What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet is a specific dietary pattern or style of eating which incorporates Paleolithic foods that our ancestors ate. It has become popular among athletes, nutritionists, celebrities, and health-conscious people, due to its potential for health and performance enhancement.
- What is the Paleo Diet?
- Macronutrient profile for Paleo eaters
- 1. Diabetes, Sugar-cravings & Insulin sensitivity
- 2. Muscle growth and Weight loss & Fat-loss
- 3. Brain Performance, Cognition, and Alertness
- 4. Gut Microbiota & Digestion
- 5. Sleep, Mood and Regeneration
- 6. Cardiovascular disease and Cholesterol profile
- Paleo Plate Example
- Foods to Eat
- Foods to Avoid
- Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet
- Paleo Diet vs Carnivore Diet vs Keto Diet
The paleolithic era is characterized by foods such as meat, veggies, fruits, and nuts, excluding any processed foods, sugars, wheat, legumes, whole-grains, pastry, and baked stuff.
Eating this diet can improve brain performance, overall health and development, muscle growth, brain performance, heart health, and potentially sleep and mood while increasing your energy levels. A lot of success stories exist on the internet about Paleo and body recomposition, which is putting on muscle and losing fat at the same time.
The Paleo Diet
Also known as an Ancestral diet or The Primal diet, Paleo has a long history of practice in the paleolithic era. The purpose of Paleo dieting in modern times is to improve our life quality, suffer fewer diseases, feel better and more energized, reduce inflammation, and improve sleep and mood.
Genetically, humans were better at processing much more plants, meat, and raw, unprocessed foods back in history, which is one of the dominant reasons behind their health, along with active lifestyle, continuous movement, and healthy relationships.
In modern times, with our diets full of processed sugars, wheat, grains, and gluten people suffer a lot more, whether we are talking inflammation, slower regeneration, feeling sick, poor immune system function, gaining weight, or having insulin resistance.
The whole point of this diet is to ditch sugars so you rely on natural foods, that caveman ate. This food can be picked up from the ground, like fruits and veggies or it should be something that can fly, walk or swim, which means animal meat, whether it’s a fish, bird, or cattle.
Calories on The Paleo Diet
One of the best things about the Paleo diet is it is not calorie restrictive. This means you can eat as long as you are hungry. However, people who overeat, even if they feed on protein and healthy fat while excluding carbs like wheat sodas, pastry, and rice, will gain weight.
Can I lose weight on the Paleo Diet?
The answer is both yes and no. In any diet, you can lose or gain weight, depending on your calorie intake. The basic math is if your caloric intake is higher than the calories you burn, you will gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight.
However, with the low-carb, high-fat diets, the goal is to use fat for fuel, which can improve fat-loss, brain performance, reduce inflammation, and improve energy levels. Diets like The Carnivore Diet or Ketogenic Diet are known for this.
This basically means eating a lot of fat in absence of carbohydrates will make your body choose fat over glucose for energy, which per unit of oxygen is more efficient. This means per 1g of fat you produce more energy or energy that can last longer.
So how does the Paleo apply to weight loss? Well, like paleo, other similar diets like Atkins or Ketogenic Diet, feeding off of meat, eggs, avocado, coconut oil, and some low-carb veggies will enable you to tap into your fat stores, while increasing your fiber content through veggies will make you feel fuller for longer.
Macronutrient profile for Paleo eaters
This is where it gets tricky. Most people compare Paleo to Keto or Atkins diet, even LCHF or Carnivore Diet, which is not necessarily true. Paleo can be all of this diet but doesn’t have to.
Paleo is more of a style of eating, a pattern that gives us a sense of what to eat and what to avoid, but it is not highly restrictive in anything, whether is it calories, foods, or macronutrient percentage.
As a Paleo eater, you are more flexible and you are allowed to include different foods, as long as 80-90% of your diet is holding on to the base of veggies, meat, nuts, and fruits.
For example, a paleo eater can choose to be a fruitarian – individual who feeds off of just fruits. Now whether it is healthy or not, that can be debated, but the point is, any paleo eater can choose its style.
