A Practical Guide to Paleo, Part One: At the Restaurant

My name is Matthew Madeiro, and I am not a perfect Paleo.

Call it an inevitably in the modern world: try as we might to keep our diets in check, there’s always going to be circumstances that require adaptive thinking and (sometimes reluctant) willingness to stray from Paleo norms. Nearly a year into Paleo/Primal, I’ve grown pretty comfortable with my routine, but I still remember those early weeks pretty well — and all the questions, concerns, and indecision that came with them.

Should I eat this thing? What’s the least terrible choice in the airport? The answer is rarely clear-cut, unfortunately, which is why I’m hoping the first part of this guide will offer some guidance for anyone unsure what to shell out for the next time they’re miles away from the comfort of their own kitchen.

The key, I think, is to stay practical. Hit the jump to see why you’ll be repeating that word like a mantra whenever you’re eating outside the home.

The Practical Perspective

You’re not going to be perfect.

That’s a hard pill to swallow for some, but it’s a fact you’re better off accepting sooner rather than later. You should strive to do your best, sure, and land as close as possible, but your body — and mind — will fare far better if you don’t slap yourself around every time you sneak a honey-roasted peanut or two on the long flight home.

Again, try and stick to the Paleo principles, but realize, too, that a single slip-up every so often is not going to wreak your health forever. It’s a line I’ve used before, but it’s a line worth using again: one bad meal in a hundred healthy ones does not spell the end of your journey to excellent health. That’s not an excuse to go crazy with cupcakes, of course, but it is a reminder that there’s no point in beating yourself up every time you cakenap at your child’s birthday party.

Right. Got that part down? Let’s establish a few basic ideas you’ll want to keep in mind for whenever you’re staring down the menu at your local restaurant.

Things to Remember

Meat and vegetables. Henceforth, this is your mantra, and by far the easiest way to survive that trendy new cafe that just opened up on the corner.

Again: meat and vegetables.

The nature of the food industry, mind you, muddles the situation a bit. You don’t know what oil they use in cooking (99% of the time it’ll be a cheap vegetable oil), you don’t know what additives they use in their dishes, and you would likely be horrified to see every single place where wheat manages to sneak in.

For the most part, you can’t control this. You’re welcome to try, of course, but don’t go in expecting the kitchen to cater to your (honestly quite reasonable) demands.

Your goal, accordingly, is to stay practical, and work with the above realizations the best way you can:

  1. Order some kind of protein with a side or two of vegetables.
  2. Fill your glass with water, tea or coffee (black is best!).
  3. Skip dessert.

That last point is flexible, admittedly. I rarely get dessert, but I’ll choose to indulge on special occasions, as the banana beignets from a week back can attest. Make this an exception, of course, and very much not the norm, and you’ll be fine.

Ready for the real punchline? Chowing down at a restaurant is rarely this easy. Blame it on the nature of the American food industry, I guess, and the individual flavors — and complexities — that different ethnic cuisines bring to the table.

But don’t fret! Let’s tackle some of the most common styles in turn and see if we can’t puzzle out the most Paleo-friendly options on the menu.

(I’m in America, currently, so the advice below mainly applies to the different American styles of cuisine. If anyone outside the States has tips to offer for their respective country, please do so in the comments below. Thanks!)

(And another thing! True ethnic cuisine — the kind you would find in cities with a dense population of the ethnicity in question — doesn’t play by quite the same rules. What follows, then, is a general guide for the restaurants that serve more of an American take on each cuisine.)

CHINESE

Chinese food comes in a variety of flavors across America, so forgive my attempts to generalize for the sake of this guide. The majority of Chinese restaurants I’ve visited, at least, use vegetable oil to cook with and load their sauces with excess sugar, not exactly ideal for anyone trying to keep their food as clean as possible.

Most Chinese restaurants do offer, however, a pretty safe choice: steamed protein and vegetables, no sauce or gravy attached. Steamed shrimp/chicken/beef, with similarly steamed broccoli and a pretty plain assortment of veggies, is the usual option, the combination of which just might be the most boring and flavorless meal I’ve ever forced myself to eat.

That’s the sad truth of it. You can eat strict Paleo at a typical Chinese restaurant, but I’d argue that it’s barely worth it, especially when you consider the (presumably?) freaky ingredients that come in all of the sauces brought to the table. A steamed plate is only salvageable, in my opinion, with the addition of hot mustard, which leaves you with two choices:

  1. Order the steamed plate and cry quietly during the meal.
  2. Don’t make Chinese food a weekly thing so that you can indulge a little when you go and enjoy something with flavor.

