The Ultimate Guide to the Paleo Diet

INTRODUCTION TO THE PALEO DIET

Paleo is short for Paleolithic and it is a diet that is based on the theory of human evolution. There are many variations of Paleo including the Caveman Diet, the Stone Age Diet, and the Primal Blueprint, but they all share certain principles which are that you should only eat foods that can be picked or hunted in nature; animals consumed as meat should eat their natural diet; and the foods you eat should be edible raw.

Because Paleo eliminates sugar and grains, the diet is lower in carbs than the Standard American Diet (SAD), and proponents of Paleo report many beneficial effects on health, including weight loss with no changes to your exercise regimen; and improved blood sugar levels, blood lipid numbers and lower blood pressure, which may result in needing less, if not totally eliminating, medications for these issues. It may even be possible to reverse type II diabetes with this diet.

HISTORY OF THE PALEO DIET

Paleo’s history is a long one, going back about 40,000 years. No one person can really claim the credit for eating whatever she or he could find in the wild, but in modern times, Dr. Loren Cordain is the man behind the current popularity of the plan. Intrigued by a scientific paper he read about what humans ate in the Paleolithic era, Dr. Cordain focused his research on human diets in history, and this eventually developed into a book called The Paleo Diet which was published in 2002.

Loren Cordain

PALEO DIET MACROS

The macros for Paleo are not strict, but you will get about 20-40% of your calories from carbs, 20-35% from protein, and 30-50% from fat.

You do not need to count calories on this diet. You simply eat balanced meals, preferably including protein with each meal. You can eat whenever you feel hungry.

Fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and grass-fed or wild-caught meats are the basis for this diet. Sugar, grains, dairy, legumes and all processed foods and artificial additives are to be avoided. Dr. Cordain believes it is especially important to eat unsaturated fat, and to get plenty of omega-3s.

Because there are many different kinds of Paleo, your macros will vary, but the most important thing to remember is that all the food you eat must be found in nature.

BENEFITS OF THE PALEO DIET

LOSE WEIGHT

Most people would like to drop a few (or more than a few) pounds, but the success rate is abysmal, with only about 5% of dieters able to keep the pounds off for a year. The good news is that many people find that by doing nothing but changing their diet to Paleo, it helps them to lose weight. By following Paleo principles, your time and energy are freed up from both the guilt about what you are eating and the stress of what you ‘should’ be eating, and you can relax and enjoy food again.

REBALANCE BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS

A blood sugar spike, aka a sugar rush and the crash that follows is very unpleasant, not to mention unhealthy. Because sugar is not consumed on the Paleo diet, the likelihood of a blood sugar spike goes down significantly. This can also lower your risk of developing type II diabetes, and possibly reverse the condition if you already have it.

LOWER RISK OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE

Studies have shown that the Paleo diet can lower blood pressure and reduce waist circumference while raising HDL (‘good’) cholesterol levels, all of which are known risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

BETTER SLEEP

By removing chemicals and other artificial additives from your diet, your body will naturally signal when it’s time to sleep at night. You may discover that you feel sleepy earlier, and when you do so, you should go to bed. You will wake up feeling energized earlier in the morning. This is your body returning to its circadian rhythm the way people in the Paleolithic era did.

Paleo Benefits - Sleep

REV UP YOUR ENERGY

Junk food and caffeinated ‘energy’ drinks give you a temporary high, only to drop you off the energy cliff, leaving you desperate for more. But all-natural Paleo-compatible foods are much more likely to provide a steady level of energy.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

The Paleo diet is based on foods that contain antioxidants and other healthful micronutrients, and at the same time, it cuts out a lot of things that are known to cause inflammation. By avoiding the pre-packaged, processed foods that cause disease, you will enjoy better health, naturally.

NO CALORIE COUNTING

The Paleo diet is pretty straightforward: eat natural food. With Paleo, you don’t need to count calories, points, carbs, or anything else. With Paleo, you eat until you feel full and whenever you feel hungry. With so few rules, you can have fun and experiment, all while still sticking to the plan.

