A Beginner's Guide to Going Paleo

Is Eating Like a Caveman Right for You?

Turkey bacon and egg skillet ingredients

The Spruce Eats / Ulyana Verbytska

The Paleo diet is a modern interpretation of how humans ate during the Paleolithic period. But why would anyone want to eat like a caveman? Because, as it turns out, our environments change much faster than our genetics! Those who go Paleo fill their plates with quality whole foods while simultaneously nixing grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods. What’s the reward for taking your diet a step back in time? Taking your health a step forward. Research shows that eating Paleo can promote healthy weight loss, improved blood pressure, lower triglycerides, and better glucose tolerance. That said, going primal in this day and age is vastly more nuanced than simply sinking your canines into some grass-fed steak! The diet has its absolute rules, but within those boundaries, there is room to range. This guide will help you design your Paleo game-plan, from making your grocery list to dealing with pesky setbacks that pop-up along the way.

Know Your Paleo Goals

Because the Paleo diet entails major benefits, it may be tempting to thrust yourself into making changes without first gaining a fundamental understanding of why you’re making them. You know you’ll be adjusting the contents of your pantry to exclude grains, legumes, dairy, and refined foods, but what for? Many grains contain gluten, which is a known irritant to the digestive tract, whereas legumes have lectins, compounds which cause a similar inflammatory reaction. Furthermore, because grains and legumes are high in carbohydrates, it’s easy to overeat them. Dairy can also cause problems since the enzymes used to digest it disappear as we are weaned from our mother’s milk in infancy. Finally, eliminating refined foods is likely the least controversial topic, as they provide almost no nutritional benefit. So, what’s the unifying concept between all foods ousted on Paleo? They can kickstart chronic inflammation in the body, contributing to many of the diseases we’ve come to associate with our modern lives, like obesity and autoimmune conditions.

Create a Clean Slate

Now that you have a handle on the purpose of a Paleo diet, it’s time to talk honestly: clean out your kitchen. Chances are that unless you’re a monk, purging the boxes of frozen pizza from your freezer will make the leap into your new lifestyle far easier. So, bring it to work, cook it for friends and family, donate it—no matter the method, get rid of the non-Paleo foods from your house! Feeling better? Good. Now, take stock of your new grocery list: meat and fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables, most tubers, nuts and seeds, and herbs and spices. After you’ve successfully lugged your over-stuffed bags of food home, reward yourself with savory herb-rubbed lamb and a scoop of avocado ice cream.

Make Friends With Fat

In the days of low-fat everything, it would have been unthinkable to eat a steak without first trimming off its fat. With Paleo, you’ll embrace the lustrous mouthfeel and flavor of fat! Focus as much as you can on plant sources of fat, such as nut butters  and avocado, as well as high-quality animal sources, like ghee and tallow. Brush a little schmaltz (chicken fat) before roasting your veggies and give mashed sweet potatoes a little oomph with coconut milk. Despite its history as a demonized macronutrient, fat is powerfully nourishing and when we indulge just a little, we’ll forget about our love affair with the cookie jar.

Spend Smart

Paleo also emphasizes the quality of the foods you choose and sadly, eating organic produce and well-raised animal products can cost a pretty penny nowadays. Of course, you could argue  that eating inflammatory foods will cost you more in the long run, but it doesn’t lessen the sting from an expensive grocery receipt. Instead, strategize on how to spend your money wisely. Do you live in the suburbs with a secure stoop? See if there’s a local co-op near you that will deliver farm-fresh produce. Or, do you call the countryside your home? Strike up a deal with a hunter for some quality meat  you can freeze through the year. Or, do you climb a five-story walkup to arrive at your front door? Tend to a potted herb garden so you can revel in flavor and savings. There’s no shortage of ways you can tailor Paleo to fit your budget.

Tailor Your Paleo Plan

Unlike many other diets, Paleo can truly flex around your needs. Although you may stick to the full expression of the diet in the beginning, you may find with time that you can add back in some dairy. Or maybe you dish some rice with your Thai fish green curry (let’s be honest, it’s just better this way). The point of Paleo isn’t to be needlessly strict, it’s to improve your health! So, once you have a firm grounding in your new lifestyle, feel free to experiment as you see fit. Over time, the healthy foundation you build with Paleo may free you up to intuit what your body needs—even if that means revisiting this recipe for eggs Benedict time and again.  

Try a Meal Delivery Service

Eating well starts with inspiration and if you’re accustomed to sourcing yours from pasta dishes and dumpling platters, it may help to get started with a Paleo meal delivery kit. From healthy snacking services like Paleo Pax, to the menu of gourmet meals from Pete’s Paleo, you can ease into the lifestyle while nourishing your creative spark and body, alike.