The latter option is the more practical one, but can be risky for anyone with a gluten allergy. At the end of the day, it’s up to you. I usually opt for choice two, especially since my body doesn’t seem to react too badly to the possible wheat and weird oils, but that might not work as well for you. Experiment!

Lastly, let’s talk rice. Mark Sisson already has a great, informative post on why white rice is a superior choice to brown, so I won’t regurgitate that here. If you’re concerned about the starch load, it’s easy enough to ask for no rice, though again that depends on what your body likes and how concerned you are about weird ingredients in your food. If you do decide to forgo the starch, it’s worth asking for an extra portion of vegetables, as some restaurants don’t mind the substitute.

THAI

Thai food is delicious. The typical American take on it, however, comes with a few pitfalls that are worth keeping in mind.

Pad Thai, a perennial favorite, usually involves peanut sauce (let alone actual peanut crumbs), so you’ll need to decide for yourself if it’s worth eating. I absolutely love the stuff over a bed of rice noodles, so I’ll normally opt to indulge, though anyone with a true peanut allergy might want to keep clear.

A good Thai restaurant should offer coconut milk curries, however, which are a fantastic way to get in some healthy saturated fat. Pair them with white rice, if you like, or just extra vegetables, and you should be able to make it out of the restaurant with a smile.

Eggs noodles, by the way, contain flour, so don’t make the mistake that I did and assume they’re a Paleo-friendly option.

VIETNAMESE

I’m not too familiar with a ‘proper’ Vietnamese joint, so I’ll only speak briefly about my (limited) expertise: pho.

Pho, if you’ve never tried it, is one of the most satisfying meals imaginable. Picture a huge bowl of warm, well-seasoned broth, filled with rice noodles and — depending on how authentic the restaurant is — a wide variety of animal parts. I’ve been known to get the bowls with tripe and all sorts of strange ingredients, partially for the nutrition and partially to weird out my eating companions.

It’s hard to go wrong with pho. Add a few squeezes of hot sauce, lime juice, etc., and you’ll exit the restaurant quite happy indeed.

(Note: there might be bad things involved in the broth, but I don’t want to know. Don’t spoil this for me.)

ITALIAN

Pasta is out. Likewise for the bread and olive oil combination that the waiters sometimes bring out as an appetizer. This destroys the whole appeal of an Italian restaurant for most, admittedly, but it’s not impossible to eat fairly well even as you’re trading suggestive glances with the pizza at the next table over.

You can opt for a salad with some kind of protein and ask specifically for olive oil and balsamic as the dressing. You can also order an entree with fish/chicken/whatever as the mainliner, though remember too that the accompanying sauce might be thickened with a starch that you’re not comfortable with. Cream-based sauces, likewise, are questionable for anyone with a strong dairy sensitivity, and anyone concerned about gluten is better off avoiding the breaded choices altogether.

Again, you’ll have to stay practical. Aim for meat and vegetables, but do so knowing that you can’t fully control what goes into their preparation. Tomato-based sauces can work in a pinch, and there’s no harm in asking that your dish be prepared with olive oil where possible, though I don’t know off the top of my head how that usually works out. It’s been a few years since I stepped into an Olive Garden, y’see.

AMERICAN

Not to keep repeating myself, but the same rules apply here as well as anywhere else: meat and vegetables. The diversity of an American restaurant’s menu might help, but you’ll still see vegetable oils, gluten, and other oddities in abundance, even on dishes that seem otherwise pretty mundane.

Consider ordering a steak, but it’s worth asking if the accompany butter is actually butter instead of margarine or some strange substitute. Consider ordering a salad, but skip the croutons and try and opt for an olive oil and balsamic dressing. Rest assured, too, that certain restaurants (the one named after a pepper comes to mind) will somehow manage to screw up even this most basic of requests.

BBQ options are a popular choice, but not always ideal given the sugar and weird oils that can go into the sauces. I’m still more likely to opt for BBQ over the alternatives, as I’m not too concerned about excess sugar, though you can also try and order smoked meat for a delicious and ‘safer’ meal.

Don’t be afraid to request a burger without the bun or a sandwich laid atop a salad instead of the usual wheat vehicle. Anything breaded or fried won’t contain Paleo-happy ingredients, and even grilled dishes can be deceiving, though they’re generally a superior choice to the alternative.

MEXICAN

Chips and salsa, which are provided at no additional expense (at least in the southern part of the US), aren’t going to do much for anyone trying to go easy on wheat. This won’t make them any less tempting, of course, when the basket is steaming and hot right in front of you, but do try to hold out for as long as possible.