DETOXIFY

Cutting out chemicals, additives, artificial ingredients, franken-fat and other unnatural ingredients, your body can function the way it was meant to. Additionally, fruits, vegetables and healthy meats contain detoxifying antioxidants, phytonutrients and omega-3s. Many adherents report feeling lighter, and that their head is clearer after just a few weeks of following the Paleo diet. There is no need to do juicing or fast. Paleo is the lazy man’s detox diet.

DOWNSIDES OF THE PALEO DIET

LIMITED CHOICES

Obtaining organic, natural foods can be challenging at times. Cutting out dairy and grains can also be tough at first. You may need to plan ahead and carry some Paleo-compatible snacks with you. But as with most things, once you get through the initial phase and discover new favorites, following the plan should get easier.

POSSIBLE INCREASE IN FOOD BILL

Things like bread, rice, beans, noodles and processed food are cheap, while eating exclusively pasture-raised and organic vegetables and fruit can get pricey. But there are deals out there. All of your food doesn’t have to be fresh off the farm. Frozen is fine too.

CAN BE HARD FOR VEGANS & VEGETARIANS

Cave people weren’t vegetarians. All societies throughout history ate meat or seafood. It can be difficult to get enough protein on this diet without eating meat or animal products.

MIGHT BE TOUGH FOR ATHLETES

Serious athletes may struggle to get enough carbs. Increasing fruit intake, as well as adding back in some gluten-free starches like potatoes and quinoa can help.

SOCIAL CHALLENGES

It’s not always be easy to stick to your diet plan when you’re surrounded by tempting junk food and you may find it easier to find activities to do with your friends and family that don’t involve food. This could a great time to start up a Paleo-approved hiking club with all your new-found energy.

PALEO DIET DETAILS

On the Paleo diet, all foods must be found in nature. That means the meat you eat must also be eating its natural food, meaning, pasture-raised, grass-fed, and wild caught, not raised in a feed lot.

Consuming saturated fats such as butter and coconut is encouraged, as are fats from animal sources so long as they are high-quality and natural. Olive oil, avocado oil and macadamia oil are best eaten raw, not cooked.

A fair amount of animal protein is meant to be consumed, including fatty meats. All meals should contain some protein. Bone broth is also on the menu.

Paleo Meats

Vegetables and fruits should be organic, local, and seasonal. Vegetables are best eaten raw and served with fat. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes are a good source of carbohydrates.

Highly-cultured, oversized fruit are to be avoided. Fruits and nuts should be eaten in low to moderate amounts only. If you are trying to lose weight faster, nuts should be cut out completely.

Do not eat grains, legumes, or dairy. Vegetable oils, especially partially-hydrogenated oils such as margarine, soybean oil and canola oil are also out. Do not eat added sugar or juice. Honey and maple syrup are okay in small amounts.

Eat only when you are hungry. Do what feels natural.

As a basic rule, if it comes out of a package or box, it’s probably not Paleo. Shop the perimeter of the store where you will find most of the produce and meat.

BEST FOODS TO EAT ON THE PALEO DIET

  • Grass-fed, pasture-raised meat & poultry — Fatty is good. Exotic meats including organs, bison, duck, elk, etc. are all Paleo-compatible. All meat should be the highest quality you can find. Local is great if you can find it.
  • Wild-caught fish — Quality is king with Paleo. A lot of fish contains heavy metals, so source your seafood carefully.
  • Organic eggs — Cage-free, organic, etc. Make your eggs the best you can find.
  • Fresh vegetables — Organic, in-season, local vegetables are ideal. Sweet potatoes are okay; regular potatoes are not.
  • Fresh fruit — Here again you want organic, local and in-season, such as berries. Eat fruit only in moderation. Huge, highly-cultivated fruits that are flown in from thousands of miles away are not Paleo.
  • Nuts & seeds — These are tasty, but can slow down your weight loss. Consume in moderation or avoid if you’re trying to drop pounds faster.
  • Healthy oils — Olive, walnut, avocado, coconut, walnut, macadamia and flaxseed are all good for Paleo, but, with the exception of coconut oil, consume them raw, not cooked.