There are two extremes:
- High-carb Paleo eater: Fruits and starchy veggies dominate 80% of the diet. For example, fueling up on butternut squash, sweet potatoes, apples, Jicama, beetroots, and carrots is an example of a high-carb paleo eater.
- Low-carb High-Fat Paleo eater: Meat, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables are a staple of the diet, on which we add another 10-20% of fruits and starchy veggies. This is very similar to a keto-style of eating, which incorporates high amounts of fats, moderate protein, and low carbohydrates.
Most people eat either high-fat low-carb type of Paleo, or are at a range of 33%, around 1/3 of total calories that come from each macronutrient. 35% carbs, fats, and proteins.
Is Paleo Diet Healthy?
When it comes to measuring how healthy a diet is we should look at:
- Potential malnutrition, nutrient deficiencies
- Negative side effects, adaptation phase, and long-term effects & risks
- Versatility, sustainability, satisfaction, practicality
- Health benefits, effects on blood markers, brain, heart & inflammation
For example, diets like Keto and Carnivore may positively affect due to their effects on insulin resistance, neurodegeneration & brain performance, cardiovascular health, inflammation, and weight loss.
Keto and Carnivore diets are riskier, not-so-sustainable and satisfactory. Their long-term practicality and safety are lower. Carnivore can easily run into deficiencies without smart supplementing, while Keto gets to a plateau state, and fats may alarmingly increase with the wrong food choices overtime.
So overall, for the majority of people, a lower-carb Paleo diet may be better, easier, more satisfying, and practical than carnivore or keto for similar effects on health.
It is versatile, it contains many different types of meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, which cover almost all of the essential nutrients, aside from maybe calcium, iron, magnesium, and fiber, but that’s a lot easier to solve in Paleo.
- Just eating more caviar, chicken liver, broccoli, bok choy, spinach, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, avocado, celery, and leeks can increase key nutrients in the body, without supplementation.
So a big portion of how healthy a diet is has to do with its nutritional profile, macronutrient, or carbohydrate & food restrictions, but genetics play a huge role here too. If there is one diet I’d think is more versatile, easier, more practical, and less restrictive, would be the Mediterranean diet.
Health benefits of Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet has many potential benefits if practiced correctly. Most of its health benefits are related to the food choices you make and their nutrient-dense profile. The whole diet emphasizes eating plants, nuts, and meat while excluding all processed, refined sugars, whole-wheat, and grains.
Removing a good portion of these lectins, gluten-rich foods along with sugar elimination (in most cases) leads to improvement in insulin sensitivity, fewer sugar cravings, more energy, betters sleep & mood, and potential fat-loss & muscle growth.
1. Diabetes, Sugar-cravings & Insulin sensitivity
Many carbohydrate-rich diets affect our metabolism and mood, making humans more emotionally unstable due to sugar cravings. Eating a sugars-dominant diet will over time cause a lighter addiction to sugar which may control energy, mood, and metabolism.
The western diet is carbohydrate-rich and overtime humans can develop glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, which then progresses to diabetes type 2 causing many different problems.
Low-carbohydrate diets, such as Keto or Carnivore, and Paleo with their low Glycemic index may positively affect this aspect of our health. To crave fewer sugars, to have fewer ups and downs in both sugar and energy, while burning fat for fuel.
Paleo has been investigated in this review, for its effects on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. It turned out that paleo had a positive effect on glucose metabolism and blood markers. In comparison to other healthy diets such as diabetes or Mediterranean diet, paleo did not differ much. (1)
In a three-month randomized crossover study, the paleo diet was investigated in type 2 diabetes patients. It turns out that this diet improved both cardiovascular disease risk and glycemic control. (2)
Most of the paleo-friendly foods have a lower GI, which is the basis behind why this diet works. The difference between the effects of high glycemic index foods such as rice, pasta, or bread which are not allowed on the paleo diet, with other low GI foods such as vegetables and some fruits is the rise in blood sugar levels. Lower GI foods are recommended for diabetics, since they cause more stable rise in blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of sugar drops & energy crash.
2. Muscle growth and Weight loss & Fat-loss
One of the most practical diets for body recomposition is the paleo diet. If you are not a calorie-counter, this diet is for you. Protein-packed, fat-enriched, low GI carbohydrate is the way to go. Not to forget the fact that omega 3 fatty acids are great for muscle grains since they reduce inflammation which can improve muscle regeneration and improve exercise performance.
