Let me begin by saying that this review is long overdue. Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle, by Diane Sanfilippo, was my first ever real cookbook, which I received for Christmas in 2012 when I was in a serious health rut. The next month, I dove into the paleo lifestyle and never looked back.
For years it’s my #1 recommendation to friends, family, and clients who are looking for easy, healthy recipes, whether they eat paleo, gluten-free or not. It’s been called the Paleo “bible” by myself and probably hundreds of thousands of other people. It’s a NY Times bestseller, and the #1 best-selling Paleo cookbook.
And yet, I have to admit…I struggled to write this review. It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am for this book, and how much Practical Paleo and the rest of Diane’s work has influenced my personal health journey (and even career path) over the last 3 years. Sure, there are plenty of out of this world amazing cookbooks, with stunning photography, amazing recipes, kitchen tips, and the like. But it’s not often you can say a cookbook literally changed your whole life. That’s what Practical Paleo did for me; and for that I’m forever grateful.
Diane’s genius of a book is a gold mine of information on health, wellness, and nutrition, going way beyond the amazing recipes it also has to offer. It’s a totally comprehensive guide to the paleo lifestyle, yet extremely easy to understand. It can benefit anyone, whether you’re just getting started or are a seasoned paleo “veteran”. Diane basically answers every question you could possibly have about the basics of the paleo lifestyle: from the nitty-gritty of what exactly Paleo is, to how to shop, stock a pantry, eat out at restaurants, to questions about the digestive system and blood sugar regulation. There are even super easy to use, tear-out guides you can post up in your kitchen or even carry around with you. Oh, and my favorite part of the “science-y” section, titled: “Everything We’ve Been Taught About Good Nutrition is Wrong.”
Yep. The amount of times my eyes bogged out of my head while reading for this section for the first time was….well, a lot.
The subtitle of the book is “a customized approach to a health and whole-foods lifestyle.” So how about that customized part? Sit tight, young grasshopper.
You have a specific health condition? You’re an athlete? You’re trying to lose some extra jiggle? Check out the genius 30-day meal plans that provide nutritional recommendations to support everything from autoimmune conditions, digestive health, blood sugar regulation, thyroid health, to cancer recovery and heart health. My favorite part of these is not even the meal plans themselves, but the fine-tuned diet, lifestyle, herb and supplement recommendations for how to support your condition or goals. So even if you don’t follow the meal plan to the T (which I confess, can never do), you can still benefit in a huge way from the recommendations.
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gone back to reference the sections for autoimmune conditions, celiac, leaky gut, blood sugar regulation, thyroid issues and chronic fatigue…I told you, I’ve run the gamut of health struggles over the past few years! But Practical Paleo also sparked my passion for nutrition and how I could help others heal from chronic health conditions with the help of nutrition. Now, I’m a Health Coach and in graduate school to become a nutritionist so I can do just that! So I totally geek out on the science-y pages in the first half of the book too, where before I was (only) totally absorbed by the amazing recipes.
And the recipes themselves? Holy HELL. This was the first book that really taught me how mind-blowingly delicious simple ingredients and preparations of just real food can be. (Fast forward a year and a half later and I created my own food blog appropriately titled Real Food with Dana!) And no, despite the misconceptions you might have about the paleo diet (if you’re still in the proverbial cave, which would be ironic…), it’s not all 1 pound steaks and plain spinach for us paleo folk. Get ready to say hello to decadent dishes you won’t even believe are paleo. Here’s just a taste of some of my favorites…
- Pumpkin Pancakes
- Pesto Scrambled Eggs
- Jalapeno Buffalo Burgers with Sweet Potato Pancakes
- Spaghetti Squash Bolognese
- Thanksgiving Stuffed Meatballs
- Greek Salad with Avo-Ziki Dressing
- Bacon-Wrapped Pecan Dates
- Flourless Mocha Bacon Brownies
It’s also inspired some of the most popular recipes on my own blog, like my Turkey Burgers with Cranberry Aioli & Sweet Potato Buns and Delicata Squash Pancakes.
#drooling. So, who is this book for?
Um, everyone. Whether you’re just wondering about “this whole paleo thing”, are trying to get started on a paleo journey or lose weight, are a total nutrition nerd like myself, healthcare practitioner, or someone with a chronic health condition…I can’t recommend Practical Paleo enough. Anyone can benefit from having this book in their arsenal. Even if all you want is some damn tasty recipes. Because there is definitely no shortage of those in this book.
Wanna know something else amazing? Diane was nice enough to let me share one of the recipes from the book with YOU! Scared you’ll be missing pasta on Paleo? Coming from a long line of New Yorker Italians, I sure was. But voilà, Pesto Shrimp & Squash Fettuccine. I added in a few of my own tweaks here and there, but the props for this recipe is ALL Practical Paleo.
Boom. Drop the mic and leave. Hats off to you, Diane. (You go, Glen Coco.)
- 2 dozen large shrimp
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil
- 4 zucchini or yellow squash
- sea salt and black pepper, to taste
- ½ yellow onion, sliced thin
- cherry tomatoes, halved, for serving
- ⅔ cup macadamia nuts
- 1 bunch cilantro, rinsed
- 1 large handful fresh basil
- 1 tsp dried garlic
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil or macadamia nut oil
- juice of ¼ lemon
- First, make the pesto. Combine the nuts, cilantro, basil, garlic, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in the food processor and blend until smooth.
- Clean the shrimp - peel the shells and tails off while they’re still raw. Pull the tail off first, then the rest of the shell.
- Make the squash noodles using a julienne peeler or spiralizer.
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat with 1 Tbsp of oil. Pour in the onion slices and sprinkle with a small pinch of salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions become translucent. Stir about every minute or so with a wooden spoon.
- When the onions are translucent, add all the squash noodles to the sauté pan.
- Pull out another sauté pan and heat the second Tbsp of oil for about 1 minute. Add the shrimp to the pan, cook for 2 minutes on the first side, then about 1 minute on the second one. Don’t cook them all the way through, as you’ll be warming them with the pasta later. Remove the shrimp pan from the heat, and remove the shrimp from the pan. Set aside.
- Once the zucchini noodles have cooked down, remove the pan from the heat. Add the shrimp and stir in the pesto. Put a top on the pan and allow the flavors to come together for about a minute or two.
- Serve with cherry tomatoes.
Still not convinced you need this book in your life? You could just go check out the 2100+ 4 and 5-star reviews of Practical Paleo on Amazon…just saying. Oh, or go check out all of Diane’s other awesome work over at her website, Balanced Bites. Or her other books, The 21-Day Sugar Detox and The 21-Day Sugar Detox Cookbook. You know, because she’s a badass.