Paleo Basics - A List
Learn the basics of eating paleo in a simple checklist.
1. Eat only Real Food.
The most important part of eating clean, Paleo or not, is eating Real Food. The problem with this recommendation is Real Food isn’t easily defined. (For the full explanation, check out the Wild Foods article:What is Real Food?)
In a nutshell, Real Foods is any food that has not been processed or altered in a way that compromises the integrity of the raw ingredient. After that, there are foods that can processed yet still qualify as Real Food.
For example, most cocoa products fall within this category because you can't grab a cocoa pod off of a tree and eat the beans inside without processing to make it safe for human consumption. But we still consider high-quality cocoa and high-quality dark chocolate as Real Food.
These forms of processed Real Food fall into the same category as other neolithic foods like butter, which weren't around during the actual Paleolithic era, but are still acceptable foods to eat when they are grown and made a certain way. (Hint: it's all about the quality!)
You are trying to get as close to nature as possible. The more you do the cooking/processing yourself, the better.
Each step away from nature—each step that requires processing—increases the risk to health and that your food doesn't qualify as Real Food.
When it comes to defining Real Food, the more you know about food—how it was grown and made—the better decision you can make about how good it is.
In most cases, Real Food contains one ingredient (or a few amount of other ingredients that fit Real Food criteria).
- Ingredient List: Chicken
- Not-Real-Food Ingredient List (This is an actual label on a packaging containing substances they are trying to pass off as "food."): Chicken, Water, Wheat flour, Salt, Soy, Protein Concentrate, Modified Corn Starch, Flavorings, Fried in Partially hydrogenated Vegetable oil with BHT
2. Eat Real Food calories in ratios that look something like this:
Ratios for macronutrients are always subjective because each person is different and will do better on varying amounts of fat, protein and carbs. Furthermore, your macros will vary depending on your activity levels, current level fitness and goals.
It's impossible to quantify an exact ratio that will work for everyone so we we are forced to give general ranges. The recommendations above are starting points you can use to figure out what works best for you.
Another thing about macro ratios is, if you can get Real Food mostly down, the ratios soon become a trivial consideration; you can just eat what you want as long as it's Real Food and your body will take care of the rest.
What about weight management?
Let's say you start eating only Real Food but you aren't losing weight like you want to. This would be a good time to curb your carb intake while increasing your fat and protein.
Most people, especially those new to Paleo or a Real Food diet, have trouble eating enough fat and protein. See our food list to see clean sources of each.
After you've had your fat and protein fill, your stomach will have little room for carbs (especially the sugar). This lets you control your carb intake, which makes it easier to curb your hormone levels and lose body fat.
As a general rule, carbohydrates should make up somewhere between 10-30% of your total calorie intake, consisting of the cleanest carbohydrates you can find—e.g. yams, sweet potatoes, squash, plantains, fruit, nuts/seeds.
3. Eat plenty of clean fat from coconuts, pastured butter and ghee, and any fat from healthy animals.
This is often the hardest part for those new to a Paleo diet.
Pop nutrition culture has vilified fat for a long time now. There are a few reasons for this, such as faulty research and food corporation lobbying and advertising, but to avoid going down that rabbit hole right now, here is the truth about fat in simple terms:
Fat doesn't make you fat. In fact, fat helps prevent fat gain because it acts as a buffer to those hormones that get all out of whack from eating too many carbs and processed junk food. Fat also helps fill you up and help trigger signals to your brain that you are full.
Fat is necessary to human life... If you don't eat fat, you'll die.
The same can't be said of carbohydrates—your body can survive on ZERO carbs. But if you don't get your fat and protein intake, your body will waste away.
The other part of the fat fear mongering pertains to saturated fat. Here's saturated fat in another simple nutshell: It does not cause heart disease and you can eat as many egg yolks and fatty steaks as you want! (Of course, these eggs should be pastured and organic and the steaks should be from humanely treated grass-fed cattle.)
Fat is a necessary and nutritious nutrient to the human body.
Repeat after me: Fat doesn't make me fat. And: Eating fat will help you lose fat.
Now slather some pastured butter on your next hunk of salmon or grass-fed steak.
4. Eat as much omega-3 EPA and DHA as you can.
Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in abundance in the modern industrialized Western diet. While omega-6s are an essential fatty acid the human body needs to run, having too many of them compared to omega-3s can promote inflammation.
It's about the ratio, and the problem with our Western food supply is: omega-6 is everywhere and omega-3 is severely lacking.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found many processed foods and nut and seed oils while many of the beneficial omega-3s are found in healthy animals and seafood.
It is estimated that the typical American diet contains about 14 times as much omega-6 as omega-3.
