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A Beginners Guide To Paleo

So what exactly is this "Paleo Diet" everyone is talking about these days. It's all over Twitter. You can't open a health or nutrition magazine without stumbling on an article about it. It has been reported to eliminate bloating, clear up acne, free you from migraines, and even help you shed a pounds. While none of this is guaranteed, cleaning up your diet and focusing on whole, fresh foods is definitely a good idea.

The basic guidelines — skip grains (both refined and whole), legumes, packaged snacks, dairy, and sugar in favor of vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, fats, and oils — seem easy, but to successfully go paleo takes some savvy. Follow these 11 rules to get started.

Clean Out Your Kitchen
Gather all the "no" foods — grains, cereal, vegetable oils, beans, yogurt, cheese, milk, packaged foods, you get it — and toss them in the trash. Doing it all at once has an advantage. It’s easier to avoid temptation if it’s not there.

But if you prefer to baby-step your way, that works too. Perhaps you cut out dairy the first week, eliminate refined grains during week two, skip all grains the next week, and so on until you’re following a paleo diet. Either way, be sure to restock your kitchen with whole foods so you have plenty to eat.

Pinpoint Your Motivation
Many people turn to paleo in an attempt to help with medical issues, such as GI problems, autoimmune conditions, and allergies. Some simply want to feel better day to day or believe that it’s the healthiest way to eat. Your reason will help determine the guidelines you follow and what you want to be meticulous about. And be strict about your personal rules for the first 30 days.

Follow the 85/15 Rule
After the first month, many experts recommend the 85/15 approach, meaning 85 percent of the time you're strictly paleo, leaving 15 percent for nonpaleo stuff, whether that’s a granola bar, a hamburger (bun and all) at a cookout, or cocktails with the girls. Pay attention to how you feel after reintroducing things into your diet. For example, if you have a scoop of ice cream and wake up bloated the next day, you may decide that future discomfort isn’t worth it.

Expect a Setback (or Two)
It’s totally normal to go paleo and slip back into your normal eating habits. But don’t feel like a failure. It’s a learning process. Find like-minded people following the diet through local groups, blogs, forums, and Facebook, and connect with them to help steer you back on track — and keep you there.

Cook!
Because paleo is based on whole, fresh foods, it’s easier to whip up meals at home rather than get them at a restaurant where it’s harder to control what ingredients are used. Take this opportunity to experiment with new foods — maybe even challenge yourself to buy the weirdest-looking vegetable at the farmers market and ask the seller for advice on how best to prepare it. You can also search online or invest in some paleo cookbooks for inspiration so your meals stay flavorful and aren’t just plain seared chicken breast with plain kale and carrots.

Be a Label Decoder
You know to skip doughnuts, cookies, and crackers, but some foods are surprisingly not paleo: peanut butter (it’s a legume); nut butters or dried fruit with added sugars; and soy sauce, malt vinegar, lunchmeats, and many marinades and sauces (some contain soy, gluten, preservatives, and sugar). So be sure to read the ingredients list closely when buying anything in a package.

Rethink Your Plate
You’ve been taught to reserve half your plate for veggies, a quarter for lean protein, and the remaining quarter for whole grains. When you change to paleo, stop holding a place for grains: a balanced plate consists of a palm-size portion of protein, a dollop of fat, and veggies, veggies, veggies (fill the rest of your plate with them).

Make an Oil Change
Instead of reaching for canola, corn, or soybean oil for sautéing, use coconut oil or lard. Really. These high-quality saturated fats are healthy to cook with because they are more stable and won’t oxidize when heated (oxidation releases damaging free radicals). And when it comes to lard, animal fats — if from grass-fed cows — pack more omega-3s, as well as a type of fat called conjugated linoleic acid, which some studies suggest may help burn fat. Some experts also recommend butter from grass-fed cows, but many restrict dairy of any kind. (The choice is yours.) For cold applications, use olive oil, avocado oil, and walnut oil.

Eat Meat
Many people have restricted meat from their diet because they believe it is harmful to their health. You can eat meat — just make sure it’s high quality. So say goodbye to processed meats such as bologna, salami, and hot dogs. Wild meats like bison, elk, and boar are the ideal choice, followed by pasture-fed meats and poultry, and lean grain-fed meat should be your last pick. For seafood, opt for wild-caught as often as possible, and sustainable, low-mercury choices are best.

Fool Your Sweet Tooth
Giving up sugar is a major hurdle for many people at first. If you love to have a treat after dinner, swap the cookies or froyo for a piece of fresh fruit. (For major sugar cravings, a paleo secret is a little bit of dried mango.) With time, your taste buds will adjust — and that Oreo you loved so much before might become too sweet now.

Eat Out With Ease
A business dinner or brunch with your best friend is still doable on the paleo diet. All it takes is a little ingredient sleuthing. First look at the menu ahead of time and pick one or two options that you can paleo-ize. That might be wild salmon with broccoli. (Request double the veggies in place of the rice pilaf.) At the restaurant, don’t be shy to ask questions about how things are prepared and request changes, if necessary.

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