What’s a paleo diet

Contents

The Paleo Diet Food List: What To Eat and Avoid

The Paleolithic diet or “caveman diet” has been a popular approach to weight loss for years. Mainly because it works! And because unlike many fad diets that certainly “work” at targeting weight loss, the paleo diet also incorporates the basic principles of nutrition and is pretty sustainable long term.

Because of its simple principles and whole food approach to eating, it is pretty easy to tell which foods fit into a paleo meal plan and which don’t. Below is our complete list of paleo friendly foods to include in your diet as well as which foods to avoid.

What is Paleo?

The Paleo diet follows the basic principle of “eat foods a caveman would have access to.” Or better yet known as “eat whole foods.” This would include plenty of healthy fats, proteins and produce, but exclude grains, dairy and processed foods. This diet also emphasizes grass-fed, wild caught and free range options – similar to the type of protein options a caveman would have to hunt or gather on their own.

The theory behind this style of eating stems from the theory that our DNA make-up has changed very little since paleolithic times, yet our diets have changed drastically. And paleo advocates argue that we have fallen susceptible to numerous diet related diseases because of our modern diet (1).

While the research behind this theory is far from conclusive, a well executed paleo diet is one way to focus on nutrient dense foods and might be a sustainable approach to weight loss and better health for some.

The Benefits Of A Paleo Diet

Perhaps one of the largest benefits of a paleo diet, from a nutritional standpoint, is that it is a balanced way of eating. This sets most participants up with a great framework for not only losing weight, but actually eating a healthier diet.

Growing research continues to suggest that eating a diet consisting of mostly whole foods is associated with more weight loss (2,3,4). Not to mention that highly processed foods tend to be higher in added sugar, sodium and trans fats, which research suggests may play a role in increased inflammation and actually counteract your weight loss efforts (5).

Is Paleo Gluten Free?

Because a paleo diet excludes all grains – including wheat, rye and barley, a paleo diet is also naturally gluten-free. And for those looking to avoid gluten, paleo options are a safe bet!

How a Paleo Diet Helps With Weight Loss

An added benefit of the paleo diet is the simplicity of it. The rule to “eat foods a caveman would have access to” makes it very easy to shop, plan, and stick with the diet.

Even when eating out, or ordering food, it is still relatively easy to differentiate between processed foods and whole foods “a caveman would have access too.”

Because of the simplicity of a paleo diet, it does not require participants to do too much thinking. While calories in versus calories out is the most basic rule to weight loss, a paleo diet takes a lot of thinking out of dieting. As long as you are eating whole, nutritious foods, you will probably find that weight loss will follow naturally—mainly because this style of eating cuts calories automatically.

And while this certainly is not a “one size fits all” approach to dieting, most people will find that if they are filling their body natural, whole, nutrient-dense foods, it will have a substantial impact on your overall weight and body composition as opposed to processed foods.

One study even suggested that your body may burn twice as many calories digesting less processed foods (2).

A Comprehensive Paleo Diet Food List

Paleo foods include plenty of plant based fats, grass-fed and wild caught proteins, and nearly all fruits and vegetables. Here are all of the foods considered to be “paleo.”

Paleo Proteins

Protein is a staple of the caveman diet- specifically options that are grass-fed, wild caught or organic, as these options are often from animals raised in environments that encourage natural behavior. And because our ancestors didn’t just live off chicken and beef, they hunted a wide variety of meat, the more variety you can add to your proteins, the better!

The best paleo proteins include:

Grass-fed Meat

  • Beef
  • Steak
  • Bison
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Goat
  • Veal

Game Meat

  • Venison
  • Elk
  • Antelope
  • Wild Boar
  • Rabbit
  • Moose
  • Emu

Poultry

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Quail
  • Goose
  • Ostrich
  • Duck

Wild Caught Seafood

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Tuna
  • Cod
  • Tilapia
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Grouper
  • Catfish
  • Trout
  • Bass
  • Haddock
  • Walleye

Shellfish

  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Clams
  • Lobster
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Mussels
  • Crawfish

Other Proteins

  • Free Range Eggs

Paleo Carbs

Because a paleo diet eliminates all grains, this diet tends to be naturally low in carbohydrates. But if you are looking to add some more carbs to your meal plan, here are the best starchy foods that are also paleo:

Starchy Vegetables

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Yams
  • Acorn Squash
  • Butternut Squash
  • Beets

Sugary Fruits

  • Mangos
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Figs
  • Dates
  • Guava
  • Pineapple
  • Papaya
  • Lychee

Paleo Fats

Many plant based fats – like nuts and seeds, as well as less processed oils fit into a paleo diet. However, it is important to note that fats are also an easy source of calories and if you are looking to lose weight on a paleo diet, you’ll want to limit your portion sizes for these foods:

Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Almond Butter (no added sugar)
  • Cashews
  • Cashew Butter (no added sugar)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Chia Seeds
  • Flax Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Pine nuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Oils and Butters

  • Coconut Oil
  • Coconut Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Avocado Oil

Other Fats

  • Olives
  • Avocado
  • Tahini
  • Shredded Coconut
  • Cacao

Paleo Fruits

Just about any fruit or dried fruit (as long as no sugar is added) can fit into your paleo meal plan. Look for more low carb options like these:

  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Raspberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Blackberries
  • Plums
  • Blueberries
  • Jicama

Paleo Veggies

Just like fruit, pretty much all vegetables work on a paleo diet. And non-starchy veggies like the following tend to be low in calories and high in nutrients, meaning your should aim to get a good amount of the following in your diet:

  • Kale
  • Broccoli Rabe
  • Jalapenos
  • Watercress
  • Bok Choy
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Swiss Chard
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radishes
  • Asparagus
  • White Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Portobello Mushroom
  • Onion
  • Bamboo Shoots
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumbers
  • Leeks
  • Turnips
  • Cauliflower
  • Bell Peppers
  • Kohlrabi
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Green Beans (cooked only)
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Fennel
  • Oyster Mushrooms
  • Rutabaga
  • Artichoke
  • Pumpkin

Paleo Sweeteners

While majority of added sugar is not paleo friendly, some natural sweeteners can be used in moderation on this diet:

Natural sweeteners

  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Date Paste

Paleo Drinks

Look for simple drink options, made without artificial sweetener or too much added sugar, like the following:

  • Water
  • Coffee (No cream or sugar)
  • Unsweetened Teas
  • Coconut water
  • Bone broth
  • Sparkling Water (no added sugar or artificial sweetener)

Non-Paleo Foods To Avoid

While a paleo diet has a general “whole food” approach to eating, there are still many traditional health foods that are not considered paleo – like dairy, legumes and whole grains, because they were not commonly consumed by our ancestors.

A more controversial argument for why legumes and common grains are avoided is because of their high phytic acid content, which is thought to reduce the absorption of certain nutrients like iron zinc and calcium (6). However, phytic acid is also found in many paleo approved foods (like almonds and hazelnuts), and is associated with some health benefits – like protective benefits against kidney stones, antioxidant properties and a suggested link to lower risk for colon cancer (7,8,9). Bottom line, there really isn’t any evidenced based reason to avoid these foods because of phytic acid.

And as for dairy, the research behind whether or not dairy is bad for you, isn’t very conclusive either.

Some people have digestive issues when eating beans, legumes, grains and dairy, for a variety of health reasons. And if any of these foods don’t work with your body, this is probably the best excuses to avoid them.