 Paleo Diet Foods

FOODS TO AVOID ON THE PALEO DIET

  • Grains — Rice, corn, wheat, oatmeal, quinoa and the like were not part of early humans’ diet. Avoid them in all their forms: bread, noodles, tortillas, etc.
  • Legumes — Beans, lentils, and peanuts were also not on the menu for Paleolithic humans. Green beans, string beans, peas, and soybeans are also legumes.
  • Potatoes — Regular white or red-skinned potatoes are not part of Paleo, but sweet potatoes are okay.
  • Sugar — Added sugar should be avoided. Depending on which Paleo diet you follow, natural sugars like honey, and maple syrup may be okay, in limited quantities.
  • Dairy — Milk, butter, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products are not part of the paleo diet. Depending on which Paleo diet you follow, ghee or clarified butter may be acceptable.
  • Processed foods — Any food item that has been altered chemically or has additives is not to be eaten on this diet.
  • Vegetable oils — Sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil and all other hydrogenated oils have been chemically processed and are therefore not part of the Paleo diet.
  • Caffeine — Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system. It can interfere with your sleep habits and give you a headache and therefore it is not considered Paleo. This means that coffee and regular tea are out. However, green tea is acceptable due to its high antioxidant content, and herbal teas are also okay.
  • Sweets and junk food— Soda, regular or diet, sports drinks, candy, coffee drinks, chips are to be avoided.
  • Condiments — Items like ketchup, barbecue sauce, dipping sauces and commercial salad dressings contain processed or artificial ingredients. Drizzle your salad with olive oil and apple cider vinegar instead. Also, there are recipes out there for things like Paleo ketchup and Paleo mayo.
  • Artificial sweeteners — Anything artificial is not part of Paleo.

Foods to Avoid on Paleo

KEYS TO SUCCESS ON THE PALEO DIET

CLEAN HOUSE

The easiest way to stick to this diet is to only keep Paleo foods on hand. We all only have so much willpower. Don’t sabotage yourself by keeping temptation within easy reach.

PLAN YOUR MEALS

Transforming your diet takes work. Look up new recipes and decide ahead of time what you’re going to eat for meals and snacks so that you aren’t scrambling when you’re hungry. Without a plan, it can be very difficult to stick to Paleo, or any diet.

STOCK UP

After cleaning all the processed foods out of your pantry, you’ve probably got plenty of room to fill it with healthy foods. Keep plenty of olive oil, nuts, seeds and nut flours like almond and coconut on hand so that you always have something Paleo-compatible on hand. Every time you go to the store, stock up on veggies. While fresh is preferred, frozen is perfectly fine.

DRINK WATER

Staying hydrated is key to good health. Drink purified water if you can, and resist the urge to add artificial sweeteners or flavors.

KEEP MOVING

Hunter-gatherers moved around a lot. In modern times, it’s far too easy to chill on the sofa. The more you move, especially outdoors, the better you’ll feel. You might even want to give gardening a try and get the two-fer of exercise and growing your own fresh veggies to boot.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Cave people didn’t do complicated. Take a cue from them and prepare simple meals.

FIND YOUR TRIBE

Sticking to a healthy diet can be even more difficult if your friends and co workers are always slurping sugary coffee drinks and chowing down on burgers and fries. You probably also have questions about the Paleo diet and a community of like-minded people often has the answer. Finding a support group either live or online can help you to stay strong. That said, always keep in mind that most advice is opinion. If you read or hear anything that sounds too good to be true, double-check it with a reputable source.

THINK LIKE A PREDATOR

Ancient humans didn’t always get to eat when they wanted to. Waiting a little longer between meals can be good for you. You might even want to give intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating a try. Fasting confers many health benefits, including autophagy (it’s like a clean-up session for your cells).

BE PATIENT

People are very attached to their food and it is difficult to make such a radical change to your diet. Remember it’s a process, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up. Stick with it. It’ll get easier.

REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE DOING THIS

We all have hard days. At times, we may want to give up. Remember why you started this journey in the first place: to lose weight, to improve your health, to gain energy, or to get back to basics. Focusing on your goals can help you get through any temporary setbacks.

