What Is the Paleo Diet?

Learn how the Paleo diet works, what foods can be eaten, what foods should be avoided, and the health benefits of following a paleo diet.

By Megan O'Connell
Edited by Tom Amitay

Published October 10, 2020.

The paleo diet, often referred to as the “caveman diet,” is based on the idea that we should eat the same foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate thousands of years ago. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors are believed to have had much lower rates of lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, thanks to their whole food diets and physically active lifestyles.

There are numerous ways to follow a paleo diet since our paleolithic ancestors' diets varied depending on where they lived, what was available in their region, and the year's seasons. Some followed low-carb diets which were high in animal foods, while others followed plant-based, high-carb diets.

The paleo diet emphasizes the consumption of whole foods, lean protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds while discouraging processed foods, sugar, dairy, and grains. The diet also discourages foods that were introduced through commercial farming, such as legumes.

What Food Can You Eat on a Paleo Diet?

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • Healthy fats
  • Healthy oils

What Food Should Be Avoided on a Paleo Diet?

  • Processed foods
  • Sugar
  • Soft drinks
  • Most grains
  • Most dairy products
  • Legumes
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Vegetable oils
  • Margarine

What Are the Health Benefits of Following the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is effective for weight loss and at reducing risk factors for heart disease, such as cholesterol, blood sugar, blood triglycerides, and blood pressure.

The paleo diet encourages low calories, high micronutrients, and vitamins rich foods, allowing people to control their weight without counting calories or measuring portions. It has also been indicated to improve glucose tolerance, appetite management, and to limit hunger.