Ultimate Beginners Guide to the Paleo Diet + Free Recipe!

Photo by David Humphreys

Photo by David Humphreys

Are you tired of counting calories?

Are you searching for a new way to eat better?

Maybe you’re ready for a new life! You’ve worked up the courage to do something epic like lose 20, 30 or even 40+ pounds, but your not sure how to make it happen.

I have great news. If your can think outside the box; open your mind, and change up your diet, you can stop worrying about counting calories forever! Today we enter the world of paleo.

There is no way I could cover this on my own, thats why my awesome friend and paleo expert - Melissa Joulan - has stopped by to drop knowledge on this new and exciting way of life!

Embrace the Hunter/Gatherer in You! The Theory of the Paleo Diet.

- Enter Melissa Joulwan -

You’ve probably heard a paleo diet called a lot of things: Just eat real food (#JERF). The Caveman Diet. Going primal. Living the paleo lifestyle. Around our house we call it “dino-chow.” All of these terms refer to roughly the same way of eating; they are based on the idea that we are healthier—both mentally and physically—when we remove inflammatory foods from our diet.

What’s an inflammatory food? The inflamers are foods that were not part of our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ daily meals but appeared later in history, when agriculture took root. Foods like grains, dairy, added sugars, and processed foods are the big bullies of food, and they’re linked to the “diseases of civilization,” nasty stuff including heart disease, diabetes, and cancers.

When we stop eating those problematic ingredients, we not only fight disease, our entire life improves. I know that’s a bold claim, but it’s true! What we put in our bodies is the foundation of our moods, our energy, our creativity, our vitality, so when we nourish our bodies with paleo-approved foods, our energy levels are better, we look years younger, and we enjoy life more.

I’m going to get the bad news out of the way immediately: Eating paleo is probably going to mean eliminating many foods that may top your list of favorites. Different paleo practitioners promote varying guidelines. I follow the standards outlined by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig in their tremendously good book It Starts With Food and their Whole30 program. The guidelines are fairly stringent but extremely practical, and they’re based on the idea that we should eat the foods that make us the healthiest.

The No List
My “No” list includes the following. You won’t find any of these foods in Well Fed recipes:

  • Processed foods: As a former Doritos diehard, I know it can be hard to give up junk food. But anything found in the middle of the grocery store and sold to you inside brightly colored plastic or cardboard is not a healthy choice.
  • Grains: Despite conventional wisdom, even whole grains are not a good idea. Grains include wheat, rye, bulgur, buckwheat, amaranth, sprouted grains, corn, oats, rice, quinoa, barley, and millet. They’re to be avoided in all their devilish forms: bread, tortillas, pasta, breading on fried foods, and “healthy” cereals, oatmeal, and granola.
  • Legumes: Beans, including black, kidney, pinto, white, and chickpeas, fall into this category, along with lentils, peas, and peanuts, including peanut butter. (I know! Sorry! I don’t make the rules; I just share them.) Legumes like green beans, snap peas, and snow peas are given a green light because they’re more pod than bean.
  • Soy: Soy is a legume, but I’ve called it out separately because it’s insidious and can be found in unexpected places, like cans of tuna. Soy is to be avoided in all its forms: edamame, soy milk, tofu, meat substitutes, and food additives like soy lecithin. Read your labels!
  • Added Sugar: All forms of added sugar—even “natural” sugars, like brown sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar, stevia, evaporated cane juice, and honey—are out. Also out are artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, and aspartame.
  • Dairy: The source doesn’t matter—cow, sheep, or goat—milk and the creamy things made from it are off our plates, including cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, and sour cream. Some primal people eat grass-fed, full-fat dairy; for me, the negatives, like bloating and blood sugar spikes, outweigh the pleasure. One exception is organic, grass-fed butter, but it must be clarified before you eat it; see page ## for instructions.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol has no redeeming nutritional qualities. It’s essentially sugar with a flirtatious attitude. Plus, you have a drink, then your drink has a drink, and soon, you’re face first in a pile of french fries with cheese sauce.
  • White potatoes: Some paleo people eat potatoes; I’m not one of them. White potatoes are carbohydrate-dense, and they have very little to offer nutritionally. The good news is that we’ve got a fantastic, nutrient-dense substitute in sweet potatoes and yams.
  • Vegetable oils: This includes basic vegetable oil—which isn’t made from vegetables at all—as well as peanut, canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and corn oils. These oils are thugs that beat up on your immune system and promote inflammation.

Each of the “No” foods has its own unique properties that ensure its place on that infamous list. Generally, these foods are excluded because they either negatively affect your metabolism, or cause systemic inflammation, or both. Some are so bad they both wreak havoc on your metabolism and fire up your immune system. We eschew them. (We’re looking at you, grains. We eschew you!)

