Hungry Girl

Lisa Lillien is the author of the popular Hungry Girl website and email newsletter, featuring smart, funny advice on guilt-free eating. She is also the author of nine books, six of which debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Read her blog every Monday for slimmed-down celebrity recipes and more.

With so many diet trends swirling around us at all times, it’s hard to get a grasp on which are good ideas and which are just flash-in-the-pan fads. Today, I’m breaking down another trendy eating plan: The Paleo diet.

What does “Paleo” even mean?

Paleo refers to Paleolithic, a.k.a. Early Stone Age. Bottom line? On this diet, you’re supposed to eat like a caveman.

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So, do I have to cook everything over a fire? Can I only eat things that I grow or catch?!

Slow down there: think food groups that cavemen (and women) would eat. Grass-fed meats, fish, seafood, fruits, veggies, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils (like olive and coconut) are all okay. On the no-no list? Cereal grains (wheat, oats, etc.), legumes (even peanuts), dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, salt, and refined oils.

Is this a healthy way to eat?

Yes and no. Cutting out processed foods? Good for you. Cutting refined sugar and salt? If you can do it, sure. But completely nixing grains and beans? That’s where you get into murky territory. There have been plenty of arguments against the Paleo diet, from dietitians and scientists to popular food activists. Supporters of the diet claim they feel much better eating this way… but what were they eating before? If the plan gets you off a junk-filled diet, it could certainly be better than your previous way of eating.

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How realistic is this plan?

Full Paleo is a bit extreme for the average Joe or Jane — any diet that hinges upon complete exclusion of major food groups is going to have that problem. Also, it can get very expensive and time consuming. It’s pretty much up to you to prepare all your food every step of the way to make sure your meals conform to the standards. Not to mention time spent shopping to stay stocked with these fresh foods. But if you’re up for the challenge, the diet is certainly doable!

Alright, so maybe Paleo Lite?

It’s okay if you want to just be inspired by the Paleo diet — cut the junk food, skip out on refined sugars, scale back on the salt, and eliminate the bad fats. Maybe choose whole grains rather than the refined ones, and watch portion sizes on your beans, grains, and low-fat dairy products. That’s already a HUGE step in a positive direction.

‘Til next time… Chew the right thing!

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