paleo diet should be high in fat [11] moderate in animal proteins and low in carbohydrates. Calorie counting is not encouraged, neither is portion control. For years fat was demonised by the media and the food industry backed by influential lobbyists. Fat free and low-fat became the buzz marketing words of the generation while sugar secretly sneaked into all types of processed food. But, in the last few years fat has come full circle and as a part of a balanced diet it is encouraged [12].

Nevertheless, not all fats are created equally; and educating yourself on what is good and what is bad will be an essential initial step when switching to paleo [13]. Unsaturated fat which is liquid at room temperature is mostly in oils from plants. Eating unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat may help you to improve your cholesterol levels.

2. Good portions of animal protein

Protein from animals is a core component of the paleo diet. Try to get organic red meat, poultry, eggs, organs (liver, kidney), wild fish and shellfish. A lot of people try to avoid the fattier cuts of meat, but they can be delicious and full of the ‘good’ cholesterol [14]. This type of cholesterol protects your heart. People with higher levels of HDL have a much lower chance of suffering from heart disease. HDL cholesterol levels greater than 60 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are high, that’s good and men over the age of 35 should get regular cholesterol checks with their doctor [15].

3. Eat a lot of vegetables

Studies have shown that there is no significant nutritional difference between fresh and frozen vegetables so get whatever is most convenient for you [16]. A great way to bulk up your vegetable intake is to whizz up a smoothie in the morning with some fresh and, or frozen vegetables. When eating raw or cooked vegetables serve them with fat. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and yams [18] are also great as a source of non-toxic carbohydrates. Sweet potatoes have also got anticancer properties [17].

4. Eat low to moderate amounts of fruit and nuts

Try to eat mostly fruits which are low in sugar (lemon, cranberry, lime) [19] and high in antioxidants like berries [20] as well as nuts that are high in omega-3 [21], low in omega-6 [22] and low in total polyunsaturated fat like macadamia nuts [23]. Consider cutting off fruits and nuts altogether if you have an autoimmune disease, digestive problems or are trying to lose weight. Definitely limit your consumption of the fruits with the highest sugar content: lychee, figs, mango, cherry. Although natural sugars are worlds apart from added sugar they still add up.

5. Choose pasture-raised and grass-fed meat

If at all possible, make the decision to eat pasture-raised and grass-fed meat from local, environmentally conscious farms. If you can’t find a supplier in your neighbourhood choose lean cuts of meat and supplement your fat with coconut oil [24] butter [25] or clarified butter. Also preferably choose organic, local and/or seasonal fruits and vegetables. Although the evidence is inconclusive [26] regarding the superior nutritional profile of organic produce and meat, buying locally is better for building a sustainable economy. The environmental impact of buying locally makes it a much better decision.

6. Cut out vegetable oils

Harmful oils that should be eliminated from your diet including hydrogenated [27] and partly hydrogenated oil, margarine, soybean oil, and sunflower oil [28]. Changing your diet to include olive oil [29] is a smart move given the benefits for your heart, memory, learning [30] and cholesterol [31]. Avocado oil is fine, but don’t cook with them, use them in salad dressings and to drizzle over food. Avocado oil [33] is linked with improvements in mitochondrial function and shown to decreases oxidative stress in the brains of mice.

7. Avoid dairy products

Most paleo dieters ditch the dairy with the small exception of butter and heavy cream. Dairy is not essential [34] and we can get many of the vitamins and calcium from other sources, so our bodies can do without it. If you really cannot do without dairy consider going raw or aim for organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed, full fat and fermented (yogurt, kefir, cheese) [35]. Dairy is a gray area for the paleo enthusiasts—some people advocate it [36] other people advise against it [37] . There’s no need to eat any dairy food to get all your nutrients in; you can have a perfectly adequate diet without it.

8. Eat when you are hungry

The latest research disavows eating a square three meals a day [38]. In an evolutionary sense, we were built to consume calories whenever we had the opportunity. This meant long periods fasting [39]. Intermittent fasting is not what people typically think of as fasting—going without food or sustenance for days [40]. Indeed, intermittent fasters believe you can enjoy all the benefits of chronic calorie restriction after as little as 12 hours without food [41]. Which means that simply skipping breakfast and waiting until lunch to eat again counts as intermittent fasting.

9. Supplements

Consider supplementing with vitamin D [42] and probiotics [43]. Consumption of magnesium, iodine and vitamin K2 should also be maximized. Iodine [44] can be obtained from seaweeds. You probably don’t need a multivitamin or other supplements. Of course, eating natural food is the optimum way to get enough vitamins but with the hectic lives, we lead that is not always possible. Many nutritionists suggest at a minimum taking vitamin D but also omega 3 and a probiotic. For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, micronutrients like minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals have always been consumed in a range of concentration that was available through diet only.

10. Banish late night eating

In the present day, there are many ancestral circadian mismatches with modern lifestyles. Late-night eating may be one of the most glaring unsuitable elements. We’re in the grips of an obesity epidemic with 70% of adults over the age of 20 in America are overweight [45] or obese and 50% of the population now classified as pre-diabetic [46] or diabetic. New research shows that late-night eating may be a significant contributor [47].