The reason behind its muscle-building supportive properties is higher amounts of protein and healthy fats. Just think of it, eating meat, nuts and vegetables are great for muscle gains. Protein-enriched diets may support muscle mass, size, strength, and cognitive function in older adults, affecting IGF-1 and BDNF factors. (3)
The Paleo diet is also a high-potassium, low-sodium type of diet that has the potential to positively affect cardiovascular function, insulin sensitivity, and exercise performance. Plus the metabolic syndrome symptoms may overtime be improved with this diet. (4)
The Paleo eating style can also affect weight loss. In this study 14 subjects who finished the 3-week paleo eating plan, on average lost 2.3 kg of weight, body index dropped by 0.8, waist circumference by 0.5cm, and systolic blood pressure was decreased by 3 mm Hg. (5)
Another reason behind paleo’s muscle anabolism is its potential effects on the total, bioactive, and free testosterone. Paleo may be able to boost testosterone in people who are deficient in vitamin D or zinc, since it does provide great amounts of zinc and vitamin D enriched foods, mainly meat and nuts. (6) (7)
3. Brain Performance, Cognition, and Alertness
When it comes to brain performance and cognition, there are not a lot of paleo-specific studies on the brain, but a lot of studies hold some evidence on how healthy fats, protein-rich diet, carbohydrate restriction, and exercise can improve brain health.
In this 4-week crossover trial, they studied the effects of carbohydrate-restrictive, Paleolithic diet with intensity interval training (HIIT), and sedentary activity. Both groups improved peripheral serum BDNF levels, psychomotor speed, cognitive flexibility, and functioning. The study shows that people with metabolic syndrome can improve neurological health and cognitive functions. (8)
Different studies have been done on high-fat diets and brain development & cognitive function. The data is a bit controversial since not all high-fat diets are made equal. We must be aware that feeding off of avocado, nuts, and olive oil is different fat than bacon, sausage, and mayonnaise.
Eating fish, olive oil, avocado, and nuts can increase omega 3 levels which will transfer into better brain health and cognitive function and prevent neurodegeneration. EPA and DHA supplementation was found to enhance neurocognitive functioning, making participants’ brains work easier at a better performance. (9)
Meat, as a big part of the paleo diet, may also have a positive effect on brain health. In fact, there are many studies supporting the evidence that meat can positively influence brain development in younger adults and children. (10) Amino-acid, fats, and B vitamins are crucial for brain development and meat is the best source of these.
As you may know, the brain can use ketone bodies for energy, from fats once glucose is depleted. This usually happens in a state of ketosis, but can happen in the Paleo diet too, if the individual abstains from fruit and mainly feeds on meat, eggs, low carb veggies, and nuts. Ketone fueled brain may have better performance, processing speed, alertness, and executive function. (11)
4. Gut Microbiota & Digestion
A big part of your gut health is associated with what you eat and your ability to digest it. Eating a carb-rich, gluten-rich diet can cause digestive problems in gluten intolerant people, even bloating, stomach cramps, and excessive gas. While it is different for everyone, gluten has been associated with inflammation, and people going on a gluten-free diet have reported better mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. (12)
The data on gut health is controversial too, considering completely excluding carbs for a healthy gut. Even starch, whole grains, and wheat have a place in your gut health. Insoluble and soluble fiber, as a part of a carb rich diet, can positively influence digestion.
Many people mistake this and believe that paleo is a low-fiber diet, which doesn’t necessarily need to be true. Eating green leafy vegetables can increase your fiber uptake. There is evidence that long-term paleo eaters have increased TMAO levels in their gut and that maybe grains, legumes, and wheat have their place in gut health too. (13)
Even though the Paleo diet should be cautiously proceeded in the long-term, there is evidence of a positive effect on gut flora and microbiome. There was an investigation on modern paleo eaters in Italy and Italians who follow a Mediterranean diet. The study shows improved bile-tolerance and fat-digestive microorganisms in paleo practitioners. (14)
5. Sleep, Mood and Regeneration
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of health, Healthy shut-eye translates into better energy levels and mood, weight loss & muscle growth and overall regeneration, and neurological, immune, and endocrine function.
