I’ve had people ask me quite a bit lately for Paleo tips, so I decided what better way to start off my blog than with a crash course in eating/cooking Paleo! Before I begin, let me state that I am not affiliated with Paleo, I am not a nutrition expert, nor do I claim to be. I am simply sharing with you tricks and information that I have found that have helped me to lead what I consider a healthier life. I stumbled upon Whole 30 a while back and decided that it was a great challenge for my father, whose eating habits were just like many other Cajun’s–not so healthy. Whole 30 was just a kick start for Paleo eating, and it was from there that my mother and I stumbled upon the wonderful world of Paleo (pay-lee-oh). If you are like me, you had no idea how to say that word in the beginning, but once you understand the reasoning behind the Paleo way of life you will never forget its pronunciation. Paleo eating mimics that of the paleolithic era, one where the agricultural revolution had not yet occurred and people fed off of other animal’s meat, berries, nuts, and naturally occurring oils/spices. My mother diligently chose to challenge herself for 30 days, along with my father, and the results have been phenomenal. They both follow pretty strict Paleo diets and have learned to enjoy their meals with the same food love affair that they had with their unhealthy “Cajun” dinners. Paleo isn’t a fad diet, it’s a way of life and the foundation of a wonderful diet. I always tell my parents that they are creating a wonderful legacy for their grandchildren to follow, a positive example of great nutrition will help Benjamin and I to build a wonderful foundation in our children’s diets that will lead them on a path to healthier lives.
You make the call about how strict or not strict you want your Paleo diet to be. In my house we try to eat as Paleo as possible, but we do have cheats. I am simply providing you with the information that helped me learn to eat and cook much cleaner for my family. As the cook, and grocery shopper of the house, I feel as if it is my duty to provide my family with nutritionally dense, healthy meals and snacks. Benjamin loves to eat, and if I stock the pantry with sugar filled, processed treats, he would choose them over apples and oranges any day. I can either harp on him about self control and making good food choices, or I can make sure that most everything he reaches for will do his body good. I also control all of Hattie’s meals. I refuse to purchase pre-made meals for her and instead, follow Baby Led Weaning (that will be in another post) and feed her whole food, and good food. I am responsible for my family’s nutrition and I take that job very seriously. Most arguments against eating Paleo, or even clean, would be that, “My parents ate it, and they are okay” or “I ate it when I was little and I’m fine, it won’t kill me”. I love these comments. The obesity rate, percentage of people with hypertension, type II diabetes, cancer, and other preventable diseases should make you pause. Are they okay? I am not validating that every one of these diseases is solely caused by diet, there are, of course, many OTHER factors that could cause one to suffer from cancer, and hypertension, etc. but our diets most definitely aid in our demise. It’s a fact. We are not wearing our food, or putting it on a shelf in our house. We are putting it into our mouths and depending on it to make our hearts pump, our lungs expand, our kidneys filter, and our eyes see. This, my friend, is rather important fuel. I urge you to consider treating it so. This post is going to be excessively long because I am trying to cover all topics of Paleo eating. I have each section separated with numbers, so if you are looking for something specific try browsing around to find what you are looking for.
Here’s the 101. ( I am including local stores that carry these supplies, for those in Southwest Louisiana. Look for the stores and products in Italics.)
Full out Paleo means NO grains, NO dairy, NO legumes, this eliminates milk, soy, bread, rice, and a whole lot of other foods that you most likely think you need to survive. Some people choose to follow modified Paleo diets, which means they allow themselves certain items–most popularly would be a Paleo diet with dairy. The thing with dairy is that it contains casein, a milk protein that can cause problems within our guts. Now we were raised thinking that milk was great and made our bones strong! This is all true, milk has great beneficial qualities, and just because the paleolithic people didn’t find it appealing to go out and milk wildlife doesn’t mean it is completely wrong. I just like to remember that humans are the only species that drinks milk past infancy….The best form of dairy to eat, if you would choose to eat dairy, is full cream products like cheese, cream cheese, yogurt, butter, sour cream, and heavy cream. If you choose to just follow a modified Paleo, do your best to follow these 3 rules: NO MSG, NO CARRAGEENAN, and NO NITRATES OR NITRITES (most deli ham, anything cured).
