The Logistics of Going Paleo

My mantra when it comes to food is: local, fresh, pure and balanced.

Smoked reindeer heart

With a newfound interest in paleo and primal approaches to nutrition I have taken a good look at the food I eat and ... I'm most of the way there already. Just as the principle aim of barefooting is to bring back the natural biomechanics to the foot, to walking and running, the focus of paleo is to allow the body to eat, digest and absorb naturally and in tune with its evolution.

There are a few aspects which need looking at to align "balance" into a natural balance, in tune with my body.

First, let's look at the food which is advocated by paleo people: meat (especially grass fed ruminators), fish, shellfish, eggs, vegetables (especially green and leafy), fruit, nuts and seeds in small quantities, and animal fats (high in SFA) although cold-pressed oils (high in MUFA) are fine as garnishes.

Next, food which is eschewed by paleo people: trans-fats, processed food, oils (high in PUFA), refined sugars, alcohol, starches, grains and legumes, and dairy although dairy is an area which is tolerated in primal and to some extent paleo, so long as there are no allergic contraditictions; fermented dairy, like soured cream and yoghurt are quite paleo-friendly.

Simple principles as to whether food is paleo are useful - the most useful to me are the "hunter/gatherer principle" and the "raw principle".

Can the food be hunted or gathered in the wild? Yes? It's paleo.
Can the food be eaten raw? Yes? It's paleo.

One further principle which helps me so often is the "predator principle".

Coined by J Stanton (of in his motivational guide, 'Eat Like A Predator, Not Like Prey: Paleo In Six Easy Steps' this principle has helped me more with the what not to eat part, rather than the what to eat. Predators have a natural sense of what is right to eat but often need some help not to just wolf down something poisonous. Prey graze. Fact.

Is the food for grazing prey? Yes? It's NOT paleo.

From the contra-paleo list I can cross out a good number: trans-fats and processed food are straight out. I don't eat any. Refined sugars are out. Again, I don't eat any - I don't drink soft drinks, I don't add sugar to anything and the very rare occasion that I add sweetener to anything, it will be a small amount of honey. Honey is natural, pure, fresh and local to me; the apiary within a couple of miles from my house.

Alcohol is an issue. I love to drink alcohol, be it Guinness, fine French wine, Champagne, Scandinavian and Russian standard vodkas, single malt whiskies and Gin & Tonic. Hmmm ... this is going to be a tough one for me and so, I'm going to ignore it. I'll call this my big cheat/treat. Phew! It's not like I drink soft drinks or eat chocolate. I'm allowed one vice.

Legumes have been in my diet as an alternative to meat. I was of the misguided opinion that eating meat all the time is not a good thing and so substituted some meals with dishes based on beans or heavily on pasta. Beans can go. I do like green beans, runner beans and peas; can't stand sugar snaps. Soya beans are out! Straight out! As is my brief and misguided flirtation with tofu. Weeding out the green beans and peas will happen naturally, I think ... although my favourite curry, Mutter Paneer will not be the same!

There are two dishes I cook often which might be problematic: Chilli con Carne and the Traditional English Breakfast. Red kidney beans used in Chilli con Carne could be substituted with something similar in colour such as cubes of aubergine. Baked Beans, that's Heinz Baked Beans, are a key part of the Traditional English Breakfast - I'll leave them off my plate, but I am sure I will not be allowed to leave them off my wife's plate. This is a breakfast that we have once or twice a week, at the weekends and not always the full monty.

Grains in the form of flour, pasta, cous cous have been in my diet but often in small amounts. I might have a pasty once a week, a pastry pie or pudding once a month, cous cous a couple of times a month, but pasta at least once a week. Also, bechamel sauce ... which is flour-based. I am sure I will eat the occasional pasty, plate of pasta and a pudding every so often, but I can make that choice at the time.

I rarely eat bread, pastries or buns. Where I do eat bread is as pitta or tortilla. I guess my fajitas and burgers can be eaten using structurally sound crisp lettuce instead, with a good blob of guacamole to keep the meat in place.

Nut flours may well provide the answer for white sauces and I might actually begin to partake of paleo cakes and scones with a cup of tea. Almond flour drop scones do sound delicious!

Grains are not a big deal until it comes to pasta, which has been a substitute for meat at least once a week. Limiting pasta and cous cous to an occasional meal is going to be okay; timed well as a precursor to some activity, it should be okay. Many of my favourite pasta dishes can easily be converted to paleo by the addition of some green vegetables, asparagus and samphire being two that seem to completely negate the need for pasta, leaving the dish looking and tasting whole without looking like something has been missed out.

Rice is something I eat very rarely, maybe once or twice a month and again ... this can easily be dropped out entirely, or just enjoyed as a cheat/treat if that's the choice I make. I wonder ... is there a paleo version of Creamed Rice Pudding?

