When I first discovered the Paleo lifestyle in February of 2011 I dove in headfirst and completed a strict Paleo eating plan for the first 30 days. My motivation was to figure out if what I was eating might be contributing to my fibromyalgia, fatigue, chronic respiratory infections and depression. I was already fairly lean but not especially healthy and I was frustrated with doctors who could not explain my symptoms. All my tests were normal and yet I was NOT okay.
During my “experiment” I discovered certain food groups had been negatively impacting my health. The changes I have seen and felt since going Paleo have been pretty dramatic. If you have any unexplained aches and pains, inflammation, allergies, skin or digestive problems, or other ailments, or if you simply cannot manage to lose weight or keep it off you should seriously consider how the food you eat may be impacting your health. A Strictly Paleo elimination diet may be just what you need to change your life.
What is Strictly Paleo©?
Most simply stated, Strictly Paleo means eating real food that excludes certain potentially problematic food groups for an experimental elimination period of at least 30 days.
What you DO eat:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fats from nuts, seeds, and fruits
Here’s a handy guide to help with shopping.
What you DO NOT eat:
- White Potatoes
- Alcohol/alcoholic beverages
The Strictly Paleo Details – Food Dos
The meat category includes beef, pork, lamb, fowl (chicken, duck, turkey), seafood (fish, oysters, etc…) and eggs. In an ideal situation, your meat would come from ethically raised animals that have spent their lives eating their natural diet (how God created them). That means wild-caught fish is preferable to farm-raised fish that are fed grains and other products that are not their natural diet. Cows are ruminants designed to eat grass, not grains. “100% Grass-Fed” or “Grass Finished” beef will contain much higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and CLA. If you are unable to purchase 100% Grass-Fed meats then stick to leaner cuts of conventionally produced meat.
Regarding egg quality, in spite of the advertising on egg cartons touting “Vegetarian Feed”, the fact is chickens are not vegetarians! When chickens are allowed to roam free they will eat worms and bugs which means their eggs will be richly yellow/orange and full of nutrition. The fat from these animals is actually healthful for humans to consume. Buy the best quality eggs you can afford for the highest nutrition content.
Vegetables and Fruits
It is hard to go wrong eating vegetables in any quantity. However, if you are trying to lose weight you will need to limit your consumption of starchy tubers like sweet potatoes and yams because of their higher caloric count. When it comes to fruit I try to stick with lower sugar varieties like berries and eat smaller quantities of other, higher-calorie types. (Check the Paleo Food Matrix for more details). Keep in mind, your carbohydrate requirement will vary with your level of activity.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are great sources of fat, fiber, and other nutrients. If you are trying to lose weight you need to be careful how much you consume. Think about it in terms of a hunter-gatherer. They would not ordinarily chow down on a big pile of already shelled nuts. Nuts also tend to be high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Since one of the goals is to get your Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio more in line with an ideal 1:1 ratio you need to be reasonable about your nut consumption. Check out this quote from The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health:
Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids….Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects.
The fats that come from nuts and seeds and fruits are ideal when they are in their most natural state and not subjected to high heats and inordinate processing. Highly processed oils like canola, soy, and corn oil are inflammatory, low-quality foods. Eliminate these seed oils, or any other hydrogenated or trans fats, entirely from your diet. Instead, eat your extra virgin olive oil on things like salads and other lightly cooked dishes. Save your high heat cooking for fats like coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), lard and tallow that have a high smoke point. Eat avocado and unsweetened coconut flakes as sources of healthy fats that are lower in Omega-6.
The Strictly Paleo Details – Food Don’ts:
Do not eat gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley or rye. You will also need to eliminate oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, or any grain products like bran, germ or starch.
Do not eat beans, peas, lentils or soy of any kind or in any form. This includes peanuts which are a legume and not a nut. The only exception is green beans, snap peas, and snow peas because they are mostly pod.
Dairy (see “The Dairy Dilemma” below)
Do not eat dairy products of any kind or in any form such as milk, cheese or butter from any animal source even if it is fermented. The only exception is ghee, which is clarified butter because the milk solids that contain potential allergens have been removed.
Strictly Paleo is a 30-day elimination diet but it also functions as a sugar “detox”. During this period, I recommend you not eat sugar or other added sweeteners in any form with the goal of reducing sugar cravings. That means no table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, agave, maple syrup or honey. You should also not eat artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Nutrasweet or Sweet n Low. I recommend staying away from sugar alcohols like xylitol and even natural sweeteners like stevia during this period.
What about Fruit?
While fruit is a natural whole food, many fruit varieties are quite sweet and very high in fructose (sugar). As such, during this period you should steer clear of high sugar fruit such as grapes, mangos, pineapple, ripe bananas, apples, pears, sweet cherries, kiwi and similar sweet fruit. Even after the 30-day elimination period, you should reduce or eliminate consumption of fruit juices that do not contain the fiber and other benefits of whole fruit.
(See below for more information on adding sweeteners to your diet after the 30-day elimination period.)
Alcohol has a lot of “negatives” and a few “positives”. A lot could be said about those different aspects. But suffice it to say alcohol consumption is not part of the Strictly Paleo Plan. Wine, beer and spirits may contain a lot of sugar and low to no nutritional value – making it full of “empty” calories. Not something we want during this period of time.
