Paleo Diet Food List: 7 Types of Food You Can Indulge In
The paleo diet mimics the diet of our ancestors in the Paleolithic age, 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. Commonly referred to as the caveman diet, or the Stone-Age diet, it started to gain recognition in the 1960s and reached peak popularity in 2014. So, what does a paleo diet food list consist of?
It focuses on foods that were available from hunting and gathering — fish, meat, fruits and vegetables. Since farming was not around at that time, grains, like wheat and barley, as well as dairy, are not paleo. This is the same for sugar, salt or processed foods.
The belief behind eating like a caveman is that our bodies are not adapted to eating today’s heavily processed, modern foods. Following a paleo diet is thought to be healthier because it takes us back to our hunter gatherer roots, providing a diet focused on whole foods.
Why Go Paleo?
As with most diets, people tend to adopt the paleo diet for weight loss. Results will differ from person to person, but research suggests that the paleo diet may lead to weight loss and improve blood pressure, inflammation and heart disease. However, many of the clinical trials have been short-term, so the benefits or risks of following a paleo diet long-term are unknown and more research is needed.
How is It Different From Other Diets?
Paleo vs. Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet promotes foods eaten in the Mediterranean region. It prioritizes plant-based food sources, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and olive oil as the main source of fat. Fish and poultry are encouraged in moderation, and red meat only occasionally. The biggest difference is that the Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based proteins and limits animal sources of meat, whereas paleo suggests the opposite. Additionally, the Mediterranean diet encourages red wine in moderation, and alcohol is not allowed on paleo.
Paleo vs. Keto
The paleo diet is considered a high-protein, moderate-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, whereas keto is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-to-no-carb diet. Keto almost eliminates all carbohydrates, including fruit and starchy vegetables, but these are allowed with paleo.
Paleo vs. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is not about what you eat, but when. There are no restrictions as to what you can eat, but you have to eat within a window of time and fast during your fasting window. With paleo, you can eat whenever you want, as long as you are sticking to the foods that are allowed.
Paleo vs. Vegan
A vegan diet is not so much a diet, but more of a lifestyle preference. Being a vegan on the paleo diet would be challenging. You would be living off fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oils, which may make you constantly hungry.
Foods Allowed on the Paleo Diet
However, fruit juice or fruit drinks are not a part of the diet. Whole fruits provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
All vegetables are fair game, such as:
The exception is potatoes. Sweet potatoes are fine though. The reason for this is the idea that white potatoes are higher on the glycemic index than sweet potatoes (higher GI foods cause a larger rise in blood sugars). Vegetables are great sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and they are low in calories.
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3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds can include:
- Pumpkin seeds.
- Sunflower seeds.
However, peanuts are not allowed. They are a legume, not a nut, and legumes are on the do not eat list. This also includes their butter form. Nuts and seeds are a great source of protein, fiber and healthy fats.
4. Lean Meat
Chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb — all meats are included here. However, lean is emphasized. Saturated fat is the primary fat in animal products, and since regular consumption is linked to risk of heart disease, lean is strongly encouraged. Lean meat is a good source of protein, iron and zinc. Look for skinless chicken or turkey, ground sirloin, or the word loin when shopping for lean options.
Most fish are allowed, however fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids are encouraged, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. Fish are a great source of protein and vitamin D. They are lower in saturated fat than red meat and are high in omega-3 fats (the heart healthy ones).
As an easy and versatile source of protein, eggs also provide vitamins, minerals and some antioxidants. Eggs have gotten a bad reputation for their high cholesterol levels, but recent studies have shown that regular egg consumption is not associated with high risk of heart disease in most healthy people.
Most oils are allowed — olive, coconut, flaxseed, avocado. Oils can be a good source of unsaturated fats and omega-3s, but it is important to choose your oil based on what you are using it for. Some oils can tolerate heat (have a higher smoke point) and are good to cook with, and some have a low smoke point, so heating them should be avoided (like flaxseed oil).
The Bottom Line
The paleo diet is not for everyone, but it can be a healthy and sustainable diet if done correctly. Since processed foods are excluded, eating out is off the table. Cooking at home is required to ensure you are following the diet’s guidelines. This means you need to have the time and cooking skills to prepare all your meals.
Additionally, many of the foods included come with a higher price point, so if you are a budget-friendly shopper, this might not be the diet for you. I would suggest planning your meals and snacks for the week ahead to make sure you are including a wide variety of foods that the diet allows.
- Scientific American (How to Really Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet Is Half-Baked [Interactive & Infographic])
- Harvard T.H. Chan (Diet Review: Paleo Diet for Weight Loss)
- Mayo Clinic (Paleo diet: What is it and why is it so popular?)
- Springer Link (Popular Weight Loss Strategies: a Review of Four Weight Loss Techniques)
- Nourish by WebMD (The Paleo Diet)
- Mayo Clinic (Mediterranean diet for heart health)
- Harvard T.H. Chan (Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss)
- The Paleo Diet (Healthy Lean Meats)
- Harvard T.H. Chan (Eggs)
- The Paleo Diet (Which Cooking Oils are Paleo?)