Tortillas, whether corn or flour, are better off avoided. This takes out a lot of the romance and appeal of a Mexican restaurant, but anyone willing to dig into the menu should be able to come up with some pretty tasty alternatives: a carne asada (steak), perhaps, or some kind of grilled fish. I’ve been known to go for a chile relleno, too, with full knowledge that there’s probably something in there that’s bad for me.

A taco salad is also an option, though you might find yourself staring down at a bowl full of iceberg lettuce. There are few things more depressing than realizing how much you just spent for what amounts to a bowl of crunchy water, so make sure you enquire about the kind of lettuce that the salad comes with. As far as dressing goes, taking salsa or even regular hot sauce and using it liberally is always a great idea, especially if the restaurant refills your salsa bowls as often as the ones in the south tend to.

Fajitas, lastly, are a great choice. Decline the tortillas, dump on liberal amounts of salsa and guacamole, and go to town. You can ask about how they’re cooked, if you like, but you might not like the answer.

JAPANESE

Keeping in mind that white rice can be your friend (provided you partake in starch), a Japanese-style restaurant can make for a pretty satisfying meal.

Sushi is a big draw, though you may want to keep tabs on the ingredients. If you go for straight sashimi, you shouldn’t need to fret, though sushi rolls require a slightly longer thought process. American rolls, at least, like to toss in mayonnaise (soybean oil), fake crab (I still don’t know what the hell it actually is), tempura (delicious, but a form of bread crumbs), and plenty of soy-based sauces (wheat and soy!), all of which are generally worth avoiding.

The best choice? Get raw fish in your roll, a healthy mix of veggies, and realize that the sauce probably isn’t Paleo-approved. Sushi, for me, ranks pretty highly on the “Eat the Damn Dish” (EDD) scale, meaning I find it worth consuming even if the sauce doesn’t contain an ideal list of ingredients.

If you’re concerned about the rice, by the way, some restaurants offer a ‘low-carb’ option, meaning they’ll use half the rice. You can also ask that the roll be delivered in a cucumber instead of the seaweed and rice blanket, though that might require some familiarity with the chef.

Wasabi, by the way, occupies murky territory. I loved the stuff (the bright green ‘paste’ that can set your mouth on fire, if you’re not familiar with it), but my amorous feelings faded upon learning that it’s not even the real deal. Even high-end Japanese restaurants provide a fake wasabi made of horseradish, cornstarch, and added color, meaning that funny green paste isn’t quite what I always imagined it to be. I’ve heard you can ask for the real thing, but can’t confirm this myself. Anyone tried it?

Stir-frys, likewise, can be pretty satisfying, though as I understand they’re usually made with soy sauce. There’s no harm in asking if the cooks can use wheat-free tamari instead, though here again I don’t know if (and honestly don’t expect them to) restaurants stock that sort of thing. If you do get one and try to include a starch, aim for rice noodles or a bed of white rice. Skipping the starch? Ask for a bed of vegetables, and definitely try and get an extra serving of the good stuff.

BREAKFAST JOINTS

Eggs and bacon. Omelettes are safe choices, generally, though anyone with a penchant for IHOP will be devastated to learn that they mix their (wheat-based) pancake batter into their egg mixes. Still, it’s easier to eat well at a breakfast joint than most other places, and while you can’t control the cooking method nor the quality of the ingredients, no one around will judge you for ordering another side of bacon.

If you’re concerned about how your eggs are cooked, there’s no harm in asking whether the kitchen uses butter. Many of them might even do so upon request! The majority also shouldn’t have any issue taking the contents of a breakfast burrito and laying it all out on a plate. Add in a few dashes of hot sauce, some salt and pepper, and you’ll have a pretty satisfying meal on your hands.

SEAFOOD

It’s been some time since I’ve stepped into a seafood restaurant, but your options here are better than most: salads and fish dishes by the dozen, with several cooking choices available for the latter. I’ve seen restaurants offer oven-broiled, steamed, grilled, fried, and blackened as options, which offers endless variety — and additional complexity — on an otherwise simple dish.

Grilled is a popular choice, especially if they offer butter that you can drizzle over top. I highly doubt that butter is real, however, so be sure to ask about it. Blackened is universally delicious, and the traditional preparation method involves lots of butter, but given the state of the food industry I wouldn’t be surprised if a butter substitute was used instead. Be sure to ask.

You’re better off skipping the fried options, tasty though they may be.

