Converting your kitchen from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a grain-free or paleo kitchen can seem overwhelming at first. It is important to remember that you don’t need to have ALL the paleo pantry items to start. A good starting point is using coconut oil instead of canola oil. Buy plant-based milk instead of cow milk. The transition can be as gradual as you like. There are many health benefits to paleo, including better blood sugar regulation and cardiovascular health.
Take a deep breath and remember that you do not need all of these things all the time. In my house, I rotate one or two cooking fats, paleo flours, tree nut or seed on hand at a time. It varies from week to week, and it definitely depends on my budget.
Bonus, because the diet mostly consists of pastured animal proteins and fresh plant-based foods you can make magic happen with very little. Basic: one healthy cooking fat, salt, but that would get really boring, really fast. So here are my favorites, the things I use at least twice a month… or every day!
The first items to swap out are your cooking fats. Healthy fats are a cornerstone of the primal lifestyle (1).
“ Let’s start with saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in meat, eggs, coconut and palm oil. Saturated fat has a wonderful property in that it is very difficult to oxidize, which means two things: it doesn’t go rancid easily and it doesn’t cause oxidative stress in your body. The saturated fat in meat and eggs is a long-chain saturated fat. It is not the unhealthy fat that was once wrongfully accused as the cause of cardiovascular disease, but how healthy it is for you is still under debate. My suggestion is to not worry about it, but don’t go out of your way to eat more of it either. Coconut and palm oil contain a medium chain saturated fat and this is very special. It can actually be used directly for energy by your cells, without modification and without a spike in insulin or blood sugar.
Saturated fats are the only fats you should cook with on a regular basis. This is because poly-unsaturated fats do something very bad when they get heated up: they oxidize and produce Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs). This means two things: they do go rancid much more easily and, if they do produce AGEs, they can cause oxidative damage to the cells in your body.
It is also important to reduce your intake of omega-6 fatty acids to the best of your ability (and budget). This means no modern vegetable oils or products made from them, like mayonnaise or store-bought salad dressings.”Dr. Sarah Ballentye (source)
- Unrefined Coconut Oil
- Cold Expeller Pressed Olive Oil
- Grass-Fed Ghee
- Avocado Oil
- Pastured Animal Fats: Lard, Tallow, Schmaltz
- Palm Oil Shortening
Read more on Real Food Healthy Fats!
Read your labels, look for sauces that don’t have added sugars and other junk.
Ideally making homemade sauces would be awesome, but we don’t always have time for that. knowing which brands you can trust is a must. While I love making homemade sauces, especially pesto, chimichurri and my own nightshade-free faux-mato and barbecue sauces…. it’s not always realistic.
Tessemae’s is a great brand with a whole food ingredient list, bonus they have a handful of Whole30 Approved items!
Primal Kitchen, obvs by the name they are a paleo brand that offers salad dressings, mayo & oils too.
Staples to create your own sauces:
- Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar
- Red/White Wine Vinegar
- Ground Mustard
- Coconut Milk
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Tomato Paste/Marinara (no sugar added)
- Fish Sauce (no sugar added)- I use Read Boat Brand
- Tamarind Paste or Tamarind Fruit
- Black Strap Molasses
One ingredient that you will see time and time again used in paleo recipes is Coconut Aminos. At the moment one company corners the market: Coconut Secret. Lucky for us, they are a great company, with awesome standards. Organic, Non-GMO & gluten-free certified.
Coconut Aminos by Coconut Secret is a replacement for soy sauce. It is not nearly as salty, and even a little sweet. It enhances the flavor of food in a great way. Perfect as a base for Asian sauces and marinades. For more on how Coconut Aminos stacks up against Soy Sauce.
Why can’t I have soy sauce? It’s made from soybeans, a legume, which is not paleo. What if I eat legumes? Then go for Gluten-Free Tamari, I think the San-J brand is the best.
All herbs and spices are paleo. Most spice blends are too, just look out for added sugars and GMO’s.
