When you’re grocery shopping on the Paleo Diet, one thing’s for sure: you won’t be putting many boxes and cans in your cart.
Get ready to shop the perimeter of the store for whole foods, or better yet, head to a farmer’s market for the freshest—and purest—meat and produce you can find. (Specialty health food shops may also carry some Paleo-friendly items the big chains don’t, but you should be able to find most of these foods at your go-to grocer.)
So, are you ready to overhaul your diet? We talked to Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, and PaleoPlan.com’s nutrition therapist, Neely Quinn, to come up with a list of Paleo-approved foods—and basic guidelines— to get you started.
Here are your 10 essential animal proteins. Buy them fresh (rather than processed and cured), hormone- and antibiotic- free, and naturally raised—whenever possible.
- Chicken/Turkey (take note: all poultry should be eaten skinless)
- Game Meats (think: rabbit, venison, wild boar)
- Organs (kidneys, livers, marrow, sweetbreads, and tongue)
Now, this is by far from an exhaustive list of Paleo-friendly fish, but these are the most common varieties you’ll see in a market or on a menu. Always go for wild-caught fish over farmed, if you can, and eat the canned kind—like tuna and salmon—sparingly.
- Mahi Mahi
- Shellfish (including crab, clams, lobster, mussels, scallops, and shrimp)
There are no fruits that aren’t allowed on Paleo, and most experts recommend eating them at every meal. So instead of a list—we’re giving you three simple guidelines to think about when buying:
- Limit high-sugar fruits, such as bananas, dates, mangoes, pineapple and watermelon, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
- Buy dried fruits, but consume them in moderation (read: sprinkle a spoonful on your salad or mix a few in when you’re snacking on nuts). They have a greater concentration of sugars, so they pack a bigger glycemic punch—meaning they aren’t the best for keeping your stomach full and your appetite stable.
- Don’t forget avocados. They’re technically a fruit as well as a healthy fat.
Just like with fruit, almost every vegetable is permissible on Paleo: dark leafy greens, roots, lettuces, fresh and dried herbs, peppers, pumpkin, broccoli, seaweed… the list goes on and on. But here are two notable exceptions:
- Starchy tubers, like potatoes and sweet potatoes, should be consumed in moderation—or not at all, if you want to be very strict.
- Legumes—we’re talking chickpeas, lentils, peas, peanuts and soybeans—are not a part of the Paleo diet, and need to be left completely off your list.
NUTS AND SEEDS
Nuts and seeds aren’t just a popular Paleo snack—they’re great for adding crunch to recipes. You’ll want to buy them raw and unsalted or in their flour or butter forms, and it’s worth noting (just one more time) that peanuts are actually a legume—and not on the Paleo plan.
- Your essential nuts: Almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, Macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts.
- Your essential seeds: Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.
Oils are an important source of healthy fats on Paleo, but you won’t find vegetable oil, canola oil or peanut oil on this list. Why? These oils are highly refined or contain a greater concentration of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids (which are linked to inflammation in the body) and fewer omega-3’s (which reduce inflammation). Instead, buy these Paleo-approved oils in their most unprocessed form—you’ll want to look for words like “extra virgin” or “unrefined” on the label.
- Avocado oil (for salad dressings or low-heat cooking)
- Coconut oil (for all kinds of cooking)
- Flaxseed oil (not recommended for cooking, but can be used as an omega-3 supplement)
- Olive oil (for all purposes—cooking, sautéing, mixing into salad dressings)
- Sesame oil (for low-heat cooking or seasoning cooked dishes)
- Walnut oil (use in small amounts for seasoning or on salads)
Most bottled beverages aren’t Paleo-friendly—including fruit juices, which pack a high dose of concentrated sugar. It probably goes without saying that you shouldn’t add your own sugar to any of the below, and when buying from the store, check the ingredients list to make sure no sweeteners, real or processed, have been added.
- Almond milk
- Coconut milk
- Coconut water
- Soda water
SWEETS AND TREATS
Good news—alcohol is allowed on Paleo. Just make it an occasional treat, and avoid overdoing it in one sitting. As for indulgences, heart-healthy dark chocolate is the most Paleo-friendly one around. And if you’re looking to add a touch of sweetness to your meal, try raw unprocessed honey (the kind most often sold locally at your farmer’s market—not in a jar at the grocery store); coconut products (like coconut milks, creams or saps); and Stevia, which is considered the most natural of the no-calorie sweeteners.