What is a Paleo diet?

paleo dietThe paleo diet has a few different variations, but all are rooted in the same principles. You eat the foods you’d find in the paleolithic era (a.k.a. The Stone Age, 12,000 years ago). That means getting healthy by eating clean and fresh food. Let’s pretend we’re cavemen for a moment: would you be able to eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast? Considering the extensive and hard to pronounce ingredient list of most cereals, the answer is no. You’d more easily find some eggs, meat and fresh fruit for breakfast. Animals roamed free and the cavemen hunted them. Fruits and vegetables grew in abundance and man feasted on them. Supporters of the paleolithic diet follow these guidelines for eating today: if a caveman could eat it, so can you.

This rules out many obviously terrible choices such as bread, candy, soda, and pretty much anything in a box, bag or commercial. How often do you see a commercial for apples? Or spinach? If someone has to sell you something, chances are that product is not too healthy. What’s healthy will sell itself. A good tip we once heard is to stick to the perimeter of supermarkets- the aisles are full of packaged and preserved products; we want fresh!

What’s the difference between “paleo” and “primal”?

Most people use these terms interchangeably but there is a difference. Paleo refers to a diet based on meat and vegetables with a small amount of fat and avoiding dairy. While primal refers to a diet rich in fat and protein with small amounts of raw, unpasteurized dairy. We follow a diet closer to primal. However, the names are so closely related, many tend to use one term when they actually mean the other! Whatever you call you diet, make sure you’re sticking to it! And keep in mind cavemen didn’t pick and choose which meat they ate; they often ate every part of the animal they’ve obtained. That included full fat organ meat and bone marrow- both amazing sources of vitamins, minerals and very necessary fat! Our brain and bodies need fat to survive. See our notes on dairy for our feelings towards it.

Benefits of a Paleo Diet

  • Paleo-approved foods have no additives, preservatives, or chemicals.
  • Your diet will be rich with nutrients through vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, berries and fruit, all of which are full of minerals and vitamins.
  • By removing processed foods and keeping a healthy balanced diet, most people experience sustained weight loss and muscle growth.
  • Additional benefits most commonly include – higher and more stable energy levels, improved sleep, improved mood and attitude, healthier skin and hair, mental clarity, improvements in those suffering from depression or anxieties.

Paleo diet plan

Foods to welcome:

  • Meats – all kinds! Chicken, beef, pork, lamb, turkey, fish, shrimp, mussels, oysters and more!
  • Eggs – they’re so versatile
  • Vegetables – you can’t go wrong
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fats – coconut oil, olive oil, nut oils, avocado oil, ghee, butter, animal fat (that includes bacon fat!). For an extensive background on fat see our Ketogenic Diet page!

Foods to avoid:

  • Grains – breads, cereals, pasta, pizza dough, corn, rice, the list goes on!
  • Legumes – beans, peanuts
  • Alcohol – if cavemen didn’t eat grains, they sure didn’t ferment them
  • Sugar – read nutrition labels! Sugar is found everywhere these days. Fruit juices are loaded with added sugars, condiments are full of sugars; read, read, read!
  • Dairy – this one’s a bit tricky. See our explanation below.

Dairy – to eat or not to eat?

Let’s talk about dairy for a second. On one hand, sticking to paleolithic logic, a caveman could’ve easily milked a goat and drank its milk. On the other, current dairy practices pretty much kill any benefit we could’ve received by over heating the product before selling it to stores. Cutting out or embracing dairy is up to you and how strictly paleo you want to be. There a few things to consider:

  • Humans are the only species to drink the milk of another species
  • Humans are also the only species to drink milk past infancy
  • Humans’ involvement in the milk industry has drastically changed the nutrition of dairy (added hormones, antibiotics, unsanitary conditions of livestock, etc.)

paleo dietRemember, though, by following a paleo or primal diet, your macronutrient ratio of fat to protein to carbs is about 3:1:1, which means fat plays a big role in your food intake. By limiting your daily dairy, you could be missing out on good sources of fat. If you can find a good source of dairy you can purchase from (and meats while you’re at it), there’s no reason you couldn’t enjoy a glass of milk, a cup of yogurt, cheese or butter. If the animal was raised on a diet full of grains, more likely than not, the product of that animal is not something that can be considered paleo. On the other hand most people who follow a paleo diet will frequently use grass-fed animals’ products like butter and ghee (a clarified butter where milk solids have been removed. Sounds scary but you can make it yourself) in their recipes. If the dairy you’re eating is from a trusted, natural source, by all means, enjoy it.

Paleo is a lifestyle

The paleo diet also encourages a stress-free lifestyle. While the cavemen probably didn’t live as carefree as we can, they did have the opportunity for more exercise, relaxation and exploration. It may sound silly but think of your greatest stressors in life: your job, your boss, your mortgage, money, your weight… didn’t exist in the Stone Age! Stressors cause weight gain thanks to the hormone surges they cause1. When you eliminate the trivial and focus on the spiritual- your family, your health, happiness, travel and education, you eliminate the stressors altogether. Sleep 8 hours, soak up some sun, learn something new everyday, cook delicious meals from what the ground gave us, love your spouse!

It may sound like an unrealistic lifestyle, but you can take it one step at a time! If you start sleeping more each night for a few weeks, your mood will improve! Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit, you will feel inspired! Eat clean, your body will thrive! Do it all together and you will flourish! Many people who have given paleo a chance have described it as coming out of a fog. It makes sense; years of eating processed, chemical laden foods from a factory will plunge you into a hazy state. You body is constantly trying to repair the damage these external factors are wreaking on you.

Browse all our paleo recipes and see what you could be enjoying!

Bonus tip: many people consider counting their macros to be a vital part of weight management. Read our Intro to Macros and find out how you can be more aware of the nutritional content you’re eating.

Check out these helpful links:

Here’s an extensive list of paleo foods you can enjoy.
Here’s a printable for your fridge!
Peer reviewed studies for your scholarly consideration.