1—you will be using lots of oil, vinegar, and spice with Paleo so expect to start stocking up. We use a lot of apple cider vinegar, white distilled vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, sesame seed oil, macadamia nut oil, extra virgin olive oil, extra LIGHT olive oil (for dressings, it is a must) and sunflower oil for baking. Maybe start grabbing a spice or two when you go to the store to build your spice cabinet. Smoked paprika, dry mustard, basil, oregano, cumin, red pepper flakes, and many many many more.
2—Paleo approved butter, or ghee butter (clarified butter) is a great cooking base. I find this at Whole Foods, VitaMart (Lake Charles) or Vitamins Plus (Lafayette) it is about $13 for 13oz., so about a dollar an ounce (ouch). You can also order it off of Amazon and have it delivered to your door, since it can stay at room temperature. TIP: do not introduce any type of liquid into the ghee (i.e. always use a clean, dry spoon when getting ghee out of the jar) if you introduce moisture, it will begin a bacterial growth in the jar and then you end up with a mess that you don’t want
3— When cooking with oils we use the following: Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, sesame oil. If you want to splurge a little, do your research and find a good quality olive oil, because most of the cheaper olive oils are not so pure….(but what is these days if you don’t make it yourself..?) Coconut oil will change consistency in your pantry depending on the temperature and the weather so be careful every time you open your jar because at times it’s a solid and at other times it’s a liquid. Being careless can cost you half a jar (speaking from experience). Coconut Oil and olive oil will be at most of your local grocery stores. Wal-Mart carries both(the coconut oil will be right next to the Pam). I get my sesame oil at Whole foods but I’m sure you can buy it at health food stores, some Wal-Marts, or you can order online. Read around online about Paleo oils and experiment with some yourself! You may like a few others better, or you may find that some are better for you than others. Don’t just take my word for this information, seek and find on your own and draw your own conclusions as well!
4—For us, avoiding grains is primarily difficult when it comes to bread. You can make a Paleo bread (do not have any misconceptions…it will NEVER rise and get fluffy like the yummy bread we have all grown up eating.) you will need almond flour and/or coconut flour for this. Coconut flour is rather affordable, but you will drop a dime on almond flour/almond meal. You can buy a tiny bag of almond flour at most health food stores for a pretty penny (about $10 a bag) or you can spend $34 on Amazon for 5 lbs, if you have a prime membership it’s free shipping! At that price you are paying $6.80/pound(16 oz) which is a great price. Amazon’s coconut flour is comparable to that of Whole Food’s etc (maybe a few cents off) and you can get it in bulk for $31.14 (pack of 6 for a total of 6 lbs so that comes out to be $5.19/lb) You can keep it all yourself, or split the cost with another Paleo friend. Win win!
You can find tons of paleo bread recipes on Pinterest and the web, or in Paleo cookbooks Try out your own recipes and see what you like!
NOTE: MOST OF THESE RECIPES WILL CALL FOR HONEY. IF YOU HAVE AN INFANT UNDER THE AGE OF 1 DO NOT FEED THEM THIS BREAD NOR ANYTHING THAT CONTAINS HONEY, EVEN IF IT HAS BEEN BAKED. THE BOTULISM SPORES THAT NATURALLY OCCUR IN HONEY ARE TOLERABLE TO YOU AND YOUR MATURE IMMUNE SYSTEM BUT WILL POTENTIALLY KILL AN INFANT.
Good alternatives to noodles are spaghetti squash (sometimes Wal-Mart has them, Fresh Market in Lafayette carries them as well THEY ARE NOT BUTTERNUT SQUASH) and zucchini noodles (my favorite) I literally just take a slicer or julienne tool and peel the outer dark green layer of the zucchini off, then I scrape off the inside in shreds and use this as a bed for my spaghetti sauce, etc. yummy! Even Benjamin likes it.
