In the 21st century, we find ourselves navigating through a myriad of challenges that pose significant threats to our health and overall well-being. Processed foods, added sugar, unhealthy fats, sedentary lifestyles, smoking, alcohol, allergies, artificial additives, mercury poisoning, the list goes on. The paleo diet is offered as a remedy for this lifestyle.
In this article, we delve into the concept of the paleo diet and present the definitive food list, outlining what to include and exclude from this eating plan.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The paleo diet, short for the Palaeolithic diet, is a dietary approach inspired by the eating habits of humans in the Palaeolithic era. The Palaeolithic era refers to the old stone age, before the advent of human settlement and agricultural practices. This was when our ancestors had just invented stone tools, harpoons, and rafts. This diet is also called the caveman diet or the stone age diet.
During the stone age, early humans were hunter-gatherers. They used their simple stone tools to hunt wild animals. They gathered plants, fruits, insects, etc., from their surroundings.
The paleo diet is a modern-day nutritional plan based on the presumed eating habits of paleolithic humans. It encourages consuming whole, unprocessed foods like lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. 
How Does it Work?
The reasoning behind this eating style is that the modern diet, which is full of processed food and added sugars, has led to various health issues like obesity, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Proponents believe adopting a paleo diet can prevent these problems. Loren Cordain, a prominent paleo diet advocate, contends that it perfectly matches our genetic makeup. He states that human DNA has remained relatively unchanged over the last 10,000 years, making us more compatible with the diet. According to this perspective, our bodies are ill-equipped to handle the agricultural and heavily processed foods of the modern era, which is thought to contribute to the rise of chronic diseases.  
Paleo Diet Ground Rules
Here are the rules to follow while practicing the paleo diet:
- Eat high amounts of animal protein.
- No cereals, legumes, processed food, dairy products, or refined sugar are allowed.
- There is no calorie count.
- There is no macronutrient ratio calculation.
- This is a low-salt diet.
- The three levels of the paleo diet and the 85-15 rule: The paleo diet offers three progressive levels of adherence. In the first level, 85 percent of your food should be paleo-compliant, while the remaining 15 percent can be non-paleo, which comes out to be approximately three meals per week. Level two reduces the non-paleo food to 10 percent, allowing roughly two non-paleo meals each week. Finally, at the highest level, you can only have one cheat meal per week.
- Even though weight loss can be achieved through dietary changes alone, incorporating exercise into your routine can be beneficial.
Related: Paleo vs. Keto: Which Diet is Best?
Foods To Eat
Here is a list of foods you can include in your paleo diet:
Early humans relied on wild animals for sustenance. Raw meat played a vital role in their diet, making it a fundamental part of the paleo diet. However, it’s essential to be cautious when choosing meat. Be wary of feedlot and grain-produced meats, as they come from animals confined in small spaces and fed excessive amounts of grain. Nutritionally, such meat falls far short compared to grass-fed or pasture-produced alternatives.
Processed meats should also be avoided, as they are artificially produced and contain preservatives believed to cause cancer. For the best nutritional value, opt for fresh meat whenever possible. If fresh meat is too pricey, frozen meat can be a viable alternative. However, steer clear of canned or tinned meat altogether. By making informed choices about the meat we consume, we can better align with the principles of the paleo diet and prioritize our overall health.
In his “The Paleo Diet Cookbook,” Cordain listed a vast array of meat choices. Ignore anything that you cannot find locally or makes you squeamish. 
Lean meat is a cornerstone of the paleo diet, as it is considered to be more in line with the natural eating habits of our ancestors. You can enjoy lean beef, such as flank steak, top sirloin steak, extra-lean hamburger (with the fat drained off), and London broil. Chuck steak and lean veal are also excellent choices. Lean lamb, including grass-fed lamb chops and roasts, adds a delicious twist to your meals. And if you’re a pork fan, pork loin, pork chops, or any other lean cut.
Poultry lovers can indulge in white meat with the skin removed, like chicken breast, turkey breast, or game hen breast. For adventurous eaters, there’s rabbit, goat meat, and even escargot for a unique culinary experience.
