In this age of pizza and burrito joints on every corner, it can be difficult to make any special diet work. The paleo diet is no exception. With very few truly paleo-friendly options at your typical fast food restaurant, the idea of finding something can seem daunting. But you can make it work by being flexible and finding a few menu items that won’t derail your efforts.
The paleo diet is based on the dietary habits of Paleolithic man. The philosophy behind the diet suggests that our bodies are better equipped to digest the foods eaten by ancient men and women.
This period covers from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. There was no traditional agriculture, as farming hadn’t yet been developed. People were hunters and gatherers. The paleo diet, therefore, doesn’t include grains, dairy products, or legumes. Processed foods are also out, as Paleolithic man didn’t have access to a supermarket or super-sized french fries.
This leaves a relatively select amount of items for followers of the paleo diet to enjoy: lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts.
It’s easy to see how a paleo diet may be difficult to reconcile with a fast food menu. Aicacia Young, registered dietitian and founder of ClimbHealthy.com, says paleo is a good option for weight loss and health maintenance, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for eating at fast food restaurants. However, higher quality restaurants often have a wider variety of paleo-friendly choices.
“Chipotle has decided to use grass-fed beef from New Zealand in their meals,” Young says. “There are many local burger joints that use local, organic, or grass-fed products in their foods. If you’re able to choose one of these high-quality restaurants, you should be able to get by in a pinch.”
Chipotle is a popular choice among paleo dieters, as you can order a bowl of meat with avocado or veggies. But some of these same methods can be applied to other fast food restaurants, if you know what’s allowed and what isn’t.
“Simple tricks like ordering a burger without a bun, or choosing sweet potato fries over regular fries, can help you stay closer to the paleo guidelines,” Young says. Salads, vegetable plates, and some soups are usually acceptable for paleo dieters.
When you first start out on any diet, it can be difficult to get used to new eating habits. And a fast food restaurant, with its many temptations, could deliver a blow to your early efforts.
For these reasons, Young suggests avoiding fast food in the beginning.
“For those who are trying the paleo diet for the first time, it’s easier to avoid fast food joints and keep your meals simple,” she says. “Fast food often uses refined oils and questionable ingredients.” By steering clear, you can lay the foundation of a solid paleo lifestyle before branching out.
Why would anyone want to deprive themselves of fast food? For starters, the paleo diet may help you manage your weight in the short term (six months or less). Two-year studies show less clear weight results when the paleo diet is tested against other intervention diets. The paleo diet may also offer other potential health benefits. One study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition saw improvements in blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and insulin sensitivity in just 10 days. “Remember that the paleo diet is meant to be a starting point to help you discover the best diet for you. It’s OK if your diet looks a little bit different from another paleo diet,” says Young. It is important to stay dedicated but flexible.
Your ultimate goal in taking up the paleo diet, as with any special dietary regimen, is to make lasting lifestyle changes. Learning how to navigate fast food temptations while adhering to your diet goals is an important skill that will be useful in the long term by enabling you to make healthy food choices in any food venue.