COMMON MYTHS ABOUT THE PALEO DIET

I’LL MISS OUT ON IMPORTANT NUTRIENTS

Many people believe that without grain or dairy that it’s impossible to get the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals, especially calcium. This is not true. Modern diets are far more deficient in micronutrients than the Paleo diet. Grains can do more harm than good to the body, and due to the way commercial farming is carried out, dairy products contain a lot of hormones and toxins. But kale, spinach, collard greens and other leafy greens are high in calcium, and if you buy organic, they’re free of pesticides.

I’LL HAVE TO GIVE UP ALL THE FUN STUFF FOREVER

Alcohol isn’t great for your liver, but if you want an occasional drink, you can certainly have it. Likewise for a sweet or salty treat. Besides, there are tons of Paleo work-arounds for just about every craving, from pasta to ice cream. Paleo isn’t a prison sentence. It’s meant to give you more energy and vitality than the standard American diet.

I’LL LOOK LIKE A WEIRDO

Bringing your own organ meat to the next community barbecue might get a few glances, but is it better to be suffering from diabetes, obesity and heart disease than carrying your own snacks?

I CAN’T AFFORD THIS DIET

It’s true that fresh fruit, vegetables and pasture-raised meat cost more than processed junk, but look at it as an investment in your health and welfare. Also, it is advisable but not required to eat organic. Research ‘The Dirty Dozen’ fruits and vegetables and avoid them or buy organic, but for the rest, you can buy ‘ordinary’ produce and do just fine. If you have a stand-alone freezer, you could also consider going halfsies with a friend on a whole butchered cow. This can be a very economical way to get quality meat.

AREN’T HIGH PROTEIN DIETS BAD FOR YOU?

Protein toxicity is potentially a real problem and too much protein does stress your liver and kidneys. Stick to Paleo portions for meat, 3-4 oz. for women and 5-6 oz. for men per meal.

COMMON MISTAKES ON THE PALEO DIET

GOING TO EXTREMES

While lowering your intake of carbs is generally a good idea, cutting out all carbs, including those that come from fruit and vegetable sources, can do more harm than good. Sweet potatoes are not the enemy; processed carbs and refined sugars are the ones you want to avoid.

EATING TOO MUCH MEAT

Protein is certainly an important component of the Paleo diet, but neglecting to eat your veggies is a mistake. While there are strict rules about meat consumption, you should be eating a palm-sized piece of meat at any one meal, which is only 3-4 oz. for women and 5-6 oz. for men.

GOING OVERBOARD ON FAT

Nuts are tasty and convenient, but don’t go crazy with them, especially if one of your goals is to lose weight. Eat a balance of fiber, protein, and healthy fats to induce a natural feeling of fullness and satisfaction.

EATING THE WRONG VEGGIES

Beans and peas, such as soy beans (edamame), green beans, string beans, and snow peas are considered legumes, which are are not part of the Paleo diet. However, there are tons of vegetables that are Paleo-compatible, so this is an easy fix.

No Legumes

YOUR MEALS ARE BORING

There’s no reason to eat a plain spinach salad and a piece of meat night after night. Herbs and spices are all a-okay with Paleo. Also, check out new ethnic recipes like Thai coconut curry or try making a Paleo-friendly cauliflower hummus.

EATING TOO MUCH PALEO CONVENIENCE FOOD

Paleo is popular, which means enterprising businesses are going to try to make money off it. Yes, it is definitely easier to buy a Paleo snack bar than it is to think ahead and pack a snack of nuts and seeds, but convenience foods almost always contain more sugar and other things you don’t need. Honey is delicious, but it’s still sugar.

NOT PERFORMING THE CLEAN SWEEP

Clearing your cabinets of non-Paleo foods will make it much easier to stick to the plan. Having tempting foods within reach is a recipe for failure.

COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PALEO DIET

DON’T I NEED TO EAT DAIRY FOR CALCIUM?

Calcium is an essential nutrient, but it is found in plenty of foods besides dairy products. Green leafy vegetables like collard greens, spinach and kale contain calcium. Doing weight-bearing exercises, like our ancient ancestors would have, also promotes strong bones.

ISN’T IT BAD TO EAT A LOT OF MEAT?

