What is the paleo diet?
The paleo diet is a nutritional approach that focuses on eating only foods that are high in nutrients, unprocessed, and based on the foods that were available and eaten by humans in Paleolithic times.
The main idea behind the paleo diet is that if humans were not able to consume a food thousands of years ago – before industrial agriculture, the domestication of animals, and modern food processing existed- than humans should not consume these types of foods today, because the human body is not adapted to them.
Read this for a detailed guide to the paleo diet.
Why do people follow the paleo diet?
While food manufacturing and processing technology has improved rapidly over the past several centuries (especially in the past 100 years), the evolution of humans’ nutritional needs and digestive systems have not quite been able to keep up, therefore people still need close to the same types of whole, real, nutrient-packed foods that they relied on way back when cavemen were walking the Earth.
The digestive tract and nutritional needs of humans were developed slowly by Paleolithic people adapting to the foods found in their environment, so it makes sense that modern humans eating very different diets today results in poor health.
It’s believed by the founders and followers of the paleo diet that one of the main reasons so many people are facing chronic illnesses today – heart disease, cancer, auto immune disease and more- around the world, but especially in more modernized countries like the US, is because the foods they typically eat are not in line with their body’s needs.
Essentially, people cannot digest and use for energy many modern foods- for example grains, legumes, dairy, an excess of sugar, and more – plus they are also lacking many needed nutrients due to their poor diets. This results in widespread chronic diseases and obesity; basically a population that is overfed and obese, yet still malnourished on a cellular level.
People who follow the paleo diet very often have great health results, including improvements in their heart health, weight loss, reduced symptoms from autoimmune disease, decline in diabetes, and more. This is believed to occur because harmful foods that humans are not adapted to eating are removed from the diet, and at the same time there is a dramatic increase in the amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants added into the diet.
Who started the paleo diet?
The popularity of the paleo diet has been growing around the world since the 1990’s. Dr. Loren Cordain is considered to be the founder of “The Paleo Movement” and also one of the world’s leading experts on the paleo diet – he has actually trademarked the term…however many others have also researched and written about paleo eating before him and since him including Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf.
These paleo diet authors and advocates describe that the structure of Paleolithic communities were that of hunter-gatherers, meaning that they ate the foods that were the most available to them naturally by finding them or hunting for them. They did not grow large amounts of crops, domesticate animals, or process their foods in any way, so their bodies did not adapt to eat the type of more modern foods that require this preparation.
This means they DID eat foods including: wild plants (fruits and vegetables), nuts, animal flesh, fish, and shellfish. When food was scarce, they tended to simply fast intermittently.
It means they DID NOT consume beans/legumes, any grains, a high amount of salt, any dairy, or any processed sugar.
What foods can, and can’t, people on the paleo diet eat?
Since followers of the paleo diet today try and replicate the same diets of prehistoric people, they consume and avoid the same foods listed above.
The exact foods that are considered paleo and not paleo are as listed below:
- Grass-produced meats (high quality meats, not any processed type like hot dogs or most cold cuts)
- Fish/seafood (all kinds)
- Fresh fruits (all kinds)
- Fresh vegetables (all non-starchy kinds, starchy kinds in moderation)
- Nuts (does not include peanuts which is a legume)
- Healthy oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)
- Natural forms of unrefined sugar in moderation (raw honey, real maple syrup for example)
Foods not considered paleo:
- All grains (oats, wheat, quinoa, etc)
- Legumes/beans (including peanuts)
- Dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, ice cream)
- Refined sugar or artificial sugar subs (also includes all sugary processed foods like soda or candy)
- Potatoes/starchy vegetables (only paleo and okay in moderation for those who don’t need to lose weight)
- Processed foods of any kind (if it’s not natural, it’s not paleo)
- Overly Salty Foods
- Refined vegetable oils (palm oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, etc.)
- Alcohol (all kinds)
This means that some typical meals that many people eat today that would not be considered paleo could include: chicken parmesan, pizza, cheeseburgers, French fries, milkshakes, candy, cereal with milk, any bread/grain/pastry, any sort of beans, any sort of dairy including yogurt or cheese, etc.
Some typical meals that are considered paleo could include:
- steak with vegetables
- fish with salad
- omelets (with no cheese)
- fruit salad
- bacon and eggs
- chicken breast with roasted sweet potato
An easy way to check if a food is paleo is to use the Paleo.io app.
You can download it for iPhone or Android.
Why aren’t grains, dairy, and beans paleo?
These controversial groups of foods cause digestive and health issues for many people. While typically they are promoted as being healthy, it’s now believed that they have the opposite reaction in many people. The reason is because humans are not intended to eat these foods since they require a long growing, cleaning, preparation, and cooking period, all of which weren’t possible in Paleolithic hunter-gatherer times.
For many people, these foods cause adverse effects like issues with managing blood sugar, low energy levels, food cravings, IBS and other digestive problems, autoimmune reactions, and more. On top of that, they contain less vitamins, minerals, protein, and antioxidants than other paleo approved foods do, so it’s best to get your calories from foods that are more beneficial.
What diets are similar to paleo?
There are several diets similar to the paleo diet including:
- AIP Diet (autoimmune protocol) (try an aip meal plan here)
- Keto Diet (try a keto meal plan here)
- Carnivore Diet
- Gluten Free Diet
For more reading on paleo:
More details on exactly which foods are and aren’t paleo can be found on the Ultimate Paleo Guide website here. Other articles on the UPG website further explain why some foods like bread, beans, and milk are not paleo.
If you are on-the-go and need to quickly reference a list of which foods are paleo, check out the paleo diet mobile app “Is It Paleo?” here.