Here’s What You Can Eat on the Paleo Diet:
Most of us today consume way too many empty calories. From grains and dairy to known diet-breakers like refined sugar and processed foods, our modern diet is making us unhealthy and obese.
Following the Paleo diet solves this problem by eliminating anything our ancestors of 12,000 years ago didn’t eat. The Paleo Diet forbids anything which must be cultivated or raised. That means your list of allowed foods contains only those which were available before our ancestors started farming and raising livestock.
While this sounds simple, it’s sometimes unclear which foods are allowed on a Paleo diet and which are off-limits. To help with your new Paleo regimen, here’s a list of what you can eat when you “go Paleo”. Consider it the Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet. Keep in mind that no Paleo list of foods is ever complete and consider this a launching point for your new way of eating. Good Luck!
Beef. Before you hit the meat aisle in the supermarket, keep one thing in mind: on a Paleo diet your meat must be from animals which were grass-fed. What that means is you should head over to the “green” section of your meat department where choice organic cuts from grass-fed animals are found.
Better yet, source out your meat supply at an exotic meats store. Why? Because although cows (or cow-like animals) were around in the caveman era, they were rare. More common were Bison. Bison burgers anyone?
Above all, the idea here is that you must avoid hormones that often appear in meat from animals raised in large-scale livestock facilities. Hormones as well as antibiotics fed to livestock persist in the meat of these animals and get transferred to you when you eat that meat.
Lamb. Same rule applies here: as long as it’s grass-fed (not grain-fed), lamb gets the go-ahead from the Paleo experts.
Pork. Here we run into murky waters because of pork products like bacon, sausage, and smoked pork products. Keep these guidelines in mind: if the pig was raised naturally and the meat product has little or no other ingredients then you’re Paleo.
However, many forms of pork we consume have nitrates/nitrites in them, usually from being smoked. Nitrates/nitrites are a natural result of the smoking process but they’re often added to things like bacon, making many of those foods off-limits. If you really need bacon in your life, look for nitrate/nitrite-free products.
Our caveman ancestors weren’t in the habit of grinding up their meat and adding chemicals (or anything else for that matter), then pressing it into shapes or filling tubes with the mix. Therefore, processed lunch meat, sausage, and hot dogs are out. But you knew that!
Venison. If you’re a hunter, congratulations because you’re about as close to being authentically Paleo as possible. Wild game is where it’s at in the Paleo diet world. As for types of wild game other than venison, the world is your oyster as far as being allowed in the diet (poaching laws? that’s a different discussion!).
Chicken farming, even large-scale production facilities, does not use all the hormones and antibiotics you’d find in the cattle industry. Therefore, you’ll be glad to know that chicken is a thumbs up for Paleo dieters. You can still join your buddies for wings and not worry you’re falling off your diet.
The same goes for turkey (but not processed turkey lunch meat!) and any other feathered consumable you might want to try: game hen, ducks, geese, pheasants, partridge, quail, ostrich, emu, even pigeons.
Speaking of fowl, it’s a good time to discuss eggs. It’s easy to imagine our Paleolithic forebears scrounging around and checking nests for eggs. Obviously, eggs are in…but not all eggs are created equal. To be as Paleo as possible, choose the Omega-3 enriched variety and/or the cage free and organic types as well. You’ll spend a bit more, but many say the health benefits are well worth the few extra dollars per week it’ll cost you.
And if you’re still cringing at the expense, hear this: eggs are an important necessity for going Paleo, Dr. Loren Cordain, found of the Paleo Diet, says it’s impossible to follow the Paleo diet without consuming meat, fish, and eggs. There you have it: straight from the source!
Apparently Paleolithic Man was great at fishing. That puts fish on the approved list, too. As you probably know, most fish are a wonderful source of Omega-3s (salmon gets all the credit in this department but other fish are great sources, too).
