CrossFitters aren’t the only ones noshing like cavemen, thanks to all the buzz the paleo diet’s been getting.
Rich in meat, fish, fruits, veggies, nuts, eggs, seeds, and healthy oils, but devoid of dairy, legumes, processed foods, added sugars, and both whole and refined grains, paleo (and its even stricter cousin Whole30) has become the go-to diet for people practicing intuitive, clean eating, explains Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition, and a spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Aside from the pure joy of eating like your hunter-gatherer ancestors, there are also plenty of benefits that come with a protein-rich diet. For example, one study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that protein can help you retain more of your lean muscle as you lose fat. That means more cals burned each day, per one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Plus, because since it’s grain-free and dairy-free, the paleo diet is great for people with intolerances or allergies to those ingredients.
This issue with turning paleolithic for weight loss, however, is that paleo doesn’t necessarily mean weight-loss-friendly. So if your interest in paleo has anything to do with losing weight, counting calories when you’re just getting started may be helpful, says Valdez.
When you’re trying to lose weight, 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day is about what you want to aim for, says Keri Glassman, R.D., founder of NutritiousLife.com and author of The New You (and Improved) Diet. That means no more nomming on platefuls of paleo-approved brownies in the name of our neanderthal ancestors.
That said, Glassman typically encourages people to eat based on how they feel rather than getting too caught up in counting calories and following a strict plan—even when they’re trying to lose weight.
Related: 7 Women Share How They Lost Weight Without Counting a Single Calorie
The guidelines of paleo eating are basic enough, but successfully going cavewoman takes some savvy, especially when calorie counting is involved. This one-day 1,200-calorie paleo plan from Glassman is a good starting point for figuring out which paleo-friendly food to incorporate into your diet.
Line a skillet with 1 tsp oil (40 cal) to keep the 2 eggs (140 cals) from sticking as you scramble them. Pair the eggs with 3.5 cups spinach (120 cal) sautéed with 1 tsp oil (40 cals) and pair with 2 oz roasted salmon (103 cal). Or, if you don’t love them scrambled, make an omelette with the salmon and spinach folded in.
Total: 368 calories
Note:Eggs are an obvious go-to for paleo morning eats. But if you can’t stand them, other protein sources like chicken, turkey, nuts, and yes, even bacon, are paleo-friendly, too.
Grill 4 oz chicken, and serve with 1 cup cauliflower (67 cal) and 1 cup Brussels sprouts (78 cal).
Total: 331 calories
Note: Serving up a cup of calcium-packed greens like Brussels is important for women going paleo. That’s because it is possible to miss out on important key nutrients like calcium (due to the lack of dairy) when turning caveman, according to research published by The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
(Learn how bone broth can help you lose weight with Women’s Health’s Bone Broth Diet.)