What is the Paleo Diet?


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Learn about the Paleo Diet: The premise for the lifestyle, the foods that are allowed, the benefits and things to consider. This diet is based on what our Paleolithic ancestors consumed with protein and vegetables as staples, plus other nutrient-dense whole foods.

What is the Paleo Diet?

Considered the base or inspiration diet for many other lifestyle diets emerging today, the Paleo Diet is always going to be in vogue for fitness and health reasons. You may have heard it by other nicknames, which include the Stone Age Diet, Primal Diet, hunter-gatherer diet and Caveman diet. All of these names get at one central question: What would cave people eat?

It has grown to be an extremely popular diet, with some companies even offering meal plans so you can comply with minimal effort. If you’re considering giving it a try, learn the basics of what is Paleo Diet before making the leap!

Two photos side-by-side of Paleo Diet approved organic steak and chicken in their packaging

What is the Paleo Diet?

Dr. Loren Cordain leads the pack on research on the evolutionary basis of diet and disease and is the founder of The Paleo Diet® Movement, where you can learn more about the premise of the diet. The Paleo diet is made up of things researchers say our Paleolithic ancestors ate.

The staples of the diet are meat, seafood, and vegetables, with other foods in moderation. The primary goal, rather than getting back to ancient times, is to reduce the glycemic impact of our everyday diets and achieve a healthy ratio of saturated-to-unsaturated fats along with optimal nutritional absorption.

This means increasing the ratio of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats while adding in Omega-3 fatty acids and cutting out the trans fat. Lowering the amount of sodium while increasing potassium to help proper organ function and reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Getting more micronutrients and phytochemicals from plants will provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs.

Overall, the target is to consume 35% of calories from fats, 35% from carbohydrates and 30% from protein, a ratio some researchers say mimic the diet of early humans.

A table full of meats and vegetables that are allowed on the Paleo Diet

Paleo Food List

Eaters are encouraged to choose nutrient-dense “Yes” foods that are:

  • Organic vegetables
  • Grass-fed, pasture-raised or wild meat
  • Wild-caught or sustainable seafood
  • Eggs from pasture-raised birds
  • Fermented food and spices
  • Healthy fats like olive oil, nut oils, coconut oil, animal fats, avocado
  • Avoid pesticides, antibiotics, and any other additives, since Paleolithic people wouldn’t have had access to that, either.

Foods in “Moderation”:

  • Organic fruit
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, and macadamia nuts
  • Seeds like poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Starches like tapioca and arrowroot
  • Natural sweeteners like maple syrup and sugar, honey, coconut sugar

So, what can’t you eat? Here are some strict “No” foods:

  • Anything that comes processed and packaged
  • Grains and cereals like wheat, rice, oats, corn, heritage grains like quinoa
  • Legumes and peanuts
  • Refines sugar, artificial and processed sweeteners like stevia and agave
  • Food with added salt (adding salt, even sea salt is not recommended or in tiny amounts)
  • Highly processed fats and oil like corn, vegetable, canola, and safflower oil
  • Potatoes (sweet potatoes are allowed)
  • Dairy
  • Alcohol

You’ll be shopping exclusively on the outer rim of the supermarket, and even then, not everything will be available to you. The diet draws many comparisons to the Whole30 program, which has similar restrictions and allowances.

Paleo Diet Benefits and Considerations

Overall, Paleo is considered to be a lifestyle–not just a diet. It will affect how you socialize, where you can eat and requires a lot of time shopping and cooking. The jury is out on its benefits, doctors say. While it has undeniable benefits for weight loss, doctors are careful to caution that Paleo people lived three times less long as humans do now, something that may or may not be attributable to diet. The diet has special considerations for women, too–removing dairy could have adverse effects for women at risk for osteoporosis.

Doctors also caution on ratios, saying that our ancestors likely had a one-to-one ratio of protein to fruits and vegetables. These amounts mean the diet should be mainly plant-based, which will help people avoid having too much protein, which can affect digestion, kidney function and also increase your risk of osteoporosis. Those with too much red or fatty meat intake also increase their risk for heart disease.

Still, even with all the considerations, cutting out processed foods and shopping and cooking fresh are great things to incorporate into everyone’s lifestyle. Proponents of the diet say that they feel like they can eat as much as they want and don’t have to worry about portion control or counting calories. Whether all Paleo or certain elements are for you, the diet is worth exploring to see how it works in everyday life and if it is a long-term option.

If you have tried the Paleo Diet or its part of your daily lifestyle, I would love to hear about your experience in the comments section below!


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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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2 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Judy says

    Thank you Jessica. I have been trying to cut carbs and eat more protein so I was glad to read this blog. I belong to a group called FITera onine which has a very good healthy plan. Take care, Judy