FAST FOOD

For the sake of my sanity, I won’t cover every single one of the mainstay fast food restaurants here in the States. Given the dubious quality of the ingredients, you’re better off skipping fast food entirely, though time constraints and the price point can still make them an appealing choice.

Here again, opt for meat and vegetables. Take the bun off a burger (lettuce wraps work too!), go for salads where possible, and choose grilled over fried. And hey, if you’re planning on grabbing something quick, why not choose a popular Paleo option: Chipotle?

I’m more of a Qdoba fan myself, but any make-your-own burrito joint can usually provide a decent meal on the quick. Skip the tortilla, of course, and the beans, but there’s usually no real need to hold back on anything else. Chipotle, for example, lets you put any burrito in a bowl, so I’ll grab a fajita burrito bowl (which swaps the rice for grilled peppers), steak, salsa, guacamole, etc. Again, the cooking oil is rarely ideal (Chipotle uses soybean oil, sadly), but a burrito bowl is still an infinitely better choice than most of the alternatives, so pick your ingredients wisely and dig in with gusto.

COFFEE SHOPS

There’s a plate of cookies about three feet from my table. One of them (not that I’ve been looking, of course) is peanut butter chocolate pretzel, while the other is strawberry white chocolate macadamia. I am not tempted by these treats. My inquiry about the price was purely for research reasons, and my insistence on bringing my face as close as possible to sniff them was clearly in the interest of making sure they hadn’t gone stale for the other patrons of this coffee shop.

The majority of that previous paragraph, by the way, is a lie.

Blame it on Starbucks, but coffee shops have quickly become known for two things: steaming cups of coffee and delicious treats to pair with them. It goes without saying, of course, that these sweets are very rarely Paleo-approved, even if you’re about as sure as I am that our Paleolithic ancestors would have opted for biscotti over bugs any day of the week.

What to do?

Drink your coffee. Enjoy it with heavy whipping cream, if the coffee shop offers it (and you’re fine with dairy), or maybe opt for tea instead. Avoid skim milk, half and half, and soy milk as much as possible, which admittedly might be difficult if you’re not too keen on the flavor of black coffee.

If that’s where you find yourself, take heart, as I’m about to get controversial.

You can add sugar. Seriously. Maybe don’t dump in two or three packets, but a little sugar in your coffee (provided, of course, that you’re not suffering any long-standing problems with insulin) won’t cause the universe to crumble around you, and nor will the Paleo Police drag you off for questioning. It’s better to drink it black, sure, but working with small amounts of sugar can be a great way to build up to that point, so don’t be afraid to use some (you can also try Stevia!) whenever you’re passing over the creamers.

But what about the treats? You know what I’m going to say, I’m afraid. Skip them. If you insist on eating something, see if you can sneak a piece of fruit, but keep in mind too that coffee can act as a pretty effective appetite suppressant. I use a few cups to curb the appetite when fasting, though you don’t need to be skipping meals to see similar benefits.

The Sodium Thing

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned sodium much here, though it comes up pretty often as a big concern for nearly every restaurant imaginable. Is it an issue? It could very well be, though I haven’t seen (for lack of looking, admittedly) anything especially compelling about the dangers of high sodium intake. Be aware, in any case, that the sodium content of most dishes is pretty freaking outrageous, though I’d argue that’s a secondary concern to the excess sugar, vegetable oils, etc.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Ask.

You’re paying for your food, here, and are well within your rights to enquire about what goes into it: the ingredients, the preparation method, etc. The knowledge might very well determine what you order, or it might make your meal that much better: extra veggies on the side, sweet potato fries instead of regular russet, etc.

What do you have to lose besides a few minutes of time?

Don’t be Afraid to Lie(!)

Seriously concerned about gluten/soy?

Tell the restaurant you have a gluten/soy allergy, and don’t be afraid to describe in detail what that means. This falls into morally questionable territory, sure, but I don’t think it’s the worst thing you can do. Don’t pitch a fit if the restaurant can’t try and cater to your (possibly fake, but probably existent) allergy, but don’t be surprised, either, if they at least make an attempt to help you out.

If nothing else, you’ll get a better feel for the gluten-free/soy-free options that the restaurant offers, which can make your life a lot easier when you’re staring down at a menu that’s six pages long.

The Big Takeaway

I’d hoped, when I first sat down to write this, that I could offer cheerier news. The truth of the matter, though, is that the modern food industry offers very little in the way of Paleo-friendly dishes, a woefully unsurprising fact when you consider the cheap expense of vegetable oils and the flavor-enhancing properties of both sugar and salt.