Because of the debate around these foods, there is a lot of confusion, and some people will choose a more modified paleo diet that still has some dairy or legumes included. But a true paleo diet does not include any of the following:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Green Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Snow Peas
  • Soy Beans
  • Tofu
  • Miso
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut Butter
  • Cows Milk
  • Goats Milk
  • Sheep’s Milk
  • Cheese
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Ice cream
  • Yogurt
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Crackers
  • Barley
  • Ancient Grains
  • Cereal Grains

Starchy Veggies

  • Regular Potatoes
  • Yucca

Processed Cooking Oils

  • Vegetable Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Peanut Oil
  • Palm Oil

Other Processed Foods and Ingredients

  • Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, xylitol, erythritol
  • Refined Sugars: Brown sugar, table sugar, agave, corn syrup
  • Processed Meats: hot dogs, spam
  • Packaged Foods and Snacks
  • Fruit Juices
  • Candy
  • Chips
  • Popcorn
  • Soda
  • Alcohol

Tips For Shopping Paleo

If you are new to eating paleo, this may seem like a big change to your life. Cutting out grains, processed foods, dairy, and a load of other relatively common items may seem overwhelming.

Here are some tips we have to simplify the process and put your worries at ease.

1) Plan Your Meals

If you are struggling on where to begin, planning out meals that you enjoy and then figuring out a way to make that meal paleo will be a good place to start. Instead of immediately switching to a diet full of chicken and broccoli, find ways to get creative with the process so that you can cook food you genuinely enjoy.

Yes, even paleo food can be delicious; it just takes a little bit of creativity and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Here are some ideas for creative paleo meals.

2) Make A List

Once you have decided what meals you want to make for the week, create a list of all of the ingredients you need to make that food. As simple as this sounds, it will make it much easier for you to stick to a set plan and not get too deep into the aisles of a grocery store.

Having something as simple as a grocery list will keep you on track and ensure you get exactly what you came for. It will also help familiarize you with where to find these paleo-friendly foods in your local store.

3) Shop Outside The Aisles

If all else fails, this simple rule of thumb may make it really easy to shop for paleo foods. The layout of most grocery stores is quite simple: in the inner aisles you will typically find packaged, processed foods. Things like bread, pasta, cereal, flour, sugar, etc. For the most part, many of the foods stocked in the inner aisles of a grocery store will probably be “non-paleo approved items.”

Every now and then you may find some “paleo” food items in the inner aisles (a lot of paleo-approved flours may be in the inner aisles of a grocery store), but that is an exception, not the rule.

Typically, if you are shopping the outer aisles of a grocery store there will be a produce, meat, poultry, eggs, and bulk food section. All of these areas tend to provide you with the foundation of a paleo diet, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and meats.

If you find yourself lacking a clear direction when grocery shopping, using this simple rule should help you create a clear path and help you avoid the variety of temptation within the aisles.

Paleo Meal Delivery

If you are new to a paleo diet, it may be in your best interest to start out with a structured meal delivery service. Starting a new diet can be challenging, especially when you really don’t know where to begin and aren’t ready to spend hours researching ways to make creative paleo meals.

Utilizing a meal delivery service like Trifecta, that can send you fresh, ready-to-eat creative paleo meals, will help you get started on your new lifestyle!

Learn more about the paleo meals Trifecta has to offer here:

Here at PaleoPlan, we believe that you should have a simple guide to help you easily say “yes” or “no” to certain foods. In addition to our Paleo diet food list, you should also consider using our free Paleo recipes, or try our Paleo Meal Plan free for 14 days.

The PaleoPlan meal plan makes following a Paleo diet really easy, since your menus, recipes, shopping lists, and even prep notes are all laid out for you.

In general, eating Paleo means eating veggies, fruits, meats, fish, certain fats, nuts, and seeds. It means removing grains (breads, pastas, rice, etc), beans, soy, dairy, certain vegetable oils, and refined sugar from your diet. But you probably want more details than that, right?

Below, you’ll find our complete Paleo Food List. This is a list of foods and to what extent they are accepted as Paleo. Our guidelines are created using a mixture of all of the Paleo gurus’ philosophies and research, our own beliefs, and what is realistic to implement in your daily life.

For all of the foods listed, our hope is that you choose the highest quality that you can afford, i.e. grass-fed and pastured meats when available instead of conventional meats, as well as organic and local produce when it is an option.

Quick-Start Paleo Food List

While we go into more detail below, here is a quick rundown of the basics:

  • Meats: most kinds, ideally pasture-raised or grass-fed, including organ meats
  • Seafood: most kinds, ideally wild-caught
  • Vegetables: any kind, ideally organic and local
  • Eggs: any kind, ideally pasture-raised or free-range
  • Fruit: any kind, all in moderation, ideally organic
  • Nuts and seeds: all kinds, in moderation, ideally organic and with no added oils
  • Certain oils and fats: mainly saturated and monounsaturated fats (few polyunsaturated fats), ideally organic and unrefined

Foods to Avoid

Before we dive into the enormous list of food that you can enjoy on a Paleo diet, here are the basics of what you should avoid.

No grains are Paleo, even gluten-free grains. All grains should be eliminated when adopting a Paleo diet. This includes, but not limited to:

  • Wheat
  • Rice
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Corn
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Teff
  • Sorghum
  • Oats
  • Buckwheat
  • Spelt

This includes all products made with these ingredients such as flours, pastas, breads, cakes, cookies, bagels, muffins, tortillas, chips, and the like.

Learn more: Why No Grains and Legumes

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes aren’t Paleo because they’re difficult to digest, similar to grains. Beans and legumes include, but are not limited to:

  • Soy (tofu, tempeh, miso, soy sauce, soy lecithin)
  • Lentils
  • Black beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Red beans
  • Peanuts
  • White beans
  • Garbanzo beans

Peas and green beans are acceptable, even though sometimes they’re categorized as legumes.

Learn more: Are Green Beans and Snow Peas Paleo?

We know it’s a bummer for most to hear that dairy isn’t Paleo, but most people struggle to digest it but don’t notice till they actually take a step away from it.

These forms of dairy are not Paleo, including:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Sour cream
  • Dairy creamer
  • Buttermilk
  • Powdered milk

The only exceptions that are allowable on most Paleo diets are butter and ghee. However, these should still only be consumed if you know you’re not sensitive to them. If you’re brand new to Paleo, we recommend at least 30 days away from all forms of dairy, including butter and ghee.

Learn more: Is Grass-Fed Butter Paleo?

High Omega-6 Vegetable Oils

Vegetable oils aren’t really made from vegetables, which is why we’re still really confused how they came upon that name. They are usually made from junk oils that really aren’t fit for human consumption. These oils are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation (as opposed to omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory). They are debatably one of the major causes of heart disease, and are basically junk oils. While saturated fat remains demonized by mainstream nutrition, it really isn’t the culprit in poor health. These omega-6, junky oils are far more devastating for long-term health.

Vegetable oils to avoid include, but are not limited to:

  • Butter alternatives
  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Crisco
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Margarine
  • Palm oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Shortening
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Vegetable oil

Learn more: The Complete Guide to Saturated Fat

Refined Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners

Basically, on a Paleo diet, you want to avoid all added sugars except for the few that are Paleo friendly. Sugar doesn’t refer to naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, but rather added sugars that are found in many processed foods.

Added sugars and sweeteners to avoid include, but are not limited to:

  • Cane sugar
  • Cane syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Agave
  • Corn syrup (in any form, including high-fructose)
  • Glucose syrup (another name for corn syrup)
  • Dextrose or anything ending in “-ose”
  • Malt syrup
  • Splenda
  • Aspartame
  • Equal
  • Truvia
  • Sucralose

Too much sugar can make you gain weight and feel lethargic, but it can also strongly affect your mood and wellbeing. It’s not fun to take it out of your diet, and you will have cravings for it. But if you can make it through the first few days, it will get better every day from there.

