The Paleo Diet for Beginners – Everything You Need to Know

The Paleo Diet for Beginners – Everything You Need to Know

Has your inner caveman or cave-woman been trying to break free? Instead of growing out an excessively long beard or wearing animal skin, try the Paleo Diet!

This Paleo diet, aka the Caveman diet, is right up there with the Keto diet and food pyramid method in terms of popularity. It’s certainly got no shortage of hype, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Instead of jumping face-first into paleo, let’s take some time to explore what it is and why it’s so mainstream. This Paleo guide will cover all the paleo diet rules you need to know to get started.

 

  1. What is the paleo diet?
  2. Can I lose weight on the paleo diet?
  3. What foods can you eat on a paleo diet?
  4. Will a paleo diet make you gain weight?
  5. What you can’t eat on a paleo diet.
  6. Are grains allowed on a paleo diet?
  7. Should you restrict carbs on a paleo diet?
  8. Can you eat dairy products like cheese on a paleo diet?
  9. Is the paleo diet bad for your health?
  10. Who the paleo diet is for and who should stay away.

What is the Paleo diet, and how does It work?

The Paleo diet, in its simplest form, is an eating plan that involves consuming foods that our paleolithic ancestors ate thousands of years ago. The mantra is simple – if it wasn’t around during the Old Stone Age, then you can’t eat it!

The theory states that our average joe and jane paleo ancestors didn’t eat unprocessed foods. As hunter-gatherers, they instead consumed wild-caught fish, grass-fed meats, fruits, vegetables, and nuts – everything you’d find in the wild.

By now, you’re probably thinking:

Why would I follow the same diet as paleolithic humans?

Simply put: Our ancestors did not suffer from an obese population, sleep deprivation, and heart disease. As such, paleo advocates believe that the paleolithic diet has positive lasting health effects.

Remember that processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, white bread, and low-fat dairy products, are modern inventions. Our ancestors had no access to them, so theoretically our bodies cannot process such foods. Compared to the Stone Age, we’re fatter, sicker, and sleepier than ever before.

So why has today’s society changed so drastically compared to paleo times? 

Believe it or not, it started with Agriculture and the Industrial Revolution!

As time passed, our hunter-gatherer ancestors slowly became farmers and then produced foods in high quantities. After all, nobody wants to get chased by a large mammoth just to get a snack.

The industrial revolution, meanwhile, replaced many manual labor jobs with machines and office-based jobs. We became less active (a lot less!), and this led to an energy imbalance – eating more calories than we could burn off.

Being less active + a higher quantity of processed foods = not great for our health.

To put things in perspective, nearly 14 million Australians are overweight or obese- that’s 2 in every 3 adults and a quarter of the nation’s children. It’s worrying for sure, but the paleo diet is a great way to fight against rising obesity rates. By returning to our dietary roots again, we can take control of our health and well-being. 

Lastly, we must mention the technological advancement of leisurely living. Think video games, movies, and other forms of entertainment, which also contribute to our sedentary lifestyle. And while our brains have obviously evolved, our bodies and digestive systems have yet to catch up in time.

Now that you know the history behind the paleo diet, let’s go over what kind of results you can expect…

Will I lose weight on the Paleo diet?

The word ‘diet’ is almost synonymous with weight loss.

So, if you’re wondering if you’ll lose body fat doing paleo, the answer is:

Most likely, yes! If you stick to the Paleo diet’s principles and rules, you will probably lose weight long-term.

However, no diet, including Paleo will help you lose weight if you’re in a calorie surplus.

The rules of thermodynamics still apply: if you eat more calories than you burn, then the excess energy will be stored as fat, regardless of your food choice. So technically, you could eat all the nuts and paleo-approved foods you want and still gain weight if it exceeds your daily/weekly caloric requirements.

That being said, sticking to paleo foods is highly conducive to weight loss. Here’s why:

You’re eating unprocessed foods – Nuts, fish, meat, and fruits are packed with nutrients, contain very little sugar, and are generally low in calories (especially if you opt for lean meats).

