Need A Paleo Meal Plan? (Don’t Over-Think It!)

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Looking for a practical, simple way to check out what the Paleo diet’s all about?

Traditionally, a very specific dietary meal plan was the accepted, and expected route that you’d need to take, when embarking on any type of “diet”.

Due to the less structured nature of the Paleo diet, some people tend to get a bit “thrown off” when first sticking their toes in the Paleo waters. The lack of a structured, and “official” meal plan means that you may have to a bit more of the leg work than many are accustomed to.

For some, learning about nutrition, diet, health, and the like – isn’t what they’d prefer to spend their time doing. That’s understandable, but the thing is – following a “canned” diet is a dead end and actually more freakin’ work than simply familiarizing yourself with a few key principles in the beginning.

You’ll be rewarded with having a “diet” that you can actually mold around your lifestyle and, in the long run, that’s what’s going to make the difference. That’s what’s different about the Paleo diet.. It’s not really a “diet” at all.. At least not in the traditional sense – It’s more a set of nutritional principles, rather specific daily instructions. Good thing as it seems our old strategies didn’t exactly seem effective.

Simply put – We’re creatures of habit.. Trying to follow a strict “meal plan” is just asking to fail.

That’s not to say that you can’t plan out your meals.. It’s just that you need to do the planning because only you can fit a sensible meal plan into your life in a way that’s actually going to work for you and “stick” for the long haul.

A practical diet has to be one that is planned around your life, tastes, means, and nutritional needs. So, unless you’re working with a competent nutritionist, you’ll have to piece this puzzle together yourself,  and you should be learning all you can about food and how to eat the foods that you like and are available to you. You should be learning how to piece together you’re daily macronutrient needs, with the right foods.. at the right times.

Fortunately, the Paleo diet basics can be broken down into just a few easy-to-remember principles that after you’ve got them down pat, you won’t need a meal plan. This simple guide will help get you started..

How Properly Managing Your Macronutrients Makes Dieting Less Like Dieting.

This is a critical element of “Primal” eating. The ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your diet is one of the most important things you can use reclaim your health and fitness through proper nutrition. There are an increasing number increasing number of scientific studies that show a distinct correlation between improper macronutrient ratios and many common ailments such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Bottom line: To get the benefits that you’re looking to get out this whole thing.. Then at the very core of your dietary strategy should be learning to manipulate the ratios and timing of your carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Get a grip on this basic nutritional info, and you’ve got a head start in the race to health and fitness.

The chart below illustrates what a good baseline daily macronutrient ratio. “Baseline” meaning people’s needs will inevitably vary widely, depending on a plethora of variables. Regardless, establishing an initial baseline or gauge will enable you to craft the “framework” of your Paleo diet meal plan. Use this as nothing more than a starting point from which to build your dietary plan.

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The “20/60/20” Rule

While using this as a baseline, keep in mind that fat calories are more dense than protein or carbohydrate calories, therefore it won’t seem like 60% of your calories come from fats.

Also, like already stated.. this really meant to be a baseline, and will vary greatly depending on individual needs. For example, say you’re a marathon runner – you’re probably going to need more carbs than someone who lives a more sedentary lifestyle.

Or maybe you’re trying to add a few ponds of muscle of the next few months?.. If that were the case, you’d most likely want to eat a higher percentage of proteins.

If, for whatever reason, you have a day where your ratios are closer to 30/30/40 ( P/F/C) instead of 20/60/20.. Don’t sweat it. As long as your eating the clean healthy foods that your body has evolved to thrive on, and you continue to use the 20/60/20 rule as your “gauge” to get you back within your optimal macronutrient range.. Then you’ll continue to build valuable habits that really pay off long-term.

Using the 20/20/60 rule and combining that with a few basic Paleo principles – You will be able to work within a flexible dietary framework that you can make fit your lifestyle.

proteinsourceWhy You Should Build Your Meals Around Dietary Proteins.

So, protein is the first number in the 20/60/20 rule for a few different reasons.. The main one being that, it’s easy to establish your protein needs using one simple trick. We’ll talk about that in a sec..

Another reason is that your digestive system has a better built-in “limiter” for protein than it does for fats or carbohydrates or fats. You’res much less likely to overeat on chicken breast than you are with Doritos. You also tend to stay fuller longer if you have a protein source in your meal.