Eating a lot of protein can be hard on your kidneys and liver. While the Paleo diet does consider protein to be an important component, it should not be consumed in excess. A good rule of thumb is to eat a palm-sized piece of meat at one sitting.

IF I DON’T EAT GRAINS, HOW DO I GET FIBER?

Vegetables and seeds contain tons of fiber, and in a form that is much healthier for you than processed foods and grains.

IF THE PALEO DIET IS SO GREAT, WHY DID CAVEMEN DIE YOUNG?

If you look closely at the numbers, it was infant and child mortality that decreased the average age of death for early humans. For those who made it past the age of 14, Paleo people often lived as long as we do today.

PALEO VS KETO

There are several similarities between Paleo and keto, but there are also significant differences. Perhaps the biggest one is that the focus of Paleo is to eat fresh, natural, nutrient-dense food, while for keto, the focus is on staying in ketosis (burning fat rather than glucose). It is possible to enter ketosis while following a Paleo diet, but it is not the goal of Paleo. While it is important to eat high-quality foods on keto, it is not the main point. For keto, consuming a lot of fat is what matters.

Other than to eliminate grains, legumes, and refined and processed foods, the Paleo diet does not restrict carbs. The keto diet on the other hand requires a very low intake of carbs. Paleo contains fewer carbs than the standard American diet, but it usually has more carbs than keto, which is why doing Paleo will often not result in entering ketosis.

PALEO VS CARNIVORE

The carnivore diet is straightforward: eat meat and animal products only whereas with Paleo, vegetables, nuts, seeds and some fruits are allowed. Many people who say they are eating Paleo are actually eating carnivore. While you can technically follow Paleo principles by eating bacon exclusively, the Paleo diet is meant to be more varied.

PALEO VS RAW FOODS

Paleo and a raw foods diet have plenty in common. Eating raw food can improve your energy levels, rebalance your acid/alkaline balance and even reverse certain diseases and lower your risk of cancer. But while raw foods are encouraged on Paleo, you are allowed to cook you food.

A bigger difference is that a raw foods diet is vegan, meaning no animal products are consumed, whereas Paleo involves eating meat and animal products. Hunter-gatherers were not vegetarians and always ate some form of meat or seafood.

BEST PALEO DIET SUPPLEMENTS

Obviously, cave people didn’t take supplements, and while the Paleo diet is meant to provide all your nutrition through diet, certain factors about modern life cannot be ignored, such as poor soil quality due to destructive farming techniques which makes our food less nutritious than it once was. We also may not get the plant diversity that our ancestors did, and we almost certainly do not get as much sun exposure. We take antibiotics and other drugs, and we have a lot more environmental and lifestyle stress than early humans did. For these reasons, some may find it advisable to add supplements to their Paleo diet.

  • Omega-3s — Fish and krill are high in these essential fatty acids, including EPA and DHA which promote healthy brain function. Omega-3s also reduce your risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and improve metabolism, fat-burning, and insulin resistance.
  • Vitamin D — Vitamin D is necessary for many bodily functions, including the processing of other vitamins. This means that when we are vitamin D deficient, we may also be deficient in other vitamins as well. Vitamin D fights depression, strengthens bones, and reduces the risk of some cancers. While we can make this vitamin in our skin through sun exposure, most of us do not get enough, especially those who live in northern climates and during the winter.
  • Probiotics — A healthy gut is essential to overall health and many diseases come from a dysfunctional digestive system, including things like depression. Antibiotic use and processed foods cause inflammation and kill off ‘good’ bacteria in the gut. Healthy gut flora can eliminate toxins and reduce your risk of many healthy problems, including autism, ADHD and anxiety.
  • Magnesium — Most people, no matter their diet, struggle to get enough of this essential mineral. Magnesium is needed for cellular metabolism, energy production, proper blood clotting, sleep, and muscle function, to name just a few.

PALEO DIET RECIPES & RESOURCES

PALEO DIET STUDIES

PROPONENTS OF THE PALEO DIET

  • Loren Cordain
  • Mark Sisson
  • Abel James
  • Mark Hyman
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Frank Mir
  • Matthew McConaughey
  • Anne Hathaway
  • Jessica Biel
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Jeb Bush
  • Bill Clinton