You cut out the bad stuff – Foods like cereal, bread, doughnuts, and chocolate bars are calorie-dense and add little to your overall health. Good luck trying to hit your protein goals by eating those!

You’re eating more veggies – Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which improve everything from your cognitive functions to your energy levels.

You remove unhealthy fats – Eating paleo means limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats, which are linked to various health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

So, while you could gain weight on the Paleo diet, most people don’t. Just stick to the Paleo lifestyle, be aware of your overall calorie intake, and trust the process. 

Now that you know the paleo diet, let’s get into what you can and cannot eat!

What can you eat on a Paleo Diet?

You may be forgiven for thinking paleo only involves eating animal guts, organs, and bones. But don’t worry! You don’t have to eat like the Liver King to reap the paleo diet’s benefits.

Here are the paleo foods you can incorporate into your diet right now:

Meat – Chicken, beef, pork, lamb, bison, and other grass-fed animals.

Fish – Fish that live in the ocean, rivers, streams, and lakes.

Fruits – Apples, bananas, grapes, etc.

Vegetables – Broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, peppers, spinach, etc.

Organs – Liver, heart, kidney, and other organs.

Nuts – Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, etc

Healthy Fats – Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil. Stay away from processed oils like sunflower oil and canola oil.

Marrows – Bones and bone marrow – time to get hardcore can eat the whole animal!

Eggs – Opt for omega-3-enriched eggs if you can.

Fats – Lard, ghee, and grass-fed animal fats.

Tubers – cassava, potatoes, aroids, and sweet potatoes.

The paleo diet allows you to select any paleo-friendly foods and combine them to your liking. However, we recommend emphasizing your leafy green vegetables, healthy fats, and higher protein sources for weight loss.

Let’s go through an example paleo meal plan:

Breakfast – 3 omega-3 enriched whole eggs, mushrooms, and bell peppers

Lunch – Grilled chicken with asparagus, sauteed spinach, and guacamole.

Dinner – Broiled salmon, roasted sweet potatoes, and green beans.

Snack – 1 handful of macadamia nuts, an apple, and a paleo-friendly smoothie.

Feel free to add more fruits or different meats throughout the week. Just keep a list on hand of all edible foods – it’s easy to forget what you can and can’t eat.

Lastly, you’ll want to adjust these food portions to fit your caloric needs and to eat enough protein. If you’re regularly lifting, aim to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

Will I get fat eating high-fat paleo foods?

You’ve probably noticed that many paleo foods are loaded with fat. Food groups like nuts, avocados, and fatty fish fall within this group and the calories can quickly pile up if you’re not careful.

However, paleo followers shouldn’t fear fat. Eating healthy fats has been associated with improved cardiovascular health, cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk of certain cancers.

To prove this point, here are a few reasons why low-fat diets  are not necessarily the healthiest option:

  • When food manufacturers remove fat from products, they usually replace it with sugar, starches, and refined grains. Our bodies quickly digest these foods, which spike our blood sugar levels and cause us to crash. Fast forward an hour or two later, and you’ll be hungry again.

 

  • According to the Nurses’ Healthy Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the overall calories from fat are not associated with weight gain, cancer, heart disease, or any other health condition.

 

Based on this information, paleo followers can eat higher-fat foods without worrying too much about adverse health effects. But there is a limit on how much you can eat. According to the Institute of Medicine and the American Heart Association, you should eat no more than 25-30% of your paleo calories from fat. 

So, if you’re consuming 2,000 calories daily to lose weight, aim to hit 80 grams of fats or 750 calories. 

Lastly, it’s crucial not to confuse paleo with the ketogenic diet as it doesn’t require you to cut out carbs. While most paleo eaters will reduce their carbs, it’s more important to focus on eating paleo-approved nutrient-dense foods.