White Potatoes – see below for more details
Strictly Paleo Plan Details – Foods you can try adding after 30 days
White potatoes were not originally part of the Paleo diet when I first encountered it in 2011. A few years later, someone…in authority? (Who is that???) decided that white potatoes are “paleo”. My personal view is this is a questionable decision for a couple of reasons. While potatoes have nutrition and can be part of a healthful way of eating, they have a couple of major issues that keep them off the list of foods to eat during an elimination period:
- Carbohydrate content – white potatoes are high in carbohydrates. Eating them in large amounts can really undermine efforts to lose or maintain weight.
- How potatoes are prepared – white potatoes are a huge part of our modern diet and tend to be prepared by either frying in highly processed oils (French fries and potato chips) or with lots of high calorie cream and butter (mashed potatoes). Like their carb content, mashed potatoes and French fries can really sky-rocket your calorie count and torpedo your nutrition due to added fats.
- Nightshade – white potatoes are part of the “nightshade” family of foods which is suspected to exacerbate autoimmune disease in some persons. While Strictly Paleo is not a nightshade elimination diet (see Autoimmune Paleo Protocol) it is just one more reason the white potato is not part of this 30-day elimination diet.
Nevertheless, if you are in control of your weight and have some carbs to spare, particularly around exercise, potatoes can be part of a healthful way of eating. (Check out this post for details about the nutritional content of potatoes.
After completion of the 30-day Strictly Paleo Plan elimination period, you can begin adding in some sweeteners. If you were successful in avoiding added sugar and highly sweet tasting foods for 30 days, you will likely find your tolerance for “sweet” is greatly reduced.
The sweeteners that I recommend and personally use are: coconut palm sugar, maple syrup, honey, molasses, stevia and occasionally monk fruit.
Sugar and sweeteners fall into the carbohydrate category and therefore you will need to consider how much is appropriate for your own health/weight goals.
There are many reasons legumes are not part of the Paleo way of eating. Beans and lentils contain anti-nutrients like lectins and phytates. They are also high in carbohydrates and lower in nutrition than foods like meat and vegetables. However, certain preparations of beans (soaking, cooking or fermenting) can reduce the anti-nutrient content. And if you have carb calories to spare then having a few servings of beans and lentils here and there may not be an issue. Mark Sisson has a great post that addresses this in much more detail.
Alcohol consumption really deserves its own post. As mentioned above, there are a lot of negatives with it and only a few positives. The bottom line is if you are going to partake of alcoholic beverages after your elimination diet you should limit it to occasional rather than regular consumption. Ideally any consumption is in the context of good conversation and some food with friends.
Least problematic alcoholic beverages
Most beers contain gluten and are high in carbs. It’s basically drinking liquid grains so, no, beer is not recommended. Wine, on the other hand, may be less problematic as are the spirits, vodka, gin, and tequila. Hard cider generally does not contain gluten and can be a good substitute for beer. I recommend you choose the driest one you can find. But even the driest ciders still contain a large amount of sugar. Just another one of many reasons for moderation.
The idea of the Strictly Paleo Plan is to eliminate certain potentially problematic foods for at least one month in order to determine if they are causing you problems. Many people are lactose intolerant or have an immune reaction to casein in milk they do not even realize. I strongly recommend you completely eliminate dairy for the first 30 days. Add it back into your diet after that time and see how you feel and perform.
Best Dairy Choices
Better options for dairy are becoming more plentiful due to consumer demand. If or when you do add dairy back into your diet I recommend sticking with:
- Full fat dairy (e.g. cream, butter and some cheeses)
- Dairy from pasture-raised animals
- Raw Dairy
- Cultured Dairy (e.g. kefir, Greek Yogurt)
Even if you decide to give dairy a try after the Strictly Paleo reset I recommend you limit the amount of milk you drink. Milk is very high in lactose which is a sugar and if you want to lose weight or maintain your weight you are better off sticking with smaller additions of cream, cheese, and butter. Again, this depends a lot on your level of activity.
What to Expect on The Strictly Paleo Plan
When I was first starting out I was the only one in my family interested in going down this path. Because I am the one doing the shopping and cooking, everyone in my family essentially had little choice to come along for the ride – at least in part. Even so, it was not long before my husband was on board and the results he saw and felt caused him to become a believer in the Paleo way of eating. But for many of you, there may be a few obstacles in your way. While there is some wisdom in a gradual implementation by slowly eliminating certain foods/food groups, the Strictly Paleo Plan is meant as a more abrupt change that forces you to adjust your eating all at once.
Cold Turkey vs Easing Into It
For me, it was much easier to go “cold turkey” than to try and ease into it. Just knowing I WOULD NOT eat certain foods forced me to find new recipes and ways of cooking. It led me to websites with lots of hints and tips and recipes. And once I started feeling better the motivation grew and I eventually found it fairly easy to be compliant. After 30 days of Strictly Paleo eating, I was not tempted to go back to my old ways
The idea of the Strictly Paleo reset period is to COMPLETELY eliminate these potentially problematic foods. Remain determined to avoid slip-ups or “cheats” during this period of time. It is only 30 days after all. Tell yourself you can eventually have the occasional Paleo-friendly dessert. (I have some on this blog and I wrote a paleo dessert cookbook after all!) But for the next 30 days, you will be STRICT.
Just remember, even if you do fall off the wagon, pick yourself up and start again. You will need to go back to the beginning and restart the clock to make this a true elimination diet. Anything else and you will not be able to fully know if or how these foods might be impacting your health.
Best wishes for all success!