The Paleo diet, and variations on it, are gaining increasing popularity, especially among physical fitness enthusiasts. Its focus on whole foods, minimal processing, and an avoidance of grain products have yielded many benefits for those who stick with it. Rapid weight loss, increased energy, and clearer thinking are just a few of these. People who have received benefits naturally want to extend them to others, including other family members. But in a world that’s geared toward a non-Paleo lifestyle, there are many challenges. Here is a brief introduction to the Paleo diet and some tips on what you can do to bring your entire family on-board.
Paleo diet practitioners seek to eat food in a manner similar to how our pre-agricultural ancestors ate. The theory goes that our bodies are the product of millions of years of evolution, while agriculture has only been around for about 10,000 years. Consequently, our bodies haven’t fully adapted to eating grains, legumes, and other foods that aren’t easily found in the wild. These foods have a negative effect upon the body, notably by spiking insulin levels. By switching to foods our distant ancestors ate, our bodies quickly adapt back to a way of functioning that is healthier all around. Some people extend the concepts of the diet into other factors of their lives, such as sleeping and exercise, but we’ll just focus on food here.
When properly done, a Paleo-style diet results in rapid changes to body composition. Mark Sisson, a popularizer of the “Primal Blueprint” style of Paleo, says that 80% of your composition is formed by diet alone. Our bodies crave Paleo-style foods once we get over the addiction of grain-based foods. Diseases that are caused by excessive grain consumption, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, can be reversed by adopting a Paleo diet. Finally, unlike many diets, there are many reports of a general increase of well-being, which is something not many diets can say! For growing children, a proper Paleo diet provides a massive amount of nutrition for growing bodies and minds, which is something no soda and pizza cafeteria diet can do.
It’s important to know that there is no consensus on what a Paleo diet entails in detail. We can’t really find someone who lived then and ask them! You’ll want to do some research on the diet to understand the science and make your own decisions. But the main points can be summarized into a few basics:
- No grains, beans, or legumes. Our bodies can’t handle the blood sugar spike, and some grains contain chemicals that cause inflammation within the body. Plus, most grains today are heavily processed.
- Eat real food. Real foods are vegetables of all kinds, meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, and fruits. These should all be minimally processed. Fruits should be the source of your carbohydrate intake, and carbs should be limited to 100-150g per day. Vegetables should be the main part of the diet, with about a palm-sized piece of meat at each meal. Be careful with starchy vegetables like potatoes!
- Eat dairy only if you can tolerate it. Some authors say to cut it out entirely, but if a child is still young enough to breastfeed they should finish that first before working on Paleo foods.
- Drink water, not soda! Juices only in moderation to avoid an insulin response.
Now if you took this list in your hand and walked around a supermarket, nearly the entire store becomes verboten. Nearly all your foods are going to be along the outside edge of the store in the produce and meat sections, with a quick swing over to the cooler for eggs. One of the problems people encounter with this diet is that they have to learn to cook. Other than jerky, most snack foods are grain-based and inappropriate for this diet. This is also the major challenge for practicing Paleo with kids, who might need a quick snack. Another problem is getting your children to crave Paleo foods rather than grain-based foods that everyone around will try to push onto them. Grain-based foods are addictive, as any doughnut eater can tell you!
Here are some ways you can make the transition easier:
- Start slow. You don’t need to switch all at once to begin seeing benefits. Start with cutting out junk food, then slowly phase out non-Paleo foods over several months. Be sure you have suitable replacements ready to give your kids.
- Learn how to prepare meals in advance. This is especially true for snacks! The more opportunities you have to give jerky or a piece of celery with almond butter on it to your child before they grab a candy bar, the better off you’ll be.
- Discover what your child likes and run with it. If there’s something your child likes and it’s on the approved list, then indulging them with that taste isn’t going to cause a problem, with two exceptions. Excessive fruit and nuts can cause weight gain. Watch the carb count carefully!
- Set a good example. If you’re sneaking cake on the side then your kids will want some too. Show them how important the Paleo diet is to you and how it can help them out.
- Try my recipes. All the recipes listed on my website Paleo for Kids are designed to be kid-friendly.