Learn more: 6 Reasons Why You Should Stop Eating Sugar for 30 Days (or Longer)

Iodized Table Salt

Table salt is common, but it is actually a highly refined product that is missing its natural nutrients. Instead of iodized table salt, eat sea salt instead.

Many types of table salt contain preservatives, anti-caking agents, and other chemicals. Avoid refined salts and regular table salts, because the refining process removes precious trace minerals while introducing chemical additives. Instead, opt for a natural, unrefined salt for a more intense flavor as well as extra trace minerals.

In contrast, unrefined salts are essential for good health and include all varieties of rock and sea salt that have not been stripped of minerals or had other ingredients added. Natural, unrefined sea salt provides a number of nutrients and minerals, in a form that the body recognizes and can use.

Learn more: The Detailed Guide to Dietary Salt

Processed, Hydrogenated, and Refined Foods

There’s a lot of gray area here, but in general, if you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce an ingredient on the label of a food, it’s probably not Paleo. Avoid all foods containing “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” ingredients.

Learn more: 22 Swaps to Make Your Next Meal More Paleo

Certain Seafoods

All species of seafood are totally Paleo, but you will want to avoid certain kinds of larger predatory fish because they have been alive for many years and accumulate heavy metals, like mercury, in their bodies. These primarily include:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish

Learn more: Is Fish Paleo?

Foods to Eat on a Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is rich in nutrients and plenty of variety, so you don’t ever have to be bored or hungry! While it does take some getting used to, with the right tools, you’ll be a Paleo pro in no time.

Proteins

Anchovies
Bacon
Bass
Beef
Beef liver
Bison
Chicken
Chicken eggs
Chicken liver
Clams
Cod
Deer
Duck
Duck eggs
Elk
Emu
Goat
Goose
Haddock
Halibut
Ham
Lamb
Ostrich
Oysters
Pheasant
Pork
Quail
Rabbit
Salmon
Sardines
Scallops
Shellfish, all kinds
Shrimp
Snapper
Sole
Tilapia
Trout
Tuna
Turkey
Veal
Venison

Learn more: Paleo Cooking 101: How to Cook Meat Like a Pro

Vegetables and Fruits

Algaes
Apples, all kinds
Apricots
Artichoke
Arugula
Asparagus
Avocado
Bananas
Beets
Beet greens
Bell peppers
Blackberries
Blueberries
Bok choy
Broccoli
Broccoli raab
Broccolini
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Cantaloupe
Carrots
Cauliflower
Celery
Chard
Cherries
Coconut
Collard greens
Cranberries
Cucumber
Dandelion greens
Dates
Eggplant
Endive
Figs
Garlic
Grapefruit
Grapes
Green beans
Herbs, all kinds
Honeydew
Kale
Kelp
Kiwifruit
Kohlrabi
Kombu
Kumquats
Leeks
Lemons
Lettuces, all kinds
Limes
Mangoes
Mushrooms
Nectarines
Olives
Onions, all kinds
Oranges
Papaya
Parsnips
Passionfruit
Peaches
Pears
Persimmon
Pineapple
Plums
Pomegranate
Radicchio
Radish
Raspberries
Rhubarb
Sea vegetables, all kinds
Seaweeds
Snow peas
Spinach
Squash, all kinds
Star fruit
Strawberries
Sugar snap peas
Sweet peas
Sweet peppers
Sweet potatoes
Tangelos
Tangerines
Tomatillos
Tomatoes
Turnips
Wakame
Watercress
Watermelon
White potatoes
Zucchini

Learn more: How to Start Eating Vegetables (When You Don’t Like Them)

Nuts and Seeds and Their Products

Almonds
Almond butter (unsweetened)
Almond milk (unsweetened)
Brazil nuts
Cashews
Cashew butter (unsweetened)
Chestnuts
Chia seeds
Coconut
Flaxseeds
Hazelnuts
Hemp hearts
Macadamia nuts
Pecans
Pine nuts
Pistachios
Pumpkin seeds
Sesame seeds
Sunflower seeds
Sunflower butter (unsweetened)
Walnuts

Learn more: The Food Lover’s Guide to Paleo Snacks

Fats and Oils

Avocado oil
Coconut oil
Coconut cream
Coconut milk, full fat
Duck fat
Flaxseed oil
Ghee
Hempseed oil
Lard
Macadamia oil
Olive oil, extra virgin
Paleo mayonnaise
Tallow
Walnut oil

Learn more: Have a Change of Heart About Cholesterol: Cholesterol Is Healthy

Sweeteners

Coconut nectar
Coconut sugar
Date sugar
Honey, raw
Maple sugar
Maple syrup, grade B
Molasses
Stevia leaf, pure

Learn more: Paleo Sweeteners 101

Paleo Baking Flours

Almond flour
Arrowroot powder
Cassava flour
Coconut flour
Hazelnut flour
Tapioca starch

Learn more: What Is the Best Paleo Baking Flour?

Condiments and Cooking Ingredients

Apple cider vinegar
Applesauce (unsweetened)
Balsamic vinegar
Cacao, raw
Cacao nibs
Cacao powder
Coconut aminos
Fish sauce
Red wine vinegar
Tomato paste
Worcestershire sauce (corn-free)

Learn more: The Complete Guide to Shopping Paleo

Drinks

Black coffee (in moderation)
Black tea (in moderation)
Bone broth
Coconut water
Club soda
Green tea
Herbal tea
Kombucha
Matcha
Seltzer
Sparkling water (without artificial ingredients)
Water, filtered or spring
Water kefir
Wine (in moderation)
White tea (in moderation)

Learn more: The Ultimate Guide to Paleo Drinks

Bottom Line

Basically, it all comes down to eating real food. Our bodies are engineered to utilize the nutrients found in whole foods in their natural form. The same cannot be said for the man-made chemicals that are now abundantly found in our food supply. Our bodies don’t know what to do with these foreign chemicals and altered foods.

Longterm results of following a highly processed diet are not good, and in fact, is largely why chronic conditions are rampant in our modern world. These processed and refined ingredients make our immune systems overly sensitive and can trigger countless disease states.

There is a time and a place for being really strict with your diet, like when you have food intolerance, allergy, or sensitivity, or when you’re facing other chronic health problems. Elite athletes and other high-performing people will also need to stay strict with a diet.

For everyone else who’s just trying to live a healthy lifestyle and have fun while doing it, give yourself a break sometimes and focus on what feeds your body as well as your soul.

What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:

Does It Work?

Eliminating all grains, dairy, processed foods, sugar, and more will most likely lead to weight loss, but it may be a tough plan to follow long term due to the dietary limitations and restrictions.

There are several studies on certain aspects of the Paleo Diet. While they may not support all the claims made in the book, they have found that a diet rich in lean protein and plant-based foods can make you feel fuller, help control blood sugar levels, and help you lose weight.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

The author claims there are clinical trials that show a paleo diet can lower the risk of heart disease, blood pressure, and inflammation, plus lose weight, reduce acne, and promote optimum health and athletic performance. But many experts are not so sure and more research is needed.

Eliminating salt and processed foods makes this low-sodium diet good for people with high blood pressure.

Check with your doctor before starting on this plan.

The Final Word

If you’re able to spend the money buying more whole, unprocessed foods and are willing to dedicate the time in the kitchen to preparing them, then this plan may help you lose weight.

To help fill in the nutrient gaps, supplement the plan with a multivitamin.

If you prefer a more flexible approach to weight loss that’s less focused on meat and offers a wider variety of foods, look for another plan.