What can you do, then, whenever you’re paying someone else to prepare your food?

Do the best you can. Realize that very few dishes are perfectly Paleo, and then remember (whew!) that you’re trying to be practical instead. Opt for meat and veggies where possible, natural oils when they’re available, and just remember that one ‘bad’ meal isn’t going to completely derail your progress forever.

Eating out, accordingly, is something best minimized. You and I both know it’s going to happen, though, so there’s no sense in guilt-tripping yourself when it does. Order the most Paleo dish you can find, enjoy it as much as possible, and don’t stress. If you’re eating out in the first place, you might as well enjoy it, and there’s no reason you can’t skip a meal or eat as Paleo as possible over the next week to try and compensate.

Stay practical, folks. That’s the only way you’ll survive, and I’d argue until I’m blue in the fact that you can eat the occasional unhealthy meal and still thrive better than ever.

Look for part two of this guide (covering airports and a few other topics) to come next week. Thanks for reading this! If you enjoyed it, please feel free to retweet it for others to see. Thanks!

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45 Comments

  1. Steve O'Brien says:

    Hey, cool article. I’m a fan of the site. I was wondering: why do you like white rice/rice noodles so much? Aren’t carbs bad? Aren’t grains, like rice, even worse than other carbs?

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Hey Steve!

      I’ll talk about this in greater length in an upcoming post, but here’s an abbreviated answer: carbs, in my opinion, are not bad. Eating too much of them — especially the processed and refined kind — can be bad for you, but that’s not a really compelling argument to vilify an entire class of macronutrients.

      Here’s where I stand. In the beginning of going Paleo/Primal, it’s worth going low carb so that your body can adjust to burning its stored fat. Once your insulin sensitivity has been successfully restored and the body is in otherwise good shape, I think it’s worthwhile to try including starch (usually in the form of potatoes). Some people can handle starch, some people can’t. I enjoy it, and I find that it keeps me full for longer, but that’s not always the case for everyone else.

      Since I eat starch, then, I also eat rice. You’re correct in saying that grains are bad, but it’s worth discussing why: wheat gluten is a problem, and likewise so are the lectins/phytate that most grains possess. Rice is in kind of a unique position, though, being gluten-free and less prone to compromising the body’s ability to absorb nutrients (other grains can’t say the same).

      I recommend reading the article I linked to in the post where Mark Sisson discusses rice in full. White rice, to summarize it briefly, is kind of like the iceberg lettuce of the starch world — not packed with nutrients, but not possessing huge problems, either. It’s just neutral, in other words. Because of this, I enjoy rice and rice noodles freely, and I recommend them as well to anyone who wants to try incorporating starch back into their diet.

      Like I said, I’ll be covering all this and more in an upcoming post, so keep an eye out for that too. Hope this helps!

  2. Hey Matt!

    Great article. Thanks for going the “practical” route. It’s really hard to always be perfect, and I seem to eat out a lot, so this is excellent information.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Glad you find it useful!

      Just stay practical, my friend, and you’ll do just fine. :)

  3. Gwyn says:

    Hey Matt,
    I appreciate the concise, drama-free way you approach this lifestyle and information. Thanks for the “eating out” overview, very helpful to us newly Paleo/Primal Peeps!

  4. Susan says:

    This is helpful, it’s hard to know what to eat when you’re out. And I like that you always come back to making choices, even if they are ‘bad’ ones persay.

    Last weekend we ate lobster macaraoni while we were out, it was divinely insane. But we also opt for sushi, salads or fruit, omlettes, that sort of thing the majority of the time we eat out. We don’t see our eating habits as a ‘wagon’ when we’re choosing healthy options. So there’s nothing to fall off of if we decide to eat gluten-free, wheat-free truffle brownies with walnuts. Like now.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Exactly! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the idea that a single bad meal is the worst thing imaginable, but it’s worth putting it in context of the 20-something other meals we eat on a weekly basis. The wagon, accordingly, runs far smoother than most people realize. :)

      Enjoy those brownies!

  5. Fred says:

    A funny story about Thai: Some years ago in another life, a new Thai restaurant opened near my work. Several of us decided to try it out. Our waitress was very shy and maybe all of twelve years old. I asked what was in the sauce on the Pad Thai. Timidly, giggling with her hand over her mouth, she said she didn’t know, but she would ask the kitchen. She came back a few minutes later and said she had found out what was in the sauce. In a very quiet voice, she replied, “Skippy!” Care for some hydrogenated oil with dinner? I had something else.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      I don’t blame you!

