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Applied Culinary History: How To Go Paleo At College

Think the freshman 15 is unavoidable? Maybe you've been spending too much time with the Greeks. Ditch those guys and transform your body with something even older: the paleo diet!

Pop Tarts, popcorn, and poppin' bottles. Sound familiar? Sure it does; these are the staples of many college diets. However, another P-word has recently been gaining ground among students, after already winning over plenty of people in the fitness community and a small army of A-list celebs. I'm talking about paleo.

The Paleolithic diet—you may also know it under labels like primal, Stone Age, and caveman—has a brutish reputation of demanding meat, meat, and more meat. It's actually chock-full of all the good veggies you know you should grub on, and it allows you more dietary flexibility than you might expect. What exactly does it mean to "go paleo?" Is it even possible while you're in college?

With some research and reasonable expectations, the paleo lifestyle is doable, even for someone whose life is a series of trips back and forth from the dorm to the cafeteria. It may even help you sport a stack of celebrity abs that'll help you conquer that co-ed you've been eyeing since before Thanksgiving (turkey, sweet potato, butternut squash—those are all Paleo, by the way).

Curious? Let's get historical.

Paleo 101

The fundamentals of paleo dietary systems can be summed up in two commandments:

  1. Thou shalt eat whole foods from the following categories: meats, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some fruit. A small amount of starch is OK.
  2. Thou shalt not consume dairy, sugar, legumes (including peanuts), or any products containing wheat or gluten.

The exclusion of wheat, dairy, and legumes centers on the idea that these products were developed or cultivated by humans, so they are not what our digestive systems are meant to handle. Paleo advocates attribute a host of maladies—depressed immune system, heightened inflammatory response, whacked-out hormones, and awry bowel movements—to the presence of these franken-foods in our diet.

At this point, most people find themselves wondering exactly how they'll construct their paleo meals. It turns out you've had plenty of them without realizing it! Ever order the ol' eggs-and-bacon with a side of fruit? How about a chicken fajita salad? Both are paleo.

Remember when you went on a date and ordered grilled salmon over a bed of leafy greens? Your cutie may have ordered paleo with the top sirloin, fresh veggies, and a sweet potato. In either case, it looks like you're already well on your way.

A Caveman Caveat

Eat clean all the time—it's so simple, right? Except that it's also pretty strict, so before going any further, I'm going to offer a caveat: Going HAM (literally) on Paleo is admirable, but due to the unpredictable nature of college eating—and funding—it may not be possible for you to immediately become 100 percent Paleo. This is especially true on nights out; alcohol is not paleo, with the exception of a little red wine.

Why am I saying this? I don't want you to beat yourself up, try to live up to an unreasonable ideal, or put yourself in a position where your only choice is not to eat. Paleo man was a person much like the rest of us, without certain luxuries.

College is a time to try things out and wear your identity on your sleeve. There are countless diets out there, and none of them are perfect. While you're at school, it's perfectly acceptable to cherry-pick what works for you—what makes you feel and look better—and not cram yourself into a certain label. Remember, what we're all after is something that works for our lifestyle.

Paleo Battlefield 1 /// The Cafeteria

OK, so you wander out of your cave, cramming for A&P and walk over to the school cafeteria. Do your paleo dreams stand a chance in the land of hamburger buns and hairnets? Definitely, as long as you enter with a plan.

Here's a guide to keep in mind when you piece together your plate:

  1. Start with your protein allotment: one or two palms full.
  2. Load up on leafy green veggies.
  3. Allow yourself a piece of fruit or starchier carb like potatoes or yams.
  4. Garnish with healthy fats like oils or topped with nuts or seeds.

Let's take a look at how this would actually play out in a dorm situation:

  • I grab my tray and head toward the custom stir-fry line and order a good portion of chicken, and maybe a bit of shrimp. This is my protein.
  • I tell the chef I'd like all the veggies tossed in. Now I'm good on veggies.
  • I make a pit stop at the salad bar to grab a few pieces of fruit—one for now, the other for later.
  • Finally, I sprinkle a few sliced almonds over my stir-fry, and/or pack some for a quick snack later.
Paleo Battlefield 2 /// On the Go

Sometimes, fast food isn't avoidable—especially if you are in a car full of drunk peeps all clamoring for the golden arches.

