Paleo Diet for Beginners: Guided Tour & Resources
Written by Jess Pingrey
on October 01, 2019
Paleo Diet (or Caveman Diet) Background
The Paleo Diet has taken the world by storm over the last decade. But to say the Paleo lifestyle is a new way of eating is to completely misunderstand the very meaning of the word. Paleo stands for Paleolithic which means ‘old stone age’. So, Paleo eating is simply imitating a diet similar to our oldest ancestors.
The Paleolithic era is recorded to have been around 2.5 million years ago. That means that the Paleo diet is actually the oldest diet there is!
Some two million years later, people are starting to reclaim the power they have over how they feel. Many now recognize that ‘you are what you eat’ is a cliché for a reason. They have come to the realization that the way to ensure optimum health is to look to the past to ensure a healthy future.
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Why You Should/Shouldn't Go Paleo (Pros & Cons)
Because finally, after thousands of years of disruption, corruption, and contamination, the paleo diet allows us to eat the way that our bodies were designed.
For some two million years, the human diet mainly consisted of the following...
- Nuts and Seeds
- Starchy Plants
Throughout those thousands of generations, humans were far more physically active than they are now. So, it’s probably no surprise to learn that every ancient hunter-gatherer people that have been studied come out immeasurably superior to modern human beings in terms of fitness, body mass index, insulin sensitivity, oxygen consumption and even vision and bone density. They were also free of chronic inflammatory disease.
Today, mankind is a shadow of our healthy, strong vibrant ancestors. We are, as a society, sick, fat and unhealthy. So, what happened?
The answer can be summed up in a single word... Mismatch.
The modern diet and lifestyle are at odds with our genetic makeup and our biology. Today, the average person gets over 50% of their calories from flour, sugar and industrially processed seed oils. We are sedentary for 90 percent of our day. And yet we are sleep deprived. And, we are chronically stressed.
It only makes sense that the way to recover our innate, natural, vibrant health is to return to a diet and lifestyle that more closely matches what our bodies were designed for.
That is what Paleo is all about.
It emphasizes the nutrient-dense food that the human body thrives on while eliminating the highly processed refined foods that have become the mainstay of the modern Western diet.
(Pros) Health Benefits of Paleo
The paleo diet provides a number of health benefits. Fresh cuts of meat, vegetables and healthy sources of fat are rich in important vitamins and minerals, such as protein, B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The protein in meat serves as the building blocks for muscles, bones, skin, cartilage, and blood. Protein also provides the building blocks for the enzymes, hormones, and vitamins the human body makes. B vitamins, such as niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6, help the body release energy, aid in the formation of red blood cells, build tissue, and play a role in how the nervous system functions.
The iron in meat carries oxygen in the blood. Magnesium in the meat included in the paleo diet helps build strong bones and release energy from muscles. Zinc helps the immune system function. The USDA also notes that eating nuts and seeds may reduce the risk of heart disease.
The paleo diet may also provide indirect health benefits, in that it discourages the consumption of unhealthy carbohydrates associated with modern diseases and today’s lifestyle. The human body is meant to move all day on a limited number of calories, but most people now lead sedentary lifestyles and consume high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich diets. In fact, the average American adult now sits more than at any other time in history, according to Healthline. Lack of activity and high intake of sugars and carbohydrates has triggered the spread of health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more.
Research suggests that a paleo diet contained fewer calories, caused fewer spikes in blood sugar levels, is more satisfying, and is associated with a smaller waist circumference and lower weight than with a standard diabetic diet. The American Council on Exercisesays that low-carbohydrate diets work just as well as low-fat diets when it comes to losing weight and improving cardiovascular risk factors.
(Cons) Risks of the Paleo Diet
While the paleo diet provides a number of health benefits, it can also present some health risks. The paleo diet restricts which foods a person can eat but does not specify the portion sizes, for example, and this can lead to overeating of certain foods. Over-consumption of some high-calorie foods on the paleo diet, such as nuts, can lead to unexpected weight gain.