However, how you eat paleo will determine your results. You can reduce your carbohydrates and replace them with paleo-friendly fats if that’s what you prefer. Ultimately, you want to remain in a calorie deficit to lose weight, and paleo is the perfect framework for doing this.

What not to eat on a paleo diet?

The paleo lifestyle calls for omitting non-paleo foods like dairy, processed grains, and refined sugars.

Seems simple enough, right?

Not always.

Unfortunately, just about every supermarket you enter is stocked with paleo-hostile foods. Some even appear paleo friendly (if you’re inexperienced), such as animal products that weren’t grass-fed, or “paleo snacks” with additives and preservatives.

Furthermore, if you grew up on a diet of processed and highly refined foods, it’s hard to eliminate them altogether. However, nobody said it was going to be easy. It requires sacrifice and a drastic shift in mindset to do a complete diet overhaul.

Here are some of the primary food groups you can’t have on a paleo diet:

  • Dairy products (including milk, yogurt, cheese, etc)
  • Processed foods (including chips, candy, cookies, and french fries)
  • Grains (including pasta, bread, cereal, and rice)

Almost all sugar you consume should naturally occur in fruits and vegetables. And for a good reason. Studies have shown that you can reverse numerous diseases by cutting down on processed food and sugar.

Can I eat grains on the paleo diet?

Many paleo eaters struggle the most when it comes to grains. After all, they’re better than powdered donuts or candy bars and they’re a staple in many cultures. For example, try going to southeast Asia and you’ll find rice in almost every meal.

So can you eat grains in a paleo diet?

Sadly, the answer is no. This is because the paleo diet excludes all grains, including wheat, rye, barley, and much more.

So why are grains off-limits?

Grains contain several compounds, i.e., gluten, phytates, and lectins which supposedly cause inflammation. They can also block vital nutrients such as calcium and iron from absorbing into your body and can spike blood sugar levels.

As mentioned, when your blood sugar spikes, it causes your energy levels to plummet downwards. You feel exhausted and sluggish, and your paleo diet effort goes down the drain. And if you have a nice long nap, you could interfere with your regular circadian sleep cycle.

That’s why paleo is so great – it eliminates the need for grains and balances your blood sugar levels. In other words, no crashes, irritability, and, most importantly, hunger pangs throughout the day!

Should you avoid carbs on a Paleo diet?

The short answer is:

It depends.

It’s hardly a satisfying and decisive answer, but paleo eaters are encouraged to find their paleo-sweet spot. You are unique, after all, and will thrive on a paleo diet catered to you.

However, most paleo eaters will naturally reduce their carb intake while following paleo.

Standard western diets include a lot of processed food packed with refined carbs and sugars. Our bodies then convert these carbs into ‘glucose’, which fuels our cells and workouts. So by switching to paleo, you’re naturally removing a large portion of these processed carbs.

Instead, you’ll be ingesting carbs from paleo-approved sources such as sweet potatoes, squash, and paleo-friendly fruits. These have lower calories than processed carbs and are much more nutritious and filling. Replacing processed carbs helps you enjoy delicious and nutritious meals while keeping your carb intake in check.

Can I eat cheese or other dairy products on the Paleo diet?

No two Paleo eaters are entirely alike. Some impose harsher restrictions on dairy, while others allow it in moderation. Many of us are also lactose intolerant, making dairy a paleo no-go.

The paleo diet typically excludes all dairy products, including milk, butter, cream, and cheese. This is because our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have cows to milk. As such, our bodies just weren’t built to ingest it.

In addition to our ancestors not having access to dairy, there is evidence that suggests avoiding it altogether. Milk and dairy are notorious for causing clogging in our arteries due to their saturated fat content. Diets that don’t include dairy typically have less saturated fat and cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart disease.

However, in moderation, dairy products, including cheese, and a healthy calorie intake can be beneficial. They help build strong bones due to their calcium content and have a lot of protein.

So does this mean you should avoid dairy altogether?

