The Paleo diet is largely based on the idea that the modern approach to living and eating is very different from the way that humans used to live.
Many people choose to follow a Paleo diet meal plan or just the Paleo diet as a whole.
The concept is that this approach to eating is having many negative impacts on our overall health, particularly as our bodies have not adapted to this new approach to eating.
For example, we eat a diet that is rich in refined grains and carbohydrates, as well as many different types of food that are heavily processed and full of additives.
In theory, following the Paleo diet can result in significant levels of weight loss and improved levels of health overall.
Personally, I believe that there are some strengths to the Paleo diet and it makes sense why some people choose to follow it.
I will not go too far into the science behind the Paleo diet in this article, as this is something I talk about elsewhere.
However, the Paleo diet does result in a strong focus on whole and healthy foods and completely removes the artificial elements of current eating practices.
When you consider how much additives and processing goes into modern food, it’s easy to see how the Paleo diet can help to improve health overall.
What You Can Eat
The Paleo diet is focused on the hunter-gatherer mentality, so thinking about what this group of people would have eaten can provide a lot of insight.
When following the Paleo diet, there is a strong emphasis on meat and fish.
Because the diet attempts to mimic that of people from the Paleolithic era it is desirable to choose organic or wild meats and fish wherever possible.
This includes preferring grass-fed meat over corn-fed, as animals that are grass fed tend to have a more natural diet overall.
Fish and meat are particularly important for the diet, as it contributes to how full you feel after eating.
Two other key sources of food are fruits and vegetables.
Many people who follow the Paleo diet choose any fruit or vegetable, although some people that follow the diet more strictly will avoid the fruits and vegetables that involve a significant amount of cultivation.
Another important food group when you are on a Paleo diet is fats, seeds and nuts.
This is a broad group and can be a little confusing – but the key thing to consider is that you are looking for foods that do not involve much processing.
For example, there are a few types of oil that are not hydrogenated and are obtained by pressing, rather than chemical manipulation.
The inclusion of butter is actually very important as it can really help with cooking.
However, while butter is generally included in Paleo diets, the emphasis is on grass-fed butter.
There is also some controversy about the use of butter.
In fact, there is controversy about many Paleo foods. In many ways, Paleo itself isn’t a single diet at all.
Instead, there are many different variations and the specific approach you take will end up depending partly on your own values and view of Paleo.
A final food that people don’t always realize is part of Paleo is eggs.
Like meat and fish, eggs are strongly encouraged as part of the Paleo diet, particularly as they provide such a substantial source of nutrients and protein.
The site Nerd Fitness also offers a detailed guide that makes a powerful introduction to the Paleo diet and focuses on all of the different aspects.
What You Can’t Eat
As a general rule, you avoid everything that is man-made of any form; this goes beyond processed foods and also includes grains, dairy, most oils and legumes.
People often find this rule particularly challenging, especially when they first start a Paleo diet.
In fact, some people say that it is easier to work out what you cannot eat than what you can.
For example, one of the most obvious rules about what you can’t eat is to avoid artificial ingredients.
As a general rule, this includes anything that was created within the last 200 years and anything that is synthesized chemically.
It is surprising just how much food contains these ingredients, and a quick glance at the ingredients label for any processed food will provide an indication of their prevalence.
This approach makes a lot of sense, because artificial ingredients have not been a part of the human diet for very long – and we still don’t fully know what impact they are having on health.
As you can imagine, this restriction means that items like soda, candy and fast foods are not able to be consumed while following the Paleo diet.
Likewise, partially hydrogenated oils (also known as trans fats) cannot be included in the diet, as the creation of these oils involves considerable chemical manipulation to increase their shelf life.
The items that I’ve mentioned so far make sense, and seem easy to implement, but the next elements of the diet often surprise people.
One of the key food types that is removed from the diet is grains.
This often seems confusing, because the government and Department of Agriculture have done a good job of promoting the idea that grains are good for health.
I’m not going to go into a debate about whether they are or not here, but suffice to say, all grains are cut from the Paleo diet.
Many people find that following this has surprising impacts, including increases in energy, improvements to digestion and weight loss.