Although there are not many paleo-specific studies on sleep and mood, the basic principle behind this idea is that without sugar cravings and carbohydrate-rich foods, our natural response of dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin improves. Serotonin and melatonin play a major role in the sleep and wake cycle, and when we exclude sugars from our diet, we can sense when we are tired.
In this study, a high-carb low-fat diet was compared to a high-fat low carbs diet, for its effects on sleep. A high carb diet seemed to reduce slow-wave sleep and sleep-onset latency and increase REM sleep while a High-fat diet had lower sleep efficiency and REM sleep but improved slow-wave sleep and arousal. (15)
Considering switching a diet to improve mood might seem out of the box, but it isn’t. The reason behind improved mood through food is stress tolerance, parasympathetic activation (promoting rest and digest state,) and modulating hormones. Anyone who is into food & mood knows that excess amounts of sugars can negatively affect our brain, cause sugar cravings and inflammation, in the long-run.
Where paleo comes in handy is hormone modulation. In fact, paleo is one of the richest tryptophan diets out there, including meat, fish, seafood, cheese, eggs, and some peas occasionally. As a serotonin precursor, tryptophan and gut health are believed to significantly impact mood, behavior, and cognitive function. (16)
6. Cardiovascular disease and Cholesterol profile
The data on what causes heart diseases has shifted quite a lot in recent times, but one thing is sure. Having lower amounts of total cholesterol and LDL and increasing HDL, may reduce heart disease risk.
The paleo diet had pretty good effects in this aspect. In fact, 8 eligible studies showed that besides the weight loss and improved BMI, and reduced waist circumference, Paleo eaters experienced a drop in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, while also reducing total cholesterol and triglycerides and increasing HDL. (17)
This evidence is not so stable, since many different studies show controversial data on this topic so further research on the long-term effects of the paleo diet on cardiovascular health is needed.
At least one thing we know, metabolic syndrome and chronic inflammation are associated with processed red meats and excessive sugar intake. Paleo diet, excluding processed foods/refined sugars, may help with heart health, obesity, and cardiovascular health.
Paleo Food Pyramid
Paleo Diet is more of a staple than a strict dietary pattern. To understand how to eat on a paleo diet, I’ll show you how a Paleo plate looks and what the Paleo pyramid allows. Now different nutrition experts put veggies and meat at a different place, but in general meat, seafood and eggs are at the base, veggies, and fruits up.
Foods that dominate the plate, and make up a half or one-third of it.
- Meat: organic chicken, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish
- Nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, pistachios, cashews, and walnuts
- Eggs and Dairy: eggs, grass-fed butter, and goat cheese
Foods incorporated almost every meal, mainly vegetables which make up one-third to a half of the plate
- Green Leafy Vegetables: spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, bok choy, collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce
- Starchy Vegetables: sweet potatoes, carrots, beetroot, acorn & butternut squash, peas, and parsnips
- Healthy Fats & Oils: Coconut oil, grass-fed butter, extra virgin Olive oil
Foods eaten in smaller amounts, as a snack or main meal additions, as well as side dish
- Fruits: banana, mango, nectarine, peach, avocado, lime, apple, cherry, apricot, pineapple
- Berries: blueberry, cranberry, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, and gooseberry
- Seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower, and hemp seeds
- Extras & Drinks: Coconut flour, dried fruit, coffee, wine, and plant teas.
Paleo Plate Example
This is an example of how a paleo plate looks like, so you’d get a sense of what to eat.
- Plate #1 Organic chicken with mushrooms, avocado, and leek with olive oil
- Plate #2 Grass-fed beef with carrots and sweet potatoes, plus flax seeds on top
- Plate #3 Wild-caught salmon with coconut, spinach, and peppers, apple for dessert
- Plate #4 Shrimps with lemon, onion, leek and peas, wine and dark chocolate
- Plate #5 Duck meat with broccoli & carrots. A handful of almonds and 1 banana for dessert
Different individuals, add different portions of each food to fit their macronutrient needs, especially athletes. So just know that adding more starchy veggies will be a higher carbohydrate option while adding more nuts, avocado, and coconut is fat dominant, and adding meat and green leafy veggies is a protein & fiber-packed meal.
