The Paleo diet has been around longer than any of us. But, some still don’t know what it is. We’ll change that and give you the top five paleo recipes you have to try.
I know, you’ve heard of the Paleo diet plan before, but you’re skeptical because you sort of tried it and it didn’t work. The fact is, Paleo works, but only if you stick to it and follow the rules to a T.
Want to see that six pack?
Or maybe you already do, but you have a little bit of stubborn fat on your sides that doesn’t seem to disappear, no matter what you do, and you’ve tried everything else short of cosmetic surgery including keto (I’ll explain later), calorie restriction, diet pills, fancy creams and the like.
Enter the Paleo Diet.
Paleo eating refers to the way some like to think our ancestors ate, and it’s pretty damn close. The diet follows a few fairly simple rules. Stay away from processed foods (grains, bread, dairy, white sugar), dairy (but butter is okay to cook in), legumes and soy (soy sauce, miso, tofu), and try to eat raw whenever possible.
Think of your plate like a pie chart: About a quarter to 30% of it should be a protein source and the rest should be your veggies. I hear the cries now:
Where are the carbs?
Good news: Root vegetables (turnips, parsnips, potatoes both white and sweet, rutabaga, etc.) are definitely on the menu, so you can still satisfy that carb craving you get every day.
Paleo Food Sources
First, let’s get into your proteins. Fat is definitely encouraged as part of either the protein you’re eating of what you’re cooking it in. Rib steak, duck, dark meat chicken and turkey, pork, bison and anything else you can think of as a protein are all good choices to eat, and make sure you’re cooking it in fat unless you’re grilling it.
My personal favorite is any of the above chunked up into one-inch cubes and sautéed for a few minutes with some shallots, salt, and pepper. Seeds and nuts are great sources of protein as well, and they give you some carbohydrate as well.
Carbohydrate sources, as mentioned, include seeds, nuts and root vegetables. But, here’s an added bonus: There are some regular veggies that are very starchy and will give you some added carbs to the meals, such as carrots, onions, and bell peppers. Your brain needs a minimum of about 125 grams of carbs a day to function properly, hence the headaches you get when you’re carb-depleted or hung over. Also, carbs fuel your workouts and make the muscles look fuller and thicker, further enhancing your appearance.
Remember how Popeye used to eat spinach and then his forearms would bulge and get veiny when he was protecting or impressing Olive Oyl?
Turns out the cartoons were pretty accurate for once.
Leafy green veggies, including but not limited to spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, mustard greens and kale, help you stay regular (in the sense of getting rid of waste) and have phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals that have health benefits) that are essential for certain life processes, like digestion. The carbs in leafy greens are minimal, but they do offer some of that as well. For perspective, you’d have to eat in the neighborhood of 15 pounds of spinach to get 100 grams of carbs – too much, in my humble opinion.
Paleo works on the principle that your stomach and intestines can process all of the foods discussed with ease and that you get the maximal benefit while wasting very little and not eating much that your body can store as fat. Add to that the very pure fuel sources (healthy fats and unprocessed carbs) that you’re taking in and you have a formula for food that will allow you to crush workouts and gain that muscle you’re seeking while melting the fat off your body in a healthy way.
How To Cook Paleo…
Lucky for you I put some recipes together. Before getting into them, some of these recipes have your starch sources, some do not, but everything can be eaten with a cooked potato.
Roasted Duck with Sweet And Spicy Cashews
What you’ll need:
-8 oz duck breast, fat on
-1/2 cup dry cashews
-1 Tbsp agave nectar
-2 tsp sea salt, separated into 1 tsp portions
-1 tsp ground black pepper
-1/4 tsp cayenne
-1/4 tsp paprika
Preheat an oven to 425. Heat a non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Place duck in pan, fat or skin side down, and start to melt the fat off the duck. Store in a cup and keep warm for later use, you’ll be cooking in it.
When about half the fat is melted off, heat another non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add the cashews to the pan with the cayenne and paprika. Toss to mix, then add the agave nectar and some duck fat so the nuts don’t stick to the pan. When all the nuts are thoroughly coated, add one teaspoon of sea salt and toss to mix.
The duck should have about 1/8 of its fat left now. Season both sides with the other teaspoon of sea salt and the black pepper, transfer it to a baking dish coated with the duck fat from before and put it in the oven. Just before putting the duck in the oven, reduce the heat on the nuts to low.
Depending on how you like your duck, leave in the oven for 6 to 15 minutes. For rare go with six minutes, medium rare takes eight minutes, medium is 10, medium well 12 and well done 14 to 15 minutes. After the duck is in the oven for five minutes, remove the nuts from heat and cover to keep warm. When the duck is done, slice, plate with the nuts and enjoy!
Pro Tip: Mix the remainder of the duck fat from the baking dish with a little chicken stock and a dash of Worcestershire sauce in a heated pot to make a natural au jus that deepens the flavor of the duck
Spicy Thai Basil Chicken Stir Fry
What you’ll need:
-8 oz chicken breast or thigh, cubed
-1 Tbsp sesame oil
-1 small shallot, sliced
-6-12 Thai bird chilies, minced (wear gloves; be careful because that stuff burns if you touch your skin with it!)