Another surprising element of the Paleo diet is that dairy is included in the list of foods not to eat.
Even though dairy is frequently considered to be healthy, it is not a food group that was consumed by the Paleolithic man, and so by definition is excluded from the Paleo diet.
Tricky Foods That You Can’t Eat
There are a few foods that can’t be eaten as part of the Paleo diet that are particularly confusing.
One of these is processed foods.
This one seems obvious, but the problem is that there is no clear line between what food is processed and what isn’t.
In reality, there is a wide variation in how heavily processed food is. Because of this, it is difficult to know precisely what can, and cannot, be consumed as part of the Paleo diet.
For example, fruits and vegetables in a can often have minimal processing.
This suggests that if you choose ones without artificial ingredients, they may be okay on the Paleo diet.
This one is a matter of perspective and personal choice.
Some people say that these are fine under Paleo while other people argue that food wasn’t canned in the Paleolithic era.
Potatoes are commonly avoided under the Paleo diet even though they are natural, because of the amount of cultivating it takes to grow them.
In the Paleolithic era, people did not stay in one place long, so they would not have cultivated plants.
Legumes is another confusing food, and this includes, lentils, peas, peanuts and beans.
Even though these are natural foods, cultivating crops in this manner is a relatively new aspect of the human diet – which means that it is excluded from the Paleo approach.
There remains significant contention about some foods concerning whether they are, or are not, part of the Paleo diet.
I mentioned potatoes before and these are actually one in a class of vegetables, which are high in carbohydrates and in starch.
Although I included potatoes in the list of foods you can’t eat, there is actually some debate around this whole area.
Some purists argue that these should not be consumed at all, based on the fact that they have to be cultivated and that they have to be cooked prior to eating.
Other groups believe that these vegetables are okay when consumed in moderation. This is particularly true of yams, as these have a lower glycemic index, which makes them a better decision overall.
Modifying the Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet focuses on the way that our ancestors ate, but the problem is – we don’t fully know all the food decisions that they made.
Additionally, the Paleo diet strongly focuses on the eating patterns from the Paleolithic era (hence the name), but this was a large space of time, and there were many changes within it.
Thus, people tend to vary considerably in how they interpret and follow the Paleo diet.
Some people also find that they need to modify the Paleo diet based on what suits their own situation, such as the food that is available to them and their financial situation.
The most extreme group of Paleo followers, often referred to as purists, reject any foods that began to be consumed in the Neolithic era (which began around 4,000 years ago).
This results in a very narrow definition of the foods that can be consumed, which can cause some challenges.
While some people are able to follow this type of diet without an issue, other people find that there isn’t enough food available to them that falls within this category.
This is particularly true in some parts of cities, where access to fresh and healthy food is very challenging. These areas are defined as food deserts and they are present across the United States.
At face value, the Paleo diet is strongly intuitive, making it relatively easy to work out what is, and is not, part of the diet.
However, as you may have noticed from some of the foods that cannot be eaten, not all of these decisions are obvious.
Additionally, not everyone agrees with them.
For example, potatoes are not normally included as part of a Paleo diet, but it can be argued that people would have occasionally eaten them in the Paleolithic era.
As such, there is some basis for including potatoes as part of the Paleo diet, but as a rare food item, rather than as a staple in the diet.
Likewise, people might choose to include some canned goods in their diet or choose some foods that are very low in processing.
Another important point is that the Paleo diet emphasizes meat that is wild or at least organic.
In practice, this is very difficult for people to achieve, both practically and financially.
Many people following a Paleo diet will choose to compromise in this area and only get organic or wild meat when it is possible and choosing non-organic meat when they don’t have another option.
While wild and organic meats are desirable, the inability to access these shouldn’t prevent you from following the Paleo diet, as you still get most of the benefits of the diet either way.
Ultimately if you plan to follow the Paleo diet you can choose to follow it strictly or to make variations based on your own needs.
That is one of the good things about the Paleo diet – nothing major will happen if you don’t follow the diet rigidly.