*Studies have some limitations, important to evaluate the validity of their results. Here’s a highlight of some and NOT ALL studies (and limitation), shown in this article, for context.
- Further long-term follow ups, and randomized controlled trials are needed for stronger evidence.
- Studies with very small sample size * (n)12.
- Further research needed to asses specific effects of gluten on human health.
- Long-term effects have not been examined in randomized controlled studies.
- Studies which only include one gender (male or female).
- Non-conclusive evidence, results must be cautiously interpreted.
Paleo, as a versatile diet offers quite a good choice, when it comes to high-quality protein. To really understand what foods are healthier, and yet paleo-friendly, this section will make it easier. There are Paleo-Flexible foods, which can be added but aren’t considered 100% Paleo. Also, there are Paleo-Foods you should minimize or exclude, for healthier Paleo practice.
Foods to Eat
Since we already discussed which are paleo-friendly or paleo-dominant foods, here I will list the healthiest, most nutrient-dense paleo foods.
- Hazelnuts, Almonds, and Brazil nuts are great fiber and protein-rich nuts that contain high levels of important minerals and antioxidants, such as vitamin E and Magnesium of around 8-37% and 20% of RDI, respectively. Vitamin E is known as a great antioxidant for the skin, which also exerts photo-protective effects and reduces oxidative stress. (18)
- Berries: Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries are antioxidant powerhouses, each one of these berries helps to reduce inflammation, improve skin health, and promoting longevity. The addition of these three berries to a vegan diet can improve your antioxidant status.
- Chicken Breast – a great source of protein, B12, and choline. One of the most popular lean protein foods, the base when it comes to lean muscle building. Removing the skin will reduce your calories and fat intake. In one 100g or 3.5 oz. serving of chicken you get around 31 grams of protein, zero carbs, and 3.6 grams of fat.
- Turkey Meat – Turkey’s macronutrient ratio looks like this: 16% carbs, 14% fats, 70% protein. It is a lower-calorie option, having most of its calories coming from protein and carb, with only 1.7 grams of fat per 100grams of turkey breast. It is a rich source of protein, B6, B12, and amino acid tryptophan which can assist in creating endorphins or feel-good hormones.
- Grass-Fed Beef – whether it comes to Keto, Paleo, or Carnivore diet, grass-fed beef is one of the highest quality meats you can get. It contains both saturated and monounsaturated fats, providing 192 calories per 100 grams or 3.5 oz. A great source of Niacin, B6, B12, Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc, and Selenium. 100% Grass-fed beef is a leaner option that contains less saturated fat and more CLA, conjugated linoleic acid which fights cancer. Plus it contains minerals like magnesium, sodium, and potassium, important for Keto and Carnivore eaters.
- Spinach, Kale, and Swiss chard are some of the healthiest greens on the planet. They are loaded with tons of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Kale contains vitamins B, A, K, and C, Spinach is rich in vitamin A and K as well, while also being high in lutein and beta-carotene. Swiss chard contains A, C, K as well, and is a good source of minerals such as potassium, manganese, and magnesium.
- Chia & Flax seeds and Walnut oil are important for Paleo eaters. DHA and EPA, are important omega 3 fatty acids crucial for a healthy heart & brain function. Flax seeds are loaded with omega 3 and Thiamin (19), Chia seeds have an amazing omega3 to omega 6 ratio and are pretty nutritious (20) while Walnut oil provides 2,338mg of omega 3’s per only one tablespoon (10g). There are the best vegan omega 3 alternatives.
- Elk meat – One of the leanest Red meat options you have is Elk. Per 100 grams of elk, you get 111 kcal, with 1.5 grams of total fat at 23 grams of protein, which is pretty lean for red meat. It contains good amounts of zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and iron and it is good for your brain, bones, heart, and immune system. Usually free of steroids, hormones, and antibiotics since they live free-range mostly and consume herbs, bark, and leaves.
