What is the Paleo Diet?

Posted by Josh Higgins on

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s no doubt you’ve heard the term “Paleo diet” floating around. But if you have been living under a rock, you’re already halfway on your way to living a Paleo lifestyle, anyway. Ever since arriving on the public scene in 2013, Paleo has boomed into the hottest dieting trend—or, as some would say, “lifestyle choice”--of the late 2000s. Celebrated as the “only nutritional choice that cooperates with the body’s natural genetics”, Paleo has helped thousands of people lose weight and, in doing so, earned itself a loyal following of believers. Whether you’re already a Paleo devotee, or just want to know what all the fuss is about, here’s a handy breakdown of the Paleo diet plan that can help you decide if it’s worth a try.

Paleo’s Core Philosophy

The Paleo diet all boils down to one core philosophy: that it’s the modern diet, full of starchy carbohydrates, sugars, and processed foods, that is at the core of degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Paleo devotees strive to eat like our Paleolithic ancestors, limiting themselves to things that can only be hunted or found in the wild. That means that bread, beer, sugar, and dairy are all out, while lean meats, fruits, and veggies are in. If a caveman couldn’t eat it, a Paleo dieter can’t, either. In order to understand why the Paleo diet is designed this way, take a look at human evolution. For about 200,000 years, humans thrived as hunter-gatherers. Then, about 11,000 years ago, farming was discovered. Animal domestication and the agricultural revolution allowed humans to settle down, form societies, and concentrate on stuff like writing and religion. According to Paleo advocates, the human digestive tract hasn’t had a long enough time period—a scant 11,000 years—to adjust to the changes brought about by the agricultural revolution. It certainly hasn’t had enough time to adjust to the manufacturing changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, a mere 200 years ago. In other words, our methods for processing wheat into bread and beer developed very quickly—and our organs haven’t quite caught up yet. At the time of this writing, 66% of Americans are classified as overweight or obese. There’s no doubt that with its population growing more unhealthy by the year, Americans are searching for a cause and a solution. Paleo supporters attribute most of our society’s ills to its dependency on grains like bread, pasta, rice, and corn, and claim that eliminating those foods can drastically improve a person’s health and longevity.

Paleo Diet Food List

So what is the Paleo diet, and what foods can Paleo dieters eat? In a Paleo diet, you can eat:
  • Meat (grass-fed only)
  • Fish (wild-caught only)
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables, excluding legumes
  • Fruits, especially berries
  • Most nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts)
  • Tubers (sweet potatoes and yams)
  • Coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, and macadamia oil
Foods which are prohibited or frowned upon include:
  • Cereal grains (wheat, oats, barley, rye)
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Dairy, except butter
  • All legumes, including soy
  • Canola oils
  • Partly-hydrogenated oils
  • All sugars and sugary drinks/juices
  • All processed foods
  • Wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages
A simple Paleo rule of thumb is “if it comes from a box, don’t eat it.” If you decide to go Paleo, you’ll be spending almost all your grocery shopping time in the meat, fish, and produce sections.

How to Live a Paleo Lifestyle

Sticking to a Paleo diet may seem complex, but fans of Paleo say that it’s actually quite simple. Simply eat as much local, organic, seasonal produce and local, grass-fed, free-range meats as possible. If this sounds like an expensive lifestyle, there are many available resources which can help you find coupons and deals on produce. In any case, most Paleo supporters will tell you that they would rather pay more for good food now, than thousands down the road for a life-threatening disease or condition. They view the Paleo diet as a worthwhile investment in their own long-term health. Portion control is not encouraged in a Paleo diet. You are encouraged to eat as much as you want, whenever you want—even skipping a meal, or two, if that’s what feels comfortable to you. Paleo dieters aim to eat like our Paleolithic ancestors, who would stumble across a meal at random times and alternate between fullness and hunger, depending on their fortune. In addition, you should try to live on a Paleo schedule as well, rising with the sun and going to bed when it gets dark. In terms of exercise, you are encouraged to limit yourself to short, intense workouts a few times a week (you may want to take this with a grain of salt--while this is great advice for CrossFit enthusiasts, it’s not ideal for those, say, training to become a Navy SEAL). Remember, when all is said and done, Paleo is intended to be a guideline to living a healthier lifestyle—not a true imitation of caveman-style dining. Paleo dieters acknowledge that it is literally impossible to recreate the diet of people in the Paleolithic era. The foods that Paleolithic peoples ate have been so manipulated by human agriculture techniques that we can’t possibly replicate it.  The point of Paleo is to learn from Paleolithic diets, isolate the parts that made them healthier, and imitate them as much as possible. That way, you’ll be able to create a healthier, fuller, happier life.

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