The Yes List
When I tell people I don’t eat grains, sugar, or dairy, they invariably look at me like I’ve got two heads or as if I’m speaking Swahili. Then they ask the question, “What do you eat?!”

Animals and plants.

Generally speaking, the paleo diet is made up of nutrient-dense foods that began with dirt, rain, and sunshine. They come from the earth, and a person from any time in history would recognize them as food.

It’s just real food: animal-based protein, vegetables, fruits, and natural fat sources.

  • Examples of Animal Protein: Beef, Veal, Elk, Bison, Venison, Goat, Rabbit, Boar, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Eggs, Duck, Goose, Turkey, Ostrich, Emu, Salmon, Halibut, Tuna, Shrimp, Lobster, Clams, Muscles, Tilapia, Sole, Bass, Trout, Flounder, Snapper, Mackerel, Sardines, Anchovies.
  • Examples of Vegetables: Acorn Squash, Artichokes, Arugula, Asparagus, Beets, Bell Peppers, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Collard Greens, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Fennel, Garlic, Green Beans, Jicama, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Mustard Greens, Okra, Onions, Parsnips, Plantains, Pumpkin, Radishes, Red Onions, Scallions, Shallots, Snap Peas, Snow Peas, Spaghetti Squash, Spinach, Summer Squash, Sweet Potatoes, Yams, Tomatoes, Turnip Greens, Turnips, Zucchini.
  • Examples of Fruits: Apples, Apricots, Bananas, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Cherries, Cranberries, Dates, Kiwis, Lemons, Limes, Figs, Grapes, Grapefruits, Honeydew Melon, Mangoes, Nectarines, Oranges, Papaya, Plums, Pomegranates, Peaches, Pears, Pineapples, Raspberries, Strawberries, Tangerines, Watermelon.
  • Examples of Fats: Almonds, Cashews, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Walnuts, Macadamias, Chestnuts, Filberts, Pistachios, Pine Nuts, Coconuts, Avocadoes, Olives, Grassfed Ghee.

The Paleo Diet – How it Works + Best Practices

1. Keep it simple at first.
There are plenty of excellent paleo cookbooks available to delight your tastebuds. But in the beginning, you might be happier if you keep it simple. Cook a bunch of protein and vegetables in advance, then mix and match throughout the week to make your meals. For example, browned ground beef can go Italian when it’s sautéed with zucchini, tomatoes, and oregano — or make a quick stir-fry with snow peas, broccoli, ginger, and coconut aminos for Asian flair. You can find more details on how I do that in this article The Method Behind My Madness.

2. Create your tribe.
If you’re lucky, you might live with someone who wants to make the paleo switch with you. Right on! But if you find yourself in a hostile or apathetic environment, there are plenty of ways to find your own paleo people. Reddit has a very active paleo group, the Whole9 forum is an excellent resource for information and support, Mark’s Daily Apple has a vibrant community of primal practitioners, and Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution, also has an action-packed forum.

3. Remember that paleo is a framework.
The basics of paleo — animal protein, fruits and vegetables, naturally-occurring, high-quality fats — are pretty straight forward, but they form a basic framework that can be modified according to your specific needs. For some people, that means adding an autoimmune protocol. (The Paleo Mom is an excellent resource for more on that.) Other fortunate people do great with dairy, so their version is more “primal” and includes grass-fed dairy. Some others even include the occasional serving of white rice. There are paleo people who eat very low carb, or moderate amounts of all macronutrients, or are even vegetarian paleo-ers. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can start modifying paleo to suit you and your individual needs. But start with the basics and see how you feel before you start follwing the latest trend in paleo mods.

4. Find your favorite recipes.
Once you’ve got #1 under control, you can start having more fun in the kitchen. There are so many delicious paleo recipe web sites and cookbooks, you will never be bored by the “restrictions” of paleo. Just be sure to carefully read ingredients lists because some online recipes are labeled as “paleo,” but include non-paleo ingredients. My favorite online sources for recipes (besides my own site, naturally) are Nom Nom Paleo, Chowstalker, Paleo Comfort Foods, PaleoOMG, and The Foodee. If you lean more toward primal (which can include some dairy), you might also check out Domestic Man and Health-Bent. (And, shameless plug, my cookbooks Well Fed and Well Fed 2 are packed with very clean, easy-to-make, delicious-to-eat paleo recipes.)

