What to Eat and What Not to Eat on the Paleo Diet

The paleo (short for paleolithic) diet revolves around the idea that we should return to the way our ancestors ate – specifically, the cavemen thousands of years ago. While we don’t know for sure exactly what their diet consisted of, we know that they were using hunting and gathering to access food, rather than an agricultural system.

As you can imagine, our ancestors’ exact diets varied based on where they lived and what food they could get. However, on a broad scale, a paleo diet is centered around eating unprocessed, whole foods and avoiding packaged and processed foods.

Research has shown that a paleo diet may help with weight loss, while also potentially lowering blood pressure and controlling blood sugar. The University of Vermont Medical Center also explains that it is great for increasing potassium levels (which is good for the kidneys and muscles), healthy fats, and protein. The elimination of processed food is also ideal, as it can reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

It should be noted that the standard paleo diet excludes legumes and grains. However, as explained by the International Food Information Council Foundation, researchers have shown that our ancestors likely ate grains and legumes during the paleolithic era. While these items are on the list of foods to avoid below, it is best to consider your own needs and talk to your doctor before excluding grains and legumes from your diet (or taking on a paleo diet in general).

The Food You Can Eat on a Paleo Diet

Here is a look at some of the foods you can eat on a paleolithic diet:

  • Vegetables: Vegetables are a foundational part of a paleo diet. The options are endless, but some nutritional, paleo-friendly vegetables include kale, carrots, brussel sprouts, peppers, asparagus, and beets.
  • Fruit: There are also plenty of delicious fruits you can eat on a paleo diet, including berries, apples, bananas, peaches, oranges, and melons.
  • Meat and Fish: Any meat and fish consumed should be unprocessed. Organic, grass-fed, and pasture raised meat is ideal if accessible, as is wild-caught fish. Paleo options include turkey, chicken, pork, lamb, beef, shellfish, salmon, and trout.
  • Eggs: Paleo diet eggs should be either pastured, omega-3 enriched, or free-range.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are just a few paleo-friendly options.
  • Unprocessed Fats and Oils: Coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, and tahini are all acceptable on a paleo diet.

The Food to Avoid on a Paleo Diet

For those following a paleo diet, these are the foods that need to be avoided:

  • Processed Foods: This includes frozen meals and packaged foods.
  • Dairy: Most dairy should be avoided, but some paleo dieters use full-fat dairy products, including butter and cheese.
  • Grains: This includes pasta, bread, oats, rice, wheat, rye, barley, and similar grains.
  • Legumes: Black beans, garbanzo beans, soy, lentils, and more are traditionally avoided on a paleo diet. Peanuts are also considered beans under this diet, and should be avoided.
  • Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners: This includes (but isn’t limited to) candy, desserts, fruit juices, and soda.
  • Refined Vegetable Oils: Soybean oil, grapeseed oil, and sunflower oil are some common refined vegetable oils that need to be avoided.