However, if you change the diet too much, then you may find that you lose out on some of the health benefits associated with the Paleo diet.
This means that you should focus on modifications only when you need to, not simply to make the diet a little easier.
Many people who follow the Paleo diet choose to have between one and three cheat meals (also called open meals) per week.
Often, people start out with three of these meals per week and cut it down to one or even none of these meals.
Having a cheat meal can be a good way to get used to the diet, particularly because Paleo is a big change from how the rest of society eats.
An additional advantage of cheat meals is that they provide people with the option to be social or to eat out.
After all, the restrictions of the Paleo diet are so strong that it is often hard to find something to eat when eating with others.
Some groups of people find that they need to make variations to the Paleo diet to be able to follow effectively, and athletes are one group of people that fall under this category.
The need to make modifications comes from the fact that they have different nutritional needs and a different overall lifestyle.
One particular difference is that starchy tubers, such as yams, can be particularly important for recovery following intense exercise.
When athletes follow a Paleo diet, they will sometimes use foods that cannot normally be consumed at all under Paleo, such as sports drinks.
This is important, because athletes use a lot more energy than other people, and they have to be able to restore the glycogen levels in their bodies quickly following exercise – something that is challenging under a strict Paleo diet.
Following the Paleo Diet
Is it Hard to Follow?
The difficulty of following the Paleo diet really depends on the variant of the diet that you follow.
There is no single approach to the Paleo diet, instead, people frequently vary it based on their own needs or the specific version of the diet that they are following.
This means that a strict variant of the Paleo diet will tend to be much more challenging versus a more lenient approach, however, it does become easier over time.
One of the most significant challenges of the Paleo diet is that there are so many different foods and types of foods that you can’t eat.
People often find that the Paleo diet cuts out a large proportion of the foods that they ate previously, and this can take some time adjusting to.
This is even more significant for people who are strict followers of the diet, as many strict variants of the Paleo diet do not allow followers to have a cheat meal (or meals) each week.
The significant restriction on food also makes it challenging to work out what meals you can cook, as many meals have at least one ingredient that doesn’t fall under Paleo guidelines.
Because the Paleo diet relies on food that is not produced artificially or through agriculture, it means that people following the diet have to prepare their meals themselves.
Some people find that this is challenging if they work busy jobs or don’t have a lot of time in general.
However, for people who love cooking and natural food, Paleo can be a relatively easy diet to follow because most of the foods included in the Paleo diet are what these people would choose to eat anyway.
Despite the challenges of the diet, there are some factors that make it easier than other diets.
In particular, you don’t need to count calories or track food, which dramatically reduces the amount of effort involved in the diet.
Additionally, people who follow the Paleo diet don’t tend to meet in groups, which also decrease the time requirement.
These elements make the diet easier to follow than many other types of diet, particularly as there are a large number of websites and online forums that people can turn to for support.
Is it Expensive?
A Paleo diet can be expensive, because it relies strongly on meat and fish, both of which tend to be more expensive than many other types of food.
Additionally, many of the foods that people use to bulk out their meals cannot be used as part of a Paleo diet, which also adds to the cost.
If people choose to rely on wild fish and grass-fed meats, this can also increase the cost as these are more expensive than their more conventional counterparts.
Ultimately, how expensive the Paleo diet depends on the food decisions that you make and it is still possible to follow a Paleo diet on a relatively limited budget.
Most people can follow a Paleo diet without any problems.
However, it is essentially impossible to follow a Paleo diet if you are a vegetarian because the diet places such a strong emphasis on seafood and meat.
This is even more significant because vegetarians tend to obtain the protein in their diet from legumes, and legumes cannot be eaten as part of the Paleo diet.
Because of this, a vegetarian trying to follow a Paleo diet would not have enough nutrients and would also find that there was very little food that they can eat.
More than a Diet – The Paleo Lifestyle
Realistically, any attempt to lose weight and to improve health is never just a diet.
A diet might be a good way to lose weight for an event, but the nature of a diet makes it very difficult for a person to follow long term.
Instead, a much more desirable approach is an entire change in lifestyle, which involves considering not only what you eat, but many other aspects of life, such as sleeping, exercise and scheduling.