If you find yourself driving toward that all-too-familiar drive-thru lane, don't fear. Play it like this:

  1. Go salad style; hold the cheese and croutons, and ask for extra meat instead, or:
  2. Get a burger with extra lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, and sans buns, cheese, and mayo. Look for a double patty with bacon if that's in the cards. Opt for sliced fruit on the side if it's available. It's not perfect, but it's satisfying, and you could do a lot worse.

If you stop at a gas station, you have a lot more options. It's easy and not too expensive to cobble together a mobile paleo meal at the mini-mart. Just look for:

  1. Canned tuna, either beef or turkey jerky (pick the one with the least ingredients), or Ostrim, which is a meat stick made from ostrich and lean beef.
  2. Fresh fruit. Most places will have a few apples, oranges, or bananas in a basket for sale.
  3. Nuts (except for peanuts) with little to no seasoning. The closer to "whole and unprocessed," the better.
  4. If it's your thing, unflavored pork rinds are also a paleo-acceptable option.
Paleo Battlefield 3 /// Training

Paleo is a great system to support muscle-building and is well-suited to intensely training athletes. Ask your local army of CrossFitters if you have any doubt.

If your goal is to put on a bit of caveman muscle, here are a few tips to help you get there:

  1. Make sure you have a good bit of starchy carbs like sweet potato, yam, or fruit an hour or two before your training session.
  2. Immediately after your training session, have a low-fat, moderate protein, and high-carbohydrate meal. Try a mix between regular and sweet potatoes, plus that cafeteria banana you stashed in your car.
  3. Depending on how easy it is for you to gain lean mass, you may also want to include additional starchy carbs and/or fruit in your subsequent meals in order to illicit muscle growth and help you recover from your training regimen.
  4. If you have a hard time gaining weight, here's my tried-and-true paleo ace: healthy fats. Add an extra tablespoon of coconut or olive oil into your cooking; it can make a difference. You could also opt to blend almond or cashew butter into your protein shakes for an added calorie boost!
Paleo Battlefield 4 /// At Home/In The Dorm

If you want to go paleo, you have to cook. Trust me, this isn't a bad thing. Here are a few freshman-level eats you can throw together in even the measliest dorm kitchen.

1 / The Avocado-Egg Hybrid

Ingredients
Directions
  1. Slice a ripe, medium-to-large avocado lengthwise. Remove the seed.
  2. With a spoon, carve out a slightly bigger crater for one whole egg to rest in.
  3. Place the 2 halves into an oven-safe tin. Make sure the halves are stable, or the eggs may slip out.
  4. Season to taste; I like a few fresh-cut green onions, sea salt, and chili pepper flakes.
  5. Crack your egg into the avocado crater and season a bit more if desired.
  6. Broil at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the egg is cooked to your liking.

2 / Taco Salad Wraps

Ingredients
Directions
  1. Dice all vegetables; like mushrooms, onions, peppers, and fresh garlic.
  2. Sauté diced ingredients with a little oil and seasoning. Use cayenne, rosemary, sea salt, and cracked pepper. You could go with straight-up fajita seasoning out of the packet.
  3. Brown ground meat.
  4. Once onions begin to caramelize, combine sautéed vegetables with ground meat.
  5. Wrap with lettuce. Add a bit of salsa verde and sliced avocados to round out the wrap.
Taco Salad Wraps PDF (14 KB)

3 / Paleo Pancakes

Ingredients
Directions
  1. Mix pumpkin, eggs, spice, a pinch of baking soda, 1 big tablespoon of coconut oil, and maple syrup (to your liking) together in a bowl.
  2. Fire up the skillet and lightly coat the surface with butter or coconut oil.
  3. Pour, cook, flip, and cook your pancakes.
  4. Garnish with fruit, such as fresh peaches, berries, or bananas.
Paleo Pancakes PDF (13 KB)

4 / Mashed Cauliflower

This is a strangely delicious and surprisingly convincing potato substitute—even if you think you hate cauliflower.

Ingredients
  • 1 head of Cauliflower
  • Seasoning (sea salt, oregano, and cracked white pepper; and for fats, grass-fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil.)
Directions
  1. Dice cauliflower into thumb-sized pieces and steam until mashable.
  2. Using a food processor, blender, or sheer brute force, mix all the ingredients together to desired texture.
  3. Season to taste and eat immediately.
Mashed Cauliflower PDF (13 KB)


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About The Author

Jeremy Shih is the co-founder and CEO of CampusFit, an organization that aids, informs, and empowers fellow college students about fitness...