Beginners meal plan for paleo

Before you commence any new dietary plan, it’s advised to first consult your regular health professional. Here are some quick guidelines to get you more familiar with the paleo diet framework. For the next week try to:

Avoid

Grains and grain-based products [48] sorry to say including pasta, bread, cookies, pizza, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils), almost all dairy, processed sugar, industrial, processed oils and products containing those (canola, soybean, corn, vegetable, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed), condiments containing gluten, preservatives and artificial flavours and colours, sugar loaded soda, energy and sports drinks.

It’s up to you if you want to avoid alcohol altogether, however, this might be mission impossible for most people so being less dogmatic and choosing a glass of dry red wine, dry cider or clear spirits is only half cheating.

7 day paleo meal plan

Day 1

Breakfast

Two soft-boiled eggs chopped over a bed of spinach with olive oil, lemon and garlic. Topped with ½ cup cherry tomatoes, avocado, ¼ cup diced green onion squeeze with lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and pepper on top. Plus ½ red apple.

Lunch

Salad made with 100g tinned sardines or wild salmon in olive oil or brine, 2 cups lettuce, 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, 5-6 sliced radishes, 1 small grated carrot, 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds. Dressing of 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon Balsamic, ½ teaspoon of mustard.

Dinner

200g beef steak marinated for an hour in rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper, then grilled to medium rare in ghee or coconut oil. Served with a grilled Portobello mushroom and 1 and ½  cups of slaw salad made with red cabbage, Spanish onion, parsley and dressing with lemon juice, 1 portion mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.

Day 2

Breakfast

1 small sweet potato pan-fried in coconut oil for 8 minutes until golden brown and soft served with 80g smoked salmon, ½ cup diced cucumber, spoon of mayonnaise, a squirt of lemon juice and some dill.

Lunch

2-3 medium gluten free sausages with grilled asparagus and a side of bay leaf salad with green peppers, sesame seeds and tahini, lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil dressing. Plus a dollop of mustard or whole grain mustard on the side.

Dinner

Turmeric chicken & kale salad
Snack if you need on 50g beef jerky, 1 cup diced watermelon, green tea

Day 3

Breakfast

Smoothie made with 1 cup frozen mixed berries, 1 cup fresh spinach, 1 cup coconut water, ½ cup coconut milk. Eat with 2 slices of baked turkey or chicken.

Lunch

Last of the turmeric chicken salad, 1 cup pumpkin or mixed vegetable soup

Dinner

Chipotle meatballs with pan-fried or steamed zucchini and cauliflower
Snack if you need it 90g tinned tuna or wild salmon with sun-dried tomatoes and diced cucumber, 1 squares dark chocolate.

Day 4

Breakfast

Scrambled egg, red peppers and tomatoes, served with a side salad of avocado, radish, coriander, and olive oil. Plus a ½ cup of blueberries or diced papaya.

Lunch

1 and ½ cups of spinach or mixed green salad with cup of baked sweet potato or pumpkin, grated raw medium beetroot and carrot, walnuts and fresh basil pesto dressing topped with 150g of grilled chicken or lamb

Dinner

Oven baked salmon fillet topped with parsley, lemon, garlic and steamed broccolini and green beans
Snack if you need it 4 squares of melon wrapped in prosciutto.

Day 5

Breakfast

Leftover from salmon fillet, grilled asparagus, poached or soft-boiled egg and a drizzle of truffle oil

Lunch

Tuna & salmon sashimi with seaweed and avocado salad or Thai beef & vegetable stir-fry with chili and basil

Dinner

Mexican chili beef wrapped in lettuce cups with guacamole and tomato salsa. To make the Mexican chili beef, pan fry 350g of grass fed beef mince with 1 diced brown onion, 3 garlic cloves, 1 tbsp chopped red chili, 1 teaspoon each of paprika, cumin and ground coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 1 teaspoon sea salt, pinch of pepper and ½ cup of water. Cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve in baby cos lettuce leaves.
Snack if you need it 2 tablespoons of  liver pate with sliced carrots and cornichons

Day 6

Breakfast

Banana coconut pancakes with blueberries & maple syrup

Lunch

Seafood platter: 4-5 grilled prawns, 3-4 oysters, calamari, mussels with a side green salad

Dinner

Crispy duck with sautéed kale or Tuscan cabbage and orange sauce

Day 7

Breakfast

Big breakfast with 3-4 grilled mushrooms, 2 scrambled eggs, 2 bacon, wilted spinach and grilled tomatoes without any toast (I know right)

Lunch

BBQ pepper and eggplant salad with goat’s cheese, pine nuts and pesto

Dinner

Roasted free-range chicken with lemon, mustard and rosemary, roasted carrots, fennel, whole garlic cloves and beetroot, steamed broccoli and green peas with mint and butter. Or try the roast chicken with apple, lemon and garlic.
Snack if you need it: Handful of blueberries and macadamia nuts

The sati line

There is nothing new about the paleo diet. It was the diet that sustained masses of migrations from Africa between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago. These strong nomadic people never had ready made meals, white bread, or any candy to keep their energy levels up. They had everything they needed from animal protein, fats, and locally foraged fruit. They ate when they could and when they were ravenous, not shackled to a routine of three meals a day.

We can learn a lot from how ancient civilisations ate food. In brief, this was the way our digestive system was designed to work. The modern diet is at odds with our genetic makeup and it’s becoming increasingly destructive. The Paleo diet might be the thing that saves us.


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