- Wild Alaskan Salmon – one of the richest sources of Omega 3 fatty acids is the reason behind its anti-inflammatory properties, which also has high protein content. Per 100 grams of salmon, you get high amounts of vitamin D (around 500IU), vitamin B12 (130% DV), tryptophan, selenium, protein, omega 3’s (1130mg), phosphorus (24% DV), choline, potassium (10% DV) and vitamin B6 (14% DV). Due to its nutrient-dense profile, salmon is considered a superfood. It can improve heart health, reduce inflammation, improve antioxidant status and energy production, help in building muscles and bones and improving overall mood.
- Tomatoes, Peppers, and Oranges are amongst the highest vitamin C containing foods. Vitamin C acts as one of the main antioxidants in the body, improving collagen production, immune system function, iron absorption, and overall growth, development, and regeneration. Tomatoes are high in Lycopene, beta carotene, and chlorogenic acid, which can improve blood pressure, skin health, and inflammation.
- Olive oil & Avocado are some of the best monounsaturated fat sources, rich in oleic acid, known as an omega-9 fatty acid. Both containing good amounts of vitamin E, these two foods including Avocado oil are great for your skin health, fat-soluble vitamin absorption, and anti-inflammatory response.
- Sweet Potato, Carrots, and Papaya are great sources of Beta-Carotene, a red/orange pigment present in many fruits and vegetables of orange color. Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A, which plays important role in healthy skin, supports immune function and vision. Papaya is one of the highest bioavailable sources of beta-carotene (21) and eating sweet potato can improve vitamin A status. (22)
- Atlantic Mackerel – also known as European horse, it is one of the most nutrient-dense fish with lower amounts of mercury. It is fattier fish, with 61% of its calories being covered by fats only. However, it does contain pretty high amounts of omega 3’s at a stunning 2670 mg per only 100 grams of fish. It also contains around 20% DV of magnesium and phosphorus and 63% DV of selenium.
- Crab and Oysters are great lean protein options, also great for your libido. They contain great amounts of vitamin D, zinc, and low amounts of saturated fat. Also rich in vitamin B2 & B12, Omega 3, and Selenium, seafood can be a great alternative to any brain supportive supplement, while also helping with muscle growth and energy production.
- Banana and Eggplant are all great sources of potassium. Potassium is an important mineral involved in fluid balance that can lower blood pressure. Per 100 grams, eggplants contain 230mg, and bananas have 358mg. (23) (24) (25)
- Red Cabbage and Beetroot juice are some of the most powerful sources of vitamin C, which also contain some vitamin A and K, plus are rich in many important nutrients and minerals. Beetroot is great for lowering blood pressure due to its vasodilatory, Nitric Oxide increasing effect while red cabbage is a great immune supporter. (26)
- Mushrooms, Olives, and Palm Hearts all provide a great amount of Iron (around 20% RDI per cup), which is an essential mineral that plays role in oxygen transport and red blood cell creation that usually vegans lack. Other great Iron vegan-friendly alternatives include asparagus, leek, apricots, and acorn squash.
- Broccoli and Cauliflower are great for up-regulating your vitamin intake. These cruciferous vegetables are pretty rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, and Folate which are important for immunity, skin aging, energy metabolism, oxygen transport, and bone strength. (27) (28)
- Basil, Oregano, Parsley, and Turmeric are some of the most popular herbs and spices, loaded with tones of antioxidants. They are also nutrient-dense, especially oregano which contains calcium, fiber, vitamins A and C, and omega 3-fatty acids.
Bonus tip for choosing the best products possible: here are a couple of quick tips for choosing your food:
- Meat: Eat Grass-fed, Organic free-range, or Wild-caught meat. Cook with coconut or olive oil, make sure the storage and hygiene practices are good.
- Fruits and Veggies: Aim for organic, Non-GMO products, without additives and pesticides, best is to search in your local wholefood shop.
- Nuts and Seeds: Buy fresh, organic nuts, watch out for darker colors and canned nuts, you don’t want that. It is a lot more cost-effective to buy in bulk.
- Eggs: aim for pasture-raised, free-range eggs or eggs from local farms.