Starches are an issue. I love potatoes, I love carrots, turnips, swede and parsnips. In fact, it's probably the only sweet food I eat. Peeled and cooked, these can continue to form part of my diet but I will significantly limit them to maybe once a week, or less ... instead, beefing up the amount of meat and green vegetables in my food.

The occasional baked potato as a cheat/treat will satisfy me, I'm sure. The problem around starchy vegetable is that they feature so heavily in English cuisine and maybe it will be a seasonal thing where intake is more frequent through the colder months and infrequent during the warmer months; the same with pastry. Again, timed well as a precursor to some activity, it should be okay. That, or paleo-remix classic recipes like Meat & Potato Pie to use chunks of aubergine and a nut crust, or celeriac mash in Bangers & Mash.
Finally, dairy. I drink so little milk, only in tea and I am in no way intolerant to dairy. I'll carry on with that low intake. Cream is a feature in my diet, but again, only a small portion in a small number of meals through the month.

Soured cream and yoghurt is more frequently eaten and often used regularly through the week. Dairy is a grey area for paleologists and all but the most strict regard dairy as something which is okay in the paleo diet so long as you are not intolerant. Fermented dairy seems to be more readily accepted, so soured cream, yoghurt and some tangy cheeses - feta being a prime example.

I'm happy with dairy as it is, although as the things which are paleo-friendly are increased intake of dairy may just drop naturally. I do need to try coconut milk!

Fruit is infrequent in my diet, maybe only a few items a month. Nuts and seeds are almost non-existent in my diet, and unlikely as a paleo-snack - snacking is for prey! This is fine for the paleo eater as these form such a small part of the paleo diet anyway. In fact, paleo puddings look quite delicious! I am not a great fan of flour-based puddings but may well make more puddings and desserts using nuts, nut flours and fruit.

Meat is the key part which has been boosted and which I am now trying to find all sorts of varied recipes to keep it interesting. When meat is not on the plate, fish is. Prior to becoming paleo-focussed, fish was the main ingredient and focus on the plate in most of my meals.

This will continue - white fish, wild salmon and smoked fish; also oily fish, like sardines, mackerel and herring are great favourites of mine, fresh, canned or smoked. Other seafood, prawns, mussels, cockles, winkles, whelks, scallop, octopus, squid and so forth feature regularly and often as small portions in starters - these stay and will become more regular.

Pickled fish, especially Scandinavian herring is also a regular feature in my weekly diet, often with eggs. The eggs I like are from any number of local farms, assuming they have any left by the time I get there; the hens I see pecking away at the countryside on my evening walks. When I'm too late, I like to buy from a company called 'Happy Eggs' who raise their chickens outside, encourage them to roam, play, scratch, peck and generally be natural giving us the most gorgeous yolked eggs. We eat a lot of these!

Meat will be beefed up! More red meat, beef, lamb and venison, principally, but mixing in meats which are more exotic to me here up in northern England, so bison, elk, moose, bock, and even ostrich when possible. White meat from outdoor reared, natural chicken is a feature in my diet and consumed in perhaps a couple of meals a week. Pork, occasional other than bacon, which is regular ... and when it is on the plate, it's usually slow-cooked belly pork.

Green, leafy Vegetables already feature as a second key ingredient in my food and will be beefed up in proportion to the meal filling in for the root vegetables which I love, but will be dropped in proportion ... or altogether. Finding large quantities and finding new ways of cooking the many varieties of cabbage and kale is going to be a lot of fun. Salted butters or a pinch of sea salt really bring out the great flavours in these vegetables.

Finally, fats. I've always used butter, lard and fat collected by rendering from bacon and sausages. The only oils I use are cold-pressed and extra virgin - olive oil 'Il Casolare' and rapeseed oil from 'Yorkshire Original'. Don't get hot under the collar about my use of rapeseed - it's not like the really evil stuff. I use oils as garnish and intake is small - both oils are high in MUFA, so the lesser of the evil fats. It's probably another grey area, like dairy. Either way, oils are less stable than animal fats when it comes to cooking and so they will be reserved for use cold, as garnishes.

My food could now be called paleo-focussed, rather than paleo-pure. It is transitional.

Already, I feel energised, able to work, able to engage in activity afterwards and not left feeling full or lethargic, certainly not waking up feeling full. I can get from meal to meal without having to graze on snacks and look forward to my next meal, allowing the prior hunger to focus me into creating a really good looking and nutritional meal - that is the fun of cooking for me. There are so many paleo recipe books out there, I don't think I will have a problem finding inspiration - the key thing for me is that the food tastes great and as important, looks great on the plate.

The first bite is with the eyes!

Welsh Laver Bread with bacon, eggs, mushrooms and broccoli