The Paleo Diet for Beginners

Claudia Totir/Getty Images

The paleo diet has been reported to eliminate bloating, clear up acne, eradicate seasonal allergies, free you from migraines, and even help you shed a few pounds. CrossFitters swear by it and celebs like Jessica Biel, Megan Fox, Blake Lively, and Gwyneth Paltrow have followed it. (Before you read on: No, the keto diet and paleo diet are not the same.)

But what exactly is the paleo diet, where did it come from, what are its benefits, what foods are allowed on the plan? Allow experts to explain.

What is the paleo diet?

The basic paleo diet food list calls for skipping grains (both refined and whole), legumes, packaged snacks, dairy, and sugar in favor of vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, fats, and oils.

All the paleo diet info you need to know can be summed up in 10 commandments:

  1. Thou shalt not eat processed foods.
  2. Honor thy egg, nut, and (grass-fed) meat.
  3. Thou shalt refuse refined sugars and grains.
  4. Thou shalt give up gluten.
  5. Remember thy natural sweeteners (raw honey, dates, maple syrup).
  6. Thou shalt bypass beans and legumes-yes, that means you, peanut butter!
  7. Thou shalt avoid most alcohols. (Non-colored spirits, like vodka and gin, are best.)
  8. Honor thy coconut (flour, oil, water, etc.).
  9. Thou shalt vary thy veggies.
  10. Thou shalt not sip sugars.

Where did the paleo diet come from?

Only our cave(wo)man ancestors can know for sure when the paleo diet came into existence. The modern hunter-gatherer-inspired plan began in 1985 with a research study in the New England Journal of Medicine, says Loren Cordain, Ph.D., author of The Paleo Diet and professor emeritus at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO, who pioneered research about the eating plan. From there, Cordain and a few other scientists began investigating and writing papers and books on the topic. The paleo diet really picked up steam in 2008 thanks to, well, the internet and the rise of old-school workout programs like CrossFit (and a desire to eat in a similarly classic manner). “It spread like wildfire as people saw positive results and shared them online,” says Cordain. (It’s worth wondering: Did Cavemen Really Eat the Paleo Diet?)

What are the benefits of the paleo diet?

While eliminated bloat, no more acne, and a lack of migraines are certainly not guarantees, cleaning up your diet and focusing on whole, fresh foods is definitely a good idea. “Real foods in the right portions help you feel more satisfied because they help keep blood sugar levels even and your hunger hormones balanced,” says Diane Sanfilippo, a holistic nutritionist and author of Practical Paleo. (Related: Why Paleo Is the Most Popular Diet Choice Among Americans)

About 70 percent of the average American’s diet consists of processed sugars, grains, dairy, and vegetable oils (often hidden in favorite items like bagels, ice cream, and pizza, among other foods), too. And eating a paleo means avoiding those processed foods. “This forces people to shop the perimeter of the grocery store for real, living foods like our ancestors ate. The paleo diet is very sustainability-minded since it’s all about eating what’s naturally available,” explains Cordain.

Of course, the diet has its critics. “All of the foods allowed are nutritious—it’s some of what’s not allowed that worries me,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., author of The Flexitarian Diet. “I love the focus on eating fruits and vegetables, giving refined sugar the ax, and ditching processed food, but restricting whole grains, potatoes, legumes, and dairy isn’t healthy.”

Clean out your kitchen.

Gather all the “no” foods on the paleo diet food list—grains, cereal, vegetable oils, beans, yogurt, cheese, milk, packaged foods, you get it—and toss them. Doing it all at once has an advantage. “It’s easier to avoid temptation if it’s not there,” says Nell Stephenson, author of Paleoista, Gain Energy, Get Lean and Feel Fabulous with the Diet You Were Born to Eat.

But if you prefer to baby-step your way into the paleo diet, that works too. Perhaps you cut out dairy the first week, eliminate refined grains during week two, skip all grains the next week, and so on until you’re following a paleo diet. Either way, be sure to restock your kitchen with whole foods so you have plenty to work with to design a paleo diet for beginners meal plan.

Pinpoint your motivation.

Many people turn to paleo in an attempt to help with medical issues, such as GI problems, autoimmune conditions, and allergies. (Related: What Going Paleo Did to My Body) Some simply want to feel better day-to-day or believe that it’s the healthiest way to eat. Your reason will help determine the guidelines you follow and what you want to be meticulous about, Sanfilippo says. And be strict about your personal rules for the first 30 days, Stephenson recommends. “This is enough time to start noticing all the health benefits.”

Follow the 85/15 rule.

After the first month, many experts recommend the 85/15 approach, meaning 85 percent of the time you’re strictly paleo, leaving 15 percent for non-paleo stuff, whether that’s a granola bar (you can opt for this paleo granola recipe), a hamburger (bun and all) at a cookout, or cocktails with the girls. Pay attention to how you feel after reintroducing things into your diet, Sanfilippo says. For example, if you have a scoop of ice cream and wake up bloated the next day, you may decide that future discomfort isn’t worth it. (Related: Why the 80/20 Rule Is the Gold Standard of Dietary Balance)

Cook Paleo Recipes

Because the diet is based on whole, fresh foods, it’s easier to whip up paleo recipes at home rather than eat in a restaurant where it’s harder to control what ingredients are used. Take this opportunity to experiment with new foods-maybe even challenge yourself to buy the weirdest-looking vegetable at the farmer’s market and ask the seller for advice on how best to prepare it. You can also search online or invest in some paleo diet cookbooks for recipe inspiration so your meals stay flavorful and aren’t just plain seared chicken breast with plain kale and carrots. (One fun paleo recipe idea? This loaded paleo buddha bowl.)

Expect a setback (or two).

“It’s totally normal to go paleo and slip back into your normal eating habits,” Sanfilippo says. “But don’t feel like a failure. It’s a learning process.” Find like-minded people following the diet through local groups, blogs, forums, and Facebook, and connect with them to help steer you back on track—and keep you there.

Become a food label decoder.

You know to skip doughnuts, cookies, and crackers, but some foods are surprisingly not paleo: peanut butter (it’s a legume); nut butters or dried fruit with added sugars; and soy sauce, malt vinegar, lunch meats, and many marinades and sauces, because they often contain soy, gluten, preservatives, and sugar. (FYI: Coconut aminos make a great paleo-friendly soy sauce swap.) Be sure to read the ingredients list closely when buying anything in a package.

Rethink your plate.

You’ve been taught to reserve half your plate for veggies, a quarter for lean protein, and the remaining quarter for whole grains. When you adopt the paleo diet, stop holding a place for grains: A balanced plate consists of a palm-sized portion of protein, a dollop of fat, and veggies, veggies, veggies (fill the rest of your plate with them). (Related: How Many Carbs Should You Eat In a Day?)

Make an oil change.

Instead of reaching for canola, corn, or soybean oil for sautéing, use coconut oil or lard. Really. These high-quality saturated fats are healthy to cook with because they are more stable and won’t oxidize when heated (oxidation releases damaging free radicals). And when it comes to lard, “animal fats-if from grass-fed cows-pack more omega-3s, as well as a type of fat called conjugated linoleic acid, which some studies suggest may help burn fat,” Sanfilippo says. Some experts also recommend butter from grass-fed cows, but many restrict dairy of any kind. (The choice is yours.) For cold applications, use olive oil, avocado oil, and walnut oil.

Eat meat.

“Many people have restricted meat from their diet because they believe it is harmful to their health. You can eat meat—just make sure it’s high quality,” says Cordain. So say goodbye to processed meats such as bologna, salami, and hot dogs. Wild meats like bison, elk, and boar are the ideal choice, followed by pasture-fed meats and poultry, and lean grain-fed meat should be your last pick. For seafood, opt for wild-caught as often as possible. Sustainable, low-mercury choices are best. (Related: Easy Paleo Appetizers and Snacks for a Perfect Party)

Fool your sweet tooth.