Foods to Avoid
- Whole-wheats: Pasta, rice cakes, bread, pastry, white rice
- Whole-grains: barley, buckwheat, quinoa, oats, corn, bulgur, amaranth
- Processed sugars: cake, muffins, sugary drinks, sodas, chocolate, ice cream
- Processed red meat: salami, sausage, bacon, beef jerky, hot dog *paleo-friendly but unhealthy
- Dairy: cheese, milk, mayonnaise, heavy cream, yogurt, sour cream, margarine
- Refined vegetable oils: canola oil, sunflower seed oil, soy or corn oil, and safflower oil
- Alcohol: beer, wine, vodka, tequila, gin, rum, Pina colada, and others
- Refined sugars: caramelized or white sugar, artificial sweeteners, corn and syrup
Since the Paleo diet is not as restrictive, but more of a staple for food choices, a lot of people include some plant-based beverages, a little bit of alcohol, low-lactose dairy, and spices or sauces.
These foods can be enjoyed in lower quantities in a paleo diet plan, even though they are not 100% paleo-friendly.
- Plant beverages: Coffee, Teas, Wine
- Beans and Legumes: lentils, peas, fava beans, kidney beans, and black beans
- Paleo Sauces: homemade coconut-mayo, BBQ sauce, hot ketchup, ballpark mustard
- Low-Lactose diary: probiotic yogurt, hard cheese (parmesan, cheddar), whey protein, kefir
Can I eat Legumes on a Paleo diet?
This is one of the most popular questions in the paleo diet community, yes you can. Even though legumes have been thrown out of the 100% paleo diet, the reason behind it is not good enough for us to completely exclude them. In fact, one of the prime reasons is that our ancestors didn’t eat them which is not true since on the plaque of their teeth was found that they ate fava beans and peas. Another reason is their lectin content, which is known to reduce the absorption of crucial minerals, however, the studies were done on an animal that ate high amounts of raw-uncooked legumes, which is not the case with humans who are lectin tolerant and cook their legumes well. Aside from that, lectins and phytate acid are present in even higher doses in Swiss chard, tomatoes, peanuts, and spinach.
Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet
All diets come with some potential benefits and side effects. Each diet will work differently on different individuals because of genetic interference. However, there are many specific characteristics of a diet that has common benefits or side effects for the majority of people.
- Muscle growth: high protein and healthy fats can improve muscle protein synthesis, while low-carb may improve HGH levels. Plus the diet itself provides good quality amino-acids or complete protein that comes from meat, seafood, eggs, and nuts.
- Weight-loss: paleo practitioners find it easier to lose weight due to the satiety-promoting effects of fat & protein, plus the sugar cravings are reduced significantly. This may aid in the Keto effect of using fats for fuel, which burn fat more efficiently.
- Sugar-stabilization: In diabetics, insulin sensitivity is a problem. Paleo eaters have mostly low glycemic index foods, due to excluding grains, wheat, and processed sugars. This may help people with unstable sugar levels since there is not such a need for insulin secretion not energy crash nor unstable sugar levels.
- Sleep & Mood: Some evidence shows that excluding carbs not only reduces sugar cravings but balances brain endorphins which makes it more likely for you to experience euphoria and have a proper sleep schedule. Tryptophan-rich foods may have the potential to influence serotonin, the happiness hormone, and melatonin, the wake-sleep cycle hormone.
- Energy boost: As on a ketogenic diet, high-fat low-carb paleo practitioners may experience higher energy, in terms of energy efficiency and stability, since each fat is 9kcal and produces more energy per unit of oxygen.
- Regeneration & Development: whether we are talking skin, bones, muscles, or connective tissues, high intake of meats, eggs, low-lactose dairy, and nuts do contain crucial building components such as zinc, B vitamins, and proteins.
- Simple & Practical: the diet itself is not that hard to be understood, nor it is too restrictive. Eating animals and plants, excluding processed foods is a staple of it. So knowing your food choices without the need of counting calories nor macronutrient ratios make it easy for most people to follow.
- Reduced Inflammation: Paleo may significantly reduce inflammation, similar to carnivore or keto diet, mainly due to reducing carbohydrate intake and processed, refined sugars which are major causes of inflammation. Since chronic inflammation is the origin of most diseases, reducing it may cut the risk of many heart-related or neurodegenerative diseases.
- Restaurant eating: Paleo may get tricky if you are an outside eater. In reality, it is a pretty versatile diet, however, you should be cautious for the sauces, spices, and marination. You should read the menu, find a paleo-friendly meal, and ask for different oil, sauce, or exclude some food from the plate.
