What is the Paleo Diet?

What is the Paleo Diet?  This post will answer all of your questions.  The Paleo diet is an ancestral diet that focuses on natural, unprocessed whole foods that our caveman ancestors ate.  It is also called the caveman diet and the hunter gatherer diet, and is based on foods that human beings evolved on over millions of years.  Many people want to know what is the paleo diet food list.  The paleo diet food list includes meats, fish, poultry, eggs, healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, fruits and berries.  It is high in vegetables and healthy fats, moderate to high in protein, and low to moderate in carbohydrates.

The premise is that these are the foods that human beings evolved on and are therefore supposed to eat for optimal health.  Agriculture has only been around for about 10,000 years and that has not been long enough for our bodies to adapt to eating, grains, wheat, sugar, processed vegetable oils and processed foods.

What is the Paleo Diet Food List?

Protein.  These include meats, poultry, wild game, fish, shellfish, eggs and organ meats.  These should be organic, grass fed, wild and pastured as much as possible.  I will explain all of these distinctions below.

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What is the Paleo Diet – Food List

  • Organic.  When an animal protein is classified as organic that means that the animal was not given any hormones or antibiotics and was fed an organic diet without any GMOs.
  • Grass Fed.  When an animal protein is classified as grass fed, that means that the animal was only fed grass.  In the case of lamb and beef, this is their natural diet and when animals eat their natural diet, they are healthier, have more nutrients, higher concentrations of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and usually are treated more humanely.  We in turn are healthier when we eat them.  It is also better for the environment.  When an animal protein is not classified as grass fed, that usually means that their diet is grain or corn.  Even if their diet is organic, this really isn’t the best because it isn’t their natural diet and they often get sick and suffer more.  It is best to choose meats that are both grass fed and organic, with grass fed being more important.
  • Free range.  This just means that the animal had access to an outdoor area but it could be just for a short time each day.  Therefore, this doesn’t mean a whole lot.  When choosing meats, you are best to go with organic and grass fed.
  • Natural.  This label does  not mean a whole lot.  It just means that the meat was minimally processed and doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients which is true for most meats.  When choosing meats, you are best to go with organic and grass fed.
  • Wild.  This refers to seafood and shellfish.  Fish and shellfish that are wild are eating their natural diet and are healthier, higher in essential fatty acids and nutrients.  Fish and shellfish that are farmed are raised in cramped pens, are fed an unnatural diet of grains, contain little to no essential fatty acids, get sick easier, and suffer a lot.  Fish farms are also very polluting and bad for the environment.  I recommend avoiding farm raised fish like the plague and going for wild.  It is also best to consume fish that have low levels of mercury.  Fish that have low levels of mercury tend to be smaller and lower on the food chain such as wild salmon, wild halibut, sardines, and anchovies.
  • Pastured.  This refers to chickens, turkey, eggs and pigs.  Animals that are pastured are outside all day long on a pasture and eat their natural diet.  Chickens and turkeys naturally eat bugs, worms, grass and plants.  They are much healthier and more nutritious when they are allowed to eat their natural diet, and their eggs are healthier.  This type of agriculture is also more humane and better for the environment.  When choosing chicken, turkey, eggs and pigs the best choice is organic and pastured with pastured being more important.

Healthy fats.  These include coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish oil.  The only fats that should be used in cooking are  coconut oil and grass fed butter.

Non-starchy vegetables.   All non-starchy vegetables are allowed.  The only starchy vegetables that are allowed are sweet potatoes and squash.

Nuts.  All nuts are allowed except for peanuts.  Peanuts are technically not a nut but a legume.  Nuts contain some amounts of natural toxins and anti-nutrients and can be hard to digest.  It is best to purchase nuts that are organic and raw. Raw nuts have more natural enzymes.  Nuts should be soaked before you eat them as this will make them more digestible and will reduce the amount of anti-nutrients and toxins.  You should soak your nuts in water overnight and then either put them in the oven no higher than 150 degrees or in a food dehydrator until they are dried out and a little crisp.

Fruits.  All fruits are allowed on the paleo diet; however low to medium sugar fruits are preferred.  Below is a list of low to medium sugar fruits:

  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Rhubarb
  • All berries
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Figs
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Apricots
  • Cherries
  • Grapefruit

I recommend limiting higher sugar fruits such as bananas and watermelon and most tropical fruits such as pineapple and mangos to a couple of servings a week.

Berries.  All berries are allowed on the paleo diet.  Berries are great because they are low in sugar, low in carbs and high in anti-oxidants.

Natural sea salt or Himalayan salt.  These salts are natural and unprocessed.

Sweeteners.  Sweeteners that are allowed on the paleo diet are raw honey, stevia, coconut syrup and maple syrup. These should be consumed in moderation.  While technically not on the paleo diet, many people choose to use birch xylitol as it is low in carbs.

What is the Paleo Diet Excluded Foods?

Grains, including wheat and whole grains.  Grains are not allowed on the paleo diet as they contain anti-nutrients and toxins such as phytic acid, gluten and lectins which bind up minerals and other nutrients and prevent you from absorbing them.  They are also very harsh on the digestive system and are very inflammatory.

While it isn’t officially on the paleo diet, if you really want to consume grains very occasionally, it is best to stick to white rice.  While it doesn’t have a lot of nutrients, it also contains very little anti-nutrients and toxins so it is not harmful to you.

Legumes.  These also contain anti-nutrients and toxins and too many carbs.

White Potatoes.  These are not allowed as they have too many carbs and are very high on the glycemic index.

Dairy.  Dairy is technically not allowed on the paleo diet as it is not a food our ancestors ate, and also, many people are allergic to it.  However, it is very low and carbs and many paleo experts believe it is okay to include it if you are not sensitive.  I personally eat goat cheese and goat yogurt as I am allergic to cow’s dairy but not goat.  Many people who are allergic to cow’s dairy can tolerate dairy from goats.

Processed Sugar.  Processed sugar is not allowed on the paleo diet as it causes a lot of health problems and wasn’t something our ancestors consumed.

Most vegetable and seed oils.  These include canola oil, soybean oil and safflower oil.  These are very processed and are genetically modified.

Iodized salt.  This type of salt is overly processed.

Soy.  Soy is highly processed, contains huge amounts of estrogen, anti-nutrients and toxins, and 95% of it is genetically modified.

What is the Paleo Diet Vegetarian or Pescatarian Version?

If you are wanting to follow a vegetarian version of the paleo diet, you would follow all of the above guidelines but limit your protein to eggs and cheese.  Hemp seeds are also high in protein.  If you want to follow a pescatarian paleo diet, you would limit your protein sources to fish, shellfish, eggs, cheese and hemp seeds.  Many people do this and really like it.  I followed a pescatarian paleo diet for quite a while but it was difficult for me as I am allergic to eggs and dairy made from cow’s milk.  I felt like I didn’t have enough choices so I stopped and went back to traditional paleo, but it does work well for people who don’t have food allergies.  This article has a lot of great recipes that fit both Paleo and Vegetarian/Vegan diets.

What is the Paleo Diet Benefits?

  • Stabilizes blood sugar
  • Gives you a high energy level
  • Keeps you full and satiated
  • Generally easier to lose weight
  • Is anti-inflammatory
  • Reduces chronic pain
  • Improves digestion and helps to heal the digestive system
  • Reduces food allergies
  • Clearer skin
  • Cuts out processed food and GMOs

To learn more about what is the paleo diet, click here for The Paleo Solution.

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