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Ask the Nutritionist

Have a Healthy Paleo Holiday

What you need to know to keep following the Paleo diet from Thanksgiving through New Year's.

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Q: My husband and I have experienced amazing health transformations since we began eating a Paleolithic diet about six months ago. We have lost weight, have more energy and improved digestion, and have normalized our previously high blood sugar levels. We want to keep that good health going during the holidays, but we know there will be many temptations. Are there any tips you can give for going through the holidays the Paleo way?

-Amy T., Chicago

The Paleo diet, often referred to as the “caveman diet,” advocates eating unprocessed foods that our ancestors would have eaten during the Paleolithic era-mainly meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil-and on some versions of the diet, organic grass-fed butter may also be included.

As you and your husband found out, eating Paleo food provides the body with the foods it needs to thrive, stay healthy, and normalize weight. The key to continuing both the diet and the health benefits you’re experiencing is to plan ahead. Doing so is extra important during the holiday season when there are many more activities, food temptations, and social pressures than normal. It takes a little effort, but if you keep the following tips in mind, you can have a healthy holiday the Paleo way:

Be prepared. If you’re heading out on a long holiday shopping spree or traveling to visit family and friends-carry plenty of easily portable Paleo snacks. Think jerky, Paleo-friendly food bars, nuts, and apples. That way, you won’t end up stuck at the food court or the airport without a Paleo option when you’re hungry.

Bring your own. You can’t just show up to a holiday meal, potluck, or party thinking there will be something for you to eat. The best strategy is to prepare a couple of your favorite Paleo recipes and bring enough to share. For a Thanksgiving meal, offer to bring a Paleo side dish and dessert. Something that’s easy to combine with turkey and vegetables for a complete holiday meal.

For parties, make Paleo versions of appetizers, side dishes, or traditional baked goods (pumpkin pie sweetened with honey is a favorite). If you’re pressed for time, keep it simple by bringing roasted nuts or homemade guacamole with veggie sticks, or toss together a flavorful Paleo salad.

Try this delicious Paleo Stovetop Vegetable Stuffing

Eat early. This is especially important if you’re attending a catered office party or other gathering where you can’t bring your own food. Eat a Paleo meal or snack before leaving the house and take a spoonful of coconut oil for extra energy before heading out the door. A belly full of protein, good fats, and nonstarchy vegetables provide slow-burning fuel that makes it far easier to stay away from carb-laden foods that throw you off your Paleo game.

Think healthy. When you’re tempted by foods that you no longer eat, remember how awful you feel when you do eat them-and how poor your health was before you went Paleo. This can help the temptation pass.

Play host. Volunteer to hold holiday gatherings at your house. With so many creative recipes now available online and in cookbooks, you can make a variety of festive foods that your guests may never know-or care-are Paleo. To minimize stress, make sure that all your food is planned well in advance. Have some side dishes ready to cook or reheat, and make desserts ahead of time so you can focus on preparing the main course.

Stock up. Be sure to have plenty of vegetables, meats, and fish on hand to get you through your everyday meals during the season. Buy the foods you need for special dishes well in advance. Also, be sure to purchase enough Paleo snacks to sustain you (sometimes that means buying them by the case!) for the times you’re traveling, shopping, playing in the snow, touring holiday-light displays, or participating in other fun seasonal activities.

And remember: Despite your best intentions, there may be times during the holidays when you knowingly or unknowingly eat a not-so-Paleo food-and you’ll feel uncomfortable effects from doing so. If that happens, don’t berate yourself. Realize that you’re only human, carb-laden foods lurk around every corner, and it’s difficult to buck the status quo throughout the entire holiday season, especially if you’re under stress or socializing a lot.

If you do fall off the Paleo wagon, don’t let a momentary transgression spiral out of control and derail the progress you’ve made in improving your health. Eat a Paleo meal or snack as quickly as you can afterward. Even when you’re feeling rotten from eating the wrong foods, it’s amazing how quickly you can turn things around by going back to the Paleo way.

You can make a variety of festive holiday foods that your guests may never know-or care-are Paleo.