—5. When it comes to sweet things, you can make some Paleo friendly treats. You will most likely need almond or coconut flour for these and sometimes coconut butter or manna. You can find this at Whole Foods or Amazon. It’s about $12/jar. You will most likely need coconut milk as well, which brings me to my next point…..
—6. The beauty of coconut milk. I buy my coconut milk in cans (Wal-Mart has started carrying it in the Asian food section. You will want to get unsweetened full fat coconut milk when you do buy it.) If you put it in the ice box and let it sit for a while, overnight or quite a few hours, the fat will separate from the water. It is extremely evident and when you take the lid off you will be able to literally pour out the milk and the water will remain at the bottom, you will easily see when to stop pouring to keep it separated. You can whip the milk to make a nice thick creamy concoction that you can eat with berries as a whipped cream substitute. So good! I also pour the milk into Popsicle trays and make coconut milk popsicles for Hattie. She loves them! You could also use the coconut milk in your morning coffee as a creamer substitute. After you start to eat Paleo for a while, you are going to wish you had coconut tree in your backyard….and an almond tree.
—7. Coconut Aminos is a great substitute for soy sauce. I find this at Whole foods or Vita mart in Lake Charles. It’s been way more expensive online…not sure why. It is much better to buy it in the store, it’s about $8-$12 for a little bottle but it should last you a while unless you live on stir fry. Which leads me to how to use it! As a marinade, in stir fry dinners, and it is an ingredient in lots of sauce recipes you will find. I use the brand “Coconut Secret”
–8. Your meats are going to be the heart and soul of your meals. Vary it up for your sanity and for a well rounded diet. Beef, chicken, turkey, fish, pork, they are all great. Don’t buy the cheapest ground meat. Its just bad stuff and bad for you. Spend the extra few $$ to get the good ground sirloin. Your meat is supposed to be grass fed. There are a few places in Southwest Louisiana that sell grass fed beef, if you really want to drive and buy your meat there, more power to you. Mom and I may make a trip up to Eunice soon to check it out but we have honestly just been buying our meat at local grocery stores. As far as chicken goes, Wal-Mart sells a brand called “Harvestland” it is in a package with green on it. It is hormone free, and the chickens are free range. I would definitely shoot for this chicken when possible. An even better option would be to buy a whole bird from someone who raises them, (I know of a few people in Jeff Davis Parish who sell them, send me an email if you would like to know their contact information) but let’s be honest….most people don’t live in the middle of the country where this is possible and convenience is a pretty big deal for most of the people I assume this guide will be helping. We love deli meats here and Wal-Mart has finally started to occasionally carry Paleo friendly deli meats!!! The brands that I have found so far that you can have are going to be: Harvestland (their ham is the bees knees. It tastes like Thanksgiving) ham, chicken breasts, and turkey. Also Sara Lee has some turkey and chicken in their behind the counter deli meat line that you can have. The Sara Lee ham is a no no…it is cured so it has nitrates and nitrates. If you are unsure always ask the deli workers to see the package and read the ingredients (yeah, I’m the annoying shopper that does this regularly) The thing about these meats however, is that they do not have any preservatives, therefore they are going to go bad quicker. You need to eat them within a week (but come on, meat that is good for you shouldn’t have a very long shelf life…) so if it’s just you eating, I would shoot for ½ a pound to start with. You can also freeze it so if you catch some coupons or want to have a little stock don’t hesitate popping it into the freezer. Bacon can be a great treat and Hormel Naturals makes an uncured, nitrate and nitrite free bacon. It’s in a cardboard package. I find ours at Wal-Mart. This can be frozen too. (makes a yummy meatloaf addition!)
—9. We are big tuna fans. If you aren’t please don’t waste your time…skip this section.. The only place that I have been able to find tuna that is Paleo friendly is at Whole Foods. It is their Whole 365 Brand (kind of like Wal-Mart’s brand is Great Value, theirs is Whole 365). It is the white albacore tuna and I get the unsalted version…I can add my own salt, sea salt that is. It is literally tuna and water. That’s it, nothing else. It is $1.79/can, but if you buy a case (12 cans) you get a 10% discount. You can use Paleo Mayo (see tomorrow’s post) and eggs to make a yummy tuna salad! Tuna is versatile and at our house, we always keep a stockpile. I am sure many other brands are Paleo friendly, I just found the one I like at Whole Foods and have stuck with it! Make sure you are educated about Methylmercury in tuna before you go on a binge.
