The Paleo Diet is similar to Keto, adds in clean eating, and emphasizes an organic and natural diet. It’s based on choosing foods that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers would have eaten and basically does not allow foods brought to us through farming such as dairy, processed grains, or legumes. On the Paleo Diet you only eat foods that are naturally-occurring, nutrient-dense, and more in line with what our bodies were evolved to consume.
What is the Paleo Diet?
Also called the Stone Age, Primal, or the Caveman Diet, the premise behind these food choices is to return our diet to what early humans were biologically and genetically designed to eat. Some believe that our modern diet and its problems are driven by industrialization of the food process. For instance, farming made it possible for everyone to have milk and dairy products and large-scale processing furthered refined these foods into forms unrecognizable from their original food source. Today we even have foods mostly engineered in a lab. This explosion in manufactured foods mismatches our body’s natural dietary needs and some think it has led to the increase in “diseases of civilization” such as obesity, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and diabetes.
Others believe that even “natural” foods such as milk or grain came into our lifestyles faster than our natural ability to adapt to them, also causing the prevalence of chronic health issues listed above.
Another component of the Paleo Diet is an emphasis on regular, strenuous physical activity. Just like the caveman who would spend his days walking and running in search of food, this diet encourages daily aerobic exercise and strength training.
The switch to Paleo eating has shown to be effective in weight loss and maintenance of this weight loss. More clinical studies need to be done but those following the Paleo Diet report these health improvements:
- Increased fitness and muscle growth
- Improvement in mood and help for depression and anxiety
- More stable energy levels and mental clarity
- Better sleep
- Improvements in chronic conditions including glucose intolerance, insulin sensitivity, and diabetes; lipid profiles and high cholesterol; and heart disease
- Higher immune function and reduced allergies
- Reduction of pain related to inflammation
- Respiratory improvement including asthma
What Can I Eat on the Paleo Diet?
The strictest interpretation of this diet is to ask yourself “was this food available to a caveman?”. Obviously, this is going to eliminate a lot of choices. Few people follow this to the letter but instead adapt it enough to make it convenient for a modern lifestyle. For instance, it’s doubtful that a paleolithic caveman ever found an albacore tuna (or dressed it with parsley and lemon juice) but this is a great choice for Paleo eating. Ease your diet into including more whole, unprocessed foods; eat less grains and foods that are processed away from their natural state, and especially avoid sugars. Try these foods when switching over to Paleo – whenever possible, choose grass-fed, organic, and all-natural:
Foods that are Allowed on Paleo
- Lean meats and fowl – especially grass fed, free-range, or wild game
- Organ meats and marrow (including bone broth)
- Fish and seafood – choose those high in omega-3 fatty acids such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon
- Eggs – again free-range and organic
- Nuts (not peanuts which are technically a legume) and seeds – including nut butters but check sugar content
- Fruits and berries
- Vegetables (but limit high-starches such as potatoes)
- Healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, or lard. Choose minimally processed fats.
- Naturally occurring sugar: honey or maple syrup
- Lots of water
What Not to Eat on Paleo
As you’ve probably guessed by now, a lot of the foods you’re used to eating may not be allowed on the Paleo Diet. The basic litmus test is: how processed is this food, does it have sugar or additives, or is it something a caveman could have found?
As mentioned earlier, at its core this diet gives you a very narrow list of “acceptable” foods. But making smart choices with the Paleo theories in mind – while maybe eating something that’s in the gray area such as whole grain – will still greatly improve your diet and lower your risk for many chronic conditions. These are generally the foods not allowed on the Paleo Diet (some can be eaten in moderation*):
- Sugar, salt or artificial sweeteners (candy, soda, juice)
- Highly-processed foods such as chips, snack bars, instant grain mixes
- Grains and items made from grain (pasta, bread, cereal, rice, flour)
- Legumes – peanuts, lentils, peas, and beans
- Bakery goods (a sugar and grain double whammy)
- Dairy including milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and whey
- Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes*
- Processed or cured meats (bacon, ham, lunchmeat, hot dogs)
Drawbacks of Going Pure Paleo
The biggest negative is what is lost by the restrictions of this diet. Low carb intake and exclusion of grains means you’re losing good sources of fiber, iron, and essential vitamins. It also means you don’t have the ready fuel source during strenuous exercise which can lead to muscle breakdown, slower recovery, and fatigue.
In addition, the elimination of dairy products can also lead to loss in calcium and Vitamin D which are important to bone health. Keep this in mind and be sure to seek out Paleo-friendly foods that fill these nutritional needs or look into taking supplements.
The all-natural (cage-free, grass-fed, organic) approach to grocery buying can be expensive. Try shopping at a food co-op, farmer’s market, or raising food yourself.
Interesting side effect of Paleo Dieting
As with the no-carb, more protein and fat Keto diet, the Paleo Diet can move you into ketosis which some think turns your body into a fat-burning machine but high levels of ketones can cause dehydration or metabolic issues.
Tricks to Try When Switching
We shared these tips in our Keto Diet blog and they also apply here. If you’ve been eating a traditional Western Diet, this is going to be a radical change in how you eat. You can do it!!! But your body (at first) may not react as you expect. Stick with it, though, and things will settle in.
- You will crave sugar at first! As with any switch to low-carb dieting, your body will really miss that sugar injection and will let you know by causing you to be cranky, tired, and willing to do just about anything for a piece of candy! You have to power through it. After a week or so, you will no longer crave those types of foods.
- Get rid of foods that will tempt you. When those sugary snack cravings hit, you will go for the quick fix if it’s in your cupboard. Donate it to the food shelf or a hungry college student and stock up with paleo-friendly but easy-to-grab snacks.
- Start with a clear plan for one week (including snacks!) so you won’t be staring into the fridge wondering what to eat. Stock up with everything you need and stick to the plan. You are retraining your brain (and body) and eventually you’ll know exactly what to eat or avoid.
- Try any of the allowed veggies roasted. Just toss liberally with olive oil, sprinkle with your favorite seasoning and roast on a sheet pan at 375°F for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. This not only makes a good side dish for dinner but a great snack option for those evening munchies.
- Make a big batch of bone broth (look for crockpot or instapot friendly recipes), freeze in one cup containers, and take with you to work each day for a great afternoon pick me up.
We’re thrilled to be your snacking partner! You might also like this article: “10 Keto/Paleo Snacks That Aren’t Nuts” (click here). Join us over on social media (links below) or feel free to email us with questions. If you’d like to try our Paleo Snack Boxes, click here to browse.