Giving up sugar is a major hurdle during the paleo diet for beginners. If you love to have a treat after dinner, swap the cookies or fro-yo for a piece of fresh fruit. (For major sugar cravings, Sanfilippo says a paleo secret is a little bit of dried mango.) With time, your taste buds will adjust-and that Oreo you loved so much before might become too sweet now, Sanfilippo adds. Seriously!

Eat out with ease.

A business dinner or brunch with your best friend is still doable on the paleo diet. All it takes is a little ingredient sleuthing, Stephenson says. First, look at the menu ahead of time and pick one or two options that you can paleo-ize. That might be wild salmon with broccoli. (Request double the veggies in place of the rice pilaf.) At the restaurant, don’t be shy to ask questions about how things are prepared and request changes, if necessary.

  • By By Jessica Girdwain and Karla Walsh

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Paleo is a hot topic these days, but what does it mean exactly, why do people do it, and what does it encompass? We are excited to offer these answers and more in today’s sponsored post by our friend Allison Stevens, who is a chef and nutritionist with her company Prep Dish and also lives the paleo(-ish, as she puts it) life. She offers her insight and story below.

My Story

by Allison Stevens

Paleo often gets a bad rap. And I have to admit, I used to think this diet trend (based on eating similar to our Paleolithic ancestors) was ridiculous because I didn’t truly understand it. Today, I am proud to say I am, what I call, Paleo-ish. Here is what I mean by this and why I choose to eat this way.

At the core, what most widely seems to be considered Paleo is eating real food—principles that are very similar to Lisa’s. Although Paleo goes a step farther, following the principle that if a food item wasn’t eaten thousands of years ago, pre-agriculture, don’t eat it. This not only eliminates processed foods from your diet, but also food such as grains and legumes. There are foods that are allowed and avoided when following a Paleo lifestyle, as outlined below.

The following are allowed on the traditional Paleo diet:

  • Veggies – There are many veggies allowed, I never get bored or run out of options!
  • Grass-fed & pastured meats
  • Sustainable seafood
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Fruit
  • Grass-fed dairy

The following are avoided on the Paleo diet:

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Sugars
  • Most processed foods

Why I Call Myself Paleo-ish

Four years ago I discovered I was gluten intolerant (believe me, as a dietitian, this came as a shock!). When I removed gluten from my diet, I had more energy. My occasional bouts of nausea or digestive problems disappeared. Better yet, I stopped getting sick as often as I used to! I used to think that getting sick a few times a year (colds and usually one episode of strep throat) was just the norm.

In addition, while I was never quite overweight when I was eating gluten, I certainly looked “puffy” in pictures taken prior to going gluten-free (likely inflammation from the gluten).

Allison Stevens before and after starting her “paleo-ish” lifestyle.

After removing gluten, I became much more aware of how food makes me feel. Sugar is not something I eat daily since it really impacts my energy levels. For example, I am aware of how much sugar I consume, and I limit it to an occasional piece of dark chocolate or a gluten-free brownie or cupcake on special occasions. I also found that other grains, especially oats, cause stomach pains, and thus I eliminated oats from my diet. Slowly but surely, I was unknowingly becoming Paleo.

I was eating a primarily Paleo diet without even realizing it and have since come to embrace a Paleo-ish lifestyle. Personally, I think Paleo’s strength is that it is based on following a healthy diet with real foods at its core. What I’ve come to realize is that, just as everyone has their own personal definition of real food, the definition of Paleo varies from person to person. Indeed, it has been said that there are as many definitions of Paleo as there are practitioners.

The Guidelines I Follow

There are a lot of gray areas in following the Paleo lifestyle; this is how I choose to handle them. Maybe you do the same?

Dairy

Some Paleo folks shun dairy. I find that as long as I stick to low-lactose cheeses and avoid heavy cream, I’m fine. I choose grass-fed dairy whenever possible.

Legumes

While I don’t actively add beans into my diet, I don’t avoid beans, either. I lump foods such as green beans and peanut butter into this category.

Gluten-Free Grains

I still eat rice and quinoa on occasion, and okay, gluten-free pizza as a treat (this is so not Paleo!).

Alcohol

I enjoy having a glass of red wine with dinner and include this as part of my regular diet most days of the week. Here I have a confession: when I met my fiancé, I was nervous when I learned he was Paleo because I was afraid this meant he didn’t drink!

Bison Chili by Chef Allison Stevens/PrepDish.com

Many of you reading this will recognize that I don’t follow Paleo precisely. Those of you with an auto-immune condition may follow a stricter version of a Paleo diet for health reasons. The overall goal, I believe, is to eat healthier, less processed foods in order to feel better. Everyone has a different definition of what that means for them, and that’s okay.

A Day in the Life

For example, here’s a day in the life of my Paleo-ish diet:

Breakfast: Caramelized onion, mushroom, potato, & chicken sausage frittata

Lunch: Butternut squash & bison chili

Dinner: Paprika roasted chicken leg with trio of roasted root veggies, side salad, & glass of old vine Zinfandel

I cook Paleo meals just like the ones above for my fiancé, friends, and clients, and I don’t feel the need to advertise it as Paleo. There’s a good chance that some of your favorite real food meals are Paleo already! I find Paleo to be very approachable and enjoyable and most of all – healthy!

I’m really lucky that I can use my personal experience in my working world as well. Here’s more on how that has evolved.

Prep Dish Meal Planning Service

I have run a successful personal chef company in Austin, Texas, for the past five years, preparing meals for my many clients – individuals, busy families, and even celebrities.

After a few years of owning and operating my business, I realized I could reach a much larger audience with my healthy foods by creating meal plans so that families and individuals everywhere could use my recipes and procedures for prepping meals ahead of time. I strongly believe that having prep work done in advance is the KEY to actually enjoying your meals.

So my company, PrepDish.com, was born. I provide subscribers with a weekly meal plan that includes a grocery list and instructions for spending 2 to 3 hours prepping meals ahead of time (on the weekend, if you prefer). All of the meals are gluten-free and based on real foods – my version of Paleo. I also have strict Paleo meal plans available, if desired.

With my meal plans, I aim to make healthy eating approachable. I also take care of the planning so that meal prep is as quick and efficient as possible.

I personally follow my own prep ahead method in order to have food on the table after my workday. What does this look like? Once a week I spend 2 to 3 hours prepping my food for the week. That way, at 5:00 pm I’m not scrambling to make dinner. Instead, I pre-heat the oven and pop in a delicious Chilean sea bass and an assortment of roasted veggies that I’ve pre-cut (how’s that for “convenience food?!”).

A Special Deal for You!

Does chipotle shrimp with asparagus and sweet potato wedges sound good to you? How about spinach pesto chicken with zucchini noodles? Do you want to add variety to your Paleo lifestyle or want to experiment with the diet for the first time, perhaps for your own personal health reasons or just to get more whole foods in your diet?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then please try a FREE week of PrepDish Paleo! Sign up for my newsletter on PrepDish.com. Plus use code “REALFOODB25″ to receive 25% off your subscription.*

For those of you that are Paleo-curious, this is a great way to get your feet wet! I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Paleo lifestyle in the comments.

*This is <$1.50/week for the annual subscription and <$3/week for a monthly subscription. Valid on the first month of a monthly subscription or a yearly subscription. Subscription renews automatically. Cancel at any time. Offer expires on March 1, 2015.