Mackerel. Mackerel is even better than many other types of fish because it’s even higher in omega-3s than salmon! Not only that, but a mere 3 ounces of this superfood offer you a whopping 20 grams of protein and an eye-popping 269% of your daily intake of Vitamin B12!
Sardines. We love sardines for their taste but did you also know they’re full of Vitamin D? And of course they’re full of protein.
Lobster. Lobster is certainly something one could hunt since they’re often found in shallow water. Therefore, Paleo Man would presumably have been able to swim from shore and catch a few for dinner. From the nutritional perspective, however, lobster has a bad reputation for being fatty and therefore unhealthy. Actually, that’s not true: there’s only one gram of fat in 100 grams of lobster! It’s the butter people dip the lobster in that makes them fatty! Lobster is low fat and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.
You may not want to indulge too often, since there is quite a lot of cholesterol in lobster. Not only that, but unless you live on the coast, there’s a cost factor involved, too.
Clams. Clams were also gathered by Paleolithic man and can be enjoyed by Paleo dieters too. They’re nutrient-dense and lean and as a bonus have lots of iron too. Also, eat clams for their high levels of Vitamin B12. 3 oz of clams have 700% of your daily requirement!
Shrimp. Everyone loves shrimp for the convenience of always having them in the freezer. Paleos love them even more because just 6 ounces have an impressive 36 grams of protein, 96% DV of selenium, 42% DV of vitamin B12, and tons of other minerals and vitamins too. A nice bonus of eating shrimp which still has the shell on is that it contains glucosamine, which is lacking in most people’s diets. Good for joints!
When it comes to the oils you can and cannot eat on the Paleo diet, everyone gets a little confused. After all, oil is oil, right? Actually, only naturally processed oils are acceptable if you want to eat like a caveman. That eliminates oils which are derived via technological advances in processing: canola oil, cottonseed oil, mustard seed oil, and oil from certain vegetable seeds.
The Approved Six. What does that leave? There’s a list of Paleo-approved oils that helps dieters remember which vegetable oils are ok: walnut, olive, macadamia, coconut, avocado, and flaxseed. Since cavemen foraged for plants which contained high doses of oil, these oils are approved.
Olive and Walnut Oils: Maybe. Just to keep us all confused, there’s actually some disagreement among the Paleo experts that hand down these diet lists. Many will tell you that olive and walnut oils are not ok, since the technology required for producing them was not available during the Paleolithic period.
Mustard Seed Oil: No. The founder of the Paleo diet himself, Dr. Loren Cordain, originally told readers in the first edition (2002) of The Paleo Diet that mustard seed oil was OK. He took that back and no longer recommends that particular oil. Why? Because mustard seed oil contains high amounts of erucic acid, which has been shown in laboratory settings to cause changes in the heart.
Peanut Oil, Corn Oil & Soybean Oil: No. As you can see, there are often dietary considerations when it comes to the Paleo diet…hence the confusion. If you eliminate oils which are very high in Omega-6 you have yourself a good rule of thumb. That means avoiding peanut oil and soybean oil as well as corn oil…but we’ve already eliminated these oils on the technological basis since cavemen didn’t have the ability to process these oils.
Also to be considered are the various smoking points of oils. Since the Paleo diet encourages the highest nutritional content possible for all foods, it’s important not to heat oils to their smoking point. That essentially “kills” their nutritional value and turns them into toxic sludge that’s full of free radicals.
Butter: Maybe. Finally, there’s disagreement among the Paleo community about butter, too. Some say it’s a go while others forbid it since it’s dairy. The problem with dairy is twofold: people seem to consider Paleo man to be lactose-intolerant, and they did not raise cows. You’re on your own here: if you do choose to consume butter, go with grass-fed butter. Some prefer ghee, which is clarified butter (no impurities).
Animal Fats: Yes. But if you stick to other animal fats, it’s simple. They’re pretty much all OK! Cavemen got their fats largely from animal kills because they consumed the entire carcass after the hunt. That includes organs, the tongue, and you name it…all of which contain fats.
