What is the Paleo Diet: What Foods to Eat and How it Works

What is the Paleo Diet: What Foods to Eat and How it Works

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There are many diet options available today. Some work and some don’t. What’s important in a diet is to maintain a healthy lifestyle while making the right choices when it comes to the foods you eat.

The Paleo Diet is one that is designed around the idea of the prehistoric human. When we look at humans from prehistoric times we notice that they were lean and fit hunters and gatherers, unlike the majority of us today.

By following the Paleo Diet, we revert to the true needs of our bodies, not the cravings for sugar in our processed products or agriculturally raised wheat-based foods. Let’s have a look at the Paleo Diet and what it can do for us.

Learning the Diet Guidelines

Losing Weight: How does it work on this diet?

Paleolithic diet research shows that a diet rich in healthy fats and proteins and low in sugars and starches is not only extremely healthy but is also an excellent way to lose weight.

The Paleo Diet emulates the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, based on the premise that they did not suffer from the same diseases as modern humans.

This diet advocates consumption of unprocessed animals and plants, including meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. In turn, it shuns processed foods, sugar, dairy and grains.

The foods you’ll be eating on the Paleo diet are the ones our bodies have been programmed to eat for tens of thousands of years. The foods you’re eliminating from your diet are foods we’ve only been eating for the last one percent of recorded human history. These foods, according to the Paleo Diet, are ones that we are not genetically adapted to eat, at least, not yet.

By using the Paleo methods to align your diet with your body’s historical genetic programming, you should notice considerable changes. You can boost your metabolic rate and speed up a healthy and complete digestion process. As well, your body will better regulate some of the hormones related to energy and fat storage, while also reducing hunger and cravings for unhealthy foods.

In this way, you should lose weight and feel more energetic through the body’s natural process.

What’s on Your Plate

Meat, Eggs, and Seafood

This food group is where you will get most of your calories. All meat, fish, shellfish, mollusks, and eggs are allowed, but there are some guidelines for choosing the right foods for the best results. The most important thing is that these foods are of high quality and are prepared with Paleo-approved ingredients. For example, eggs should be free-range, pastured, or omega-3 enriched, and if you can help it, choose fish that is wild, not farmed.

Fats from Plant Sources

These sources include olives and olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Since butter is a dairy product and does not improve your heart health, it should be avoided when cooking or preparing foods. As a replacement, use pure olive oil for cooking and grape-seed oil or extra virgin olive oil for uncooked dressings.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds were a big part of the Paleolithic-era diet. All nuts are allowed, with the exception of peanuts. The reason for this is that they are not actually nuts. Peanuts are part of the legume family and those are not part of the Paleo Diet. Seeds are allowed, including flax, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, and others. If you are put off by the idea of giving up grains like pasta and rice, the good news is that quinoa is allowed. Not only is quinoa a seed, but it also makes a great substitute for rice, pasta, oats, barley, and other grain foods.

Fruits and Vegetables

The fruits allowed on the Paleo diet are those that would have been readily available in the pre-agricultural era. These foraged fruits include berries, such as cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Tree fruits are also a mainstay of the Paleo diet. They include citrus fruits, apples, peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, and pears.


We all need to drink fluids each day and Paleolithic humans were no exception. Permitted beverages on this diet include pure fruit and vegetable juices, but they should be unsweetened versions and consumed in moderation. Water should be your primary beverage. Tea and coffee are acceptable on the Paleo Diet, as long as you use almond milk to lighten them, rather than dairy milk.

"The Paleo diet definitely promotes an approach which is lower in carbohydrates than the Standard American Diet but carbohydrate options abound. Beyond grains, there is a world of scrumptious starches out there for you to eat. Pete’s Paleo Meals can provide great sources of well sourced starchy carbohydrates. Some of my favourite vegetables include: Beets, Cassava Root, Plantains, Winter Squash and Sweet Potatoes."

Pete's Paleo

Yes, You Can Eat Carbs on a Paleo Diet

What is Not on Your Plate

Processed Foods

Fast food, frozen meals, and store-bought sweets and snacks are not a part of the Paleo diet and should be avoided.


Not only was alcohol an unlikely component of a Paleolithic-era diet, but it is also filled with empty calories and sugar. Alcohol does not supply enough nutritional value to offset its negative dietary attributes.


Bread and pasta of any kind as well as food products produced with grains are not part of the Paleo Diet. These include wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and any other grain you can think of.


As noted previously, legumes such as beans, peas, soy and soy derivatives are agricultural products and are off-limits. This includes peanuts.


