The paleo diet, sometimes called the caveman diet or paleolithic diet is designed to resemble the paleolithic diets of human hunter-gatherers that lived during the paleolithic era. It is believed that they consumed a diet that consisted mainly of whole foods that were available in the natural environment at the time.
By following a whole-food-based diet and leading physically active lives, hunter-gatherers presumably had much lower rates of lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
The main concept of the paleo diet is to return to a way of eating that is closer to what early humans ate in an attempt to increase overall wellness and reduce disease risk. This entails eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods.
Though many diets can seem daunting, the Paleo diet is designed to be approachable for beginners, athletes, and families alike. Below you’ll find all of the basics, including foods to eat, foods to avoid, the benefits, tips, and a full meal plan which is everything you’ll need to know to get started.
The Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet was created by Dr. Loren Cordain in collaboration with scientists, including Dr. Boyd Eaton and Dr. Staffan Lindeberg. Together they set out to research the optimal human diet. The Paleo diet was the culmination of their research which was first shared in 2002.
Now, it is a way of eating that is recognized by several prominent figures and establishments. Though Dr. Cordain is still an advocate for the Paleo lifestyle, his graduate students, Mark J. Smith, Ph.D., and Trevor Connor, M.S., continue to research, educate, and carry on his legacy.
Foods to Eat
The paleo diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods, including vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and animal protein, such as eggs, meat, fish, and poultry. It is recommended to try to choose grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic wherever possible.
- Sweet Potatoes
- Free Range, Pastured, or Omega-3 Enriched Eggs
Nuts & Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Macadamia Nuts
- Sunflower Seeds
Healthy Fats & Oils
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Avocado Oil
The basic premise of the paleo lifestyle is to eat mainly whole, unprocessed foods.
Staples to Keep on Hand
One of the best ways to stick to a meal plan is to keep a few staples on hand. Not only is it convenient, but it also keeps the temptation of drive-thrus or packaged snacks low.
For instance, with salmon and vegetables in the freezer, you can have baked salmon with mixed vegetables or steamed broccoli. Another good idea is to make up big batches of grilled chicken or roast a whole chicken. That way, you can pair leftover roast chicken with brussels sprouts, put the shredded chicken in a grain bowl, or top greens with the grilled chicken.
Ground beef is quick to cook up and versatile, too. Simple things like this can make sticking to your Paleo eating plan easy even if you haven’t done any official meal planning.
What are the Benefits?
By consuming mainly whole foods, the diet can improve your health by eliminating high-fat and processed foods that have little nutritional value and too many calories.
Switching to a Paleo Diet will mean an increase in vegetable and fiber intake, which are both important for gastrointestinal health and overall inflammation levels. In addition to this, many people experience improved health and well-being. Lastly, preliminary studies have had positive results regarding blood glucose and cholesterol levels which is great for preventing heart disease.
Foods to Avoid
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Soft Drinks
- Fruit juices
- Table Sugar
- Ice Cream
- Avoid Most Dairy
- Especially Low-Fat
- Some Paleo Diets Allow Full-Fat Dairy Like Cheese & Butter
- Processed Foods
- Hydrogenated Oils
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils
- Soybean Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Corn Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Acesulfame Potassium
Avoid processed foods as much as possible when following the paleo diet. Though some people eating paleo will consume organic, full-fat dairy products, it is important to note that low-fat dairy products are highly processed foods.
Flavoring Food on the Paleo Diet
Most seasonings are Paleo-compliant as they are simply dried and ground up. However, seasoning blends can often have added processed ingredients or sugar, so those should be avoided. Good seasonings to use in a paleo meal plan include curry powder, red pepper flakes, turmeric, and herbs.
Sauces can be used for flavor as well, such as coconut aminos or a homemade Paleo-friendly tomato sauce. Also, coconut milk is fantastic for adding creaminess if you are sticking true to avoiding dairy.
The Paleo Diet Meal Plan
In both the 7 and 30-day paleo meal plan, you’ll find several delicious paleo-friendly recipes, including paleo snacks as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner to help you live a healthy lifestyle. Each of these paleo-approved recipes focuses on whole grains, grass-fed meats, fresh veggies, and other staple foods that can be transformed into your own meal ideas, too.
You’ll also get a full daily breakdown of the macronutrients so you can see how many calories, protein, fat, and carbs you are consuming. Don’t worry; there is a shopping list as well, so you can ensure you get everything you need.
Research suggests potential health benefits of the Paleo Diet include:
- Improved digestion and gut health
- Increased satiety from meals
- Weight management
- Improved blood sugar control
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved cholesterol balance
- Lower risk of chronic diseases and metabolic syndrome
What do you eat for breakfast on the Paleo diet?
Breakfasts can be based around proteins such as eggs and lean meats; vegetables of a wide variety; and healthy fats including avocado, almond butter, and olive oil.
Some ideas include: hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs with bell peppers and leftover salmon, smoothies with mixed berries, and paleo energy bars.
Do you lose weight on Paleo?
Although it is not designed as a weight loss diet, the Paleo Diet can help you lose weight as it is high in protein and filling. It also eliminates calorically dense processed foods, which can help reduce your calorie intake.
Can you drink alcohol on the Paleo diet?
Technically, alcohol is not included as part of the Paleo Diet, as it is both processed and a toxin. As with any sustainable diet, flexibility is common, and therefore an occasional glass of wine can be included as a moderate approach.
What is the 85/15 Rule in Paleo?
The 85/15 rule in Paleo suggests that 85% of your foods should be Paleo while allowing yourself to enjoy 15% non-Paleo foods in your eating habits. This makes a Paleo meal plan sustainable, as you can indulge in processed food every once in a while.
How many meals a day on Paleo diet?
There is no limit to the number of meals per day you can eat on the Paleo diet, only certain foods that should be avoided.
Modern food that is heavily processed is linked with a high rate of chronic health concerns. Following a more whole-food diet may be a possible solution and lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Paleo-friendly foods include meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruit, along with healthy fats and oils. Limit processed foods, grains, and added sugar as much as possible.
As with any significant dietary change, it’s best to consult with a medical professional before beginning this diet.
Kristen Kuminski, RD, CDN
Kristen is a consultant Dietitian with experience working with a variety of individuals and populations. Kristen has experience counseling/ coaching clients in eating disorders, pediatrics, weight management, mental health nutrition and other chronic health conditions.