It’s official—the Paleo diet has hit the tipping point. Although this prehistoric eating regimen, also known as “primal” eating, has been in the zeitgeist for years (it was Google’s most-searched term in 2013), more people are going Paleo to lose weight, feel better, and simplify their diets.
The rules for eating Paleo are pretty simple: Eat the same things that our caveman ancestors would have eaten in Paleolithic times . Not sure what exactly was on the menu of these ancient hunter-gatherers? Here is a basic list of guidelines to keep in mind.
Foods that are in their most natural state are preferred. Our ancestors didn’t spend a lot of time cooking complicated five-course meals; they just ate whatever they could pick from the ground or kill with a spear with little to no preparation involved. Avoid processed foods in general. Paleolithic predecessors couldn’t head to the store to pick up a bag of chips when they were in need of a midday snack.
Eat a diet that is high in fat, relatively low in carbohydrates, and contains moderate amounts of protein .
Eat low-sugar foods, which might mean cutting out certain fruits; some are too high in fructose and can affect blood sugar levels negatively.
Try to go for grass-fed, organic, and pasture-raised meat as often as possible. Organic vegetables are also preferable to non-organic or conventional produce that could have been sprayed with pesticides and toxins. There’s nothing Paleo about Roundup!
Basically, embrace a gluten-free diet. Cut out all cereal grains and legumes from your diet for a couple reasons. One, they contain gluten and other antinutrients, which cause unnecessary inflammation in the body. And two, grains and legumes typically need to be processed in order to be eaten .
Even though the media tends to paint the Paleo diet as limiting and restrictive, there are actually tons of foods that are fair game. You might be surprised to see things like bacon, ghee, and eggs on the list. Don’t be shy about eating these so-called “unhealthy,” yummy foods.
Here’s the thing: When you go Paleo, you don’t need to count calories or worry about portion sizes. Eat anything on the list, and as much of it as you’d like, when you’re hungry—just remember to eat high fat, medium amounts of protein, and low-carb. Here’s the complete list of foods you can eat on a Paleo diet.
If all you know about the Paleo diet is that primal eaters love bacon, you’re actually on the right track! Nearly all meat is Paleo-friendly, but processed proteins like hot dogs or spam aren’t exactly the best dietary choice for those trying to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. Get to know your local butcher or head to your town’s farmers market for the freshest protein. Look for grass-fed, humanely raised animal protein when food shopping, and when cooking try not to burn or create a char on meat—it’s carcinogenic, and decidedly un-Paleo.
Most fish are safe to eat on the Paleo diet—except for those that tend to be highly carcinogenic or contain lots of toxins. Plus, fish are full of brain-boosting healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, which are highly recommended on the Paleo diet . Just as with meat, try to buy the most ethically sourced, wild-caught fish possible.
It’s been proven that eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Instead, filling up on healthy fats from nuts, meat, and oils can help many people lose weight while supporting healthy hair growth, supple skin, strong nails, and better brain function. The following healthy fats are a Paleo eater’s best friend!
Almost all veggies are good to eat on the Paleo diet—they’re loaded with nutrition, low in calories, and packed with fiber!  That being said, avoid starchy tubers like potatoes because they have a high sugar and high carbohydrate content (more on that later).
Ok, so fruits can be a little tricky on the Paleo diet. Sure, they’re some of the healthiest foods available to us—so many necessary vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are found in the fruits we eat every day. But some fresh and dried fruits can shoot blood sugar levels up as high as a cookie or candy bar. Stick to the items on this list in order to balance blood glucose levels and promote fat loss.
You’re going to want to steer clear of super-sugary fruits and fruit juices—those aren’t cool on the Paleo diet.
If you’re going Paleo, nuts are going to be your new BFF. While processed foods are a no-no on this diet, nuts are an easy grab-and-go snack. That being said, they’re also extremely calorically dense, so if you’re trying to lose weight on the Paleo diet, don’t go too … nuts. Here are some of the best nuts for the Paleo diet.
Hunter-gatherers were all about that seed life, so if you’re going Paleo, you should be, too . Mix them into your favorite nutty trail mix for an energizing snack.
