Last updated October 21st, 2021
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This guide is comprehensive, so if you just want to get the basics of paleo – I’ll show you the best places to start.
Get started with some our reader’s favorite content:
- The only paleo food list you’ll ever need (and the most comprehensive list anywhere on the internet).
- 550+ delicious paleo recipes (so you never run out of ideas)
Now, getting started, the paleo diet is known by a few names including the primal diet, the caveman diet, and the wild diet. But before we get into the deep parts of the diet, I want to explain very simply. In fact, I can do it in 140 characters.
Table of Contents
The Paleo Diet In 140 Characters
Here’s the paleo diet summed up in 140 characters or less.
Paleo improves your health by eating real foods including veggies, meats, fruits, nuts, and seeds – @thepaleoguide
Feel free to use this definition when you explain paleo to your friends and family (or just click the button below to tweet).
[Tweet “Paleo improves your health by eating real foods including veggies, meats, fruits, nuts, and seeds – @thepaleoguide”]
If you want to jump into the details, that’s what the rest of this comprehensive guide to paleo is all about – so if you can stick through the rest of the article as I take you step by step on what to do next.
The Ultimate Guide to the Paleo Diet
How does the paleo diet work? Can you trust it and is it safe? Most importantly, how do you get started with the paleo diet?
If you’ve ever wondered those questions – you’re in the right place. We’ve put together a complete guide to the paleo diet here called Paleo 101 – the complete beginner’s guide to the paleo diet.
Now, please note that this comprehensive guide to the paleo diet is just that – comprehensive. It’s pretty long. To make things easier, we’ve created a short index here, so that you can jump to whichever part of the guide you’d like to read.
What Is The Paleo Diet?
What is the paleo diet? Good question!
The paleo diet is a focus on eating natural, real food that is widely available with little or no processing. In other words, the paleo diet focuses on eating the way nature intended us to eat.
Our current diet is relatively recent, as we’ve only been eating this way for about 10,000 years. In contrast, most estimates say that humans have been around for a little over two million years. Now that’s a long time. The paleo diet focuses on eating food the way we ate before the last 10,000 years.
Nowadays, the Standard American Diet (SAD), featuring sugar, refined sugar, and even more sugar, is simply ruining the health of almost anyone who tries to eat according to the food pyramid.
Clearly something is not working. The paleo diet seeks to fix that.
The Popularity of Paleo
Books like The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf and The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, have caused a surge in the amount of attention paid to the paleo diet and similar diets. These books, and the success experienced by people around the world, are widely regarded as the reasons for the paleo diet’s popularity.
The History of The Paleo Diet
The paleo diet began a long time ago in a cave far, far away. Well, probably in Africa.
The human body has evolved over millions of years. We’ve only been eating grains and other things since the agricultural revolution, which happened about 10,000 years ago.
That might sound like a long time, but it’s really a teeny, tiny amount of time in comparison to how long we’ve actually been roaming this blue marble in space.
As it turns out, our bodies are best suited to eating different foods compared to the foods that we tend to most these days. The copious amounts of sugar and processed foods that permeate our diets just weren’t around when your great-great-great-great-great-great-grand cavefather was running around and throwing spears at saber tooth tigers. They were eating much more natural foods – wild meat, fruits, vegetables and seed – combined with unplanned or intermittent fasts where food was simply scarce.
And, while we’ve been eating processed grains since agriculture got started, our bodies never quite turned away from their caveman roots.
Not only that, but grains don’t like to be eaten. There’s a whole host of dangers associated with grains and with eating them. Grains have been shown to damage your gut lining, hurt your immune system, and cause a bunch of other issues. Put simply, when you eat grains, things get messy.
The paleo diet is a return to eating like we used to, eating mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, and nuts.
What Can I Eat on The Paleo Diet?
What foods can you eat on the paleo diet? Good question!
Here is a quick run-down of the foods allowed on the paleo diet. These are the ones that our ancestors would have had access to on a regular basis.
- Lean meats – beef, veal, venison, lamb, chicken, bison, etc (try to eat the grass-fed versions of these if at all possible).
- We recommend White Oak Pastures for the highest quality meat delivered straight to your door.
- Fish – salmon, tilapia, bass, etc.
- Eggs – go for it
- Vegetables – don’t leave these out!