One of the remarkable things about the Paleo Diet is the impact it can have on lowering blood sugar levels. The diet does not stop there. It also positively impacts the body by decreasing the risk of developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome. In part, this is due to the elimination of sugars from the Paleo Diet. With that in mind, it is also very important to avoid substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar. You can, however, use honey in moderation, as it was likely a part of our ancestral diet.

Align Yourself With Your Genetics

By eliminating foods that our paleolithic ancestors didn’t have access to, like agricultural yields and processed foods, you are aligning yourself with your genetics. Foods that you have evolved to eat and that keep you healthy. Eating foods the body has not yet adapted to process adequately puts your system in distress and increase the risk of disease.

Know Your Body and Your Diet

How to Meet Your Body’s Needs on Your Diet

Macronutrients- Carbs, Protein, and Fats

The sources of paleo carbohydrates come from real food products and are packed full of nutrients, fiber, and if you choose, starches. Paleo carbohydrates are none other than those consumed by our ancestors for millions of years, and they are from fruits and vegetables. The best carbohydrate sources are local and organically grown.

Vegans, vegetarians, and Paleo groups all have a shared common goal. All of them want to make sure they get enough protein every day. The bottom line is that we can get plenty of healthy protein from vegetables, algae and other plant sources. There are lots of nutrient-dense foods with high protein content. Some of the top plant-based protein sources include chlorella, nutritional yeast, sea vegetables, bee pollen, acai berries, durian, and hemp seeds.

Animal and fish proteins make up the majority of the Paleo diet. Purchasing the highest quality proteins that you can reasonably afford is recommended. Wild game or exotic meats like buffalo, lamb and wild salmon may be too expensive for your budget. If they are, rest assured that grass-fed beef, organic chicken and fresh or frozen shrimp are just as good. When possible, be sure that livestock meats are organic and free of any hormones or antibiotics.

You are also encouraged to eat wild meat and game, such as deer and boar. When considering which cuts of meat to buy, lean cuts are preferred to cuts with a high-fat content.

Our bodies are well designed to run primarily on fat as a source of energy and when it does, it produces ketone bodies, which are perfectly healthy. Some examples of healthy Paleo fats include coconut oil, ghee, animal fats from beef, duck, and pork, olive oil, avocados, and of course avocado oil.


Adopting a Paleo Diet can provide you with the opportunity to follow a diet plan inspired by your ancestors while taking your health to the next level. The Paleo Diet doesn't actively encourage calorie counting but you still need a rough idea of your intake. Since this diet can sometimes seem unstructured, you’ll want to know how to use a calorie counter to make sure you’re getting the right nutritional balance.

If you’re already at your desired weight, doing serious exercise, or struggling with low endocrine function, it may be time to add more carbohydrates, or perhaps more calories in general to your diet.

Most Paleo diet plans emphasize tracking macronutrients over counting calories, as the former can help you achieve a healthier balance.

Your calorie intake is determined by your goals. To maintain your weight, multiply your body weight in pounds by 15 to find your daily calorie intake. For weight loss, you must consume fewer calories than this, and to gain muscle you need more.

If you find you need to reduce calories to lose weight, rather than reducing portion sizes and going hungry, change your food sources. Swap out high-calorie foods such as nuts, oils and fatty meats for more vegetables, low-sugar fruits, and lean meats.

Diet Lifestyle

Benefits of the Diet and Changes to the Body

Improved Heart Health

The lean proteins and good fats of the Paleo Diet are essential for heart health. Because the Paleo Diet recommends lean meats, shellfish, and fish that are low in unhealthy saturated fats, it can help lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides. It can also reduce or potentially reverse arteriosclerosis, which is one of the leading causes of stroke, blood clots and aneurysms.

Improved Digestive Health

The diet encourages you to consume fibrous foods such as fruits and vegetables that help flush your digestive system, keeping your colon clean and clear. Digestive issues such as diarrhea, constipation, chronic gas, heartburn, acid reflux and GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) are often reduced or eliminated after following the diet for a sustained period.

Maximized Immune System

The Paleo Diet is naturally gluten and lactose-free. Both are substances that some people’s bodies treat as allergens. It also eliminates foods that contain other possible allergens, such as antibiotics, preservatives, hormones, and dyes. This leaves your immune system increasingly available to fight off disease instead of constantly battling issues caused by foods.

