Paleo Diet – The Definitive Beginner’s Guide

The paleo diet is designed to resemble what caveman hunter-gatherer ancestors ate thousands of years ago. While we don’t know definitively what these ancestors’ diets consisted of, many archeologists believe their diets consisted of whole foods.

Summary of the diet

The Paleo Diet is a modern fad diet consisting of foods thought by its proponents to mirror those eaten during the Paleolithic era. By following this whole-food-based diet, coupled with physically active lives, hunter-gatherers had much lower rates of lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

How much weight can you lose on the Paleo Diet in 30 days?

Most people see a very rapid loss of 5-10 pounds in the first week. This is encouraging, but don’t expect it to continue on that trajectory. This weight loss is mostly water weight.

Why do you lose so much water weight on the Paleo Diet? 

Every gram of glucose (carbohydrate) in your body holds on to 3-4 grams of water. When you lower carbohydrate intake, you’re losing a whole lot of water weight along with the carbs. This is the physiological effect of lowering carb consumption.

Basics of the diet

There’s not really a correct way to eat for the way paleolithic humans did because they thrived on a variety of diets depending on what was available at the time and where they lived.

While some cavemen ate a low-carb diet high in animal foods, others probably followed a high-carb diet consuming plants, vegetables, and berries.

What can you eat on the Paleo Diet?

With the Paleo Diet, there are only guidelines. Nothing is written in stone. You can alter and change to your own personal needs and preferences. The bottom line is whole, unprocessed foods.

Here’s the guideline of what you can eat based on the Paleo ideology:

  • Meat. This includes beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork and others.
  • Seafood and fish. Salmon, trout, haddock, shrimp, shellfish, and others. Look for wild-caught fish.
  • Eggs. Look for free-range, pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs.
  • Vegetables, including broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes, and other whole food vegetables.
  • Fruits. Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, avocados, strawberries, and blueberries.
  • Roots. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and turnips.
  • Nuts and seeds. Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds.
  • Healthy fats and oils. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), coconut oil, avocado oil and other whole food, non-processed oils.
  • Salt and spices. Himalayan sea salt, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, etc.

Try to eat grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic if you can. Sometimes that can break the budget. If you can’t afford to go organic all the time, just make sure to always go for the least-processed versions of these foods.

What can’t you eat on the Paleo Diet?

The big picture for what you can’t eat boils down to heavily processed, manufactured, non-whole foods. 

The simple rule of thumb for Paleo, if it looks like it was made in a factory, it’s a no.

Here’s a breakdown of what you shouldn’t eat based on the Paleo ideology:

  • Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. This includes most non-diet sodas, fruit juices, white sugar, candy, pastries, ice cream and anything else with processed sugars.
  • Grains. This includes things like breads, pasta, wheat, rye, and barley.
  • Legumes. No beans or lentils.
  • Dairy. This means you must cut out most dairy, especially low-fat.
  • Certain vegetable oils include soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil, and safflower oil.
  • Trans fats that are typically found in margarine and many processed foods. Look for ingredients that include “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.
  • Artificial sweeteners. Things like aspartame, sucralose, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame potassium.
  • Heavily processed foods. Usually, anything labeled “diet” or “low-fat” or that has many preservatives or additives. This also includes meal replacement bars and shakes.

If you want to avoid these ingredients, you must read ingredients lists, even on foods that are labeled as “health foods.”

Can you cheat on the Paleo Diet?

Yes. Sort of. These foods and beverages are indulgences but acceptable in small amounts:

  • Wine. Red wine is high in antioxidants and has many beneficial nutrients.
  • Dark chocolate. Look for ones that have at least 70% or higher cocoa content. Quality dark chocolate is both extremely healthy and full of nutrients.

What can you drink on the Paleo Diet?

Since the cavemen only had water to drink, die-hard Paleo Dieters will only turn to water when it comes to hydration. But are there other “approved” drinks on the Paleo Diet?

The following drinks aren’t technically paleo, but you could get away with them if you find that water is too boring or need a hydration change.

  • Tea. Most teas are very healthy and loaded with antioxidants. Green tea is the best choice.
  • Coffee is actually very high in antioxidants as well. Studies show that it has many health benefits.

Diet Variations

Since the Paleo Diet has been around for a while, the dieting community has evolved quite a bit. As the community evolves, so does the diet itself. There are now several different versions and variations of the paleo diet. Many of these variations include more modern foods that science has backed as healthy or nutritious. 

Many people now use paleo as a template to base a diet on, not necessarily a strict set of rules that you must be followed.

Primal Diet

According to Medical News Today, “The Primal diet is a lifestyle based on eating the foods that primitive humans would have eaten. It stresses that people eat raw, minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, certain oils, and dairy products.”