- Some fruit – Berries and the less sugary fruits are best
- Nuts – in moderation (and not peanuts)
- Natural oils – olive, coconut and avocado oils
Basically, if a hunter-gatherer wouldn’t have been able to eat it 10,000 years ago, you shouldn’t eat it either!
That means no Twinkies, Oreos, or your favorite breakfast cereal. Sorry, but we’re not sorry. There are 101 other paleo foods you can eat and they’re pretty tasty.
Remember, if it contains a bunch of chemicals that you can’t pronounce, it’s probably not paleo. Sorry!
You can see a complete list of foods allowed on the paleo diet here. Trust us – eating paleo tastes great!
Are Grains Paleo?
This is simple. No.
For more about grains, read Why Aren’t Grains Paleo?
Is Dairy Paleo?
The quick answer is no. The more complicated answer “it depends.”
There’s no one set rule for the paleo diet, as it’s much more of a framework than a diet. For example, Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple includes whole milk and some fermented dairy products in his primal lifestyle (the primal diet is similar to the paleo diet). However, other strict paleo dieters would exclude milk completely, arguing that early cavemen didn’t have domestic cows hanging around outside their caves.
Wherever on the spectrum you fall, the more processed a food is, the less paleo it is. So whole milk is better than 2% milk which is, in turn, better than skim milk.
whole milk > 2% milk > 1% milk > skim milk
But are yogurt, butter, cheese, and ice cream paleo?
Another good question. With lactose intolerance as widespread as it is, it’s surprising that we continue to eat such high quantities of dairy.
But, as with carbohydrates, dairy comes on a sliding scale. Let’s take a look at it more closely.
Grass-fed butter is widely considered to be paleo. It’s a good source of fat and has a solid omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio, so including this in your diet occasionally is considered acceptable.
Yogurt is definitely a bit of a grey area. The probiotics in yogurt can help improve digestion and yogurt is a traditional way of extending the shelf life of dairy. The main problem with it is the high sugar content of most modern yogurts.
Simply put, the sugar content in some of these is surprisingly high. (The average Chobani yogurt contains twenty grams of sugar and they’re marketed as healthy!)
Again, the rule is that the more processed a food is, the more you should stay away from it.
Cheese is another form of dairy that’s relatively safe (the fermentation process removes much of the lactose that may bother those with lactose intolerance). That said, you should read more about the problems with dairy before making a call on this one.
Ice cream, however, is still a no-go. Have it as a treat every once in a while if you must, but there is just too much sugar in it for it to be a regular staple in the paleo diet.
And finally, are legumes paleo?
A legume, for the uninitiated, is a pod fruit. Legumes that you’ll be familiar with include the following foods.
It’s important to note that legumes are NOT paleo. For more in-depth knowledge about how legumes fit with the paleo diet, please read What The Hell Is A Legume?
How Do You Know What Is and Isn’t Paleo?
Most of the time it’s clear whether or not something is paleo. Beef is found naturally in the world in the form of cows, so it’s paleo. Ice cream isn’t found naturally in the world and is manufactured by humans, so it’s clearly not paleo.
But sometimes the boundaries between paleo and non-paleo foods are a bit fuzzy.
For example, you might think peanuts are paleo because nuts are paleo but peanuts are actually a legume, which isn’t paleo.
There are a number of ways to work out what is or is not paleo. You can consult our Paleo Diet Food List to see if the food you’re curious about is on there. You could waste loads of time researching it on the internet. Or you could use Paleo.io, the paleo app that tells you whether or not a food is paleo in an instant.
With Paleo.io, you simply type in the name of the food you’re curious about and straightaway the app will tell you whether it’s paleo, primal, or neither. It will also provide you with an explanation, so you’ll understand why that particular food is or isn’t good for you.
The app also contains a paleo diet food list, access to over five hundred delicious paleo recipes, and quick “do eat” and “don’t eat” guides, which serve as handy guidelines for when you’re out and about.
Paleo.io is the easiest way for you to stay paleo whether you’re out shopping and want to know what food to buy or at a restaurant with your friends and not sure what to order. It’s particularly useful at the start of your paleo journey, when you’re still learning the basics of what is and isn’t paleo.
Download Paleo.io from the app store today to make sure that you never have to guess again, with the power of paleo in your pocket.
This Seems Complicated, Just Tell Me What To Eat On Paleo
I totally get it. Just print this out for your use going forward. It’s that easy.