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Have you wondered what’s paleo? Looking for a Paleo 101 that will answer all your questions about the paleo diet? I’ve got you covered here!

Paleo 101

In a nutshell, the Paleo approach to eating is based on the notion that for optimal health, modern humans should go back to eating real, whole unprocessed foods that are more healthful than harmful to our bodies. Here—in comic form—is my condensed “elevator pitch” explanation of the Paleo diet (from my cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans):

From Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013)

Paleo is an ancestral approach that prioritizes eating real, whole, nutrient-dense foods. At its core, Paleo is about trying to eat real, naturally occurring ingredients that are healthful rather than harmful. Biologically, our bodies respond best to real, whole, nutrient-dense foods like plants, meat, and seafood—all of them packed with the nutrients our bodies evolved to thrive on. It was only after industrialized food production and lab-engineered edibles took over our diets that the ”diseases of civilization“ exploded. Today, wheat, soy, sugar, and highly processed foods continue to drive up rates of autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and obesity. But by getting back to eating real food, we can stay healthier and happier.

Paleo doesn’t have to be super strict

I know that a lot of people still call this the “caveman diet,” but Paleo isn’t about slavishly and mindlessly replicating the actual diets of Paleolithic humans. Okay, a few Paleo die-hards may approach their diets this way, but that’s not the way I eat at all. In fact, there isn’t just one definitive, monolithic, one-size-fits-all “Paleo diet.” Some Paleo eaters choose to go super-low-carb, while others of us (me included!) are happy to munch on a baked potato or a bowl of white rice every now and then. There are Paleo eaters who can’t imagine life without dairy, and more orthodox folks who refuse to touch even a pat of butter with a ten-foot pole. The Paleo tent is big enough to fit a host of different approaches, but the core tenets of ancestral eating remain the same:

Prioritize whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense, nourishing foods

Avoid foods that are likely to be more harmful than healthful

Especially when regularly and heavily consumed, foods like grains, dairy, soy, sugar, and processed seed and vegetable oils can trigger inflammation, cause digestive problems, or derail our natural metabolic processes.

Physicians, biochemists, nutritionists, and other researchers are starting to come around to the benefits of ancestral nutrition, and people who adopt a Paleo-like approach to eating are reporting significant improvements in their general health, body composition, and energy levels. Most importantly, there’s evidence that folks who eat this way are reducing their risks of numerous diseases and disorders that are associated with the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.).

I know what you’re thinking: how can this be healthy? Many folks seem to think that eating according to a Paleo diet means going super-duper low-carb and consuming gobs and gobs of meat and animal fat. But for me, Paleo looks more like this:

Yes, high-quality proteins and fats are part of the equation, but so are lots of vegetables and even (gasp!) carbohydrates. It’s not like I dumped all the grains (which, let’s face it, aren’t naturally nutrient-rich) and processed junk off my plate and replaced it with bacon. Instead, I substituted with more vegetables and some fruit—and I replaced the low-quality, CAFO-raised, steroid-injected meat I used to eat with grass-fed and pastured proteins and sustainable seafood.

Have I convinced you to give Paleo a shot? Good.

My blog, cookbooks, cooking app, and podcast, are intended to help you translate the “rules of the road” into delicious, easy-to-prepare meals for you and your family. Here, you’ll see the way I eat on an everyday basis, and my recipes, too. In case you’re wondering, I cook entirely gluten- and soy-free, and steer clear of legumes and refined vegetable and seed oils.

For the most part, my eats are “clean.” For me, that means generally following the rules of the Whole30®. The Whole30 is a nutritional reset that gets you back to a clean dietary slate: Eliminate all grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and chemically processed vegetable and seed oils from your diet for a month. Once a baseline of health is established, slowly reintroduce some of these foods (like dairy, white rice, and dark chocolate—not hyper-processed junk foods!) one at a time to see where you sit on the spectrum of food tolerance. We all share the goal of finding a lifelong template for optimal nutrition and health, but you just might find that your template allows for a wider range of foods than mine.

Certainly, if you’re on a weight-loss journey, suffering from an immunological disorder, or committing to a 30-day dietary reset (like the Whole30), a super-strict, orthodox approach to Paleo may be the perfect starting point for you. I’ve done a couple of these Paleo re-sets myself.

However, as I already mentioned, the Paleo template simply gives us a starting point from which to decide how to feed ourselves in the modern world. I make my own choices by weighing the health consequences of the foods I eat—and I also consider the gustatory pleasure of the experiences, too. Over the past few years, my attitude toward food has evolved. When I first adopted a Paleo lifestyle, I strictly followed the rigid dictates of the Paleo diet because this new way of eating made me feel so much better. I didn’t even think to question why it worked. But with time, I’ve learned that it’s more important to stay curious about the science behind the approach, and to be fully conscious of my food choices. I learned that I don’t need to strive for “Paleo perfection” as long as I’m mindful of what I’m choosing to put into my mouth, and why.

Plus, I’m a food fiend. As a modern cave-foodie, I follow these three basic rules:

1. Follow the Paleo roadmap as closely as possible.

Yes, there may be an occasional detour, and every now and then, some gastronomic off-roading can be fun and well worth the indulgence. But we need to keep moving in the right direction, which means avoiding dietary potholes like gluten, soy, added sugar, processed junk, and other inflammatory and gut-wrecking foods as much as possible.

2. Simple and quick does the trick.

Cooking becomes an overwhelming chore when we get too wrapped up in complicated, time-consuming recipes. To be practical and sustainable, ancestral nutrition has to be easy. As a working mom, I’m always on the lookout for shortcuts in the kitchen, and often rely on modern conveniences that cavemen never enjoyed, like pressure cookers, slow cookers, and food processors. (I also appreciate indoor plumbing, for what it’s worth.)

3. Last but not least: It better be crazy-delicious.

Too many folks think the Paleo approach to eating is about deprivation, and that all we eat is ground beef with a side of steamed broccoli. “I can’t go Paleo – there’ll be nothing I can eat,” skeptics say. But what they mean is that they can’t conceive of Paleo food being anywhere near as scrumptious as their weekly meals at the local greasy spoon, or as satisfying as the crinkly bag of half-eaten fluorescent cheese poofs on the floor of their car. To get people to maintain a Paleo lifestyle, it’s important to show how the food that fuels them can be healthy and insanely good.

Some final thoughts to keep in mind:

Paleo is not a weight loss cure-all.

If years of unhealthy eating have wrecked your metabolism and you’re carrying around extra body fat, switching to a Paleo diet will certainly help your body composition and overall health. But the point of eating Paleo is not to shed as many pounds as possible so that you can fit into the jeans you wore in high school. This nutritional approach is about optimizing your health and wellness – not transforming you into a waiflike size zero runway model with that special heroin-chic je ne sais quoi.

Stick with it for at least 30 days.

For many people, switching over to Paleo isn’t easy. Due to the sudden drop-off in dietary carbohydrates, folks who are used to mainlining pasta and sugar often report that they feel terrible for the first couple of weeks after going Paleo. (Some call this the “Paleo flu.”) But if you can make it through this initial period of sluggishness (which can last two or three weeks), you’ll come through the other end feeling like a million bucks. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Eat like a champ.

Don’t be afraid to try new recipes or experience new foods—including healthy dietary fats, fermented foods, and naturally umami-rich ingredients. The Paleo diet may feel restrictive at first, but if you have an open mind and adventurous palate, you’ll soon find that this way of eating offers infinite variety, flavors, and nourishment.

For any life change to truly take hold, it has to be enjoyable. I hope the recipes on Nom Nom Paleo will engage your palate and provide you with inspiration to make this way of eating as fun for you and your loved ones as it is for me and mine.