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sergez

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sergez

Where is that juicy burger recipe,grrrr

Jan 11, 2013 7:45pm | report
stallion16

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stallion16

Two problems with this article:

1. Most versions of the paleo diet recommend removing all forms of starch from the diet, not just wheat. This includes starchy vegetables such as potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes.

2. One of the key dietary restrictions of the paleo diet includes the removal of all vegetable oils for BOTH consumption and cooking in order to decrease omega 6 fatty acid content of the diet.

Despite that, what you have here is very similar to a paleo diet although it more closely represents a healthy "clean" bodybuilding diet. Which also illustrates an important point: All healthy weight loss diets are very similar regardless of whether you label them "bodybuilding diet", "paleo diet" or "Mediterranean diet". The biggest difference is the way these diets are marketed not the actual content. They all advocate, more or less, removing or minimizing the same foods from one's diet.

For any readers that have read Tom Venuto's Burn the Fat diet plan or his body fat solution book, you will see that those diets and the one on this page are almost identical with a little variation here and there on certain foods (ie dairy, oils...etc)

Jan 12, 2013 11:11am | report
vanryt

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vanryt

I think what this was aiming for (although i dont disagree with you) is a more mass-gaining paleo type of diet. With the amount that the carb intake and fatty-oils are mentioned in order to gain muscle, it would be extremely difficult, i believe, to do have the required carb intake with 0 starchs. I dont think this is intended as a weight loss diet so much as a hardgainers-paleo guide.

Jan 14, 2013 7:33pm | report
ThorsFist

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ThorsFist

Did the paleo diet when I was competing in triathlons. Works great though really hard eating at families and friends houses. If you decide to go back to a normal person diet you will have an upset stomach from certain foods for a while.

Took me a year to stop being gaseous from certain foods.
If you are interested in it though, check out "The Paleo Diet For Athletes" By Loren Cordain and Joe Friel.

Kinda geared to endurance athletes but the recipes are great! I still use them in my diet.

Jan 12, 2013 11:21am | report
AskBigFrankB

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AskBigFrankB

Gotta admit... this diet does seem interesting. Maybe a slight hybrid of it. If I am going to have the meats and the healthy fats, I am not sure I would include any starchy carbs or fruits. But still, very sound diet.

Jan 12, 2013 5:24pm | report
HBDYWI

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HBDYWI

not for me. i'm a big believer in having carbs in your diet, not just fibrous. but to each his own.

Jan 12, 2013 7:52pm | report
Beow

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Beow

My wife and I started eating a Paleo style diet until we felt as though our protein intake was way too high. Through discussions in the gym and around town the Paleo Diet has adopted a bad reputation because it is constantly referred to as the "Cave Man Diet".
Where we went from here, eating wise, is to (what I recently learned) a dominantly veggie diet with meat proteins acting as our side dishes now. And I'm tell you all, I can eat as much as I want, not gain, any extra weight, and still have massive amounts of energy.
I would highly recommend the documentary Forks over Knives. My eyes were completely opened to a new way of eating when I saw this. I instantly bought the cook book that goes along with the video.
How I see it, food tastes great, it's good for you, so why not eat as much of it as you can in the most healthy manner.

Jan 13, 2013 1:25pm | report
SaxonWarrior

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SaxonWarrior

Sounds like something well worth trying as like some students, I'm also on a tight budget!

Article Rated:
Jan 13, 2013 2:59pm | report
DrCzernik

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DrCzernik

As a student that goes home on weekends, the Anabolic Diet has been my saviour in both $ and mass gain. Very similar to this.

Jan 13, 2013 5:32pm | report
Spawn8214

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Spawn8214

Fad diets crack me up... The thing that cracks me up most is when diets tell you to completely avoid a food group... I'm sorry, but Greek Yogurt has some great benefits to it that I would rather have it in my diet than completely remove it.

Plain and simple, no one single method is absolutely perfect. When it comes to planning my meals and diet, I have a Kane Sumabat approach (meet your macro count and caloric intake by eating the foods that get you those numbers).

Jan 13, 2013 7:38pm | report
XxmetallicaxX

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XxmetallicaxX

Whey protein is dairy, so i cant imgaine being paleo more supports muscle growth then not being paleo

Jan 13, 2013 7:58pm | report
Basketball22

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Basketball22

Definitely agree.

