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Understanding the Paleo Diet: Is It For You?

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on May 7, 2015

You have probably heard of the hugely popular Paleo diet. Maybe you've heard it called the caveman diet or the primal diet. The premise is that modern diets rely too much on processed foods. If we eat like our ancestors, we'd be healthier and less obese.


Read on for more details of this trendy topic, and then you can make a decision if it is right for you.

What is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo diet is basically just eating the way nature intended or what we think our hunter-gathering "Paleolithic" ancestors ate; fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, seafood, and nuts. It's all about eating foods straight from the Earth, which is how humans have eaten for most of our evolutionary history. 

Loren Cordain, PhD, professor of health and exercise science at Colorado State University and author of The Paleo Diet says,"By following these nutritional guidelines, we put our diet more in line with the evolutionary pressures that shaped our current genetics, which in turn  positively influences health and well being."

He explains that the diet has a healthy ratio of saturated and unsaturated fats, increases vitamin consumption, and contains of good balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat. If you like to know percentages, research from Emmory University states that Paleolithic humans ate 35% of their calories from fat, 35% from carbohydrates, and 30% from protein. Cordain claims that eating according to the high fiber, high protein Paleolithic diet will result in being leaner and less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, cancer or other health problems.

What Can I Eat?

Anything that comes prepackaged in a box or bag is not part of the Paleo diet. That means no grains, dairy, added salt, or legumes (including peanuts, beans, lentils, and soybeans), according to Robb Wolf, a former research biochemist, Paleo expert, and author of The Paleo Solution. Alcohol and honey are usually not permitted on the diet either, although red wine seems to be ok. Honey is preferred over table sugar if you have to have a sweetener.

Because of all the sodium in prepackaged food, eating more naturally is a much healthier alternative. With Paleo, you'll have to say no to grains, sugar, processed foods, and salt. Many studies have shown that an incredible number of diseases and lifestyle issues can be reversed with these three simple changes. Look below to see a more detailed explanation of Paleo approved foods. 

  • Meat – look for grass-fed, not grain-fed. Grain causes the same issues in animals as it does in humans.
  • Fowl - Chicken, duck, hen, turkey…things with wings
  • Fish – Wild fish, as mercury and other toxins can be a concern with farmed fish
  • Eggs - Try to find Omega-3 enriched eggs.
  • Vegetables – As many as you want as long as they aren't deep fried
  • Oils – Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, walnut, flaxseed – think natural.
  • Fruits – Has natural sugar, and can be higher in calories, so limit if you’re trying to lose weight.
  • Nuts & Seeds – High in calories, so they’re good for a snack, but don’t go overboard.
  • Tubers – Sweet potatoes and yams.  Higher in calories and carbohydrates, so these are good for right after a workout to replenish your glycogen levels.

Are you wondering what you can drink while following the Paleo lifestyle? Try water, herbal teas, coconut water, or freshly squeezed fruit or vegetable juice. Try coconut milk or almond milk to replace regular dairy milk.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

Like any diet or lifestyle change, there are pros and cons that need to be considered. 


  • Paleo is more of a lifestyle than a diet.
  • Because of all the sodium in prepackaged food, eating natural whole foods is a much healthier alternative.
  • Paleo isn't just about food. If you really want to have the hunter-gatherer lifestyle you need to be active. Those cavemen didn't just sit around all day! Surviving meant a constant on the go lifestyle.
  • The Paleo lifestyle is popular, so you can find many resources to help you along the way. There are tons of online groups and community forums filled with people living this lifestyle. 


  • Some of Paleo's banned foods are actually good for you. Whole grains and dairy are forbidden on the diet, but they can help lower the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, reduce blood pressure and promote a healthy weight. 
  • Paleo requires some planning. If you are at a restaurant and order chicken and salad, you'll have to wonder what type of oil is used or if it was prepackaged or processed. It's a lifestyle not a diet, so if you go back and forth you may find your weight doing the same.
  • Paleo can be expensive. Some inexpensive sources of protein, such as beans, are off limits. Lean meats cost more than fattier versions of the same. Paleo approved almond butter costs more than regular peanut butter, and so on.

Have you heard about the Paleo diet, or tried it yourself? What other questions would you like us to answer about this particular lifestyle trend? Let us know in the comments below!

Topics: Nutrition