For those who appreciate organ meats, there are tasty options like the liver, tongue, and marrow of beef, lamb, and pork. The paleo diet offers many exotic choices if you’re interested in game meats. You can try alligator or crocodile, bear, bison or buffalo, caribou, elk, emu, frog legs, goose, kangaroo, Muscovy duck, New Zealand Cervena deer, ostrich, pheasant, quail, rattlesnake, reindeer, squab, squirrel, turtle, venison, wild boar, and wild turkey. 
|Chicken wings||Chicken leg|
|Goose eggs||Duck eggs|
|Pork tenderloin||Pork chops|
|Ground beef||New York steak|
|Bison jerky||Bison ribeye|
|Bison sirloin||Beef jerky|
|Lamb rack||Lamb chops|
|Lean veal||Chuck steak|
Seafood is one of the healthiest sources of omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Including it in your diet helps with weight loss.
In the paleo diet, fish and shellfish play a significant role. A variety of fish options are recommended, such as bass, bluefish, cod, drum, eel, flatfish, grouper, haddock, halibut, herring, mackerel, monkfish, mullet, northern pike, orange roughy, perch, red snapper, rockfish, salmon, scrod, shark, striped bass, sunfish, tilapia, trout, tuna, turbot, and walleye. Additionally, any commercially available fish is suitable for the diet.
As for shellfish, there is a delightful range to choose from, including abalone, calamari (squid), crab, crayfish, lobster, mussels, octopus, oysters, scallops, and shrimp. These ocean delights add variety and flavor to the paleo menu, ensuring a diverse and enjoyable eating experience. 
Veggies are a nutritional powerhouse packed with essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. The paleo diet advises against consuming vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, yams, or squash, which have high starch or carb content, as their nutritional value is comparatively low. Unless you are an athlete needing more energy, limit your intake of such vegetables. It may hinder weight loss.
A wide range of vegetables is encouraged, including:
- Green leafy vegetables: Beet greens, collards, dandelion, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, swiss chard, turnip greens, and watercress.
- Root vegetables: Beets, carrots, parsnips, radish, rutabaga, turnips, and yams.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi.
- Gourd and squash: Cucumber, pumpkin, squash, tomatillos, and zucchini.
- Other vegetables: Artichoke, asparagus, bell peppers, celery, eggplant, endive, green onions, mushrooms, onions, parsley, peppers, purslane, and seaweed.
Get creative in the kitchen. Include an assortment of vegetables in each meal. They diversify your plate and ensure balanced nutrient intake.
|Japanese Sweet Potatoes|
|Peppers (all kinds)||Eggplant|
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Pegan Diet
Just like vegetables, fruits can help nourish our bodies and minds. While there are no strict restrictions on the types of fruits you can enjoy on the paleo diet, individuals with diabetes or obesity should be cautious about fruits with a high glycemic index and consume them in moderation. To support your health and paleo lifestyle, here’s a list of fruits with increasing levels of total sugar content that you can include in your diet:
|Grapefruit (white and pink)||Tangerine|
Fruits like raisins, dates, dried figs, papaya, prunes, apricots, pears, mango, bananas, grapes, Pineapple, purple passion fruit, etc., have a very high sugar concentration and should be consumed in moderation. 
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are an excellent addition to the paleo diet, as they contain healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. They can be enjoyed as a snack, added to salads or various recipes, or used as toppings for dishes, offering flavor and nutritional value to your meals. Here’s the list of nuts and seeds that can be included in the paleo diet:
- Nuts: Almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts (filberts), macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios (unsalted), and walnuts.
- Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.
Although peanuts are commonly referred to as nuts, they are legumes and cannot be consumed in a paleo diet.
During the stone age, vegetable or cooking oils were nonexistent. Vegetable oils debuted during the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period and were mainly used for lighting and heating. Cooking oils entered the culinary practices only a few centuries ago. According to Cordain, the introduction of vegetable oils into our cooking has led to a significant rise in omega-6 fatty acids in our daily diets, which is linked to various health issues such as heart and autoimmune diseases and inflammatory conditions.
However, our bodies still need fat as an essential nutrient to function properly. The following oils can be used in cooking to boost your healthy fat intake:
- Flaxseed oil
- Walnut oil
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
Non-Paleo Foods to Eat in Moderation
The paleo diet isn’t overly rigid; it offers some flexibility. You can follow the 85-15 rule, allowing occasional indulgence in non-paleo comfort foods.