Better Sleep

With a holistic approach to health, going Paleo treats your mind, body, and soul. While your diet is important, so is your fitness and self-care. This includes an adequate sleep pattern. With a properly fueled body, you’ll be more inclined to sleep more soundly for a better rest.

Increased Glucose Tolerance

A Palaeolithic diet can improve glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. The body may also have better glycemic control.

Main Criticisms of the Diet and Why They Are Wrong

Criticism: Eliminating all dairy could put calcium, vitamin D and potassium intakes at risk.

Up to 70% of the world’s adults are lactose intolerant and cannot digest unlimited quantities of milk. Adequate calcium metabolism is not just a function of calcium intake, but rather calcium balance.

Also, the elimination of milk from the diet will have little or no effect upon vitamin D metabolism, as milk is a poor dietary source of vitamin D.

Criticism: Cutting back on legumes and whole grains could cause deficiencies in fiber, manganese, magnesium, and selenium.

Accordingly, the elimination of legumes and beans in contemporary Paleo Diets actually increases the usable and functional magnesium content of the diet. Actually, contemporary Paleo Diets provide the consumer with quantities of these nutrients that easily meet or surpass governmental DRI recommendations.

Criticism: Avoiding beans and grain foods also make meeting nutrient needs harder.

In reality, the elimination of whole or refined grains and beans actually increases the nutrient density of the 12 most common vitamin and mineral insufficiencies.

Because the Paleo Diet encourages the elimination or reduction of processed foods, it further increases dietary fiber. The 42.5 gram fiber content of example Paleo Diets is considerably higher than the 15.1 gram value in the U.S. diet. It is even higher than the recommended 25 to 30-gram values.

Is This Diet Long-Term or Short-Term?

While used by many people today as a way to lose weight, the Paleo Diet was originally intended to realign humans with their natural, historical way of eating.

As a result of this realignment, the diet’s goals were to restore good health and avoid the modern diseases that are potentially tied to modern diets.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term

The Paleo diet isn’t meant to be a short-term weight loss method. It’s a change in lifestyle that many, particularly those previously eating a modern diet, find leads to long-term weight loss.

Experimental human studies have shown the Paleo Diet to be superior to diabetic diets and Mediterranean diets, in terms of health. Further, The Paleo Diet is nutritionally superior to the USDA My Plate Diet (formerly the My Pyramid Diet) in the 13 nutrients most lacking in the US diet.

In a new study, The Paleo Diet proved superior to a low fat, high carbohydrate diet for weight loss at 6, 12 and 18 months. This was for a measure of body fat, waist circumference and sagittal, abdominal diameter. As well, The Paleo Diet resulted in greater improvements in blood triglycerides after 2 years than the low fat, high carbohydrate diet.

History of the Diet

In 1975, a gastroenterologist named Dr. Walter Voegtlin published a book called The Stone Age Diet. This book, documented how he treated patients with a diet that replicated the eating patterns of people during the Paleolithic era. The diet prescribed consuming large quantities of animal fats and proteins and very small quantities of carbohydrates.

Dr. Voegtlin reported that his patients, who suffered from disorders such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, showed significant health improvements when following the diet.

Unfortunately, The Stone Age Diet didn’t make much headway with the public. At that time, almost everyone believed that a low-fat, low-calorie diet was the only healthy way to eat.

Ten years later, however, Dr. S. Boyd Eaton and Dr. Melvin Konner published a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine that supported Dr. Voegtlin’s research. The paper received a lot of attention from the medical community and the media. The popularity of their paper on the Paleolithic era diet led to the publication of their book, The Paleolithic Prescription: A Program of Diet and Exercise and a Design for Living. This book established the principles most variations of the Paleo Diet follow today.

The book explained the way our Paleolithic ancestors ate and why that nutritional lifestyle was such a healthy one. The most important thing the authors accomplished was to make the ancient diet suitable for modern times. The book laid out the nutritional content of the original Paleolithic diet and then showed readers how to get that nutritional profile from modern and widely available foods. It was an adaptable way to eat like our ancestors, and it paved the way for today’s Paleo Diet phenomenon.

About the Author

With over 10 years of providing detailed articles with a strong SEO background in the online market, Addison Jackel has sharpened his experience with his passion for Health and Nutrition. Providing A - Z content management, his editorial expertise has driven social conversations and created communities centred on his clients’ core values. In over a decade of elevating engagement to accomplish his partners’ social media communication goals, Addison Jackel has developed his services as a distinguished writer and editor. His articles balance high fidelity research with a creative and personal approach to readership engagement.