The paleo diet excludes dairy and grains, which are important sources of nutrients. The diet also restricts the intake of carbohydrates, which provide energy to the body. This can pose special problems to athletes, as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests athletes get 6-10 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight (2.7-4.5 g/lb) of carbohydrates each day, which can be difficult on the Paleo diet.
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What to Eat on a Paleo Diet?
Meat – Meat is your largest protein source, so go for quality. You want meat from an animal that has been grass fed and allowed to roam freely.
Fish – A great protein option that is also packed with Omega 3 fatty acids. Stick with fish and seafood that has been sustainably fished.
Eggs – Eggs are a near perfect source of protein, which you will be using liberally. Stick with free range; the taste and quality are far superior to a caged egg product. If you can, buy your eggs from a local farmer’s market.
Vegetables – With the proviso that you stay away from starchy tubers like potatoes, you can eat as many vegetables as you desire. Ideally, you should grow your own. Failing that, head to your local farmers’ market. Also, kale. Kale. Kale.
Fresh Fruits – You can and should eat fruit in moderation. Be aware, however, of the fruit’s sugar content in the form of fructose. Stick with low sugar fruits such as blueberries.
Nuts and Seeds – Nuts and seeds will provide you with a very handy, portable protein snack and are fantastic to pop in your bag for a quick snack on the go.
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What Can You Eat in Moderation on Paleo?
There are certain foods that our paleolithic ancestors most certainly didn’t consume but that have been recognized as having some value in limited consumption. Just don’t overdo it!
Chocolate – The product of the cacao tree has plenty of goodness in the cacao solids that are used in dark chocolate. Just be aware that many popular chocolates are loaded with added sugars and flavorings. Opt for a dark chocolate that is made from a high ratio of chocolate solids.
Dried Fruit – Dried fruit is handy on the go snack. However, it can get quite high in sugar. With all the water gone, the sugar concentration is much higher. As an example, a snack consisting of 150 raisins contains all of the sugar in every single one of the 150 grapes that those raisins came from.
Alcohol - The majority of people drink alcohol for the social aspect, and many fear giving up the drink may limit the amount of ‘friend time’ they have. Die-hard Paleo followers would say the booze has to go, though many feel an occasional glass with friends will not dramatically change the progress you make.
When it comes to whether to drink alcohol or not when following Paleo, it really is a personal choice. If you are a heavy drinker why not consider cutting down? And definitely, avoid those processed ‘lolly drinks’ that are full of sugar.
Sweeteners – You can use natural sweeteners such as raw honey, coconut milk, stevia and dark chocolate every now and then to sweeten up your treats.
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What Not to Eat on Paleo?
Our bodies were never intended to handle processed, refined foods. Cutting them from your diet will seem hard initially but, after your body has detoxed from them, you will feel amazing.
Grains – Our bodies find it very hard to absorb a key protein in wheat called gluten. As a result, we develop intolerance and diseases that make us miserable. When you remove the gluten you feel great. You will also lose weight, especially the extremely dangerous visceral body fat that sits around your stomach area.
Sugar – Refined sugar is like a fat attraction magnet. Its main method of making you podgy is to play havoc with your insulin levels. Insulin not only drives fat cells to store more body fat, it also prevents us from using that stored fat as energy. Refined sugars are also addiction forming, as you may have already discovered.
Cut out all fruit juices, soft drinks, cakes, sweets and ice cream. And don’t be fooled by those ‘low fat’ products on the shelf; they are oozing with sugar!
Dairy – They don’t make cheese and milk the way they used to – not even close. As a result, they are now far more processed and far less nutritious than in previous generations. Taking dairy from your diet will improve your waistline as well as your digestive system.
Margarine – Margarine is a completely nutrient devoid product. It contains an ingredient list that simply does not belong in the human body. In fact, margarine is one ingredient off having the same profile as paint! Do yourself a favor and avoid this nasty spread at all costs.
Tea and Coffee - For many switching to the Paleo life, cutting out their early morning coffee is the hardest thing to overcome. Caffeine is a stimulant and can mask how your body is really feeling. People adhering to a Paleo life want to be as in-tune to their body as possible, so any form of stimulant is a no-no.
