For the ever-increasing number of people exploring the paleo diet’s back-to-basics way of eating—lots of protein and vegetables and no grains, sugar, dairy, or processed foods—being able to cook creative, flavorful meals at home is important. But it isn’t easy. With so many staple ingredients off the table (like vegetable oil, butter, flour, and even potatoes), it can be tricky to make great-tasting meals that stick to the paleo program. Given the restrictions this diet presents, people serious about following it need to rethink not only how they shop and stock their pantry but also how they cook.
Many fundamental ingredients that we depend on when cooking are off-limits, and you must make homemade versions of other key ingredients since the commercial versions are highly processed or contain stabilizers and gums (think mayonnaise, broths, and canned tomatoes). Before you even get started, take a look at the guide below, which we developed to make paleo cooking less intimidating to those who may not be familiar with it yet. We’ve provided some of the test kitchen’s favorite alternatives for some non-paleo ingredients that are normally crucial to most recipes. Although these substitutes won’t work in every recipe—nor are they simply one-for-one swaps—this guide will help you start to understand how to approach paleo cooking.