The paleo diet is all about eating what our ancestors ate in the Paleolithic era.
They didn’t seem to be riddled with modern-day lifestyle diseases. They had a diet high in protein and fiber. And there were no processed foods, added sugar, processed meats, sodas, or alcoholic drinks.
While following their dietary pattern is a great idea, it is not sustainable in the long run.
Traditional paleo does not allow grains, dairy, legumes, or soy. But these are nutritious foods too. Dairy is high in calcium and protein, while legumes and grains are high-fiber foods that offer many vitamins and minerals.
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What Is a Flexible Paleo Diet?
A flexible paleo diet is more about being practical and including healthy, wholesome foods. It allows you to follow an 80/20 rule rather than a rigid regime, which might make you crave and give into binges.
It's all right to occasionally enjoy a modern-day treat that our ancestors couldn’t even have dreamt of. Enjoy your morning cup of coffee without guilt, roast potatoes using butter, and add some peanut butter to your delicious pre-workout soy milk smoothie.
Here are 10 substitute foods that can be incorporated into a flexible paleo diet.
There is a wide range of foods to avoid on the paleo diet.
But whether you can include rice in your version of paleo will depend on why you chose the diet in the first place. If it was to go gluten-free, then including rice is a safe bet. But if your goal is weight loss, there might be better substitutes for you than rice.
Rice can quickly add on calories, so it's a better choice if you're trying to bulk and build muscle. That's why athletes use it when they need energy quickly.
And if your idea is to include more carbs, then it may be better to go for more nutrient-dense carb choices such as potatoes.
2. White Potatoes
Certain potato products are not considered paleo (1). Still, you should consider adding unprocessed potatoes to your diet.
Potatoes are highly nutritious carbs rich in vitamin C, vitamins B3, B5, B6, and folate.
They have minerals such as potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and copper. And they have a macronutrient profile of 88% carbohydrates, 10% protein, and 10% dietary fiber.
White potatoes also contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source.
Dairy products are not allowed in a traditional paleo diet.
Many people are allergic to milk, and staying off dairy has benefited them greatly. But if you don't have to worry about allergies, you should try adding some dairy products such as ghee and butter to your diet.
Even if you have difficulty digesting milk, butter may be safe as it's almost pure fat. It's also a great way to cook your veggies.
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Yogurt is another dairy product that can be beneficial for your health. Even if you are lactose intolerant, you can enjoy some yogurt without any issues.
It is much easier to digest than milk because the beneficial bacteria in the yogurt break down all the lactose. And it's a highly nutritious food with plenty of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and selenium.
5. Green Beans & Bean Sprouts
Legumes are not permitted on paleo as they may irritate the gut. The anti-nutrients in legumes can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
But because green beans and sprouted beans don't have anti-nutrients, you can consider adding these substitutes to your paleo diet.
6. Peanut Butter
Peanuts—another type of legume—are banned on paleo.
Peanut allergies are also very common and can sometimes be fatal if anaphylaxis occurs. But peanuts are an amazing source of nutrients if you don't have these allergies.
Peanut butter, especially, is very popular among bodybuilders. You can use it as a dip for fruits. You can also blend it into your smoothies to add taste and extra protein to your diet.
Soy is another legume you should consider including in your flexible paleo diet.
And if its anti-nutrients are your only concern, try the fermented soy version of miso paste.
Miso is nutrient-rich with protein, calcium, vitamin K, manganese, and zinc. And it's also great for digestion because it's rich in probiotics.
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8. Soy Milk
A lot of people who are allergic to dairy prefer soy milk in their lattes and smoothies.
If you don't have any gut issues or bloating from using soy milk, then go ahead and enjoy it in your drinks and desserts. Soy milk is high in protein and has numerous vitamins and minerals. Plus, it's high in omega-3 fatty acids—also known as "healthy fats."
Soybeans also have isoflavonoids and phenolic acids, which have potent antioxidant properties.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding coffee on paleo. The stricter versions do not allow it, while the flexible ones do.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that helps fight fatigue and boosts energy. That's why some of us cannot do without our early-morning caffeine kicks.
A daily cup of coffee can also offer protection against neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
10. Green Tea
Whether people in the Stone Age drank tea is debatable. They probably made versions of herbal teas by boiling flowers and medicinal herbs. Still, tea is forbidden by paleo purists because of its caffeine content.
While you won't be able to have a milk-laden masala chai, green tea is a different story.
Its caffeine content is about one-fourth of the amount in coffee. Green tea is also rich in polyphenols with antioxidant properties and is known to help reduce inflammation in the body (2).
Choose Foods Based on Your Health Goals
Most of these foods are restricted in a traditional paleo diet for a reason. They are either allergens or contain compounds that interfere with nutrient absorption.
A lot of people cannot tolerate peanuts or dairy, while others have trouble with soy or eggs. So, you should add and remove foods from your paleo diet list based on what works for you.
If you suspect you might be allergic to one of these foods, try a 30-days elimination diet to see if your allergies improve. Then add them back in one by one to check if the allergy triggers again.
However, before changing your diet, always consult your doctor first.