When I tell people about the paleo diet, the most common reaction I get is “I could never give up grains!” I always think of that scene in Arrested Development:
G.O.B.: What about hash browns?
Kitty: No, because hash browns are potatoes. *
G.O.B.: So, you really can’t eat anything on this diet. Wow, I wonder how this is going to affect my honey business.
Kitty: G.O.B., I have seen you get passed over, time and time again by your family. You don’t deserve that, you’re smarter than them.
G.O.B.: What about macaroni… let me finish… salad?
Most people panic at the thought of never having a sandwich again. But really, the paleo diet is not as restrictive as you might think.
The Standard American Diet You’re Eating Now is Restrictive
The fact that the food pyramid is a triangle, not a square, goes to show that the SAD is already a restrictive approach. In fact, the new MyPlate approach, which replaced the food pyramid, leaves out an entire macronutrient! Fat has been relegated from the tip of they pyramid to not on the plate at all. (Apparently nobody told the USDA that many of the vitamins in vegetables cannot be absorbed unless accompanied by fat.)
Not only does the SAD restrict fat (IMO, the most delicious macronutrient), it also restricts overall calories. We are asked to reduce our caloric consumption to a mere 2000 calories a day–and that is probably not enough for us.
The most delicious foods are paleo
The paleo diet asks you to listen to your body and feed it whatever it wants. There is no counting grams of fat or calories–no counting of any kind! You just feed your body what it wants when it wants it. (Your body does not want gummy bears. Listen closer.)
Eggs with the yolks!
Vegetables with all the butter you want!
Any kind of fruit!
Lobster with butter sauce! For that matter, any kind of seafood!
Fatty fatty fat-fats, like bone marrow and lard and schmalz!
Underappreciated cuts of meat, especially organ meats!
How I think of it
I don’t think about foods I “can’t” eat. I “can” eat whatever I want. I choose to feed my body foods that are nutrient-dense and make me feel good.
Legumes are a controversial topic in the paleo community. Personally, I don’t eat them because they make me feel bad. But a lot of people who follow an ancestral approach to food will eat legumes that have been treated to remove the phytic acid via soaking, fermenting, or sprouting. As with any controversial food item, you should try eliminating them from your diet for 30 days, then adding them back in and seeing how you feel. When you do these sorts of experiments, you learn to listen to your body, and you learn important cause-and-effect relationships that will help you on your path to optimal health.
Pro Tip: Don’t Substitute
Sometimes, you just need to have some spaghetti bolognese, and then sure, go ahead and buy a spaghetti squash. But in general, I don’t like to make paleo versions of regular foods. There are so many extremely delicious foods that are already paleo without a lot of tinkering. In fact, I get a lot of my recipes from epicurious; I just do things like swapping in healthier cooking fats and using vegetables instead of pasta.
Personally, I choose not to eat inferior substitutes because I don’t like feeling deprived of the “real thing.” I don’t make paleo chocolate chip cookies; I’ll eat some dark chocolate if I need a dessert fix. There are so many delicious foods that are already paleo that it’s really not necessary to use inferior substitutes for anything you may have eaten in your pre-paleo days.
*This conversation was about Atkins. Potatoes are fine if you’re not trying to lose weight (see how non-restrictive Paleo is?). Just don’t eat the skin–because that’s where the anti-nutrients are. And make sure to eat them with butter to mute the overall glycemic load. But you were going to do that anyway.