Pegan Diet

Pegan is short for “Paleo Vegan” and is a Paleo diet that excludes all animal-based foods and is completely vegan. 

While the traditional Paleo diet is based on the benefits of ethically raised and sourced animal protein, this variation focuses on plant-based protein, fats, and produce. It is designed primarily for those who are religiously or principally opposed to animal consumption. 

Many Paleo experts don’t recommend a Pegan diet, especially for autoimmune or chronic health problems.

Meal plan ideas

Here is a sample menu that contains a balanced amount of paleo-friendly foods and will give you a good template to follow for a Paleo Diet menu. It can be adjusted or changed and is just a general framework as an example.

Paleo Diet Menu Day 1

  • Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with vegetables fried in coconut oil. One small piece of fruit.
  • Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil. 1 cup of mixed nuts.
  • Dinner: Hamburger skillet fried in butter with no bun, asparagus.

Paleo Diet Menu Day 2

  • Breakfast: 3 strips of bacon and 2 poached eggs, with a piece of fruit.
  • Lunch: Ground beef stir-fry with vegetables
  • Dinner: Salmon sauteed in butter, with vegetables.

Paleo Diet Menu Day 3

  • Breakfast: Salmon leftovers, with fruit.
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich in a lettuce leaf, and fresh broccoli.
  • Dinner: Fried pork chop with cauliflower and broccoli.

There’s no need to track macronutrients (protein, carbs, or fat) or calories on the paleo diet, at least not in the beginning.

But, if you’d like to or need to lose a lot of weight, try to cut out some of the carbs and limit the higher-fat foods, like nuts.

What kinds of snacks can you eat on the Paleo Diet?

This diet is pretty satiating so you don’t feel hungry or have the need for snacks. There’s no need to eat more than three meals. But if you get hungry, here are some paleo snacks that are easy and transportable:

  • Baby carrots
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Fruit
  • Mixed nuts
  • Leftovers from the night before
  • Apple slices with almond butter
  • A bowl of berries with some coconut cream

Grocery buying list

The Paleo Diet has a variety of foods you can eat. This simple shopping list should give you an idea of how to get started:

  • Meat – Grass fed beef, lamb, pork, etc.
  • Poultry – cage free, organic chicken, turkey.
  • Fish – Wild caught Salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna
  • Eggs – Cage-free, organic
  • Fresh vegetables – Leafy greens, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions.
  • Frozen vegetables – Broccoli, spinach, vegetable mixes, etc.
  • Fruits – Apples, bananas, pears, oranges, avocado, grapes.
  • Berries – Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.
  • Nuts – Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts
  • Almond butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Olives
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Condiments: Himalayan sea salt, pepper, turmeric, garlic, parsley

Get rid of the non-Paleo Diet stuff

It is a good idea to remove all the processed, refined sugar, and refined flour products from your fridge and pantry, including sugary sodas, pastries, cookies, crackers, doughnuts, bread, bagels, English muffins, ice cream, candy, chocolates, fruit drinks and sugary cereals.

How to eat at restaurants on the Paleo Diet

Most of us like to occasionally eat out for entertainment and enjoyment. But how do you stay true to the Paleo Diet when you’re not preparing the meal? It’s actually pretty easy to make restaurant meals Paleo-friendly.

Here are some simple guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. When ordering a main dish, look for meat, poultry or fish.
  2. Order extra steamed or fresh vegetables instead of bread, rice or potatoes.
  3. Ask them to cook your food in extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil.
  4. Drink water instead of soft drinks or alcohol.

Bottom Line on the Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet is modeled after the diets of what we think cavemen might have eaten. It’s an interesting diet because there’s not one specific way to follow it. It’s more ideological than it is a prescribed method. The basic idea behind it is to shun processed foods, manufactured foods, refined sugars, refined flours and focus instead on healthy, whole foods that occur naturally in nature.

Paleo-friendly foods include meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, fruits, and veggies, along with healthy fats and oils. Many Paleo Dieters also look for grass-fed, cage-free, organic foods that are as close to natural as possible. 

Because the diet is a framework, there are a number of different variations you can use. As long as you adhere to the basics, you can make alterations that fit your lifestyle and budget. You can also base your diet on paleo foods, while adding in a few modern healthy foods, such as grass-fed butter or gluten-free grains.

If you are looking for a natural diet that gives you some flexibility, the Paleo Diet may be for you. It can fit into most people’s lifestyles, it’s not too difficult to start following, and it’s not a pain when you go out to eat. 

To get started on the Paleo Diet, check out the example menu and shopping list above. You probably already have a lot of the items in your kitchen, fridge, or pantry.

The Paleo Diet is so easy, even a caveman could do it. You know we had to add that joke somewhere.