There is no need to give up meeting friends for ‘coffee’ though. Try switching to caffeine-free herbal teas. They are delicious, come in a multitude of flavors and are stocked at the majority of cafes and restaurants now.
Excess caffeine stimulates your adrenal glands to pump out cortisol and cortisol is a fat storing hormone. Caffeine also disturbs your sleep, which also encourages your body to store fat. And don’t think you can simply skip over to decaf – it is loaded with chemicals, so it would pay to skip it also. If you simply must get a daily coffee fix, opt for a cup of black, organic coffee – and have it before lunch.
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The Caveman Cleanout
The best way to ensure that you won’t fall off the Paleo wagon is to not have anything in the home that would tempt you to do so. I call this the ‘Caveman Cleanout’.
The Caveman Cleanout may seem hard (and wasteful) but once you have made your decision to start why wait until you have eaten yourself out of house and home of the baddie foods? And in reality, there will always be a few bits and bobs lying around to tempt us back to the dark side, so it’s best to be proactive and open the pantry doors and get cleaning!
When doing our cleanout, have a trash bag and a cardboard box. Any unopened foods that are not Paleo friendly can go into the box to donate to a local charity or food bank – there is no greater motivator to do the cleanout than to know you will be helping someone in need.
Now comes the hard part – saying goodbye. Check the label, and if anything looks suspicious it’s time to part with it. The following are the definite no-no’s:
- Wheat flour products – breads, pastas, crackers, chips, cookies
- Cereals – granola, oatmeal
- Grains and wholegrains – wheat, barley, rye, corn
- Refined processed fats – margarine, vegetable shortening, vegetable oils
- Anything with artificial sweeteners in it
- Soy anything
- Sauces with sugars and preservatives in them
- Anything sugary except for pure honey, pure maple syrup, dark chocolate, cocoa powder
- Any kind of ‘heat and eat’ meal
- Tinned sauces and soups
- Canned foods with additives – especially canned fruit in syrup
- Jam and Jelly
Phew! That’s a big list. Well done for getting this far!
Once you have tackled the pantry reward yourself with a cup of herbal tea and a break.
Once you a ready it’s time to work on the refrigerator and freezer. Many find this the most difficult part of the cleanout, as you will be throwing away the majority of the refrigerator door occupants. But remember, if you want Paleo to work, you need to be rid of temptation – so take a deep breath in and go for – you’ll thank yourself later.
Now that you’ve opened the refrigerator it’s time to say to goodbye to:
- Commercial sauces and dressings (goodbye ketchup, see you never mayo!)
- Dairy products – yogurt, margarine, cream, ice cream, frozen yogurt
- Any soy ‘meat’ (though these are shaped to look like a meat product they are actually full of wheat).
- Juices and sodas
- Any meats that contain gluten binders – sausages, bacon, salami
- Frozen ‘ready meals’
- Frozen desserts – waffles, pancakes, puddings
- Ice blocks with sugar and preservatives
Yay! You’ve done it – it must have been hard work but you persevered and now you are ready to stock up on Paleo friendly goodies.
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Beginner’s Grocery Shopping Guide
So, you’re going to give Paleo a go?
Congratulations, you’ve made an excellent choice.
But what am I supposed to buy at the grocery store now, you may ask?
Here is a shopping list with everything you will need to build your eating plan and ensure your clean-living Paleo lifestyle gets the best start possible:
- Almond butter
- Almond meal
- Avocado oil
- Coconut cream
- Coconut flour
- Coconut milk
- Coconut oil
- Macadamia oil
- Nuts – almonds, cashews, walnut, hazel, brazil
- Spices – cayenne pepper, parsley, cumin, capsaicin
- Teas – chai, chamomile, green, peppermint
- Almond milk
- Berries – frozen organic
- Fruit – blueberries, green apples
- Vegetables – Whatever is in the season – the more color the better!
Now when we understand he basics of Paleo Diet, let us go through a couple of important questions that could be popping up in your mind.