Foods To Eat on Paleo
Does The Paleo Diet Work?
If you follow it, yes!
The main reason many people find the paleo diet to be such an effective method for losing fat is that it turns your body from a primarily carb-burning machine into a fat-burning machine.
How the Paleo Diet works (burning carbs vs. burning fat):
Fat is a slow burning fuel and it’s efficient for your body to use. However, due to the amount of carbohydrates that we consume on a daily basis in the western world, our bodies burn carbohydrates rather than fat. So, when we take in more carbohydrates than are needed for energy, our bodies store the rest as fat for later “just in case” (this process is left over from when we needed to store fat in case we couldn’t find food for weeks).
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), most people will never really be in danger of “not eating.” We almost never have to resort to using our fat stores for energy, so instead of us eventually burning the fat we’re storing in our bodies, we simply add to it, over and over and over again. This is a pretty good explanation of why there’s such an obesity problem in the United States and abroad.
The paleo diet changes a lot of this by doing one simple thing: removing a lot of the simple carbohydrates from your diet.
When this happens, your body can no longer get away with using cheap carbohydrates for energy, so it’s forced to use the fat stores. That’s good!
Without the constant stream of cheap carbohydrates that your body would normally turn into sugar, your blood sugar drops to a normal level and your insulin levels begin to regulate. Regulated insulin levels allow a process called lipolysis to occur. Lipolysis is the process of your body releasing triglycerides (fat stores) to be burned as energy. That’s a bunch of big words. Basically these words mean that, by reducing the amount of cheap carbohydrates in your system, the paleo diet allows your body to start the process of burning fat. Thanks paleo!
Common Paleo Diet Misconceptions & Myths
Good Carbs & Bad Carbs
So, are all carbs bad? No, not all carbs are bad. Some are worse than others and there’s definitely a sliding scale of carbohydrate badness.
It’s easy to make a jump from “eat fewer carbs” to “all carbs are bad for you.” There’s definitely a sliding scale. The chances are that you’ve heard of simple and complex carbohydrates and, while these can be a little tricky to understand, basically, with carbs, you want to be asking how fast your body turns the carbohydrates you’re consuming into sugar. Carbs that are transformed quickly are considered “simple” (you’ll want to avoid these), while carbs that take longer to break down are considered “complex” (you can eat these in moderation).
Simple carbs break down into sugar quicker than complex carbs, triggering a bigger insulin response. When your insulin levels are elevated, your body is prevented from burning fat. This is the main reason you should stay away from simple carbohydrates like white bread and pasta. Eating them is not much better than eating straight sugar!
Isn’t Fat Bad for You?
No. Not in the way that you’ve been told all your life.
Most people think that fat is to be avoided because your body takes it directly from your food and sticks it right onto your thighs, right? Well, that’s not what really happens.
See, your body’s preferred source of energy is actually fat. Yup, you read that right. Fat is a longer lasting and slower burning fuel than carbohydrates. Because of this, when you stop shoving simple carbohydrates and sugar into your mouth day after day, your body resorts to burning body fat for energy – energy that, up until this point, was sitting on your body and jiggling around. It was unused because you were getting way more energy than you needed from simple sugars because you were consuming simple carbohydrates.
For more on this, check out this stellar infographic: Fat doesn’t make you fat – that’s not how it works.
Also, check out the video below to see why you really got fat.
Why You Got Fat (video)
This is a really great short video on how fat works (it just might surprise you).
See, fat is actually much more satiating than carbohydrates (this means it makes you feel fuller). Because you get full faster, it’s actually easier to eat fewer calories on a high-fat diet than it is when you’re on a high-carb diet. You naturally eat less because you simply feel full faster. It might seem strange, but it’s true.
How The Paleo Diet Works
The paleo diet works by focusing almost exclusively on real, unprocessed foods that have been around for thousands of years. If it comes in some cute packaging, it’s probably not paleo.
Eating this way eliminates the preservatives, salt, and sugars that are so often added to foods from your diet. So, whether or not you like the name “paleo”, by moving away from eating processed foods towards eating real, whole foods, it’s virtually impossible to not make better eating decisions. In fact, you can throw out the names “paleo”, “primal”, “caveman diet”, or whatever you want to call it, just focus on eating real food, and you’ll start feeling better.
