How to convert your diet to Paleo and lose weight

Eat like a caveman. That’s the thrust of the trendy Paleo style of eating.

At its core, the Paleo diet is devoid of all processed foods, refined sugars and dairy. In theory, it is supposed to mirror the way Stone Age hunter-gathers ate. The diet has been around for a while, but has gained popularity over the last several years. And it doesn’t seem to be headed for extinction anytime soon.

Nate Furlong of New Hudson, Mich., has been following a Paleo diet for three years. Furlong, 29, a clinical exercise physiologist, discovered the Paleo way of eating while working in a cardiologist office. (He’s also a personal trainer and Paleo nutrition expert, owns Well Fit Life in Novi, Mich., and co-owner of Train Better Personal Trainers.)

“I was … helping clients with some nutrition recommendations according to normal USDA standards: low fat, kind of low protein and higher in carbohydrates,” Furlong said. “I saw them lose some weight, but not get off meds, so I started searching other options and Paleo was talked about favorably.”

The Paleo diet promotes eating lean meats and fish along with lots of fruits and non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds. What’s out? Most grains and legumes.

We caught up with Furlong recently at the Better Health Store in Novi, where he often conducts Paleo diet grocery tours as well as seminars. Here’s a bit of what he had to say about eating and shopping the Paleo way:

Q: What made you convert to the Paleo way of eating?

A: What struck me was that by reducing some processed food, people had better cholesterol levels — ultimately, it helped people more. I’ve seen some clients get off meds. And that’s what gave me a kick.

Q: What are the benefits of Paleo?

A: Potential weight loss and increased cognitive function … along with problem solving. There’s also increased energy level and potential rebalancing of blood cholesterol — HDLs, LDLs and triglycerides.

Q: Is it easy to follow? How do you advise people to start?

A: It usually takes people a couple of tries. You start by cutting out things like pop and things that have added sugar and cutting back on the some of the gluten, dairy until you … minimize it. At the same time, I try to get them to eat more protein with each meal.

Q: What does a Paleo diet look in pyramid form?

A: Meat is on bottom along with veggies. The next level is non-starchy vegetables and fruits. … The next rung is seeds and nuts. But the balancer here, in regular Paleo nutrition, is that while meat is in the bottom so is unlimited non-starchy veggies.

Q: Beef plays a huge role, as does poultry and fish. What do you recommend?

A: Really you are what you eat, and your food is what your food has been eating. For that reason, it’s important that you choose … from grass-fed and free-range sources. My personal favorite is a grass-fed porterhouse steak. With fish, it’s salmon because of the taste … and it’s really high in omega-3s.

Q: Nuts and seeds are a core Paleo concept. Which ones are best and how do they help?

A: I recommend one to two handfuls a day, rotating the variety you eat. I use PAW as the acronym … pecans, almonds and walnuts. Nuts and seeds satiate you and help when you start having a craving for something crunchy and salty.

Q: Why are beans (legumes) and grains not part of a Paleo diet?

A. Beans and legumes are a hot spot because they are considered anti-nutrients. (An anti-nutrient is a compound that interferes with the absorption of nutrients.) For example, kidney beans can cause inflammation and they are the highest in anti-nutrients. Some people who are 100 percent Paleo would say get rid of any food that has anti-nutrients. Grains are eliminated, too, because of the amount of anti-nutrient content. … But I am a fan of sprouting grains and there are sprouted breads like Eziekil and there is Paleo bread made with coconut flour.

Q: What fruits and vegetables are recommended?

A: It depends on your overall goal. We shoot toward thin skin fruits like berries. Most people who want to lose weight stay there. Athletes need to eat more thick-skin fruits like bananas and oranges.

Q: What’s your best Paleo cooking kitchen tip?

A: Take your favorite recipes and find simple Paleo modifications to them. For example, use Celtic sea salt instead of table salt, almond flour instead of regular flour and sweet potatoes instead of regular.

Q: Are there any foods you miss?

A: Not really. Most of the foods that aren’t Paleo should actually just be eaten for special occasions or celebrations — and that’s when I eat mine. I LOVE pizza, and I’ll have a few slices once every month or so. … Life is too short to say “no” to foods you love. We should just say “no” more often.


Serves: 8

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

You may need to buy 2 jicamas. They should be close to the size of your mandoline, if using one. I was able to slice the jicamas thinly, carefully using a knife. Cut any leftover pieces of jicama into matchstick-size pieces and add them as a topping.


1 to 2 jicamas

1 pound ground beef or turkey

Seasoning mixture

2 cups lettuce, loosely packed

1 cup guacamole

1/4 red onion, julienned

Favorite salsa

Cilantro and lime wedges for garnish

Seasoning mixture

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 tablespoons cumin

1 1/2 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Peel jicamas and slice as thinly as possible using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Soak jicama slices in warm water for about 10 to 15 minutes prior to serving. The slices will not become completely pliable like a soft corn tortilla, but enough to pick up and fold slightly.

In a large skillet, place the ground beef or turkey and cook on medium heat until no longer pink. Sprinkle with all the seasonings and stir until evenly distributed.

Pat jicama slices dry, and top with lettuce, meat, guacamole, onion and salsa.

Garnish with cilantro and lime wedges, and serve.

Adapated from “The Food Lovers Make it Paleo: Over 200 Recipes For Any Occasion” by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason (Victory Belt Publishing, $34.95).

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Nutrition information not available.