When it comes to beverages, you’re free to enjoy diet sodas, coffee, tea, wine, or beer, but moderation is key.
As for sweets, remember that ancient humans had access to only honey as their primary sweetener, but even this should be consumed in moderation. Dried fruits or a mix of dried fruits and nuts are acceptable treats, but if you aim to shed some pounds, it might be best to limit their intake.
Foods To Avoid
You must avoid ‘modern’ foods that were not part of the Palaeolithic era. Cordain suggests adopting the 85-15 rule as a gradual approach to transitioning away from these foods. Here are some foods to avoid:
- Dairy: Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, ice cream, powdered milk, and yogurt, should be avoided. Early humans did not domesticate animals and milk them until much later, and in true paleo spirit, they should not be consumed.
- Fatty and processed meats: Reduce consumption of processed meats, such as bacon, sausages, and deli meats, as they often contain additives and preservatives.
- Grains: Avoid all grains, including barley, millet, rye, sorghum, wheat, rice, oats, and corn, as they were not consumed during the Palaeolithic era. Foods like bread, rolls, muffins, lasagna, etc., made using these grains must be avoided.
- Legumes: These are a group of plants that produce seeds in pods. These foods are rich in protein and fiber. They include:
- All beans (black beans, green beans, kidney beans, mung beans, etc.)
- Peanuts and all products made using peanuts (e.g., peanut butter)
- Peas (black-eyed peas, chickpeas, snow peas, sugar snap peas)
- Soybeans and all soybean products
- Salt-containing foods: Salty foods like bacon, cheese, canned meat and fish, salami, ketchup, olives, pickled foods, salted nuts, sausages, etc., should also be avoided.
- Starchy vegetables: White potatoes, corn, and peas.
- Soft drinks and sugary beverages: Cut back on sugary beverages, including soft drinks, fruit juices, and energy drinks.
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners: Minimize or eliminate added sugars, including refined and artificial sweeteners. Even honey should be consumed in moderation.
- Vegetable oils: Refrain from using vegetable oils like soybean, sunflower, and canola oil in cooking or as a primary fat source.
Remember, the paleo diet focuses on whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods that our ancestors would have consumed during the palaeolithic era. Avoiding these modern processed foods will lead to more wholesome and nourishing dietary habits. 
Why are legumes not allowed in the Paleo diet?
In the paleo diet, legumes are excluded due to the presence of anti-nutrients like lectins and phytates, which can interfere with nutrient absorption and digestion. While legumes have some health benefits, they are not included in the paleo eating plan to ensure better nutrient absorption and adherence to the diet principles.
What are whole foods?
Whole foods are unprocessed or minimally processed foods that are in their natural state, free from additives, and rich in nutrients.
Can I have eggs on a Paleo diet?
Yes, eggs are allowed on the paleo diet and are considered a staple. For a more paleo-compliant option, organic eggs from cage-free birds are preferable over store-bought ones, as they align better with the principles of the paleo diet.
What are the benefits of a Paleo diet?
The paleo diet is renowned for its abundant protein, fiber, and antioxidants while keeping carbs, sodium, sugar, and processed foods in check. It is believed to positively affect cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation, promoting weight loss, better blood sugar management, improved sleep, and increased energy levels.    
What are the potential side effects of the paleo diet?
Eliminating whole grains, dairy, and legumes can lead to calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins deficiencies. For vegans, excluding legumes may result in a lack of a primary protein source. Additionally, a sudden increase in fiber intake can lead to gastric problems. 
While the paleo diet has gained traction, it has its fair share of critics. Some nutrition experts argue it can be restrictive, omitting certain nutritious food groups like whole grains and legumes. Another contention is that replicating the exact diet of Palaeolithic humans is not optimal, as their eating habits varied vastly depending on where they lived and what was available. Maybe they never had chronic diseases because they never lived long enough to have them. Opinions and studies provide conflicting views about this. 
It is wise to consult a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before starting a new eating plan. They can help you tailor the diet to your health needs and goals.
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