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5 Paleo Meals that Beat Whole Grains at their Own Game

Building a Paleo meal

One of the big claims of conventional nutrition advice is that whole grains are “superfoods” incredibly high in various nutrients – just look at all the fiber and B vitamins and antioxidants! But it’s easy to come up with Paleo meals that are even better than grain-based meals – without the antinutrients and other bad stuff found in grains.

To prove it, here’s a look at 5 sample meals: an easy workday dinner, a hearty salad, an office lunch, a soup recipe, and a breakfast. For each meal, there’s a whole-grain-heavy alternative, plus a Paleo option with equal or better…

Technical notes, for the curious (skip this part if you just want the numbers):

1. Easy Workday Dinner

Need something quick for dinner? A big pile of brown rice with some protein and vegetables is a super healthy choice…until you put it next to a Paleo dinner! Take a look:

Workday Dinner Comparison

NutrientWhole-grain mealPaleo meal
Fiber9.2 grams9.6 grams
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)135%63%
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)79%111%
Niacin (Vitamin B3)90%128%
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)39%76%
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)85%175%
Folate (Vitamin B9)74%98%
AntioxidantsIn the grains and spinachIn the salmon, spinach, and onions

Antioxidant explanation: salmon is rich in the antioxidant mineral selenium; spinach and onions are rich in antioxidants like carotenoids and quercetin.

Salmon Florentine

Tasty B vitamins, delivered straight to your mouth.

Unless you’re seriously deficient in thiamin, the Paleo meal is clearly the more nutritious choice.

2. Hearty Salad

If you ask most recipe sites, “grain salad” is apparently a legitimate category of recipe, even though some of them don’t even seem to include anything green. So how do they stack up to a salad made of actual vegetables?

For a comprehensive comparison, there are two whole-grain meals here. One is a traditional pasta salad that you might see at any potluck; the other is a healthified organic quinoa salad that wouldn’t be out of place at a vegan health food convention:

Here are the nutrition facts for 1 cup of each salad:

Hearty Salad Comparison

NutrientWhole-grain meal 1 (pasta salad)Whole-grain meal 2 (quinoa salad)Paleo meal
Fiber3.7 grams3.2 grams6.1 grams
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)11%11%22%
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)8%12%11%
Niacin (Vitamin B3)17%6%10%
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)5%3%14%
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)10%11%24%
Folate (Vitamin B9)6%13%25%
AntioxidantsIn the pasta, tomatoes, and peppers (plus any spices/herbs in the dressing)In the quinoa and tomatoes (plus any spices/herbs in the dressing)In the beets, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes (plus any spices/herbs in the dressing)

Antioxidant explanation: Beets, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes are all rich in antioxidants. For example, beets get their color from betalains, which are highly anti-inflammatory.

No matter whether you’re looking at the classic pasta option or the trendier quinoa take on “grain salad,” making a hearty Paleo salad out of root vegetables still nets you a more nutritious meal.

3. Office Lunch

Need to grab something fast for lunch? The classic office lunch by conventional standards is a sandwich, but Paleo leftovers blow that out of the water for nutrient content. Compare…

Office Lunch Comparison

NutrientWhole-grain mealPaleo meal
Fiber4.7 grams5.85 grams
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)29%38.5%
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)34%61.5%
Niacin (Vitamin B3)37%83.5%
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)18%62%
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)33%61.5%
Folate (Vitamin B9)9%34.5%
AntioxidantsIn the whole grains, plus maybe a few in the mustardIn the broccoli, mushrooms, and onions

Antioxidant explanation: Broccoli is rich in all kinds of antioxidants, including flavonoids and vitamin C.

And when it comes to ease of packing, leftovers from dinner might also beat making a sandwich from scratch. Pretty much a win for the Paleo team here.

4. Hearty Comforting Soup

If you’ve ever tried to buy canned soup at a grocery store, you know how many soups put rice and barley and noodles in their recipes. Supposedly, all those “heart-healthy whole grains” make them more nutritious, but compare that to a Paleo choice:

Soup Comparison

NutrientWhole-grain mealPaleo meal
Fiber6.5 grams9.05 grams
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)23%19.25%
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)14%8%
Niacin (Vitamin B3)19%19.25%
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)7%22.25%
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)20%33.25%
Folate (Vitamin B9)9%12.75%
AntioxidantsIn the barley and the vegetables, depending on the specific vegetables in the soupAmong other antioxidants, the rich orange color of this soup comes from carotenoids in the squash and the sweet potato.

Antioxidant explanation: Among other antioxidants, the rich orange color of this soup comes from carotenoids in the squash and the sweet potato.

The fall vegetables in the Paleo soup pack a serious nutritional punch; nutritionally speaking, this soup is probably a better choice than the vegetable barley.

5. Breakfast

The first meal of the day comes last on the list, featuring a whole-grain English muffin vs. a tasty omelet:

Breakfast Comparison

NutrientWhole-grain mealPaleo meal
Fiber6.21 grams7 grams
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)22%41%
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)15%84%
Niacin (Vitamin B3)46%25%
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)17%74%
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)20%66%
Folate (Vitamin B9)15%43%
AntioxidantsIn the whole grainsAvocado and egg yolks

Antioxidant explanation: avocado is incredibly rich in antioxidants, but did you know that eggs also have significant antioxidant activity? It’s all in the yolk: antioxidants are the same chemicals that give the yolk its golden-yellow color.

avocado

On top of the fiber and B vitamins, avocados are also rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, and other nutrients.

Whole Grains Aren’t Necessary for a Balanced Diet!

Whole grains do have some nutritional content – this isn’t Wonderbread we’re talking about here. But it’s very simple to put together Paleo meals that match or beat grain-based meals in fiber, B vitamin, and antioxidant content. So now you have proof with specific numbers and even some recipes to go with them: nobody needs grains to get all the nutrition they need.