Having said that, it makes sense to build your meals around a protein source as it almost acts as a sort of natural “food quantity controller”..  Also known as an appetite.

Building your meals around a protein source enables you to learn to  use your appetite rather than a food scale.. Because you can actually eat until you’re satisfied.. As long as you’re eating the right foods, of course.

To add to this – Many of the best protein sources are also some of the best dietary fat sources as well. Building your meals around your protein source will allow you to factor in those animal fats when piecing together the other two components of your Paleo meal.

HealthyfatmealsFats: Avoid The Bad Ones and Eat Plenty of The Good Ones.

Fats are the second building blocks of your daily dietary meal plan.

The main reason being is that your meals should always have proteins and fats in them, but not necessarily carbohydrates. So, it’s logical to use fats as the second piece of the macronutrient puzzle.

See that big chunk of the chart above,  that fats take up? It’s fully justified once you realize all of the biological systems that rely solely on the right fats to function optimally. After all, the very cells of your body are composed of a fatty membrane.

It’s fairly simple to control your dietary fat intake, but there are a couple of things to pay attention to. Besides getting enough healthy fats, it’s also extremely important to have a balanced ratio of Omega-3 and 6 fats in your diet.

The average American diet has far too many Omega-6 fats, and not near enough Omega-3 fats. The importance of getting this part of the Paleo diet right, can’t be overstated. A diet too high in Omega-6 fats is problematic on multiple levels. This balance is an essential part of a truly healthy diet, and where so many fall short. Step one is to simply avoid the Omega-6 dominant oils that are found in pretty much everything.. Things like: chips, breads, soft drinks,peanut butter, cereals, jams, jellies.. and literally every other colorful, delicious snack you can think of.

Instead.. Rely on low-omega-6 oils like butter, coconut oil, beef tallow, avocado, macadamia, olive, and low-omega-6 animal fats from fish, and beef. A smart habit to pick up would be to make sure to eat wild-caught salmon at least once a week. This will keep Omega-3 levels closer to where they need to be.

carbohydratemealsThe Importance of Carbohydrate Control and Timing.

The third and final element of the macronutrient puzzle is, of course, carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are placed in as the final piece due to the reason previously mentioned – Simply because there won’t always be a carbohydrate in every meal you eat. Conversely, some of your meals should consist solely of a protein and fat source ( these are ideal meals to have in the evening closer to bed time ).

Since you’ll already be eliminating the foods containing high amounts of Omega-6 fats, you’ll simultaneously eliminate many of the problematic carbohydrate sources found in the average diet. So, now all that’s left to do is to replace those bad carbohydrates with good ones.

The problem we as humans have is that we don’t have the same ‘natural limiter’ with sugars and carbohydrates as we do with proteins. The advance of agriculture has enabled us to have as much of the stuff as we could possibly want, but evolution doesn’t move as fast as modern technology and our biological systems haven’t had a chance to evolve to the point of being ready for such an onslaught of dietary sugars and grains. Our digestive biology still “thinks” the year is 1700 B.C.

Out-smarting your craving for simple sugars, carbohydrates, and just empty junk foods in general – is key to your dieting success. Nobody is saying it’s easy, only that it’s entirely 100% worth it, and completely essential to your success. After you drop the junk, the following guidelines will ease your pain of your process..

  1. Try to get a good mix of your carbohydrates from starches (tubers/potatoes/some rices)
  2. Eat your fructose carbohydrates (fruits) wisely by timing them.
  3. Carbohydrates should never be eaten by themselves.
  4. Eat with fats and vinegar rich foods to help lower the “carb-impact” 
  5. The sugars you do eat (fruits) should be timed in the mornings and/or around physical exertion.
  6. Keep your diet at 20% carbohydrates unless you have higher physical activity levels, or you’re on a no-carb diet.
  7. Vegetables don’t count. Just eat them whenever you feel like basically. Kinda hard to over-eat vegetables.

With these basic guidelines.. You should be able to fit this piece of the puzzle in with the protein and fats that are already in place, by this point.

actionplanPutting Your “Paleo Plan” Into Action!

By this point, we should have a solid understanding of macronutrients, and therefore a bit of insight as to why the “20/60/20” rule  is a solid foundation from which to build your Paleo diet meal “plan”.

Knowing your macronutrient ratios and how to piece foods into your meal plan in accordance within these ratios is only half of the battle. That tells you nothing of the quantity of foods.

Fistfuls of Meat.

