How We Design Our Paleo Meal Plan

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Something that we frequently get asked is how our Paleo meal plan is designed. It is a really great question! Our food plan is designed to be an integral part of a lifestyle that turns your body into the highly efficient, optimally functioning, fat-burning machine it is meant to be. This is what nature has always intended for you. With a modern mimicking of the diets of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we can reprogram our genes for optimal expression, a.k.a. health!  

By eating a diet of nutrient dense real foods comprised of healthy fats, adequate high quality protein, and just enough carbohydrate from well-tolerated plant sources to support our individual needs, we can harness the ancient power of our genes to our modern advantage. And that’s exactly what our Paleo meal plan is designed to do!

The Basics

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The meal plan is designed for two adults eating together, however, you can customize this number to as few as one person or to as many people as needed. Details on how to customize the plan are provided at the end of the post.

The plan provides four meals a day—breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. The focus is on providing relatively simple-to-cook meals that can be prepared quickly without sacrificing quality, and many dinners and snacks are designed to have enough for leftovers to minimize time spent in the kitchen. You will undoubtedly have things leftover from the week that you can use up on Saturday lunches and snacks. These two meals are an opportunity to “graze the fridge for leftovers” so that you’re not throwing anything away.

The Macronutrients

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Macronutrients are things we need to eat in large amounts for health. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins comprise the macronutrient content of our diets.

The macronutrient intake of our Paleolithic ancestors varied considerably according to location, climate, and season. Although there were most certainly societies that thrived at both ends of the carb spectrum, as evident in contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, ancestral diets are generally estimated to have been 22% to 40% carbohydrate, 19% to 35% protein and up to 58% fat. (1)

How does our meal plan compare? Here’s the average macronutrient breakdown of ten weeks from this year.

*Note: This information came from myfitnesspal.com, which is where all of the data on our site (if you’re a member) comes from.

Daily Macronutrient Averages and Ranges for the PaleoPlan Meal Plan Weeks 30-39, 2016:

  • Calories: 1,618
  • Carbs: 82g            
  • Fat: 103g
  • Protein: 105g       

As a Percentage of Total Calories:

  • Carbs: 20%
  • Protein: 26%
  • Fat: 57%

As you can see, our macronutrient percentages fall right in line with ancestral diet parameters. But why are these parameters desirable?  Let’s take a closer look.

Carbohydrates

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Carbs: to eat them or not to eat them? That is the question! Well, here’s the answer:  while carbs from Paleo-friendly vegetable and fruit sources as well as nuts and seeds add interest to our diets, taste great, and provide micronutrients (nutrients we need small amounts of such as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals), we should only eat enough from these sources to support our individual needs and goals. Why? Because carbohydrate intake drives insulin production which drives fat storage!

So how many carbs should we eat? Mark Sisson has put together a really elegant carbohydrate curve detailing how much is needed to facilitate weight loss, weight maintenance, and weight gain. Although individual needs will differ due to things such as weight, health status, and activity levels, generally a carbohydrate range of 50-100 grams/day promotes weight loss.

Our Meal Plan is full of both starchy and non-starchy vegetables which are always included in some form or another with lunch and dinner, and very often with breakfast and snacks as well.  Fruit, nuts, and seeds are included almost every day which proves that it’s easy to eat a lot of micronutrient dense carbs and stay in the weight loss margin of the carbohydrate curve!

Protein

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What do our bodies use protein for? Protein is essential for your overall health and functioning. It builds and repairs body parts such as muscles, cartilage, skin, hair, organs, bones, and hormones. Adequate protein intake also helps you feel more satiated between meals, helps stabilize blood sugar, and prevent muscle wasting from natural aging, illness, and stress.

The Paleo diet emphasizes animal protein over plant protein because it was the predominant source of protein in the Paleolithic diet. It is also more digestible and supports nitrogen balance more effectively than plant protein. 

Chris Kresser recommends plain and simply that we eat as much protein as we crave. He recommends that 20 to 35 percent of calories come from protein depending on lifestyle, age, health status, and activity levels. Our meals generally provide 4-6 ounces of high quality protein per serving.