      Might have to be a little more suspicious of my pad thai, now. It’s one of my favorite dishes, but hydrogenated anything is generally a deal-breaker for me. :)

  6. Gena says:

    Mahalo for all of the practical tips, we’re eating out way less these days but try and eat healthy when we do. When you visit the islands next year you’ll have tons of great paleo options, from luau fare, pho, great thai, huli huli chicken & grilled veggies and fruit. Thanks for sharing all the scoop! :)

  7. Geri says:

    Great informative article – thanks!

  8. Nicole O says:

    I’m REALLY looking forward to part two with the airplane guides and everything… especially since I’ll be going all around North & South Ireland this summer with a class full of Agriculture students (which means bread, butter, and fried what-you-can with a beer over ever a vegetable)… it’s going to be hard enough being around baps and brown bread without going to town, but it’s never fun being the obvious odd one out ordering food. Even WITH the excuse of Gluten and Lactose Intolerance.

    Also, how successful have you been at restaurants with avoiding rice/substituting it? I just don’t like it as well as how I often feel after, but I’ve never dared to ask for an alternative at Chinese/Indian restaurants.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      I’ve been pretty successful, actually. I don’t usually skip it, now, but I did in the beginning, and had great success with either telling them to just not bring me any or asking for more vegetables instead. It does depend on the dish, of course, and sometimes they wanted to stick me with an additional charge, but there’s no harm in asking, either way.

      Give it a shot! You’re paying for the food, after all, so it might as well be what you actually want to eat. :)

  9. Stacee says:

    Meat and vegetables…meat and vegetables, that’s what I will keep telling myself now! Thanks for the advice. And I’m more of a Qdoba person as well; so tasty!

  10. Mia says:

    I hate to say it… but dont expect to be taken seriously in a restaurant if you say you have a gluten allergy. I was diagnosed about 4 years ago and its been a nightmare trying to find edible food. It’s pretty amazing how often the restaurant will have no idea what is in their food (!!!) or think a fine layer of flour is fine on a piece of fish in lieu of crumbs. I have also heard food staff complain that people lie about celiac disease and dont take them seriously. One even going so far as to rant about people eating rice when they claim to be celiac. Rice is gluten free. She did not know this. It scares me!

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      I suspect you’re right, Mia, but I don’t think it’ll stop me from trying. :) In America, at least, concerns about gluten have been on the upswing (right alongside gluten-free products, heh), so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone claiming a gluten allergy would have better success than they did a few years back.

      That’s the hope, at least. ;)

      Sorry to hear you’ve had such negative experiences, though! Especially with the ignorance on part of the food staff. That’s more than a little alarming, given all the dishes they handle on a regular basis. :\

  11. Nancy says:

    Italian is easy. I pick a tomato based sauce with lots of meat in it, and ask for it to be served over sauteed spinach (they usually use garlic and olive oil) instead of pasta and no cheese. It is usually delicious, except for the one time my meat and sauce came served over raw spinach (I have no idea what they were thinking!).

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      That sounds delicious! With the cooked spinach, at least. Thanks for the tip, Nancy. I’m going to have to try that next time I eat Italian. :)

  12. Tessa Zeng says:

    Simultaneously frustrating and extremely useful….just like the writer himself! Jk, jk. Can’t deny the state of this article though :P

    I did *not* know dinosaurs could be so rice-friendly. Hmm. Having grown up eating it and now am off it completely, that puts me in an interesting situation. Likewise with soy sauce, but it looks like it’s just a no-go at this point.

    You have no idea how hard it was to turn down the scone at the tea shop the other day. I lol’d when I read your coffee shop description. The sodium bit is good news though. A diet that frowned on salt would have me outta there in two seconds, no matter What the benefits!

    Re: Japanese – asparagus rolls are pretty damn tasty. And I guess I’ll just have to continue eating lots of sashimi then…how terribly upsetting :D

    Know anything about Indian food places, btw? I’m guessing the liberal sauces required would nix a lot of those dishes…

    Kantians would have something to say about your advocating gluten allergy claims, haha.