For many people, following a Paleo diet is a way of getting back to a healthier way of living overall.
This may involve a decreased focus on many modern luxuries, such as electronics and transportation, and some people will find they increase how frequently they walk and run.
The Paleo diet has the advantage of getting people back into the kitchen and spending more time planning and preparing food.
This can make the diet very appealing, and a Paleo diet often results in a greater appreciation of food overall.
One of the lifestyle changes that commonly occurs as part of a Paleo diet is people choosing to purchase food from farmer’s markets and butcher’s shops, rather than grocery stores.
In fact, some people even choose to purchase food directly from producers, although this isn’t an option for everyone.
Moving away from the food sold at grocery stores tends to mean a decreased amount of pesticides and herbicides in food as well as food that is fresher and healthier overall.
Implementing a Paleo diet is different for each person, and this includes the changes that occur in their lifestyle.
The most important thing is to remember that you are trying to develop an approach to health (and possibly weight loss) that can be followed in the long-term.
This means that it will probably involve considerable changes in the way that you do things and even in the way that you think about food.
Weight Loss Paleo Diet
I’ve mainly focused this article on the Paleo diet in general, so I haven’t talked specifically about doing a weight loss Paleo diet.
One of the reasons for this is that on its own the Paleo diet supports weight loss and some people even say that you don’t need to exercise to lose weight while on the diet – although exercise is still recommended.
It isn’t really surprising that the Paleo diet is associated with weight loss because you end up cutting out so many different sources of calories from the diet.
You also end up dramatically decreasing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet, which is also very good for weight loss.
In essence, a Paleo diet ends up being a very specific form of a high-fat low-carb diet.
This is a type of diet that seems very counter-intuitive, but there is considerable support for this type of diet (e.g. 1).
I’m not going to talk about the science behind the Paleo diet here, as that is the topic of an entirely different article, which you are more than welcome to read.
Additionally, the role of fat and cholesterol on health is something that I talk about in detail elsewhere, because it is a complex topic.
However, the take home message is that fat and cholesterol are not nearly as bad for health as we have been told, while carbohydrates (which the Paleo diet largely cuts out) may be significantly contributing to the current crisis of obesity, diabetes and poor health overall.
Designing a Paleo Diet Meal Plan
The Paleo diet has been dramatically increasing in popularity, and this means that there is a lot of support for following the diet.
In fact, this can make the process of designing a Paleo diet meal plan and actually following the diet much easier.
Although a Paleo diet certainly requires less awareness of calories and even portion sizes, I suggest that anyone starting on the diet focuses on designing a Paleo diet meal plan.
Many people find it a little challenging to work out meals that fit within the Paleo diet approach, particularly when they first start the diet.
Developing a meal plan can help to make this process easier and there are a lot of Paleo recipes out there that can provide ideas and new directions.
Indeed, many of the foods that are a part of a ‘normal’ modern diet can actually be made in a Paleo manner.
For example, it is actually possible to make Paleo bread, by substituting some of the ingredients normally used in making bread.
One way that I have seen this done is to include ground flax and coconut flour in the bread, as corn cannot be used as part of Paleo.
Realistically, there are a large number of ways to be creative even on a Paleo diet, and there are some really fantastic meals that you can make.
People often find that as they start to become more used to the diet it becomes much easier to think of new meal ideas. Likewise, it becomes easier to make hearty and tasty foods. You can also find many new ideas by reading Paleo blogs, particularly ones that offer recipes such as Paleo Leap.
When it comes to any type of diet, making food that tastes good and is filling is an important way of sticking to the diet in the long-term.
After all, a diet really shouldn’t be another form of torture.
The Paleo diet focuses on whole, natural foods – specifically the foods that our ancestors used to consume.
There are many different variations to the Paleo diet out there, as people differ in what they think should or should not be included. Likewise, some people are strict in following the diet, while others are not.
Effectively following the Paleo diet involves paying attention to the foods you can eat.
Even though the might be a challenge to get used to, many people to successfully follow it and swear by its effectiveness.