-12 basil leaves, torn
-2 large carrots, chopped or julienned (long, thin, slices)
-1 red bell pepper, sliced
-1 medium white onion, chopped
-1 cup uncooked cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
-1/2 cup chicken stock
-2 Tbsp liquid amino’s (soy sauce substitute)
Heat a large non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the sesame oil and about 10 seconds later add the shallots. Let them sizzle for a few seconds (15 seconds is good) then add the chilies and the chicken. Sauté the chicken for about eight minutes and then add the chicken stock followed by the onions and carrots. Let simmer for about two minutes then add the bell pepper slices. Let simmer while mixing for one minute, then add the amino’s and tomatoes and mix.
Continue letting the chicken cook in the mixture until cooked through. About 30 seconds before you want to eat, add the basil and mix well. After adding the basil, remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes to cool. Put in a bowl and eat!
Pro Tip: This dish is also great with duck; the skin gets crispy and the duck has a deep, rich flavor
Roasted Skirt Steak with Warm, Tart Quinoa Salad
What you’ll need:
-8 oz skirt steak, sliced
-1 cup uncooked quinoa
-1 Tbsp butter
-1 Tbsp olive oil or equivalent
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp pepper
-2 shallots, chopped
-2 Roma tomatoes, chunked
-2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Read the directions on the container you got the quinoa from, and start heating the water and place the butter in the water. When the water starts to boil, add the quinoa and continue to follow the directions. Then, heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and add the olive oil to the pan.
When hot, put the steak in the pan and sauté until it reaches the desired temperature and then remove from heat. When the water is almost gone from the quinoa, add the shallots, tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and let cook for one minute while mixing. Remove quinoa with vegetables from heat and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the apple cider vinegar and mix well. Add the steak, plate and serve!
Pro Tip: Add crushed almonds for a little more texture and to make it crunchy
Paleo Beef Chili
What you’ll need:
-2 cans of crushed tomatoes
-8 oz ground beef or pork
-1 Tbsp butter
-2 large carrots, finely chopped
-1 medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
-4 sticks celery, finely chopped
-1 can black beans
-2 Tbsp chili powder
-1 tsp cayenne
-1 tsp paprika
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp black pepper
-1 bunch scallions, chopped
-1 Tbsp dry thyme
Heat both a sauté pan and large pot over medium and low heat respectively. While heating, melt one tablespoon of butter in the pot. When melted, pour the tomatoes into the pot and continue to heat while mixing. Sautee the carrots, celery and onions lightly in the rest of the butter, then add to the tomatoes along with the beef.
The beef may appear chunky, but use your mixing tool to crush the large chunks into smaller ones. Continue to mix and add the black beans. After letting cook for two minutes, add the chili powder, cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper and mix well. Let simmer for five minutes, portion and serve!
Pro Tip: To kick the spice level up a notch, add one finely chopped jalapeno or serrano pepper with the seeds. If you’re really brave, a habanero will give it more kick too!
Pan-Roasted Chicken with Stuffed Portabella Caps
What you’ll need:
-1 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast
-3 Tbsp olive oil
-2 portabella mushrooms, stems removed
-1 head of fennel, thinly sliced
-6 cloves of garlic, minced
-1 shallot, finely chopped
-1 tsp salt, split into ½ tsp portions
-2 tsp pepper, split into 1 tsp portions
-1 bulb jicama, peeled and cubed
-1 Meyer lemon, peeled and finely chopped
Preheat an oven to 425 and season the chicken (skin side) with ½ tsp of salt and 1 tsp pepper. Then, heat a stainless steel sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add 1 Tbsp olive oil and place the chicken in the pan, skin side down. Let the chicken roast in the pan for five minutes, transfer to a baking dish and place it in the oven.
While the chicken is in the oven, heat a non-stick sauté pan and when hot, add the rest of the olive oil, shallot and garlic to the pan and let cook for about 30 seconds. After that, add the jicama and fennel and toss to mix. Add the rest of the salt and pepper and mix well. Drizzle a little olive oil on the portabella caps and place in a baking dish in the oven. Continue to saute the vegetable mixture on low heat for about 20 minutes and then add the Meyer lemon.
At this point, the chicken should have been in the oven for around 25 to 30 minutes, and should be fully cooked (cut into the breast to check). If it is fully cooked, remove it and the mushrooms from the oven. Add the vegetable mixture in equal parts to the two mushroom caps as a stuffing.
Plate and then serve!
Eating while on the Paleo diet is easier than ever before with grocery stores like Whole Foods and any organic farmers’ market around. Although it isn’t cheap, you won’t be complaining about the extra few bucks on your grocery haul when you catch all those hotties playing volleyball on the beach missing shots because they’re gawking at your lean, ripped physique.
By Michael Schletter, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D