My favorites to keep in stock are:
- Pink Himalayan Salt
- Course Sea Salt
- Smoked Sea Salt
- Basil (fresh or dry)
- Parsley (fresh or dry)
- Cilantro (fresh or dry)
- Mint (fresh or dry)
- Oregano (fresh or dry)
- Rosemary (fresh or dry)
- Sage (fresh or dry)
- Thyme (fresh or dry)
- Lemon rind (fresh or dry)
- Ginger root (fresh or ground)
- Ground or whole mustard seed
- Garlic powder
- Ground shiitake mushrooms powder
- Black pepper
- Nightshades: cayenne, paprika, smoked paprika, ancho chile, serrano pepper
*For an AIP pantry omit all nightshades and seed-based spices. Cinnamon, ginger, and horseradish along with all the herbs are ok!
Easy Peasy Go-to Blends:
- For eggs: pink Himalayan salt, black pepper, sage
- For chicken: salt, garlic, mushroom powder, fish sauce, garlic, thyme, coconut aminos, lemon juice cooking fat
- For grilling meat: coarse sea salt, pepper, garlic, coriander, pinch clove, oregano, mustard seed, coconut aminos, fat
- For pork: smoked salt, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, parsley, basil, citrus juice, splash of vinegar
- For vegetables: pink Himalayan salt, pepper, garlic lotsa cooking fat, especially bacon grease
- For salad dressings: salt, pepper, ginger, mustard, garlic, basil, mint, cilantro, coconut milk, coconut aminos, apple cider vinegar, olive oil
- Everything: turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, tarragon, oregano, black pepper, pinch clove (if you can have nightshades, add smoked paprika)
Pasta, Rice, and Bread
Okay, so you’re committed to a paleo lifestyle… you’re leaving those grains behind! What now? Forget the mindset that your meals need to consist of protein, vegetables & starch. In paleo vegetables are your starches!
Three-quarters of your plate should be assorted vegetables cooked in plenty of healthy fat or with avocado and one-quarter of your plate should be pastured protein or wild-caught seafood. If you keep that three-quarters rule in mind, curating your meals will be a cinch!
Pasta: Zoodles! Vegetable spiralizers have become a staple in most paleo kitchens because they magically turn almost any vegetable into long, spaghetti strings! The most popular vegetable to zoodle is zucchini! It lends well to the process and has the most convincing mouth feel. Because of the high water content of the vegetable, it is advised to lay your zucchini strings out over a paper towel, sprinkled with salt to let them dehydrate a bit before cooking with them. Another no-brainer is spaghetti squash! I mean, hello! It has spaghetti in the name! This awesome squash has stringy meat that pulls out easily once it’s baked.
Bread & Crackers: While there are many paleo-baked concoctions you can make to create very, very convincing bread. It’s easier, it’s cheaper and it’s healthier to use whole-food ingredients. Plantain, yuca, and sweet potatoes are my favorite starchy vegetables. Mostly because with some inventive preparation and not a lot of added ingredients you can have some awesome bread-like foods. Plantains make perfect chips, pancakes, tortillas, and flatbreads! Yuca pizza crust and flatbread are flaky and delicious. Sweet potatoes are so delicious simply roasted or fried!
Rice: I’m sure you already know this one… CAULIFLOWER! Riced cauliflower is paleo’s greatest gift! Shredded cauliflower, lightly steamed or roasted substitutes white rice easily in almost all dishes. You can also rice just about anything, from sweet potato, plantain to even a squash! I’d like to mention that some people eat white rice on their paleo diet. That’s totally cool. If you can and want to keep rice in your diet, in moderation, go for it. Other than the extra carbs, there really aren’t any negative effects of eating rice that I know of. If you’re trying to lose weight, however, leave it out.
Dry Goods and Baking!
Aside from nuts, seeds and a few baking items, there really isn’t much in the way of dry goods.
Long shelf life and paleo-friendly aren’t something that goes hand in hand unless we’re talking about fermented foods. You may also want to read this post on healthy shelf-stable foods.
While they are not recommended for those with autoimmune disease because they are such a common allergen, they can be a delicious part of a healthy paleo diet. Great for snacks, baking, making nut milks and butters.