    …Officially the longest comment I’ve left on a blog in some time. I see your strategy. Get people talking about their eating habits and they’ll never run out of things to say. *Incorporates into marketing ebook*

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Simultaneously frustrating and extremely useful, huh? I’ll take that, and then I’ll say it applies to you pretty well too. ;)

      Soy sauce is worth skipping given the wheat and soy, though alternatives exist that avoid both problems. Ever had coconut aminos? Sounds strange, but the flavor is almost identical, so I’d recommend it to anyone wanting soy sauce without the health concerns. Rice-wise, well, I can tell that I’m surprising some people here by advocating its consumption, so I’ll have to do another post soon to clarify my stance. I love the stuff, though. Especially the sticky variety. :)

      Thanks for the additional tips! Regarding Indian, it’s hard to say. I’m not sure what goes into most of those sauces, and while I’m not very concerned about added sugar, I’d be a little more cautious of weird oils. Maybe someone else can comment. In the meantime, though, I’ll probably keep eating them, as I love Indian food too much to say no. Haha!

  13. Nina Nelson says:

    Matt,
    Thanks so much for the post – I really needed a resource like this. I’m passing your site information on to friends and family and I’m glad that my brother and sister-in-law just switched over to the primal lifestyle – and they’re loving it. My husband is considering it, too. I’ve gotten several health symptoms under control since adopting this lifestyle and he’s hoping it will help with sinus infections. But really, he’s already eating like this since I’m the one that does the cooking. :) Now I’ve just got to get him to eat like this at the fire station… Keep the great content coming – can’t wait to read Roots!

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Glad you like it, Nina!

      And good for you for spreading the good word about Primal. :) Your family will only see benefits, I think, and not just because of all the delicious food they get to eat!

    • Nancy says:

      Nina:
      Tell your husband I haven’t had a single sinus infection since I gave up dairy, and I used to get them all the time. I must say eliminating the dairy was harder than giving up sugar, grains or bad oils though. I still miss cheese, but actually enjoy using Almond Breeze unsweetened Almond Milk or So Delicious unsweetened Coconut Milk beverage in my hot tea.

  14. Jenn says:

    I wanted to confirm that the pho restaurants that I’ve been to do not use MSG in their broth. Some do, but it’s more traditional just to use bones, veggies, and spices. I’m terribly sensitive to MSG and get horrible migraines when I eat it and I’ve never had a problem with pho. My favorite is thin-sliced eye round and soft tendon.

    Thai curries, however, often have sugar added.

    I’ve also done primal at an Indian buffet by skipping the daal, channa masala, and naan, and having only a small iddly instead of a scoop of rice. I focused on veggie dishes without beans, meat curries, and tandoori chicken.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Glad to hear the good news about pho! I was under the impression that MSG use had been heavily curtailed, but maybe that’s not the case. I’m pleased to hear, in any case, that most restaurants have gone back to the traditional style of cooking it.

      Thanks for the additional tips! Hopefully anyone craving Indian will find them useful. :)

  15. Simple Zen says:

    Hi Matt. Whats your veiw on dairy: milk, cream, butter. I’m struggling with that one!
    I can probably skip milk in my tea and coffee but without butter how do I cook my scrambled eggs?

    Any one got any alternative ideas?

    Thanks Matt for an excellent blogg, Keep up the good work.
    ~Steve~

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Hey Steve!

      I’ll do a post soon that lays out my Paleo ideas in full, but here’s a brief answer to your question.

      I do (pastured) butter, ghee, and hard cheeses, but I tend to skip all other dairy. I love heavy whipping cream, and have been known to drink it straight from the carton, but I’m cutting it out for a month or so in an experiment to see how dairy affects my body. Stick with your butter, in any case, and don’t shy away from heavy whipping cream, but do try and source your dairy products from cows that were pastured.

      Coconut oil, of course, is a wonderful alternative. Definitely cook with it if you get a chance!

      I don’t see the problem with yogurt, either. Hope this helps!

    • Nancy says:

      Steve:
      Give lard a try. It’s wonderful for cooking eggs. Not the storebought kind though. See if you can get some side pork (the cut of pork that’s usually made into bacon). Fry it up for a great breakfast meat, and strain the fat (there will be quite a bit) through cheesecloth and save it for future use.
      My current favorite breakfast is fried pork side meat and duck eggs fried in lard. Yum!
      We also use clarified butter (ghee) for veggies, and it’s good for frying eggs too.

  16. Adriana says:

    Great post!
    In Australia, it’s a fairly similar scenario. A lot of restaurants are aware of food intolerances try to cater to it, but I wonder how seriously they take it. I always end up feeling terrible and sick if I eat out, so try to avoid eating anything! There are a couple of wonderful speciality gluten-free restaurants in my city though, although they are pricey. Its a nice treat every now and then though:)
    But like you’ve said Matt, just keep it simple! Meat and veg is awesome! And I guess you could cheat and get a dessert- just share it with a few people! haha

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Exactly. :) If it’s a special occasion, or just a special dessert, haha, I don’t mind splitting it with people. Given that I chow down on (delicious) meat and vegetables during the meal itself, it’s not often I have that much room left in my stomach in the first place!

