Priorities for Eating Paleo on a Budget
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Eating with a Paleo or Primal approach can seem daunting when you realize that you are no longer going to rely on the cheap, filler ingredients you may have become accustomed to buying on a regular basis. No more rice and beans. No more bread, pasta or cereal. These are all cheap foods. And rightfully so; they provide poor nutritional value when you compare them to vegetables, meat, fruit, nuts, seeds and quality fats and oils.
The concept of a Paleolithic or evolutionary approach to eating is that we rely on whole foods that are in a very edible form as they exist in nature with very little “processing” required between when it’s picked or killed and when it’s eaten. This is the biggest part of an evolutionary approach to eating that resonated with me, besides the fact that it’s based on consuming whole foods of high quality. That said, getting your hands on the best quality vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts, seeds, fats and oils can be cost prohibitive if you’re trying to buy the top of the line ingredients across the board.
These are my tips to help you to navigate which foods are the most critical to buy at the highest quality level and which you can set lower on your priority list and save for the times when you have some extra cash to spend on your food.
Though it’s also linked at the bottom of this post, to grab my “Quality Matters” PDF Guide, click here.
PRIORITY FOR FATS
Buy the highest quality fats and oils that you can.
Fats and oils help form your cell membranes and, while all macronutrients do incorporate into your cell tissues and contribute to the formation of new cells, fats and oils of poor quality are at the root of many health problems. This means never eating trans-fats and avoiding highly processed vegetable oils, rancid oils and over consumption of omega 6 fatty acids. This also includes nuts and seeds, which are healthiest for us in their raw form since the oils will not be damaged by the heat of roasting. I have a full explanation of “Fats: Which to Eat and Which to Ditch” as well as a post on “What Are Safe Cooking Fats & Oils.”
My go-to fats for cooking are: organic extra virgin coconut oil, organic grass-fed (or at least organic) butter, organic grass-fed ghee and pastured pork bacon fat that I save from baking bacon in the oven (if I eat non-pastured bacon I toss the fat). I keep my coconut oil and ghee in the cupboard and my butter and bacon fat stay in the fridge. I think you can keep ghee in the fridge as well if you’re concerned about it going off, but it should be okay at room temperature. Don’t refrigerate coconut oil as it will become extremely hard and difficult to use without re-melting.
My go-to oils for salads and using in raw recipes are: organic, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and organic cold pressed sesame oil (which I don’t use too often). I store my sesame oil in the fridge if I have it on-hand.
|Grass-fed cows = good eats.
Click to find grass-fed cows near you.
PRIORITY FOR PROTEIN
Buy lean cuts of conventional meats, and cheaper cuts of grass-fed, organic and pastured meats when you can.
When we’re tying to keep the quality high, choosing conventional meats with as little fat as possible is the way to go. Why? Well, like in humans, animals store toxins in their fat. That means that if you’re eating an animal that may have been exposed to poor quality food, chemicals, antibiotics and exogenous hormones (from an outside source other than their own body’s natural form), most of the residue from those toxins will be in the animal’s fat. What’s interesting is that meat in the US gets graded on “marbling” or the amount of fat that swirls through the meat. While that fat is tasty and I welcome the small amounts of it that end up in my grass-fed meat (which is naturally leaner than grain-fed meat, so good luck finding marbled 100% grass-fed meat), it’s the unhealthiest part of the conventional meat. Conversely, whatever fat you can find on 100% grass fed or pastured animal meat will be healthy and you should eat it openly. Sadly, animals get fatter from the food they’re not made to eat. That situation sounds eerily familiar, no? Animals eat the wrong food, they get fat. Humans eat the wrong food, we get fat.
PRIORITY FOR CARBOHYDRATES
Buy organic vegetables and fruits from “The Dirty Dozen” list whenever possible.
These are the Environmental Working Group’s list (PDF) of the items where the highest level of pesticide and chemical residues was found when tested. You can read their reasons for why to follow their guide here. You can also find the full list of more than 24 fruits and vegetables here. Beyond that list, if you can’t make it happen in your budget, go for whatever fruits and vegetables you can swing as local and organic, but don’t sweat it if you need to mix it up.
That’s it! Since you’re looking at three major macronutrient categories here, I’m just giving you the priority list of what to buy for the three main sources of those nutrients: Fats, Protein and Carbohydrates. I think that’s the easiest way to break it down, and it’s really not more complicated than that.
For my take on the best forms of different food sources, check out this handy PDF guide. I’ve included rankings for eggs, poultry, beef, pork, lamb, seafood, veggies & fruit, nuts & seeds, fats & oils and dairy. Hopefully it’s a helpful tool that you can print out and hang in your kitchen for reference on a regular basis.
If you’re looking for some of my other handy PDF guides, here are a few more links:
Fats: Which to Eat & Which to Ditch (PDF) | Blog Post
What Are Safe Cooking Fats & Oils? (PDF) | Blog Post
The Dish on Sugar & Sweeteners (PDF) | Blog Post
Quality Matters: Food Quality Levels (PDF)