At the end of the day, if you don’t come home with the Bison or the wild game, hopefully the gathering folk in your clan had better luck. That’s where our veggies come in. There’s nary a vegetable that’s off-limits when you’re Paleo. Well, potatoes are an exception. They’re OK in small amounts but in large quantities your health will suffer.
That’s because potatoes have a very high glycemic index. Like sugars, they cause your blood sugar levels to rise quickly and then fall quickly. That’s called “spiking” and it’s bad for your body. Too many spikes over the years can cause obesity, it can trigger Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood cholesterol…you get the drift.
In fact, the glycemic index of potatoes is even higher than that of high fructose corn syrup!
Now that you’ve been sufficiently warned against potatoes, go ahead and enjoy all the other wonderful vegetables you’re allowed. Here are a few of the best, but by no means is this a comprehensive list of Paleo vegetables!
Beets. There are some paleo gurus who mistakenly warn people away from beets, citing them as too starchy. Well if you’ve ever tasted beets you’ll know this isn’t true! In fact, beets are considered a superfood: they contain flavenoids which aren’t very common in other veggies.
Cauliflower. So healthy, and also so alkaline-producing: double benefits on this Paleo-friendly veggie.
Cabbage. We couldn’t leave cabbage off the list. This is one of the healthiest vegetables known to humankind. Its benefits include anti-cancer, heart health, super high in fiber, and high water content for hydration.
Celery. Celery has several benefits: fiber, high water content for hydration, and strong “base” properties to combat the acidic environment found in many of our bodies. On top of all that, there are lots of phytonutrients in celery.
Mushrooms. Mushrooms grow wild in forests everywhere so we can easily imagine Paleolithic man gathering them in the wild.
Parsnips. These might confuse you, since they are unusual and you might not know what to think of them. Think of the parsnip as a white carrot, and therefore just fine for your Paleo plate.
Pumpkin. Like winter squash, pumpkins might seem too sweet and starchy for Paleo diets but that’s not true. Pumpkin is paleo-approved and so are the seeds. In fact, pumpkin seeds are considered an excellent source of iron and other nutrients as well. Go for it!
Seaweed. This includes kelp, which is a wavy plant that grows from the ocean floor in shallow depths. It looks like long green lasagna noodles.
Kelp is a major part of Asian diets and for good reason: there are so many nutrients packed into this “sea vegetable”! These include iron, calcium, B-vitamin folate, magnesium and riboflavin. In fact, seaweed is considered to be one of the most nutritionally dense foods that come out of the ocean. Seaweed is even thought to protect against cancer. But for paleos, the density of the nutrients is what’s important.
Nori, which wraps around sushi, is another type of seaweed.
Spinach. We all know spinach is extremely healthy, but did you also know it has an alkaline rating of -14.00? That’s very “base”, which means it counteracts all the negative acidity in your body, which comes from eating too many acidic foods.
Squash. Another potential source of confusion in the veggie aisle might be some of the more carb-oriented selections like winter squash. Known for their sweet, carb-like consistency and taste, examples like Acorn squash, butternut squash, and the Hubbard squash are actually A-OK for Paleo. You will find paleo advice warning you away, but these “starchy vegetables” are healthy sources of nutrition. Paleo Man would have found them in the wild, and you can eat them in moderation in order to mitigate the higher “starch” content. This goes for Yucca and Yams, too.
Turnips. Although the vegetable section is mostly clear and easy to understand, you might be wondering about the more starchier veggies like Turnips. After all, potatoes are off-limits, right? Turnips are completely different from potatoes, however, so consider broadening your palate with the overlooked turnip.
Fruit is another matter. While most types of fruit are OK, it’s important to be wary of the sugar content in some. Even dried fruit is on the yes-list, as it’s perfectly plausible that Paleolithic man would have left some fruit out in the sun to dry by mistake, thereby discovering the tasty joys of dried fruit.