Enjoy!

Looking for recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013) and Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017)!

What does paleo mean?

The below information is taken from The Ultimate Guide to Paleo vs. Keto vs. Whole30

What is Paleo?

Paleo – or Palaeolithic Diets– are all about eating as our ancestors did.

Which ancestors? Our Palaeolithic ancestors! Well, what kind of things did they eat?

The Palaeolithic era was pre-agricultural, so we’re talking hunter gatherers as ancestors, not farmers. Think, animal skins and spears, not dungarees and corn between the teeth.

As you can imagine, this means a lot of organic meat, fish, and vegetables. For many, this absence of sugars and processed foods constitutes a massive change in nutrition.

But why would anyone do this to themselves, especially when there’s donuts in the world?…

Here’s the thing: over the years since the Palaeolithic era, the kind of foods we eat have quite clearly changed. However, despite such changes in diet, followers of Paleo believe that our digestive systems have remained much the same.

The kinds of foods Paleo cuts out of diets – think: legumes, cereal grains, dairy, processed foods and potatoes – are in fact, according to Paleo experts, placing strain on our digestive tracts, because our bodies aren’t readily designed to consume them on a regular basis. Therefore, the more you cut these foods out of your diet, the better you will feel.

Essentially, what we’re saying with the Palaeolithic Diet is that you have to go all in: grab the bull by the horns…and then eat the bull.

Enough with the chit-chat. What can and can’t I eat with Paleo?

As we’ll soon discuss in the pros and cons of Paleo, unlike Whole30, there is no central guide or standardised rulebook. This allows for a degree of flexibility in interpretation – which for many is a good thing!

Just remember, the golden rule of Paleo is to eat as your ancestors did. Therefore…

Forget about grains. When you go Paleo, they will become but a distant memory. Why?

Well, it’s kind of linked to the above. Our bodies don’t really digest grains well, and this can lead to bloating, illness, skin conditions, and other pretty nasty things. This is all down to a little thing called Gluten.

Ah, you’ve heard of that!

As it turns out, there’s a good reason why gluten-free products are proliferating in the market. Gluten, found in things like rye and wheat, and therefore found in breads, pastas, biscuits and just about everything else you thought you loved from the supermarket, is not good for our bodies.

Yep, even your comfort foods are out to get you.

You’re also going to have to scrap additional sugar (unless it’s coming from a natural source), and processed foods are a no-go: a hunter gatherer wouldn’t be able to nip to Tesco for a pepperoni pizza, so neither should you. Similarly, milk and dairy is off the list. Although there were dairy-producing animals in the olden days, hunter gatherers weren’t prone to running up to cows and sucking on their udders.

If you’re feeling a bit demoralised right now, stick with us.

There are loads of benefits to going Paleo, and once you get the hang of it, the diet can be as fun and varied as more flexible programs. For the time being though, check out our handy table below for a quick checklist of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to Paleo.

What are the benefits of Paleo?

To start with, Paleo is fantastic when you’re training hard. This is as much about the psychology of Paleo, as it is about the benefits of eating clean meals (though, the abundance of lean meats, proteins, and veg will help to drastically change your body composition, too).

Paleo is a lifestyle and a culture. Because it is not a regimented diet plan, more of a guiding ethos to eat as our Palaeolithic ancestors once did, it allows people to be flexible and improve their nutrition by abiding by a neat framework.

For example, many CrossFit athletes are Paleo enthusiasts because that kind of culture is fostered within the sport itself.

As a result, Paleo is sustainable. Many people find that the open framework allows them to mould a Paleo nutritional plan into something more personalised. It is also the natural stepping stone after Whole30.

What are the drawbacks of Paleo?

A contentious drawback of Paleo, in some people’s eyes, is that there is no central expert to refer to. This means, with some more obscure ingredients, Paleo enthusiasts can often be found arguing whether something is Paleo or not on online forums.

There are, however, a couple of go-to experts who can be referred to when you’re in need of some advice. These are Dr Loren Cordain, whom many consider to be one of the founders of the modern Paleo movement, and Robb Wolf, a former student of Cordain, and author of The Paleo Solution.

As with all nutritional changes, there is also the danger that you will go through an initial period of feeling sluggish and lacking in energy. However, as your body adapts to the lack of carbs and sugar, it will begin to use up fat to produce energy. As we will soon discover, this process is called Ketosis, and it is the foundation of success in the Keto Diet.

Paleo Grocery List

Want to know how to shop like a hunter-gatherer, without heading into the forest? Here’s our shopping list for kick-starting your Paleo journey!

Favourite Recipes

  • Paleo Breakfast Casserole via Aimee Mars
  • Paleo Thai Coconut Chicken Curry via Fit Mitten Kitchen
  • Paleo Guacamole via Nom Nom Paleo

The following is geared towards people who want to try out a Paleo diet and who just want to quickly know what they should and shouldn’t do.

No background science here or lengthy explanations, only 15 easy guidelines to follow to kick-start your Paleo journey. It’s up to you to decide to what extent you want to follow those guidelines, but if you follow them 100% you can be assured that you are eating the best food for your body and greatly investing in your long term health and well-being.

You may also be interested in having a look at our list of Paleo-approved foods.

15 Paleo Diet Guidelines

  1. A Paleo diet should be high in fat, moderate in animal protein and low to moderate in carbohydrates. Calorie counting is not encouraged, neither is portion control.
  2. Eat generous amounts of saturated fats like coconut oil and butter or clarified butter. Beef tallow, lard and duck fat are also good, but only if they come from healthy and well-treated animals. Beef or lamb tallow is a better choice than lamb or duck fat. Olive, avocado and macadamia oil are also good fats to use in salads and to drizzle over food, but not for cooking. For more information, have a look at our beginner’s guide to Paleo and fat.
  3. Eat good amounts of animal protein. This includes red meat, poultry, pork, eggs, organs (liver, kidney, heart…), wild caught fish and shellfish. Don’t be scared to eat the fatty cuts and all meals with proteins should contain fat as well. Learn to cook with bones in the form of stocks and broths.
  4. Eat generous amounts of fresh or frozen vegetables either cooked or raw and served with fat. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and yams are also great as a source of non-toxic carbohydrates.
  1. Eat low to moderate amounts of fruits and nuts. Try to eat mostly fruits low in sugar and high in antioxidants like berries as well as nuts high in omega-3, low in omega-6 and low in total polyunsaturated fat like macadamia nuts. Consider cutting off fruits and nuts altogether if you have an autoimmune disease, digestive problems or are trying to lose weight faster.
  2. Preferably choose pasture-raised and grass-fed meat from local, environmentally conscious farms. If not possible, choose lean cuts of meat and supplement your fat with coconut oil, butter or clarified butter. Also preferably choose organic, local and/or seasonal fruits and vegetables.
  3. Cut out all cereal grains and legumes from your diet. This includes, but is not limited to, wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, brown rice, soy, peanuts, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans and black eyed peas.
  4. Cut out all vegetable, hydrogenated and partly-hydrogenated oils including, but not limited to, margarine, soybean oil, corn oil, peanut oil, canola oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. Olive oil and avocado oil are fine, but don’t cook with them, use them in salad dressings and to drizzle over food.
  5. Eliminate added sugar, soft drinks, all packaged sweets and juices (including fruit juices). As a rule of thumb, if it’s in a box, don’t eat it. At the grocery store, visit primarily the meat, fish and produce sections.
  6. Eliminate dairy products other than butter and maybe heavy cream. You don’t need dairy, but if you can’t live without it, read this article and consider raw, full-fat and/or fermented dairy.
  7. Eat when you’re hungry and don’t stress if you skip a meal or even two. You don’t have to eat three square meals a day, do what feels most natural.
  8. Eliminate external stressors in your life as much as possible and sleep at least 8 hours per night. Try to wake up without an alarm and to go to bed when it gets dark.
  9. Don’t over-exercise, keep your training sessions short and intense and do them only a few times per week. Take some extra time off if you feel tired. Consider short and intense sprinting sessions instead of very long cardio sessions.
  10. Consider supplementing with vitamin D and probiotics. Levels of magnesium, iodine and vitamin K2 should also be optimized. Iodine can be obtained from seaweeds. You probably don’t need a multivitamin or other supplements.
  11. Play in the sun, have fun, laugh, smile, relax, discover, travel, learn and enjoy life like a daring adventure!