Cashews: These are my favorite because of how creamy they are, and also because you do not need a nut milk bag! They don’t have skin. Proper soaking (with salt, referred to as activating) and blending results in fantastic possibilities. From cheesecake to cream sauce to cashew milk!
Almonds: Blanched almond meal is one of the best flours to paleo bake with and almond milk is probably the most popular nut milk. Homemade almond milk can be easily made by soaking, blending and straining almonds with filtered water.
Chia Seeds: Awesome little super food, chia seed pudding is a no-fuss alternative to pudding lovers and a super nutrient-dense treat.
Walnuts, pecans, macadamia and hazelnuts, pine nuts, etc… all these guys are great to have on hand for snacking or making pesto, no-bake pie crusts, to throw on salads etc!
When purchasing seeds and nuts, be sure to get WHOLE, RAW, UNSALTED! The roasting process usually adds to the anti-nutrient properties in nuts and seeds. Buying them raw will allow you to activate them before roasting them, which will make them a lot easier to digest and allow your body to absorb the beneficial nutrients better.
I love to bake, you might have noticed that by the sweet treats tab in my menu. When I went fully paleo there was a learning curve in trying to paleo-fy my favorite recipes. A few things to keep in mind are that paleo flours, nut flours, cassava flour, coconut flours, while they are more nutrient-dense, they are also more calorie-dense. These whole food-derived flours are compact servings of those foods.
There are so many amazing almond flour recipes out there! You can find anything from cookies, cakes, and pie crust. However, when using almond flour or almost any nut flour it will usually be in a blend.
I like to use:
1 cup blanched almond meal
¾ cup tapioca flour
¼ cup coconut flour
For a denser flour use ½ cup coconut flour and ½ cup tapioca flour.
When using an almond meal blend you do not need to add an extra egg to the mix, but the addition of liquid is recommended, usually some nut milk or water.
When using only coconut flour in a recipe you need to add more eggs, like my sugar-free dark chocolate muffins, which contain ¾ cup coconut flour but have 3 eggs and the addition of ½ a cup of water!
The new kid on the block in the paleo world is Cassava flour, made from the whole yuca root.
This flour has become a game-changer. It’s the most like wheat flour we’ve seen. It can be used as a cup for cup replacement (but you MUST sift it!). The best brand on the market is by far Otto’s Cassava Flour.
Some of my cassava flour recipes are Cardamom Chocolate Chip Cookies and Paleo Pasta.
I prefer to use coconut milk over nut milk. I buy Organic Thai Kitchen or frozen Hawaiian Sun, but you can make your own!
Other baking notes:
No cane sugar allowed! In my experience, paleo flours are dense enough that substituting with honey or maple syrup in the recipes does not alter the consistency.
You can also use dry non-refined sugars. There are a lot of delicious options out there that add to the character of your dessert.
- Maple sugar: It’s most like light brown sugar in color and taste.
- Coconut palm sugar: dark and sandy looking, not as sweet as brown sugar but it has lovely caramel notes.
- Date sugar: sweet and dry, it will alter the color of your baked goods but gives amazing flavor (you can also use soaked, pureed dates to sweeten!)
- I use mostly coconut oil and some ghee in my baking. When I could eat butter, I would use grass fed Irish butter. But… well sourced palm oil shortening is a great alternative to butter!
- Baking soda is a-ok!
- Make your own paleo baking powder.
One item which stands alone is unflavored grass-fed beef gelatin. It’s bone dust. Really. It’s really good for you. I add it to my coffee and baked goods regularly. It also makes a great egg substitute. Vital Proteins & Great Lakes are the two reputable brands on the market.
I think I’ve covered all of the basics here, and it only took seven pages. Phew! If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, I hope you learned something or that I helped in some way.
I’d like to finish with a note on the obvious…. The proteins and vegetables! The main source of your food, just to say it wasn’t overlooked.
Try and source as best you can. Your food is the most important thing you spend your money on. That being said, if you cannot find or afford all organic or pastured/wild-caught proteins then that’s ok! Get the best you can within your means. At least you’re making the effort to eat better.