If you’re used to eating the Standard American Diet, which is full of whole grains, dairy, and sugar, the first few weeks of eating Paleo might prove to be tough. It’ll force you to get a little creative when it comes to making your old favorite dishes (check out this Paleo-friendly mac and cheese for inspiration!) but you’ll love the way you feel after just a couple of days of cutting back on these foods.
Sorry, but all grains are off-limits (as are grain-derivatives like corn syrup). Not only can grains contain detrimental antinutrients, but they’re loaded with carbs. Load up on filling and nutritious fruits and veggies for complex carbohydrates, instead of getting your daily carb intake from a slice of bread or any of the following:
While grains are a definite, “NO!” on the Paleo diet, dairy is a little bit of a grey area. Sure, dairy can be a great way to introduce healthy bacteria into the gut via foods like kefir and yogurt. On the flip side, many people have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, simply because our bodies aren’t adapted to ingest milk after our first few years of life. The best practice would be to avoid dairy altogether, but if you choose to incorporate it into your diet make sure you stay away from these items in particular.
Beans, peanuts, and lentils are among the most popular legumes. Unfortunately, they aren’t allowed on the Paleo diet, namely because they tend to cause gastrointestinal distress.
Pretty much all sugar is frowned upon on the Paleo diet. Have a hankering for something sweet? Grab a piece of fruit from the Paleo-Approved Fruits list above instead! Avoid:
There are so many different types of meat you can eat on the Paleo diet, it’s not worth messing with these sub-par cuts. Stick to the good stuff instead!
Most veggies are okay on the Paleo diet, but these starchy tubers are high in sugar and carbs. Opt for the plethora of Paleo-Approved Vegetables above instead.
Sorry, but alcohol intake is limited on the Paleo diet—after all, it is essentially poison to your body. There are a few spirits you can enjoy in moderation, like tequila, vodka, and gin, but in general staying sober is the safest way to stay Paleo.
Need some inspiration to help you plan your Paleo menu this week? We’ve got you covered.
Try coconut milk in your morning beverage of choice. This 3-ingredient matcha latte is a delicious way to start your day! For breakfast, Thrive Market’s Grain-free Granola or a scramble featuring paleo-approved veggies are great, easy options. If you’re feeling more adventurous in the kitchen, check out this Paleo biscuits & gravy recipe.
For a Paleo lunch recipe, try a grain-free burrito bowl (skip the beans) or serve up some air-fried lemon pepper wings. For a quick option, you can whip up lettuce wraps or hand rolls using canned tuna.
For a mid-day pick-me-up, you can always reach for fruits & veggies, or snack on Thrive Market Grain-Free Tortilla Chips to beat a salty craving. For a sweet treat, these Paleo pumpkin truffles are irresistible.
There’s a reason that the Paleo diet has turned into a full-fledged movement—for many, it works. Thousands have lost weight, healed digestive issues, and found renewed energy through primal eating.
According to Paleo expert Robb Wolf, eating like our ancestors is simply the only way to regain our health:
“The Paleo diet is the healthiest way you can eat because it is the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic! Research in biology, biochemistry, ophthalmology, dermatology and many other disciplines indicate it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility.”
Because the main tenets of the Paleo diet are to eat whole foods, low amounts of sugar, and avoid processed products, the eating plan itself is actually very healthy. In fact, eating Paleo has been proven to be beneficial for those with diabetes or anyone trying to maintain even blood sugar levels. It’s also been linked to stronger athletic performance, which is why many athletes follow a Paleo eating plan.
If your goal is to lose weight, the Paleo diet can definitely work for you—and you won’t have to count calories. Instead, fill up on veggies and healthy fats like coconut oil; aim to make vegetables about 75 percent of your plate. For the rest of your meal, eat a lightly cooked piece of meat. Remember that part of eating a Paleo diet is eliminating carcinogens, so don’t burn your burger to a crisp.
All in all, the Paleo diet is a much healthier and more balanced way to eat than most people might realize: It consists of mostly greens, healthy fats, proteins, and no sugar. Want to try it for yourself? Check out our favorite Paleo-friendly recipes here and our ultimate Paleo shopping list here.
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