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Paleo Snack and Recipe Ideas
1. Omelet Muffins
Who says you have to give up muffins because you can't eat flour? Omelet muffins are easy and paleo-approved. Just mix up your favorite omelet ingredients with eggs (or egg whites, if you prefer) such as zucchini and lean meat. Skip the cheese and add spices such as garlic and paprika. Pour into a nonstick muffin pan and bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Enjoy two for breakfast or one as a mid-day snack. Each muffin will only have around 90 calories!
2. Avocado Lettuce Wraps
If you love avocado, you'll love incorporating it into a paleo diet. One medium-sized avocado has 10 grams of fiber and is loaded with nutrients such as potassium and vitamins B and E. It's a superfood that's hard to beat! Simply wrap diced avocado, deli meat, and your favorite veggies in romaine lettuce leaves, and you have a filling snack or light lunch under 200 calories.
3. Sweet Potato Fries
Did you know U.S. News and World Report listed sweet potatoes as one of the tops foods for promoting weight loss? They are also chock-full of vitamin A and fiber–and economical. Slice them up, brush with olive oil, and top them off with your favorite herbs and spices. Bake at 425 F for 25-30 minutes.
You might even like them more than greasy, fast food french fries–and with only 150 calories, they support your weight loss goals so much more! Indulge in them as a snack or serve with a slice of lean meat and veggies for a satisfying dinner.
4. Melon Wrapped Proscuitto
This sweet-and-salty combo is perfect for a dinner appetizer or even a dessert–plus it's easy to make! Use cantaloupe or honeydew slices and wrap them in prosciutto. You can even add a mint leaf and a little olive oil to step it up a notch.
5. Baked Zucchini Crisps
The almond flour coating gives these zucchini crisps a flavorful crunch without the carbs of traditional breading. Sea salt, pepper, and thyme give it an excellent flavor and the egg packs in protein. You don't have to be paleo to like these–they are a crowd pleaser!
6. Hu Chocolate Bars
If you're missing chocolate, these salty dark chocolate bars are the perfect snack for you. Plus, Amazon ships it with cool packs!
7. CHOMPS Beef Jerky Snack Sticks
These jerky snack sticks are paleo-approved, grass-fed, and ready to eat. Their delicious flavors include Original Beef, Crankin' Cranberry Habanero Beef, and Hoppin' Jalapeno Beef.
8. Purely Elizabeth's Ancient Grain-Free Granola
While most granola found in stores contains added sugars and grains, this high protein granola snack is made with cashews, coconut flakes, seeds, and cashew butter. Try both the banana nut butter and coconut cashew flavors!
9. Paleo Plantain Crepes
This crepe recipe calls for just—count 'em—FOUR ingredients. All you need are mashed plantains, eggs, coconut milk (or water), and coconut oil (or ghee). Call it a Paleo-spin on an elegant lazy Sunday morning around the homestead. Serve with fresh berries, shaved dark chocolate, and other goodies to put on top!
10. Paleo Tacos
If you secretly wish Taco Tuesday was every night, then you need a solid Paleo taco recipe on hand. These tacos are great in homemade Paleo tortillas, but you can make it even easier on yourself by opting for something like coconut wraps, gluten-free tortillas, or even Romaine lettuce leaves. Or just chuck it all in a bowl and enjoy a homemade taco salad that even your local Mexican restaurant can't top.
For more ideas, we've got:
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Paleo FAQs & Resources
Shouldn't Paleo meat be eaten raw the same as cavemen ate it?
While there are some people who follow a Raw Paleo regimen, it is not necessary to eat only raw meat. Once early man discovered fire, he cooked his meat, making it more easily digestible and absorbable. This compensates for the loss of nutrients inherent in the cooking process. To minimize these losses, however, you should cook your meat rare or medium-rare.
What should my macro ratios be on Paleo?
You do not have to count calories or macronutrients on the Paleo Diet. Your personal macronutrient needs are dependent on your goals and activity level. A bodybuilder, for instance, will have a higher protein ratio than a person who is focused on losing excess body fat.
As a general guideline, the Paleo Diet is based upon high fats, medium proteins, and low carbs (and healthy fats at that).