This is why we need to do this: Limit omega-6s and foods that contain omega-6s as much as we can while increasing the amount of omega-3 rich food we eat.
Omega-3s, specifically the ones containing EPA and DHA, are found in fatty fish—salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, mackerel—and to a lesser extent in grass-fed red meats and wild game.
Almost all the fat you eat in restaurants is cooked in omega-6 filled vegetable and seed oils. (Pro tip: Ask the sever to have the chef cook your food in butter.)
Eat more canned fish, salmon and grass-fed meats. Consider supplementing with a quality fish oil as well! (Join the Wild Newsletter to get updates on our new Wild Fish Oil coming soon!)
5. Eat in-season and with as much colorful variety as you can.
Our ancestors ate food that was in season... and only in season.
After all, they had no other choice in the matter. There were no grocery stores or trucking or planes or ships that could transport produce around the world.
In season food tastes better and is more nutritious (the former being the reason great chefs only cook with local in-season ingredients).
Compare this to the food you get from halfway across the world that is not actually in season because these foods are sprayed with pesticides to help them ripen—slower or faster—so they will be just right when put up for sale in the grocery stores.
This is how corporations use synthetics to circumventing seasons.
If you shop your local grocery store, the produce is usually bland and lacking in nutrients for these reasons.
On the flip side, go to the local farmer's market and pick up produce that is vibrant and full of flavor and nutrition and that is, pretty much always, in season.
The other thing about eating in season is it naturally mixes up your diet.
Eating the same foods over and over can cause the human body to develop food allergies. There's even research that suggests that most Americans are slightly allergic to chicken and mildly to severely allergic to peanuts.
Think about it: our ancestors never ate chicken on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, the way many do today thinking they are eating "healthy."
No food was available to our ancestors on that consistent of a basis.
Their food was always constantly varied and unexpected and always in season.
6. Eliminate all grains and legumes from your diet.
As I disclaimed in section #2 of this guide, if you grow your own grains and bake your bread using those grains after you process them the way they need to be processed, I think grains would be fine to eat sometimes.
The same goes for legumes.
But let's be honest with ourselves: you just ain't gonna do that.
And that's why grains and legumes are not something we recommend on a Real Food or Paleo diet.
Grains and legumes attack the gut. They are severely lacking in nutrients. They contain many anti-nutrients. And so on. We'll cover grains and legumes more in later parts of this guide.
Avoid: wheat, oats, rye, barley, brown rice, soybeans, peanuts, lentils, all beans, black eyed peas, corn.
7. Avoid sugar.
Sugar is everywhere. Most of us are more addicted to sugar than we know.
Do everything you can to avoid foods that contain sugar or sweeteners. (And juice is not a health food... it's junk food.)
Also, please stop feeding your children sugar. For the love of humanity, stop it.
It's amazing how effective the big food brands have shaped the diet of our generation, and how it's so socially acceptable to feed kids sugar. This, and the other issues with our food supply, is why the current generation of children is estimated to live shorter lives than their parents.
This is serious.
PLEASE STOP FEEDING YOUR KIDS SUGARY PROCESSED FOODS! You are ruining their health—and their future—with every bite.
8. Remove seed oils and all forms of hydrogenated fats.
These are full of omega-6s, are often rancid, and wreck havoc on your health.
You'll most often find these in processed and packaged foods and in nearly all restaurant food. (Yes. I said ALL restaurant food.)
Avoid: Peanut oil, Safflower oil, Sunflower oil, vegetable oil, shortening, margarine, soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, and anything with the word "hydrogenated" or "trans" on the label.
9. Eat out as little as possible.
Restaurant food is all kinds of bad.
From cross-contamination to the prevalent use of highly refined seed and vegetable oils to disgusting food handling practices, you need to do everything you can to eat out as little as possible.
For those of you that eat nearly all your meals at restaurants, I have some bad news for you: It's going to catch up to you, and when it does, you'll probably be sitting in a doctors office hearing bad news.
10. Be careful with dairy.
It's bad for your waistline and your general health, and any nutrients that were in the raw version have been annihilated through the pasteurization process. (Raw milk, if you can get your hands on it, is an entirely different story.)
Do this: Buy organic, and if you can find it, grass-fed full-fat dairy products.
And go light on the cheese.
*Technically dairy is not "strict Paleo," but many in the Paleo community have come to realize that dairy can be used strategically with result.
11. Eat lots of vegetables.
Just do it.
12. Get all the Lifestyle stuff in check.
See our list here: 20 Rules For a Healthy Life
13. Skip meals regularly. Don't snack.
Try to extend how long you go without food on a regular basis. You can call this "fasting."