To get started with the paleo diet, peruse our Paleo Diet Food List and meal plans. We’re doing our best to continually add information to these, so they’re comprehensive (and always growing) resources.
We’ve also collected together a couple of our favorite YouTube personalities to weigh in with their thoughts on paleo.
The 2 Best Paleo Diet Video Explanations
Ask Robb Wolf Anything about The Paleo Diet
Robb Wolf is a real paleo diet expert. He’s the founder of RobbWolf.com and author of The Paleo Solution.
The Truth about The Paleo Diet
Elliot Hulse is one of the best fitness personalities on the internet. In this video, he lets loose about the paleo diet (NSFW due to the language he uses, so put in some headphones).
But, Is The Paleo Diet Bad For You?
This was a big, big question. Interestingly, no one ever asks if the pizza and Diet Coke that most people are eat is safe, but whenever you threaten to take away breadsticks, people get all worried.
Essentially, if you focus on eating real food that comes from the ground or that used to moo, you’re going to be fine. Don’t think this is a free pass to eat all of the bacon you want though. Eat lots of vegetables and lots of high-quality lean meats. You shouldn’t chow down on ten hot dogs in a single meal just because you heard that meat is fine on paleo. One of the biggest reasons people see success on paleo is that the focus is on quality – not quantity.
Where Can I Find Delicious + Simple Paleo Diet Recipes?
The Best Paleo Cookbooks
If you want a physical copy of awesome paleo recipes or cookbooks – you can check out some awesome paleo cookbooks below.
We also have a comprehensive guide to the very best paleo diet cookbooks out there. You’ll never be short on paleo recipes with us around!
The Best Paleo Diet Resources On The Internet
We have a big site with a ton of information about paleo, but one thing I always get asked is for “more.” Unfortunately, there are some bad resources out there. But, fortunately, there are a ton of great resources on the paleo diet.
We’ve gone through the hundreds of paleo blogs and resources and picked the VERY BEST paleo diet resources. Check them out.
- Robb Wolf – The author of The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf is one of the most respected people in the paleo movement. His blog is a treasure trove of information.
- Mark Sisson – The godfather of the primal/paleo movement, Mark Sisson posts daily bombs on paleo and primal living, eating, and playing. Good, good stuff.
- Nom Nom Paleo – Michelle has been called “the Martha Stewart of Paleo.” She’s amazing, her recipes are downright delicious, and her photography is on point.
- PaleoDiet.com – PaleoDiet.com provides a wealth of resources. You just have to put up with poor organization and style. It’s not the best looking site on the web, but there’s a ton of info you can pick up from it.
- PaleoDiet.org – PaleoDiet.org is a clean guide to paleo resources.
- FITBOMB – This is a handy Q&A on the paleo diet. If that’s what you’re looking for, we have a really comprehensive paleo diet FAQ here.
- PaleOMG – Juli is hilarious and makes a ton of practical paleo recipes.
- Paleo Diet Food List [dot com] – A clean and simple guide to what to eat and what to avoid on paleo.
- Nerd Fitness – Nerd Fitness is a big fan of the paleo diet. If you’re a nerd and you’re looking to get into shape, check it out.
- Outside Online asks “What the hell is the paleo diet?”
Also, like most things on the internet, you can look up the Wikipedia entry on the paleo diet (so, like our friend Michael Scott says, you know you’re getting the best information when you use Wikipedia).
“Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want, so you know you are getting the best possible information.” – Michael Scott
And we’d be forgetting something if we didn’t mention ourselves, the Ultimate Paleo Guide – the premiere source of paleo diet information on the web. Remember, you can also check out our paleo resources page for a more complete listing of paleo diet resources around the web.
What Do I Eat For Breakfast On Paleo?
If breakfast is your jam, check out our comprehensive paleo breakfast resource.
Here are some other options:
- You can fast. Here’s our entire 101 fasting guide. Here’s another good one as well.
- Eggs, bacon and coffee (my favorite go-to).
- Other healthy fats (avocados, butter and other tasty fats that are paleo-friendly) paired with protein and a little bit of fruit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some of the most frequently asked questions we get asked about paleo (and diet in general) are below:
What is the Healthiest Diet in the World?
There is no “one healthiest diet in the world.” However, recent studies are showing that diets low in sugar and high in fat have helped reverse many modern diseases including heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Are Bananas Paleo?