—10. I sure hope you like eggs. They will become your B.F.F. I’m like a huge advocate of yard eggs. Even in bigger cities there will be someone selling free range yard eggs (look on Craigslist if you don’t believe me). They are so much better than store bought eggs. I will be annoying and explain the benefits to you. Salmonella is such a huge risk with poultry, including eggs. (My younger brother contracted salmonella once when he was an infant and it caused him to have febrile seizures. It was the scariest thing, and I’ve hated salmonella so much since then). Little chicks naturally have salmonella occurring in their gut. It’s a flora that occurs within them. Momma chickens secrete these little granules on their wings that the baby birds peck off of momma and eat when she guards them under her wings like all good momma birds do. These granules go into the chickadee’s gut and kill the salmonella so these chicks will now live to be wonderful salmonella free egg makers and their meat will be nice and healthy. In large factories where eggs are mass produced they can’t exactly sit around letting the chicks and mommas do their thing, so instead they toss around these replicated granules and hope and pray that those chicks eat them, or even worse, they shoot them up with hormones to kill the salmonella (trading one evil for another I tell ya). As you can imagine this process doesn’t work a lot of the time and we wind up with sub par eggs where salmonella is lurking ever so often. I feed Hattie eggs so I don’t take my chances with store bought. Plus I like seeing brown eggs with specks all over them…something homegrown about it. Don’t feel guilty when you buy eggs at the store tomorrow, I know you don’t all have time to go down to farmer Bill’s and pick up a carton, but think about my rationale next time you pass a house with a yard egg sign in the front and you have about 3 minutes to spare. Eat omelets with spinach and mushroom and ham. Eat eggs over easy,and eggs scrambled. Eat eggs any way you can think of. They are the cheapest form of protein you will ever find. And don’t believe the bull about cholesterol and eggs…they have actually been shown to raise your HDL (the good kind of cholesterol) levels. Eat away my friends!
–11. Peanut Butter!! Sorry, you can’t have peanuts, they are a legume not a nut. Darn the luck! You can, however, have almond butter, sunflower seed butter, and cashew/macadamia butter. It’s tasty on paleo bread, apples, to make Paleo pancakes, in smoothies, and much much more. Try to find the variety that isn’t loaded with sugar…this may be hard, but you can do it!! I know you can!
—12. Almond Milk–unsweetened is a great alternative to dairy milk. It is an acquired taste for most people but it is much better for you!! Loaded with calcium and unsaturated fat (you want your fat unsaturated by the way) it’s a powerhouse!!
—13. Fruit- try them all. Vary it up. Plant a blueberry bush. Fruit is so full of sugar and so yummy you will have to make yourself eat veggies sometimes because all you will want to eat is fruit! Hang out in the produce section at your grocery store or visit a farmer’s market every week. You have to buy fruits and veggies fairly often to keep them fresh. Try new fruits in new ways, try all of the varieties of fruits until you find one you like (ex: Fuji, Granny Smith, and Gala apples all taste so different!!) I always thought grapefruit was bitter, but then I found out that it is the membrane separating the meat that is bitter, not the fruit!! Buy yourself some grapefruit spoons and dig in!
—14. Veggies- CORN IS A GRAIN. NOT A VEGGIE (I just thought I should throw that out there…and edamame is soy, so that’s out of the picture as well). Try to eat your veggies, even though fruits will be calling your name. The same holds true here as far as buying a variety and buying often. Try them out in every way, shape, and form you can find. Make mashed butternut squash, sweet potato fries, and cauliflower bites. You will learn to love veggies (I told you I was an optimist). One thing my mom always does that rubbed off on me is to spend a morning or afternoon baking a platter of sweet potatoes, then store them in the fridge for a quick addition to your lunch!
—-Join me tomorrow as I finish my Paleo 101, and give you a few recipes and tips for meal planning! Have a great Wednesday evening!