Fat

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If you’re already Paleo, I’m preaching to the choir but fat is good! I remember when a friend of mine proclaimed this to me when I was first transitioning from traditional nutrition to an ancestral health perspective. I was amused and not entirely convinced.  Boy, have I turned around! Most fats are very good for you. During the Paleolithic era, we evolved to utilize fat extremely efficiently and until our transition from hunting and gathering to farming, the bulk of our calories came from fat.

Of course, not all fat is good. Common in our western diet are artificial trans fats that are created in an industrial process to make liquid vegetable oil more solid and shelf stable. Artificial trans fats are particularly dangerous and promote the pathogenesis for heart disease. Our western diet also contains an excess of inflammatory omega-6 polyunsaturated fats from highly processed seed oils that contribute to our risk for heart disease, cancer, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases. (2)(3)

Fats, comprised of strings of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached, come in different forms depending on how many double bonds they contain. Saturated fats are “saturated” with hydrogen and have no double bonds. This makes them very temperature stable so they are solid at room temperature and great to cook with.  Examples include coconut oil, palm oil, tallow, lard, duck fat, and schmaltz (chicken fat). Some Paleo eaters use ghee, which is pure butter oil with all of the milk solids removed.

Saturated fats, contrary to conventional wisdom are not harmful. In fact, they are often healthful. You will find lots of healthy saturated fats on the PaleoPlan meal plan! (4)(5)

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Monounsaturated fats have one double bond, and these include olive oil, avocado oil, and macadamia nut oil. They have many health benefits and are safe for cooking. Yes, even olive oil is safe to cook with! You will find monounsaturated fats used in many of our recipes. (6)

Polyunsaturated fats contain two or more double bonds, and are a mixed bag, so-to-speak. Ubiquitous in the western diet as liquid oils from seeds and grains such as canola oil, corn oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil, they oxidize easily when exposed to light, air, and heat. Due to this instability and their high inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid content, these oils are not recommended for cooking or for cold consumption. On the other hand, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids prevalent in fatty fish are anti-inflammatory and very good for us.

Although both inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our health, our western diet provides too many omega-6s compared to omega-3s with a ratio of 10:1 to 25:1. This is a huge departure from our Paleolithic past where our ancestors ate a dietary ratio closer to 1:1 to 4:1. It’s thought that many of our current chronic health problems stem from this imbalance. Luckily just by avoiding processed seed and vegetable oils and eating more grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines, you can bring your dietary ratio of these essential fatty acids into desirable range.  

We never include trans fats or highly refined vegetable oils in our recipes so you will never see any on the meal plan. We do include at least two fish meals for you each week, and very often three including one shellfish meal to bump up those omega-3s and hard-to-get minerals such as selenium, iodine, and zinc.

Finally, we also have a detailed look at the meal plan’s macronutrient breakdown for a typical week.

The Micronutrients

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In 2005, Loren Cordain published a study that found the top foods rich in the nutrients most lacking in the U.S. diet. The nutrients most lacking included:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • B1
  • B2
  • B3
  • Folate
  • B6
  • B12
  • Phosphorous
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Zinc

The foods most abundant in these nutrients, according to Loren Cordain’s findings, are:

  • Vegetables
  • Seafood
  • Meat
  • Fruit

These foods are listed in order of most abundant, and vegetables, seafood, meat, and fruit were listed ahead of grains, dairy, nuts, and seeds. It’s a good thing you’re getting plenty of animal protein and veggies on our meal plan!

Check out this post comparing the micronutrients and macronutrients from a typical PaleoPlan menu to a day of typical western fare. There really is no comparison as the Paleo diet wins hands down in regards to nutrient density and exceeds the recommended daily values in almost every case!

