Melissa Joulwan

Story highlights

5 paleo-based health books for cleaning up your diet in the new year.

CNN —  

I remember the days when I rarely ate meat. For years, I’d been a committed vegetarian, and for the most part, I enjoyed the way I ate. The only issue with my plant-based diet arose in my early 20s. I was feeling sluggish and foggy-headed on a regular basis and decided it might be time to make a change. That’s when I began researching the paleo or “caveman” diet and started on a whole new wellness journey.

At its core, the paleo method encourages people to eat clean, whole foods and avoid anything processed (like packaged foods with hard-to-pronounce ingredients). The logic is that you avoid foods that are difficult for the body to process — such as sugar, dairy, grains and legumes — and, as a result, your body will experience less inflammation and should be able to naturally prevent (and heal) autoimmune diseases. When it comes to protein, paleo dieters push eating sustainably raised and fed meat to help prevent consumption of harmful chemicals and hormones while also preserving the environment. Essentially, when eating paleo, you’re living in a way that nature intended where whole, natural foods are your friend.

At first, I was hesitant to commit to a diet that relied heavily on meat and very little on grains, since foods such as quinoa and oats had formerly been major staples. But after just one month eating paleo, I was following a more varied diet (including more fish and other lean protein sources) and I felt stronger and more alert.

This change in my lifestyle happened in October 2015. Now, more than two years later, I’m still a paleo-based eater and I feel great. When it comes to energy, I can sustain throughout the day without running on sugary, carb-filled cereals. Just give me some sweet potato or a banana as my source of carbohydrate and I’m totally fine. Then, when it comes to protein, I’m still wary of straying far from fish, but I’m definitely more comfortable eating a bit of chicken here or there. And what about dairy? I’m totally fine with drinking my coffee black if I decide to have a cup. That’s the paleo way.

Most importantly, I’ve seen changes in my body when it comes to overall strength. Before going paleo, I was thin and could run short distances. But as for strength, forget it. Since that fall of 2015, when I hopped on the paleo wagon, I’ve run five half marathons, I can lift heavier than ever at the gym, my muscles are more defined, and I’m training harder than ever. In my mind, all of these positive changes and accomplishments stem from eating the right foods and fueling my body with clean, whole foods whenever possible.

When I initially started on my paleo-based journey, I wanted to learn all that I could from experts on the topic before committing. If you’re also curious about what all this paleo life entails, I’d advise first talking to your doctor, since everyone will react differently to eating and restricting certain foods. Then, I’d suggest doing your research and seeking advice from reliable references. Below, I’ve rounded up some of the most popular, top-rated and best-selling references on the topic. Keep scrolling to learn more.

“The Paleo Approach” by Sarah Ballantyne ($25;

Victory Belt

Best-selling author and paleo expert Sarah Ballantyne wrote “The Paleo Approach” as a way of helping those with autoimmune diseases try to heal themselves naturally via food. Ballantyne first started living paleo after having her second child. At that time, Ballantyne says, she was battling a whole host of health issues, including psoriasis, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, borderline diabetes, migraines, mild depression and anxiety. But after beginning to eat a paleo diet, Ballantyne says, her health drastically improved. “Within two weeks I was able to discontinue all six medications that I was taking at the time, health conditions that I had battled since my teenage years completely reversed, and I had more energy and better moods than I could ever remember,” Ballantyne said. In her best-selling book, “The Paleo Approach,” Ballantyne breaks down complicated scientific explanations so you can understand how to go about managing any autoimmune diseases you may have. Plus, in her book, Ballantyne provides over 200 nutritious and tasty recipes and 20 meal plans for various health goals.

Already a fan of “The Paleo Approach“? You can preorder Ballantyne’s new book “Paleo Principles” via Amazon now ($24.33;

“It Starts with Food” by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig ($16.89;

Victory Belt

Talk about a helpful reference! I’ve personally read this book covertocover at least twice. “It Starts with Food” was written by Whole30 program co-founders Dallas and Melissa Hartwig as a guide for those looking to revamp their relationship with food. It’s educational and covers complicated topics regarding bodily functions and digestion in an understandable manner, but it’s also meant to be a guide that helps reshape the way you eat forever — and not just for 30 days of the Whole30 Program. This book aims to outline and transform the way you think about food by having you start on the Whole30 diet for a month. Then the goal is that you’ll carry your newly learned habits over into your everyday life permanently.

“It Starts with Food” is also a New York Times best-seller that claims to contain knowledge for helping those suffering from diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, acne, psoriasis, sinus infections, allergies, migraines, PCOS, Lyme disease and more by teaching helpful dietary habits that they can use for life.

“Ready or Not!” By Michelle Tam and Henry Fong ($20.21;


From the creators of the New York Times best-selling cookbook “Nom Nom Paleo,” the “Ready or Not!” recipe book is for both those who love to plan their meals ahead (Hello, Instant Pot users!) and those who can’t be bothered to stand at the stove. Currently the No. 1 best-selling book on Amazon in the Gluten-Free Diets section, “Ready or Not!” provides make-ahead and make-now recipes for every kind of paleo-based eater.

Not one for complicated recipes? “Ready or Not!” presents cooking instructions in a comic-strip format with step-by-step photos so that you can see how each part should look as you go. With over 150 nutrient-rich, easy-to-make recipes (most of which are Whole30-compliant), “Ready or Not!” is the fun way to get your diet in check while eating a paleo-based diet.

“Practical Paleo” 2nd Edition by Diane Sanfilippo ($25.75;

Victory Belt

If you’re looking to get a grasp on the basics of paleo eating, you’ll want to read “Practical Paleo” (the 2nd edition) from New York Times best-selling author and certified holistic nutrition consultant Diane Sanfilippo.

The first edition of this book sold over half a million copies and spent 97 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Since then, the author expanded her original work to include two entirely new chapters and three monthlong meal plans.

What makes these books so popular is how Sanfilippo manages to break down the “why” behind avoiding grains, dairy, legumes and processed foods. Not only that, but she attempts to equip you with tools that will lead to long-lasting weight loss and solutions to other stubborn health issues.

Still not convinced? Don’t just take our word for it. On Amazon, this book has over 2,500 customers giving it a 4.7 out of 5-star rating. The simplicity and easy-to-understand practices behind “Practical Paleo” — or as readers have called it, “the paleo Bible” — is what makes this reference a trusty companion when getting started on your health journey.

“Well Fed Weeknights” by Melissa Joulwan ($18.09;


Best-selling author and award-winning paleo blogger Melissa Joulwan released the third of her “Well Fed” cookbooks in 2016 with the “Well Fed Weeknights” edition. The intention with this book was to provide paleo-based eaters with a whole host of “special and fast” recipe ideas that can be prepared in under 45 minutes. This concept of cooking paleo on the fly differs from Joulwan’s previous two books, “Well Fed” ($20.22; and “Well Fed 2” ($19.58;, where the goal was to teach people how to batch-cook paleo-based meals ahead of time. With her new book, however, Joulwan wanted to give people an option where they could cook paleo without having to spend hours planning and preparing. Thus, the concept behind “Well Fed Weeknights” was born when Joulwan tasked herself with buying ingredients for a single meal and testing it out in under 45 minutes.

“Every meal is thoroughly tested and easy to make, with affordable ingredients you can find at your neighborhood grocery store,” Joulwan said. If it’s as simple as the author says, I can’t wait to master healthy meals, such as the chicken pesto meatballs with zucchini noodles or the Tex-Mex skillet, in my own kitchen in under an hour.