Over the last ten years, the Paleo diet has seen a surge in popularity, with many hailing it as the optimal food plan for human health, performance and longevity.
But despite its popularity, many practitioners can’t seem to decide what, EXACTLY, constitutes “Paleo”.
Which makes it tough for new adopters when it comes to grocery shopping.
“What should I buy? Is cheese Paleo? What about potatoes?”
Most of us who are familiar with the basics of the Paleo diet know what to avoid- processed food, sugar, wheat, grains, etc.
But when it comes to choosing what you should be tossing in your shopping cart, things get much more complicated.
Today we’re going to be tackling this topic, and coming up with a definitive list of foods you should be buying and eating if you want to master the Paleo diet.
And in the interest of keeping things simple, we’ll break this list up into two categories- the “buy” list, and the “maybe” list, to give you a better idea of how you should be shopping.
The Paleo “Buy” List
Let’s start your shopping list off the easy way- the following is a list of completely uncontroversial foods that fit into most definitions of “Paleo”.
These are the foods that should really be forming the foundation of your diet (and shopping cart).
Beef, lamb and pork are all included in this list. While red meat has been demonized in the past for its high saturated fat content, recent research has indicated that saturated fat isn’t the killer we once thought it was (and yes, bacon is included in this list).
On top of that, red meat is loaded with vitamin B-12, as well as iron and zinc (for optimum health, choose grass fed varieties that have a higher Omega-3 fatty acid count than grain fed).
Eggs are seriously awesome. Not only are they an essential ingredient for cooking, they have essential vitamins that most of us are lacking. They’re also a cheap, complete source of protein.
Speaking of protein, you’d really be hard pressed to find a better source than chicken and turkey. Most of these meats are going to be leaner, and therefore lower in calories, making them a good choice if weight loss is a priority for you.
Seafood is one of those things that most of us should really be eating more of. Packed with essential nutrients, it’s also a phenomenal source of Omega-3’s (which most of us don’t get enough of).
This one’s pretty much wide open- from salmon, to tuna, to shellfish, the seafood you choose will depend largely on your preferences and availability in your area.
Like red meat, oils were demonized in the past for their high fat content, but are increasingly being recognized for their health benefits. Olive oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil and coconut oil are all high in monounsaturated fat and antioxidants, and are great for cooking and providing flavour.
No controversy here- broccoli, bok choy, lettuce, kale, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes– if it’s found in the vegetable isle, you can eat it (the exception are starchy vegetables like potatoes, which we’ll address in the next section).
Again, pretty uncontroversial. Most fruit can be enjoyed on a paleo diet. With that said, if keeping your carb count down is a concern for you, you may want to limit fruits that have a high sugar content like bananas, pineapples and pears, and stick with low sugar choices like strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapefruit and lemon.
You should also consider “fatty fruits” such as avocados, olives and coconuts (coconut milk in particular is a fantastic and healthy ingredient that will give you tons of culinary options).
Coffee and Tea
Unless you’re extremely sensitive to caffeine, coffee and most varieties of tea are completely allowed on a Paleo diet. Not only are they allowed, but they also come with health benefits, since both have a high antioxidant count.
The Paleo “Maybe” List
The following is a list of foods that are on the “maybe” list. Whether or not you should be buying these will depend on how you feel when you eat them, and may require some experimentation.
Either way, try to show a little more moderation with these items.
Nuts and Seeds
The controversy around this one has nothing to do with whether or not they’re Paleo (most people would agree that they are).
Cashews, macadamia nuts, and almonds do have a lot of health benefits- but unfortunately, they also have a lot of calories. And unlike red meat and eggs, it’s quite easy to go overboard with these little guys.
Proceed with caution.
Whether or not you should be eating dairy is going to depend on your tolerance to lactose, the primary sugar found in milk.
If lactose does agree with your body, however, adding things like cheese, milk, sour cream and yogurt to your shopping cart can add a lot of variety and flavour to a diet that some people find restrictive (just make sure you choose the full fat varieties, since low fat dairy products often make up the difference with a high sugar count).
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
While they are starchy and high in carbs, both potatoes and sweet potatoes are (relatively) easy to digest and don’t come with the same issues that other grains like wheat do. If you’re a fairly active woman who exercises frequently, you can consider adding these to your shopping cart (just go easy on them).
Probably the most controversial food on this list, there really is nothing Paleo about rice. Having said it, white rice is easy to digest and lower in “anti-nutrients” than most grains.
It’s also quite high in carbs, meaning that, like potatoes, you should only eat it if you’re very active.
There’s no doubt about it- the Paleo diet can definitely be confusing, complicated and downright contradictory. But as long as you’re following the basic principles, eating whole, unprocessed foods and testing different ingredients on yourself to see how you feel, there’s no reason you can’t make it work for you.