Jan 14, 2013 10:28am | report
fit2fightAF

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fit2fightAF

I agree with you Spawn8214. Though I never knew I was on a Paleo diet til I read this. I do eat about the same amount of fruits as I do veggies and still take in Greek yogurt. On occasion, I will have some whole grains. It's all in the Macro Count and training and timing as well. Needless to say, I don't eat red meat or pork and my diet lies mainly of various fish and some chicken and turkey. I don't believe in cutting out any specific thing unless it goes against your body type and training regimen. Good post

Jan 15, 2013 3:46am | report
fit2fightAF

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fit2fightAF

well, actually, I'm not on a paleo diet then..lol...I carb-cycle a lot, is what I meant to say:)

Jan 15, 2013 3:48am | report
Viktor7

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Viktor7

agreed, I dont like complete restrictions on certain foods. cheese is not bad, dairy is not bad, grains are not bad... just gotta know what to choose and a little bit of everything won't destroy your diet. I'm lean year round and eat those things too!

Jan 15, 2013 12:36pm | report
Socalgirl68

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Socalgirl68

Go primal then!! :D

Jan 19, 2013 7:45pm | report
bigsky1965

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bigsky1965

This article is a good start. For people that lift a lot and do cardio or Athletes some sweet potato is ok, especially right after a work out. The other aspect of this article that was left out was the the quality of protein consumed. Beef, Chicken, eggs and vegies should all be organic, grass fed, pasture raised ect. It is a very expensive diet if done properly, but the health benefits will pay off. Check out Rob Wolf's book " The Paleo solution" try it for thirty days, then see how you feel. Life changing!!

Jan 13, 2013 8:31pm | report
sdjjubjub

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sdjjubjub

Staying away from excessive carbs, fats, unclean proteins, and especially alcohol (which actually stops proteins synthesis in the body temporarily) will keep the freshman 15 off. The diet could support a lean physique, but gains would be challenging and if you didn't meet your protein needs you would risk atrophy as there are very little carbs that could spare that muscle.

Just spread meals out, you could eat near 1000 calories above your maintenance and if it is spread over 6 or 7 meals you most likely won't actually gain fat because of how much it will speed up your metabolism. Three meals a day is the ultimate road to fat gain.

Jan 13, 2013 11:25pm | report
JayCarter2300

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JayCarter2300

IIFYM :) haha

Jan 14, 2013 12:38am | report
dennisjj

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dennisjj

Paleo transformed my life and i lost more then 80lbs in 8 months...today i live, eat and breath paleo and never in my life have i been so fit, so energetic...paleo also gives you the most stabile bloodsucker you can imagine...
In Denmark paleo really has grown big and we already have to "take out" paleo restaurants.....

Jan 14, 2013 7:12am | report
jayhead000

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jayhead000

Interesting... I would try it out but I love my ezekiel bread, and whey protein too much. IMHO Paleo, vegan, raw, and anything similar should only be followed strictly if you have certain allergies to begin with, or in order to identify allergies (diet for a while and slowly reintroduce food). Personally I like to incorporate all three of the aforementioned diets for a meal or a day or even week. keeps it interesting :D

Jan 14, 2013 7:35am | report
Socalgirl68

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Socalgirl68

I am paleo.. ish. ;) i still have oats and corn every now and then.. I have whey protein at least everyday. You still get great results!

Jan 19, 2013 7:46pm | report
LittleLisa2

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LittleLisa2

Absolutely love the Paleo lifestyle! This article outlines some keys aspects that will ensure that you do not gain those freshmen 15, as i once did. It is not as strict as some would like, but as with every 'diet ' out there there are many variations, and you need to decide for yourself where to draw the line.
To get started I recommend checking out this website and if you want a really good explanation of how the human body reacts to food, read the book... it will blow your mind! http://whole9life.com/itstartswithfood/
For the best upgraded (more strict) paleo diet ever, check out http://www.bulletproofexec.com/the-complete-illustrated-one-page-bulletproof-diet/

Article Rated:
Jan 14, 2013 2:32pm | report
vanryt

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vanryt

theres nothing wrong with hangin with the greeks, dont listen to the intro. You can party, just bring Assault instead of Kraken

Jan 14, 2013 7:36pm | report
off806

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off806

i am backing off processed foods during the week, but allowing a weekend cheat day for things like beer or a couple slices of pizza! I was wondering what about supplements? I use a pre workoput, a creatine after, and protein 20 minutes after workout. I welcome all opinions!

Jan 15, 2013 12:10pm | report
Showing 1 - 25 of 26 Comments

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