- Carbohydrate restriction: carbohydrates are not as evil as the media might present them. What’s bad is refined sugars, stuff like donuts, pastry, croissants, sodas, etc. But excluding whole foods, wheat, grains, and legumes is not necessary for all people and may reduce fiber intake.
- Sports Performance: Paleo may improve or hinder athletic performance depending on the sport. For fast and glycolytic sports such as sprints, weightlifting, basketball, etc., glycogen refuel is most important. Paleo foods are low GI and will not be as effective in refueling glycogen storage.
- Sugar cravings: Many people will suffer sugar cravings in the beginning, but this is the case with any high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, which also may require an adaptation phase in which the gut microbiome changes its bacteria for meat and veggie-friendly foods, instead of sugar-dissolving ones.
- Adaptation phase: switching from a high carb diet to paleo may result in brain fog, energy loss, or diarrhea, due to increased protein and fat content. However, if you stick to it, your body will most likely adapt and there will be no problems. Change in mood and sleep is expected, due to potential hormone imbalance at the beginning, since sugars affect a good portion of your hormones that regulate sleep, mood, cognition, and behavior.
Paleo Diet vs Carnivore Diet vs Keto Diet
What is the main difference between these three popular diets?
Many people believe this diet is very similar to the Ketogenic, Carnivore, or Atkins diet which is not really the case. The Paleo diet does not limit carbs, but its base does not contain many high-carb foods, besides some starchy veggies and fruits.
Well, the Paleo diet can be both keto and carnivore, but it is not necessarily simply because paleo has a wide variety of foods. Now for people who choose a high-fat low-carb option, they may run into ketosis and get similar keto-effects. Those who only eat meat, mostly animal-products like heavy cream hard cheese, are more on a flexible carnivore diet.
The main differences between these diets are:
- The Keto diet is Macronutrient restrictive, offering up to 75% fats, only 5% carbs, and 20% protein.
- Paleo diet allows fruits and starchy, higher carbohydrate vegetables and it is supposed to mimic the ancestral diet.
- 100% Carnivore is only animal-based, allowing water and bone broth for drinks only, without any plants.
Now the idea behind them is:
- Keto diet should burn fat for fuel and take ketones into the brain, in a state known as ketosis.
- Paleo diet may provide additional health benefits by excluding processed sugars for diabetics.
- Carnivore is created as an anti-inflammatory diet, great for muscle growth & weight loss.
Now keto diet is more specific to inducing ketosis in comparison to the carnivore or paleo diet, because of the macronutrient optimization. While Paleo and carnivore eaters may occasionally experience ketosis, that’s not the main goal of the diet itself.
Carnivore is a lot more food limiting and Keto is a lot more macronutrient restrictive, so for the majority of the population looking for an easier way to lose fat, improve brain performance, boost mood and energy, improve sleep and build muscle, paleo is the least risky option here.
Primarily, the benefits that we’ve mentioned before, including reducing inflammation are all contributed to cutting high sugar, glucose-containing foods, and processed sugars. This may further improve the state of insulin-resistant people, as well as mental alertness, cognitive function, and neuroprotection. Paleo is the less restrictive path.
A lot of people think that going Carnivore is going-keto at the same time since you mostly fuel up on fat and protein, but this is not the case. While the Keto diet has intentionally set moderate protein amounts of around 20-25%, carnivore may run a lot higher, up to 50%, and more protein depending on the meat macronutrient profile. This will then result in the conversion of protein to glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis in the liver which will throw you out of ketosis.
The Paleo diet is an ancestral style of eating which includes meat, eggs, healthy fats, nuts, fruits, and vegetables while excluding all processed sugars, whole grains, wheat, and legumes. It is primarily made to mimic a primal or caveman diet that assists greater immune function. The main benefits include improved brain performance, heart health, weight loss, fat-loss, regeneration, lower inflammation, more energy, and better sleep. Contrary to popular beliefs, Paleo isn’t necessarily a low-carb high-fat diet but can be manipulated to fit everyone’s lifestyle. It does have some similarities to Keto and Carnivore diet, but it’s a lot more versatile, practical, and less restrictive.