And here is where we go back to why protein is the first building block, or piece of the puzzle.  There’s a very rudimentary, but effective,  way to gauge or ” measure” your protein servings. Each serving of meat that you consume per meal should be approximately the size of your fist. The average adult needs 3-4 of these serving every day.

To out it another way:  A healthy range of daily protein intake is 200 to 600 calories. That means that the average adult should aim to consume 0.5 – 1.5 pounds of fish, eggs, and meat daily.

This is where you may want to aim for the higher end of that scale if you’re an athlete, or again, if you’re on a low-carb diet, you’ll have to increase the protein in your diet to compensate.

If you’re not sure, and you’re not an athlete –  Aim to get .75-1.0 pounds of healthy protein sources per day.

Do me a favor and make a fist right now and look at it… Now visualize that as roughly one fourth of the amount of meats you need daily. Little more.. little less… again.. don’t over-think this.

Figure out the foods that you want to use a protein sources and eat 3-4 fist size potions everyday. Simple, right? I know it seems difficult at first but with a little effort, you’ll be on total diet auto pilot in no time.

Fats: The second piece of the macronutrient puzzle.

Healthy dietary fats are next.. and this is when you need to know at least a little about the foods that you’re eating.

Let’s say that for lunch you brought a fist-sized chicken breast ( that’s the first piece of the macronutrient puzzle ) and because chicken is low in fat content, you know that need about another fist sized portion of fats ( a bit less if your meat is high in fats ), so you added half of an avocado to a salad with olive oil dressing.  

If your protein source would of been one of high fat content, like salmon, then perhaps you would simply leave off the avocado to keep your macronutrient ratios close to where your “gauge” tells you it needs to be. Many times.. That alone will be your meal, as you won’t always need a fruit or starch carbohydrate source.

So, the second macronutrient is fit into the meal in a way that balances with the first, protein. When adding the fat portions to your meals always consider the fat content of your meat or protein portions.. The fact that fat grams have about double the amount of calories the protein grams do.. So it should seem like you’re eating roughly equal portions of proteins and fats in your meals, but technically, and speaking and terms of calories.. You’ll be eating a greater percentage of fats compared to proteins. Just like in the 20/60/20 graph from above.

Think of carbohydratess as a fuel “booster”.. Use as needed.

Now.. all that’s left is to add in the third and final piece of the dietary puzzle: carbohydrates. Luckily, carbohydrates are the easiest one of them all. All you have to do is follow the simple guidelines we outlined above above.

As far as the potion sizes and how it fits in with the rest of the meal.. Fruits are usually already proportioned in acceptable sizes. Just remember to eat fruits at the right times throughout the day and you really shouldn’t ever need to eat more than one whole piece of fruit per meal. Pretty easy to gauge your fruit portions.

As far as tubers, starches,etc.. Just think of it like this: As long as your total carbohydrate portion ( fruits and starches ) in each meal, isn’t a larger portion than either your protein or fat portion – and you’re good.

exactpaleoplanNo – This isn’t an exact science..

And I don’t think it has to be. not sure it can be , actually.

Not if we expect the average, everyday me and you to be able to pick it up and actually change the way we eat.. and stick with it. Not if we expect a fundamental shift in the way our society thinks about food.

There has to be a simple dietary framework that’s flexible and effective. Counting calories? This is the generation that didn’t even have to keep track of a check book.

Until the next fitness app includes some type of chip that to be inserted into your body ( i’m sure it’s coming ) then counting calories just isn’t practical for the average dieter, Paleo or not.

Good thing it doesn’t really matter all too much. While many may  argue that keeping an exact calorie count is mandatory for any type of effective dieting.  I will admit that calorie counting certainly does work.. it’s just that it isn’t the only way that works.

The calorie diet gained popularity during a period when our diets were unnaturally inflated with processed sugars and grains. With a fundamental shift in the types of foods we rely on for our daily nutritional needs, we turn the tables in our favor , in a way, in that the same rules no longer necessarily apply.

A calorie is not a calorie. Carbohydrates and fats do not process and have the same exacting effects in the digestive system of the human body. Manipulating this biological truth is the key to allowing you build a sensible and effective Paleo diet meal plan, without the normal difficulties associated with dieting.

So, invest in your nutritional knowledge base, and use the Paleo meal plan framework that we just discussed to build dietary Paleo habits that make sense for your lifestyle.

 

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