I started eating Paleo about a year ago. Coming from an Italian family who very much loves their bread, pasta, cheese, and desserts, I assure you that starting the Paleo diet was not an easy transition. There were a lot of turning heads, questions, and misunderstandings about what was and wasn’t allowed on my “diet”.
I always tried to be conscious about eating “real” food and avoiding over-processed treats. But that’s not to say I haven’t indulged in a good fried chicken sandwich and mozzarella sticks before I started my Paleo journey – I used to eat the shit out of that. Though I was always super picky when it came to premade packaged food. There’s something about overprocessed treats that has always turned me off from a taste and nutrition standpoint.
In the past, I tried to make meals from scratch as much as possible, but I was often fooled by healthy buzzwords that made me think I was eating something nutritious when I really wasn’t.
Little do many people know, “gluten-free”, “fat-free”, and “sugar-free” are often food industry buzzwords thrown around to trick people into thinking it’s a healthier alternative. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Luckily, the Paleo diet helped guide me into a better understanding of nutrition. Eating Paleo is not about losing weight, it’s about living well.
After landing on the Paleo diet, many of my health issues disappeared, including terrible allergies and digestion issues. I’ve also gained a better understanding of what it means to care for my body, as well as the environment, through what I choose to eat. Living a Paleo lifestyle is often seen as something that is scary and intimidating, but I assure you it doesn’t have to be.
In a nutshell (no pun intended), following a Paleo lifestyle means eating real, whole foods and avoiding anything processed, containing gluten, dairy, and/or refined sugar. Afraid there’s not much left after that? Think again!
A typical Paleo-friendly grocery list consists of:
- Meats: Poultry, fish, grass-fed beef (I personally avoid red meat.)
- Vegetables: Literally every and any veggie is Paleo-friendly. I shop locally when possible, often going to farmers markets in the summer, and being conscious about where my produce comes from during the off-seasons. Grocery stores like Wegmans and Whole Foods will often label where their produce comes from, which is good to keep in mind to be more environmentally friendly. (Why eat a tomato from halfway across the world if I can eat one from New York State?) Frozen veggies are also a nice timesaver. (Woodstock Organic is a great brand and fairly easy to find.)
- Nuts: I’m absolutely addicted to almonds and almond butter. As a substitute for baked goods, almond flour is also a great pantry item!
- Fruits: The earth’s natural sweeteners. I love using oranges and lemons to make my own homemade salad dressings.
- Healthy fats: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil… just to name a few.
- Spices: As the Spice Girls once said, “Spice up your life!” Building a substantial spice pantry really makes a difference in adding oomph to your meals. (Just be sure to use organic)
For me, the hardest part about living a Paleo lifestyle is avoiding refined sugars, which are seemingly in every premade sauce, gluten-free pastry, or vegan product.
I’ve been able to adapt well to figure out meals that work for me and the Paleo lifestyle at almost any restaurant. Plus, with the influx of farm-to-table restaurants popping up throughout my area of NJ and NYC, it’s becoming much easier to go out and enjoy a delicious, healthy meal.
While eating Paleo seems restrictive (and expensive), it doesn’t have to be. Eating Paleo can be super cost-effective and easy. There are certain ways you can cut corners at the grocery store to ensure your Paleo pantry and shopping list don’t break the bank.
- Shop in more than just one place: The best way I’ve found to save money when grocery shopping is to not get it all done at one place. Where one market may have great priced produce, another may carry better prices on poultry or olive oil. Hopping around to different markets near you, comparing prices and quality is totally worth the time. Also, take advantage of living in the wonderful Garden State! We have access to such wonderful farms and markets at our fingertips. NJ Fresh’s website is a great resource to help you find an organic farm near you.
- Plan and prep your meals: Before you go food shopping, take the time to think ahead about what you’ll be making that week, and build your grocery list around that. Bonus points if you can knock out two birds with one stone and have a few of the same items carry over into multiple meals.
- Don’t shy away from organic: When given the opportunity to purchase an organic grocery item, it’s common to gravitate toward the non-organic version because it appears to be more cost-effective. While this may be the case in a few instances, buying organic when possible is worth it, and no, those few extra cents don’t make much of a difference at the end of the day—especially if you are following steps 1 and 2 above!
My advice for someone looking to begin eating healthy or trying Paleo is to not be afraid of missing out on “regular food.” Before you begin, make sure you’re ready for the challenge that comes with it (and believe me, it can be quite the challenge at times). But with the right attitude, eating Paleo can be extremely rewarding and fun.
Also, for those who aren’t comfortable in the kitchen, or simply do not have a lot of time to dedicate to cooking, there are a lot of great resources out there that provide pre-cooked Paleo meals to make sure your life stays delicious and healthy at the same time. (Pre-Made Paleo, Paleo Box Meals, Pete’s Paleo, and much more!) Websites like Thrive Market and Barefoot Provisions are great ones to bookmark for healthy, easy, affordable snacking needs, too!