      Thanks for the input, Adriana!

  17. Grace Kelly says:

    Great post Matt!
    Didn’t like the bit about the coffee shop, damn it!
    I find coffee makes my blood sugar swing so I defo can’t have it black,some nuts are good with coffee or a banana , for now anyway….
    Looks like I will have to go back to my Irish roots then to stay Primal/Paleo, meat and two veg is always on the menu at home as are “spuds” , potatoes!
    Question: Do you think primal eating varies according to where your ancestors came from?
    Gratitude, Grace
    http://www.citygirlconfidence.com
    “Live the life you so deserve”

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      If your coffee shop has heavy whipping cream, you can add some of that too. Might ease the blood sugar swings. :)

      As for your question, I’m honestly not sure. I do believe people are more or less sensitive to things (dairy, gluten, etc.) based on their heritage, but I don’t think it changes the basic ideas of Primal enough to be worth exploring. At the end of the day, you’re still better off emphasizing meat and veggies, so your Irish roots definitely come in handy here. :)

  18. Silvio says:

    Hey Matt,

    I have another everyday-paleo question: As a student I have few opportunities for a paleo lunch when I’m at the university. The canteen, as you might now, does not offer the most healthiest dishes, and I can’t afford to go to the restaurants in the city and pay for a nice salad every day of the week. I have no problem having an empty stomach for a while, but most of the time, I have still like 4 to 5 hours to go without any fuel and I need to stay focused on the lectures.

    I already tried a pre-prepared salad to go, but frankly, It’s a mess and the lettuce tastes just awful when stored for a night in the fridge. Fruits are great taste-wise but I still want to lose some weight, so what else is there that I can grab for lunch? I need something that I can easily prepare at home, maybe in the evening before so that I can just grab a lunch box in the morning and head off to the university.

    Thanks in advance for any hint, and have a great week =)
    Silvio

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Hey Silvio!

      That’s a tough one. :) Your salad adventures don’t seem to have gone too well, but would you be able to fix one up in the morning?

      Back in college, here’s what I would do:

      - Bake an entire package of bacon in the oven one evening, and then take the strips and crumble them into pieces.
      - Whatever veggies I needed for my salad, I’d make sure they were chopped, minced, whatever.
      - In the morning, grab a container, put my lettuce, veggies, and bacon crumbs in it. Grab another container (a small tupperware one), add olive oil and balsamic, and make sure the lid is sealed tight.

      When it was time to eat, then, I’d just shake the dressing container, dump it on my salad, and be good to go. Bacon plus balsamic is so incredibly tasty, too. I never had issue with funny-tasting lettuce, either, since I made the salad that morning. The whole process of making the salad takes maybe two minutes, too, which is a huge plus.

      If you want additional protein, you can hard boil some eggs and pack them with your salad. They keep well and are pretty tasty with some salt and pepper.

      Let me know if you’d like more help. A salad is honestly still your best bet, I think, but let me know if that isn’t going to work and I’ll come up with some alternatives. :)

      • Silvio says:

        Thank you Matt! I will try the bacon crumbles, sounds great. I’ve got this fancy salad-to-go container from my mum, it looks like a coffee tumbler, and it has an extra container for dressing. But the dressing container isn’t sealed tight enough, so one time I felt like I had eaten a whole chicken with my bare hands when I just had a salad.
        I’ll try the salad again soon with proper tupperware, in the meantime I think I’ll go with: hard boiled eggs, some chopped veggies like bell peppers or cucumbers, pickles rolled in bacon. Another highly convenient lunch substitute: Greek yoghurt with trail mix and/or berries.

        Thanks again for the kind support, I really appreciate it =)

        • Matt Madeiro says:

          My pleasure, man. :) Let me know how it works out for you! Though I don’t see how it could go too badly, haha, given the meal you described. Sounds delicious!

          • R says:

            Re:eating out at Indian joints and the comment about
            skipping rice and lentils and eating idli instead: idli is made of white
            rice and lentils that have been ground into a batter, then steamed.
            The oil utilized in the steamer trays (so the idlis come out neatly) is typically sesame oil. Just sayin. I’m married to a south Indian and idli is an everyday food for him, though I don’t partake.

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  22. Casey says:

    I see this post is from last year, but I just found it. Just wanted to say THANK YOU – I love that you say to find the most Paleo thing you can, and just go with it. Takes all the pressure off from being perfect all the time :)