Can I take supplements while on the Paleo diet?
You do not need to take supplements on the Paleo Diet. That’s because when you eat the paleo way you will already be getting a generous supply of vitamins and minerals. In addition, many supplements are synthetically produced and so do not align with the Paleo philosophy.
Is Paleo a fad diet?
No. As we have already discovered, Paleo is a return to the way that our ancestors have been eating for millions of years. As such, it is more than a conventional diet. It is a lifestyle choice that revolves around natural eating that should be followed for life.
How does Paleo differ from the atkins diet?
On the surface, the Paleo Diet looks similar to the Atkins Diet. However, there are some significant differences. For one thing, the Atkins Diet allows for the consumption of processed meats and saturated fats. On Paleo, though, processed meats are off limits, with the emphasis being placed on animal proteins and good fats from grass-fed, free-range livestock.
On Paleo, you can also eat as much fruit as you want, while the Atkins Diet places major restrictions on your fruit intake. For more on this, we've compared all the low carb diets here.
Can a vegetarian follow the Paleo diet?
No. Grains and legumes, which are the mainstay of most vegetarian diets, are not permitted on the paleo diet. The proteins and nutrients derived from meats are also a key part of eating paleo.
Why is the paleo diet unhealthy or dangerous?
UC Davis Health notes that the paleo diet puts consumers at risk for deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D, which are critical to bone health. The focus on meat can introduce excess saturated fat and protein into the diet, which increases the risk of kidney problems, heart disease and even certain types of cancer.
How does the paleo diet work?
The paleo diet works by eliminating all of the processed foods thought to be associated with modern ailments.
Is paleo diet good for weight loss?
A number of studies show that the paleo diet is good for weight loss. Participants in one study who ate a paleo diet for three weeks lost an average of 5 lbs, decreased their body mass index (BMI) by 0.8, and lost 0.6 inches from their waist.
Is the paleo diet healthy?
The paleo diet can be a healthy way to lose weight, lower blood pressure, and decrease cholesterol levels, which can help reduce the risk of certain diseases.
The paleo diet can be a healthy approach to nutrition as long as the consumer eats a well-balanced diet that provides all the vitamins and minerals essential to health and well-being.
What does paleo diet mean?
The paleo diet means eating like humans did during the Paleolithic Era that occurred 2.5 million to 11,700 years ago — consuming fresh meat, fruits and nuts.
Will the paleo diet lower cholesterol levels?
Research suggests that adhering to the paleo diet can provide short-term improvements in cholesterol, as well as immediate benefits in reducing blood pressure and blood sugar levels. These benefits in cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The paleo diet is not for everyone, but thousands of people benefit from eating natural, whole foods, just as their ancestors did thousands of years ago.
Additional Paleo Diet Resources
Here are other resources we've curated about the Paleo Diet which can help you on your journey:
- Paleo Diet Pros & Cons
- Ultimate Paleo Diet Shopping List
- 40 Best Paleo Snacks and Meals
- 32 Paleo Snacks for Kids
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Paleo Recipe Options (to Download and Print)
Looking for more great Paleo options? We've got a recipe book you can download for a convenient price of $0 (it's free!) which contains 40 Paleo and Keto recipes.
Additionally we've curated other recipe options: The paleo diet can be confusing at first, but a number of online resources help beginners “eat like a caveman.” Healthline offers The Paleo Diet — A Beginner's Guide Plus Meal Plan that clearly outlines the foods that consumers should include and those they should avoid while on the paleo diet, for example. Paleo Grubs offers the “Paleo Diet Shopping List Essentials” that provides detailed information about the health benefits of several foods included on the paleo diet.
YouTube is helping people understand the paleo diet, shop for paleo-friendly foods, and prepare a variety of delicious meals. Paleo Cookbook uploaded a helpful Youtube video that describes the paleo diet basics for beginners and reviews many of the paleo-friendly foods consumers can buy at their local grocery, for example. Raynebow Weekly uploaded a video that helps consumers develop paleo meal prep plan, including items that are budget-friendly.