Yes, but just be sure to watch the sugar content (especially on overly-ripe bananas).
Can you have cheese on Paleo?
This is a tricky question – for our in-depth analysis see our dairy post.
Can you eat oatmeal on Paleo?
No. Oatmeal is a grain and not paleo.
Can you eat potatoes on Paleo?
Potatoes are a contentious issue in the paleo world. We dive deep on this here.
Can you eat bacon on Paleo?
Yes. Bacon is paleo. Just make sure you eat high-quality stuff.
Can you drink coffee on the Paleo Diet?
Yes. But be sure to drink it black.
Can I shop at my local grocery store for the paleo diet or do I need a Whole Foods-esque store?
All you need to eat on the paleo diet is fresh food. Any place that has that will do. You don’t need a GNC, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s to eat well. You just need to eat the right foods. The easiest way to get the right food is to stay in the outside lanes of the grocery store. You’ll find most of the fresh food there. The aisles tend to have the processed, sugary, and grain-filled foods you want to avoid.
Another food consideration you may want to make is eating grass-fed meat. No, grass-fed meat isn’t just for Portlandia people who are on the latest health kick craze. Grass fed beef is actually better for you. You don’t eat grains, so why would you want to eat something that’s been eating grains? It’s like second-hand smoke for your gut! Try out grass-fed meat and see what you think.
If I pack my lunch for work, is the paleo diet going to be practical?
Grill some chicken and pack some vegetables. Bring along some fruit or nuts and kapow, and you’re good to go.
Is the paleo diet expensive? Is it going to break the bank?
Fresh food is typically more expensive than processed food but it’s also better for you. Something is wrong when the majority of Americans eat the same thing and that same majority is overweight and obese. What you might save on the front end with food costs, you’ll end up paying in medical bills. That said, eating healthy doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg (and it’s often a lot cheaper than eating out all the time).
Can I still drink a beer on the paleo diet?
Why is Paleo Bad For You?
Like any diet that gets popular on Dr. Oz – people can not see the benefits of the diet if they choose to eat all “paleo snacks” or “paleo desserts” but if you stick to the basics (quality meats, vegetables and fruits), there are no downsides to paleo.
Helpful and Practical Paleo Guides
Once you start to get into paleo, here’s some helpful guides on what to do when it comes to eating out, eating on the road and eating with kids – all while staying on your paleo plan.
- How To Eat Paleo On The Road
- How To Eat Paleo On A Budget
- How To Eat Out While Eating Paleo
- How To Eat Paleo With Kids
- Assess, Don’t Guess: Serving Sizes, Fat loss, And Performance
Criticisms of the Paleo Diet
As with any nutritional guidelines, paleo has it’s fair share of critics.
- US News – These guys rank paleo as one of the “worst” diets. Their categorization is a bit dodgy as Robb Wolf points out here.
- Web MD – This is an interesting look at the paleo diet. Spoiler alert: it likes everything about paleo except the cutting out grains part. *sigh*
- The Daily Mail takes on Celebrity Paleo Chef – Pete Evans
- This study compared every diet. They declared the “winner” simply eating real food (which is what the paleo diet is entirely based on).
- Huffington Post – This article answers the question, “is the paleo diet healthy or a hoax?”
- This article claims that paleo is “half-baked” and cites the book “PaleoFantasy” (Mark Sisson has a good rebuttal here).
- Here’s a study on the growth of the popularity of the paleo diet.
Anytime you read these articles it’s worth assessing where the author is coming from. Many have a bone to pick with paleo or begin all of their arguments stating that paleo believes something it does not. Read these smartly and as always, do what works for you.
Paleo Diet Cheat Sheet
Next Steps with the Paleo Diet
No matter where you are in your paleo journey, we’ve got something for you. Here are the next steps you should take to take control of your diet.
If you need:
- To know where to start – Get our (FREE) paleo diet starter kit
- More paleo recipe ideas – Check out our paleo recipes
- A comprehensive breakdown of what to eat and what not to eat on paleo – check out our paleo food list.
- Help planning out your weekly meals – Check out our monthly meal planning service.
Download Your FREE Paleo Starter Kit Today!
- 3-Day Paleo Diet Meal Plan
- Comprehensive Paleo Diet Shopping List
- 5 of Our Favorite Paleo Diet Recipes