It’s important to look at your diet as an entire package, not pick and blame individual food items. As long as you’re keeping saturated fats and cholesterol in check, it’s perfectly fine to include the odd wheel of cheese in your diet.

Is the Paleo diet harmful?

The Paleo diet works so well because it eliminates a lot of unhealthy junk foods that make us sick today. It also simplifies our diets, taking out the guesswork on which foods we should eat are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. No more time spent checking labels and ingredients on food packaging!

So how can the Paleo diet become harmful? Let’s go through a few scenarios:

Eating too many fatty meats – If you’re a meat lover, it can be easy to overindulge in paleo-approved meats, like pork and beef. While these are paleo staples, they can be rich in saturated fats, helping you to pack unwanted pounds. They’re also typically calorie-dense, meaning it’s easy to overeat too many calories.

Inadequate calorie intake – If you’re not careful, it can be easy to eat too few calories. If you live an active lifestyle i.e you work in construction laying concrete or you are an athlete, it’s easy to undereat and not fuel your body properly.

Not eating enough fruits and vegetables – Eating exclusively meat still counts as paleo, but it’s not optimal. Fruits and veggies are vital for good health, so ensure you get enough in your diet.

It’s restrictive – Strict Paleo eaters will probably admit that it’s not the most exciting of diets. It takes longer to select foods in restaurants, and it can become challenging to choose paleo-approved snacks when you’re on the go.

Who the Paleo diet is for and who should stay away

The paleo diet is fantastic. It ingrains healthy habits you can use for life and simplifies dieting. But like any diet, it’s not for everyone.

Due to its restrictive nature, some of us should avoid paleo. For example, I occasionally eat processed products like granola bars, frozen meals, and Popeyes chicken (yum!). They’re not paleo-approved, but it’s ok because my diet mostly involves lean meats, vegetables, and fruits. I also train five days a week, which helps burn off those excess calories.

However, there are times when a Paleo diet would be beneficial. Let’s go through a few different scenarios:

Who should try Paleo:

People who binge-eat healthy foods – If you feel like you can never get enough candy or chips, paleo might be for you. By eliminating these foods, you gradually learn to snack differently.

People who love simplicity – Life is already complicated as it is without worrying about what foods to avoid. With paleo, you take the guesswork out of food selection.

People looking to make a serious change – While many of us can maintain a healthy lifestyle while occasionally indulging in gummy bears, others need more of an all-or-nothing approach to get results. This is where paleo can be practical.

People who dislike junk food – If you don’t crave pizza or cake, try paleo. After all, Paleo still offers delicious, healthy alternatives to your favorite junk foods. For this group, the transition to paleo won’t be too difficult.

People with minor health issues – Processed foods can cause chronic inflammation, digestive problems, and food allergies. Eliminating processed foods from your diet can help reduce these issues.

Who should skip paleo:

Those who thrive on flexibility – I mentioned myself as an example earlier. Paleo isn’t for me because I can function just fine while occasionally indulging in unhealthy foods. If you donat have the time or patience to prepare paleo meals, try another diet.

 

Healthy people – If your diet consists primarily of lean meats, fruits, and veggies, you’re already on the paleo track. There’s no need for a complete overhaul if you’re already healthy. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

People who switch diets – If it fits your macros (IIFYM), keto, paleo, veganism, mediterranean and intermittent fasting are just a few of the diets available. If paleo isn’t for you, try one of the ones I just mentioned.

Remember, there isn’t a perfect diet that will magically transform your life – paleo is just an option. The best diet granted it’s packed with all the minerals, macronutrients, and vitamins you need, is the one you will stick to. Just experiment on different diets for 4-8 weeks at a time and see what works for you!

For paleo beginners, this paleo diet beginner guide should give you a comprehensive understanding of paleo rules and the diet itself. We hope you can incorporate our advice into your Paleo diet today and become the best version of yourself!

Good luck and happy paleo-ing!

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