What Is The Paleo Diet? Beginner’s Guide

The last pillar is avoiding toxins such as environmental pollutants and chemicals found in our skincare and cleaning products, as an example. Many of these toxins are linked to escalating health issues and hormonal imbalances, which is why the lifestyle promotes natural (often homemade) beauty and cleaning products, air purifiers, essential oils and so on. My natural skin care tips here.

USEFUL PALEO RESOURCES & ARTICLES

  • Paleo diet food list
  • Paleo diet benefits
  • Most common paleo questions I get asked all the time
  • Paleo diet rules you shouldn’t be afraid to break
  • My free paleo plan (4-Week Reset + 4-Week Reintroductions)

In Summary

One final and the most important points I want to make is that there is no one-size-fits-all Paleo diet. Paleo is just a label given to a dietary framework, which can and should be tailored to your individual needs, goals, body type and sensitivities.

It’s about how you feel when you include or exclude certain foods and not about being strict all the time or dogmatic. I have written about my human approach to paleo here. There are many variations of the paleo diet, such as the autoimmune protocol, Whole30, primal, low-carb and keto, pegan, added dairy, 80/20, and so on.

I always recommend that people learn as much as they can about the whys and hows of paleo nutrition and lifestyle (I go in-depth on these topics in my program) before they try it. Give it a go for 30 days (it’s an excellent reset diet!) and then listen to your body to see which foods you can add back in. Always check in with your doctor and do some blood tests before and after to measure your health markers.

Make the paleo diet work for you!

Want to read more about the Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet is the healthiest way you can eat because it is the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic!

Research in biology, biochemistry, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and many other disciplines indicate it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility. – Robb Wolf

Building A Healthy Paleo Diet

Diverse proteins

Ideally one should eat a wide variety of proteins from as many animal sources as possible. One need not and should not avoid fatty cuts of meat, particularly if consuming pastured sources.

An often overlooked piece of the paleo diet in popular culture is an over-reliance on standard cuts of meat, at the expense of organ meats, bone broth and other collagen sources. For more information on the historical and practical aspects of consuming a more balanced protein intake, check out the Weston A. Price Foundation.

If weight-loss is a goal, protein makes you feel satisfied between meals.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that have been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing a number of degenerative diseases including cancer, diabetes and neurological decline.

Okay To Eat Avoid
Fruits Dairy
Vegetables Grains
Lean Meats Processed Food & Sugars
Seafood Legumes
Nuts & Seeds Starches
Healthy Fats Alcohol

Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, fish oil and grass-fed meat

Scientific research and epidemiological studies show that diets rich in Monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats dramatically reduce the instances of obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and cognitive decline.

Saturated fat has been demonized by our health authorities and media. What is the basis for this position on Saturated fat? Are current recommendations for VERY low saturated fat intake justified? How much saturated fat (and what types), if any should one eat? Without a historical and scientific perspective these questions can be nearly impossible to answer.

Image courtesy of Primal Palate – http://www.primalpalate.com/about/the-paleo-diet/

Health Benefits of a Paleo Diet

For most people the fact the Paleo diet delivers the best results is all they need. Improved blood lipids, weight loss, and reduced pain from autoimmunity is proof enough.

Many people however are not satisfied with blindly following any recommendations, be they nutrition or exercise related. Some folks like to know WHY they are doing something. Fortunately, the Paleo diet has stood not only the test of time, but also the rigors of scientific scrutiny.

With a very simple shift we not only remove the foods that are at odds with our health (grains, legumes, and dairy) but we also increase our intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Here is a great paper from Professor Loren Cordain exploring how to build a modern Paleo diet: The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. This paper also offers significant insight as to the amounts and ratios of protein, carbohydrate and fat in the ancestral diet.

Come on! Our Ancestors lived short, brutal lives! This Paleo Diet is all bunk, right?

The Paleo concept is new for most people and this newness can spark many questions. We like people to not only read about and educate themselves on this topic but also to “get in and do it.”

Experience is perhaps the best teacher and often cuts through any confusion surrounding this way of eating.

Now, all that considered, there are still some common counter arguments to the Paleo diet that happen with sufficient frequency that a whole paper was written on it. Enjoy: Evolutionary Health Promotion. A consideration of common counter-arguments.

Does it work for diabetes?

A great question to ask is “Does the Paleo diet work?” Here we have a head to head comparison between the Paleo diet and Mediterranean diet in insulin resistant Type 2 Diabetics.

The results? The Paleo diet group REVERSED the signs and symptoms of insulin resistant, Type 2 diabetes. The Mediterranean diet showed little if any improvements.

It is worth noting that the Mediterranean diet is generally held up by our government as “the diet to emulate” despite better alternatives. You can find an abstract and the complete paper here.

Cardio Vascular Disease

According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Interestingly however, our Paleolithic ancestors and contemporarily studied hunter-gatherers showed virtually no heart attack or stroke while eating ancestral diets.

The references below will explore these facts to better help you understand the heart-healthy benefits of a Paleo diet.

Autoimmunity

Autoimmunity is a process in which our bodies own immune system attacks “us.”

Normally the immune system protects us from bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. The immune system identifies a foreign invader, attacks it, and ideally clears the infection.

A good analogy for autoimmunity is the case of tissue rejection after organ donation. If someone requires a new heart, lung kidney or liver due to disease or injury, a donor organ may be an option.

The first step in this process is trying to find a tissue “match”. All of us have molecules in our tissues that our immune system uses to recognize self from non-self. If a donated organ is not close enough to the recipient in tissue type the immune system will attack and destroy the organ.

In autoimmunity, a similar process occurs in that an individuals own tissue is confused as something foreign and the immune system attacks this “mislabeled” tissue.

Common forms of autoimmunity include Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, and Vitiligo to name only a tiny fraction of autoimmune diseases. Elements of autoimmunity are likely at play in conditions as seemingly unrelated as Schizophrenia, infertility, and various forms of cancer.

Interestingly, all of these seemingly unrelated diseases share a common cause: damage to the intestinal lining which allows large, undigested food particles to make their way into the body.

This is called “leaky gut and the autoimmune response”. Here is a 7-part video series by Prof. Loren Cordain describing the etiology of Multiple Sclerosis. And please watch this TED talk by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD as she describes how she reversed her Multiple Sclerosis with a paleo diet.

If you have an autoimmune disease you might consider trying the autoimmune protocol of the paleo diet. If you do, please tell us about your experience.

The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet

I wrote a book called The Paleo Solution which went on to become a New York Times Bestseller. This book incorporates the latest, cutting edge research from genetics, biochemistry and anthropology to help you look, feel and perform your best.

I’m a research biochemist who traded in his lab coat and pocket protector for a whistle and a stopwatch to become one of the most sought after strength and conditioning coaches in the world. With my unique perspective as both scientist and coach you will learn how simple nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes can radically change your appearance and health for the better.

Buy the book

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