5. It’s not all about the food, but it is all about the food.
One of the things that was the most difficult to get used to when I first switched to paleo was the sheer volume of food I had to buy — here’s a post I wrote about how to estimate how much food you might need each week — and the amount of time I spent cooking. There are ways to make it all less time-consuming: buy in bulk, do a weekly cookup, get really organized about grocery lists and shopping… but there is no getting around the fact that eating very clean and very well means eating at home. A lot.

For me, switching to paleo became about more than just what I was eating. I realized it meant I had to get my whole life in balance. It is not outrageous to spend an average of an hour a day to feed myself well. But in our hardcharging culture, we’re conditioned to think meals should be fast; we’ve been taught — mostly by the media — that dinner in minutes is not only possible, but required, to have a great life.

I say, “Wrong!” It is very satisfying to cook a meal that tastes delicious and nourishes the body. Cooking and eating quality food is among the most caring things you can do for yourself and others.

Free Paleo Recipe – Old School Italian Meat Sauce – YUM!

Old School Italian Meat Sauce

Photo by David Humphreys


In the Italian households I knew growing up, Saturday was sauce and meatball day: You made the sauce in the afternoon so it could simmer all evening. Meanwhile, on Saturday night, you fried up meatballs and put them on the back porch to cool until they were dropped into the sauce on Sunday morning.

In addition to quality tomatoes, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil, a respectable “Sunday Gravy” also included a hefty dose of red wine (both in the sauce and in the cook). But for our good health and happiness, we’re replacing pasta with veggie nooodles and wine with balsamic vinegar.

Prep 10 minutes | Cook 40 minutes | Simmer 2 1/2 hours

1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 1/2 pounds pork chops (bone in or boneless) salt and ground black pepper
1 pound Italian sausage (chicken, turkey, or pork)

2 medium onions, diced (about 2 cups)
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
6 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons) 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup beef broth
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, slivered

2 tablespoons warm water 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar 1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork or turkey
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced (about 2 tablespoons) 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Italian herb blend
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Brown the meats. Heat coconut oil in a large, deep pot. Sprinkle the pork chops with salt and pepper, then brown them on both sides, about 10 minutes. Remove the chops from the pot and place in a bowl to catch the juices. Brown the whole sausage links in the same pot, about 10 minutes, and place in the bowl with the pork chops.

Make the sauce. You’re going to make the sauce in the same pot, so add a little coconut oil if there’s no fat left in the pan. Cook the onions with the oregano until they’re very soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cocoa. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the balsamic vinegar and stir, about 1 minute. Add the broth and crushed tomatoes; stir to combine. Nestle the pork chops and sausage into the sauce. Bring to a robust bubble, then cover and simmer, 2 hours. Meanwhile…

Prep the meatballs. Preheat the oven to 400F and cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. In a small bowl, mix the water, baking soda and cream of tartar with a fork until combined. Crumble the beef and pork into a large bowl, then add the garlic, tomato paste, vinegar, parsley, salt, Italian herb blend, red pepper flakes, and water/baking soda. Mix well with your hands (or if you want it very smooth, with a food processor or mixer) until combined.

Cook the meatballs. Measure 1 tablespoon of the meat and roll into a ball. Line up the meatballs on the baking sheet, then bake 20 minutes, until browned.

The final steps. When the sauce has reached its 2-hour simmer deadline, add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer an additional 15 minutes, uncovered. Remove the sauce from the heat and toss in the fresh basil, then taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary.

If you used bone-in pork chops, the meat could fall right off the bones; you might need to liberate them from the sauce (lest you choke a dining companion). Ladle the sauce over a pile of Zucchini Noodles or Roasted Spaghetti Squash (p. 168) and top with a little of each kind of meat. Manage!

A Paleo Call to Action!

- Justin is back! -

At the end of the day, each of us are different, unique, and one of a kind! We all have to find what works, what fits, what we enjoy the most. You never know; paleo might be your solution to getting in the best shape of your life!

One thing we know for sure is that you have to give it a try to find out. Not just a day or two, I’m talking a solid 30 days. You might as well make a challenge out of it!

Before you go, make sure to check out whats happening on Melissas blog (and thank you so much Melissa for sharing paleo with all of us)! Ive tried several recipes from her new book Well Fed 2 and they are simply awesome! My mouth is watering right now just thinking about the Plantain Nachos :).

Oh, and if you have a friend interested in trying paleo, or getting in the best shape of their life, share this post with them!

Thanks for reading!


Learn ways to get fit, lose fat and live awesome! Plus, be a part of a community that supports each other along the way!


  1. says

    Thanks for letting me “drop by” to lay down some paleo knowledge. Hope your readers find it helpful — and enjoy that recipe. It’s awesome ’cause there are lots of leftovers… meatballs and sausage for breakfast. YAY!

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