A question that I hear a lot, and one that is often used as an excuse to stray from standard Paleo Lifestyle foods is, “How do I eat Paleo, when on the road?”. When I say “on the road”, I mean traveling, being out of town, or being away from home and therefore away from your own Paleo kitchen.
I guess you could look at being on the road as an excuse to go buck-wild on a stack of chocolate chip pancakes at the nearest IHOP, or a full pound of General Tso’s chicken at a Chinese buffet, but I’m quite sure that you would regret your decision immediately after eating all of that yummy, but HORRIBLE food. By that time, it’s too late…the damage is done.
Honestly though, if this kind of thing was to occur, we’re not talking about the end of the world here. It’s not actually going to destroy your diet, and instantly make you a heart attack candidate. You’re not going to instantaneously regain all of the weight that you’ve lost since you started on the Paleo lifestyle, BUT, there is definitely a lot to be said about proper planning. Is it optimal for health and your body-fat percentage if you go crazy and stray from eating Paleo compatible foods? No, or course it isn’t.
The best idea would be to familiarize yourself with foods from common fast-food joints, and chain restaurants, that are at least “Paleo friendly”. We’re not looking for perfect Paleo here! After all, fast-food joints and chain restaurants are never going to fit perfectly into a Paleo lifestyle, thanks to copious amounts of vegetable oils, breads, margarine, and industrial meats, but we’re basically talking about damage control in this situation. It’s about making the best of a potentially bad situation.
If you were REALLY cool, you might pack Paleo meals to take on your expedition, but only very few of us are that incredibly nerdy….I mean organized. Plus, packing Paleo meals is fine in essence, as long as you know about your travel plans ahead of time. Oftentimes however, that luxury is not a reality, and we find ourselves on the road at a moments notice, which obviously makes things more complicated and less Paleo-organization is possible.
There was a great post about this subject on the Paleo at Penn Blog, posted in the February 2011, that you can read here. The list of restaurants to avoid is worth quoting here:
Chains to Avoid:
Panera: This chain is a favorite with my friends back in New York (and in my Standard American Diet days, it was one of my favorites too), but since turning Paleo, I’ve done my research and found that there is only ONE item that is 100% okay to eat: the fresh fruit cup. (However, it contains fruit with high sugar content, so… just be aware of that.) Most of the salads (which you’d figure might be alright) have ingredient lists that are longer than all of my midterm study-sheets combined! The only one that seems to be okay to eat is the Classic Cafe Salad, but I’m not sure if you can order it without the dressing (which is full of fake stuff). My recommendation? Just avoid Panera!
Così: Like Panera, Così is a bread-based chain restaurant that doesn’t have many healthy options. The website doesn’t offer a detailed ingredient list like Panera’s, but it does offer some allergen information– all of the salads contain dairy, wheat, and/or soy. If you don’t mind the dairy, then some of the Così salads might be okay, such as the Wild Alaskan Salmon, Tuscan Steak, or Greek, but… I’d still say avoid Così because I’m going to assume that their ingredient lists rival Panera’s.
Au Bon Pain: This chain is quite similar to Così and Panera– it’s primarily starch-based and extremely unhealthy. Since the website offers nutritional information, I checked out their “healthier” options and found that all of their salads have crazy-long ingredient lists and contain a ton of chemicals and fake stuff. Avoid!
Friendly’s: Besides the fact that the food isn’t all that great, absolutely every item on the menu contains soy, and 99% of them contain wheat of some sort as well. The Sirloin Steak Tips is one of the very few that doesn’t contain wheat– if you’re forced to eat here and don’t mind the soy, order this without the starches. My friends at home love this place, but I just meet them before/after lunch or dinner because of how few options there for a Paleo enthusiast like me.
Olive Garden: This place is awful. Everything is starchy, sodium-loaded, and just all-around unhealthy. I encourage you to read this blog post by Dr. Galati and listen to his analysis of how terrible this “fast food Italian” restaurant is for you. The healthiest/most Paleo-friendly meal I can find on the menu is the Venetian Apricot Chicken, but its sodium content is still crazy-high. Find somewhere else to eat!”
Leigh at Paleo at Penn goes on to say that all fast-food joints should be avoided, which I respect but don’t necessarily agree with. Granted, there are several fast-food joints that any self-respecting Paleoite should avoid like the plague. Taco Bell is one such establishment. There is absolutely NOTHING safe to eat at a Taco Bell, considering that even the taco “meat” has wheat as an ingredient!!
Having said that, there are still some very easy, very viable options when it comes to fast-food. Fast-food burger joints like Wendy’s, McDonalds, Burger King, and Hardee’s (Carl’s Jr on the west coast) are an easy and solid choice. I have yet to see a burger joint that won’t sell me a burger without a bun. Hardee’s offers any of their burgers “low-carb style”, which means that they wrap it in a generous helping of lettuce, so that you can order a low-carb Monster burger, and chow-down with both hands. At Wendy’s I often get a triple Baconator with no bun, which comes in a little tray with lettuce on the top and bottom. I tuck into my Baconator with a knife and a fork. That’s 2/3 of a pound of meat!
I generally aim for the low-carb options, because they tend to be the safest choices. Even fast-food salads are fair game in my opinion. Sure, you’ll almost certainly end-up with some soy bean oil based ranch or Caesar dressing on your salad, but that’s way better than some sandwich or chicken-foam-nugget nastiness. I happen to think that McDonalds, and Wendy’s both have fantastic salads…just steer away from any type of southwestern, or Asian salads, because they’ll invariably be topped with items that you don’t need. When in doubt, just go for the largest lump (or combination of lumps) of meat that you can get your hands on.
At a sit-down restaurant, I begin with a Ranch or Caesar salad…with no croutons, and then immediately look for options that include grilled seafood items like shrimp or salmon, or I’ll look for a large tender cut of steak (Not sirloin!), such as a fillet, or sometimes a rib-eye. I might add a baked sweet-potato drowned in butter, and almost always steamed broccoli on the side. What more does a person need?
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So, the next time you’re wondering “How do I eat Paleo when on the road“, just remember what Mark Sisson says, “Don’t let the perfect, be the enemy of the good”. Sometimes “good” is all there is, but it’s usually “good enough”. Plus, when all else fails, there’s always intermittent fasting…..just skip a meal or two!
How do you fare while traveling? Do you find it a challenge to stay the “Paleo course”? Please share your comments below. If you found this article interesting or useful, please click the ‘LIKE’ button below to share on Facebook.
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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
For more information please visit: www.undergroundnutritionist.com