Fruit juice, on the other hand, is so full of sugar that it’s off limits for Paleo dieters.
But don’t shy away from fruit: keep in mind its value as a base-producing food. Base foods are important for neutralizing the acidic properties of grains, cheese, beef, and salted processed foods so common in the modern diet. One of the main principles of Paleo is to keep your body’s base/acid ratio in balance.
Apricots. With a base value of -4.80, apricots are a wonderful, alkaline-producing food.
Avocados. These are fruit and actually contain more potassium than a banana. They contain tons of healthy fats, too: the bedrock of the Paleo nutritional plan.
Bananas. Bananas are actually considered a no-no for some Paleo eaters, but in general they’re accepted. The problem is the starchiness of bananas, as well as the high sugar content. If you’re trying to lose weight, perhaps don’t snack on bananas. Otherwise, most of the Paleo community approves of bananas. Oh, and bananas are also very “base”, with a rating of -5.50.
Berries. Stumbling upon a berry patch and eating them right off the plant like a bear in the wild is sooo very Paleo. All sorts of berries are top of the list as far as being Paleo. Plus, berries have wonderful levels of anti-oxidants and other nutrients as well.
Black currants. Black currants are even more alkaline than apricots.
Kiwi Fruit. Here’s another fruit that’s very “base” and therefore makes a great addition to your Paleo table.
Raisins. Raisins are very high in sugar so go easy on them. They are shockingly alkaline-producing, however: with a rating of -21.00 they’re about the most alkaline fruit you could eat.
Unlike the oil category, nuts are easy: they’re in! They’re high in calories, though, so go easy on them. They’re high in energy yet low-carb so of course Paleo followers are all about nuts.
Surprisingly, the Paleo diet does not allow for peanuts, which means no peanut-butter. The reason is: peanuts are not actually nuts! They are technically legumes and therefore off-limits for Paleo dieters.
How about other nut butters? Here we are in murky waters again. They’re technically not true Paleo since as far as we know, cavemen did not grind nuts into butters. However, many Paleo enthusiasts do consider things like cashew butter, almond butter, and other non-peanut nut butters to be acceptable.
Just now, we said that peanuts are not Paleo because they’re not nuts. They are legumes and therefore forbidden. This may cause you to ask But legumes are natural..why aren’t they Paleo? The reasoning here goes like this: legumes don’t offer much nutritional value compared to the amount of carbs they contain.
Of course consuming legumes isn’t as bad as consuming grains, according to Paleo principles. They do have tons of fiber. But if you want to be purely Paleo and especially if you want to lose weight, legumes should never be your first choice. They’ve been famous for decades as the vegetarian’s go-to source of protein but as a follower of the Paleo way of eating, you’re probably not vegetarian!
Just in case you were wondering, legumes include beans, peas, peanuts, and green beans.
Most of us don’t think of herbs as containing nutritional value, but they do. They’re also quite fitting for the Paleo diet since of course they’re found everywhere in nature, growing wild.
Basil. Since many of us eat basil anyways, it’s nice to know it’s so Paleo. It actually contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which is very surprising for an herb.
Cilantro. This is among the heathiest of herbs, Paleo-wise. It actually stabilizes blood sugar! There are also phytonutrients in cilantro, and it’s an anti-inflammatory as well. Throw in that it’s also an anti-bactierial and an anti-microbial and we have the makings of a super herb!
Mint. People have used mint for centuries to aid digestion. Like cilantro, it’s also an anti-inflammatory.
Oregano. We love oregano for Paleo diets because it’s not only a great flavor-enhancer but also it contains high levels of nutrients. That includes zinc, iron, calcium, copper and more. There are also high levels of anti-oxidants and flavenoids so it’s considered an anti-cancer herb as well. Some say oregano has more anti-oxidants than blueberries!
Parsley. Parsley has strong anti-inflammatory properties and a low glycemic load. It’s actually a good source of Vitamins E, B6, C, K and A.