Calcium

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Let’s talk about calcium for a moment.  Have you wondered if you can get adequate calcium on a diet that excludes dairy? Well, the answer is “yes!” The RDA for calcium for adults is 1000 – 1200 mg/day and 1300 mg/day for pregnant and lactating women.  However, experts such as Dr. Willett, chair of the Harvard School of Public Health’s nutrition department, believes our needs are met with less and that calcium in the range of 500 – 700 mg/day is adequate for bone health. (7)

It’s easy to get this much calcium on the Paleo diet, if you’re mindful about it and eat your greens as well as some bones. Greens and bones? Yes, calcium is very well absorbed from these foods, with bones (such as the soft ends off soup bones or small soft fish bones), collard greens, canned salmon with bones, and turnip greens, all providing more absorbable calcium than milk! Sardines with bones are a very close second to milk with bok choy, broccoli, kale, and mustard greens following. (8)(9)

Filling your plate with a cup of collard greens, a cup of broccoli, and a serving of fish with bones will provide over 700mg calcium in just one meal! You’re also getting calcium in smaller amounts from nuts and seeds as well other vegetables.

Our meal plan averages about 600 mg/day calcium with some days providing more and others less. This is perfectly fine because calcium balance and bone density are not dependant on daily intake but are the result of calcium consumption over long periods of time. Very often you’ll see “mixed greens” on the menu. This is a great opportunity for you to add more calcium rich greens to your diet! (10)

The calcium story doesn’t end here.  A healthy lifestyle that includes weight bearing exercise is important for bone health as well as additional supportive nutrients such as vitamin D (best from sunshine, but this is not always an option), vitamin A, vitamin K2, and magnesium. Vitamins D and K2 can be especially difficult to get enough of, even on a nutrient-rich Paleo diet. If you’re considering supplementation for any micronutrients, I recommend that you to speak to your health care provider or a nutritionist to make sure it’s the right thing for you.

Making the Meal Plan Work for You

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On the Paleo diet, food quality is strongly emphasized for everyone, but ultimately, meal composition depends on individual needs, preferences, and goals. In other words, we have designed our Paleo meal plan in congruence with estimated ancestral dietary parameters but you have to find what works best for you!

If you are experiencing fatigue or hunger, or you are not losing weight, or you’re even gaining weight on the meal plan, then you may need to tweak things a bit and there are several easy ways to do this.

You can add or subtract meals using our customizing feature that automatically updates your shopping list to reflect your changes, or you can easily add or subtract food from the meal plan yourself! You can also flag foods you are allergic to or simply don’t like with this feature.

Our weekly Prep Notes are suggestions meant to make your cooking life easier and promote a more gratifying food experience. In the notes, we provide reminders to get an early enough start on meals that take several hours to prepare, such as marinades and slow cooker dishes. We also make recommendations for advance meal prep of various dishes so that you can save time on days when things might be busy. Batch cooking helps too! If you’re struggling with the amount of time you’re spending in the kitchen on a daily basis, check out this article on how food prepping and batch cooking can be especially rewarding.

Our goal is to provide you with an absolutely delicious, interesting, accessible, totally customizable, modern adaptation of the diet our hunter-gatherer ancestors thrived on!  We love feedback so please let us know how we’re doing!

About Sally Barden Johnson

Sally is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She is an avid CrossFitter and enjoys teaching Paleo cooking classes, working with clients to find the best nutritional solutions within a Paleo framework to solve their health issues and spending time with family. View all posts by Sally Barden Johnson →

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2 Comments

  1. cullen

    Interesting, I used to do Paleo with a Zone prescription. I found myself under eating especially with the intensity I was feeling during CrossFit workouts. However I did find when I increased my blocks to 25 per day and incorporated more roots and tubers, my carb # would increase and so would my strength and energy.

    What are your thoughts on increasing blocks and in result increasing the amount of recommended calories? I know for me 1600 isn’t going to cut it lol

    • Sally Barden Johnson

      Hi Cullen

      I’m a Crossfitter and I had the same experience when I Zoned it :). We all have to modify our intake to meet our individual needs and I make this point at the end of the article in the Making The Meal Plan Work For You section. Our Meal Plan is a foundation to work from and if Zoning it to 25 blocks works for you, great! Our needs are individual and our intake will reflect that for optimal health and performance.

      Have fun at your box!

      Sally

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