The paleo diet is based around the idea of ancestral nutrition, but there’s more to it than trying to emulate a caveman.
This nutritional philosophy asserts that while our bodies can thrive on foods that our paleolithic ancestors ate, it doesn’t do so well with foods our bodies have not yet evolved to tolerate.
But that doesn’t mean only eating foods that were a big hit with our paleolithic ancestors (have you seen a woolly mammoth at the store lately?).
In this article you’ll learn:
Paleo 101: What is the Paleo Diet?
The paleo diet focuses on consuming high-quality, whole foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.
The paleo diet encourages the following:
- Lots of meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds
- Choosing locally-grown, seasonal, organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, pasture-raised and wild-caught food where possible
- Avoiding processed foods, trans fats and additives where possible
- No consumption of dairy, legumes, grains, industrial seed oil, sugar, or artificial sweeteners
The paleo diet is macronutrient agnostic, meaning you can eat however much fat, carbs, and protein as you feel suits you. It isn’t a low carb diet, but the absence of grains naturally lends to a lower carbohydrate intake.
There’s also less importance placed on calorie counting and more emphasis on being in tune with how much food (and what kinds) your body needs. This makes the paleo diet less of a weight loss diet (unlike, for example, the ketogenic diet) and more focused on real-food nutrition.
Interested? Let’s take a look at all the delicious paleo foods you can enjoy.
100+ Foods You Can Eat on a Paleo Diet
What You Can Eat
The following foods can be eaten on a paleo diet:
- Organ meats
- Fish (fresh, frozen, raw or canned)
- Leafy greens
- Avocado (technically a fruit)
- Brussels sprouts
- Tomato (technically a fruit)
- Brazil nuts
- Pine nuts
- Pili nuts
- Tiger nuts
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Sustainably-sourced palm oil
- Sesame oil
- Hemp oil (not for cooking)
- Flaxseed oil (not for cooking)
- Macadamia oil (not for cooking)
- Coconut kefir
- Coconut water
- Sparkling water
- Soda water
- Wine (preferably sulfite-free)
- Vodka (from potatoes)
- Non-grain-derived gin
- Low sugar hard cider
- All herbs and spices
- Cassava flour
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Maple syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Baking powder/soda
- Unsweetened ketchup
- Avocado or olive oil mayonnaise
What You Can’t Eat
The following foods should not be eaten on a paleo diet:
- Processed, crumbed or marinated meat (such as hotdogs, chicken wings, and spam) containing gluten, sugar, rice or corn
- Fish battered in grain-based flour
- Snow peas
- Soy beans
- Textured vegetable protein
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Adzuki beans
- Pinto beans
- Mung beans
- White beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Dried fruit with added sugar
- Vegetable oil
- Canola oil
- Olive oil blends
- Soy oil
- Rice bran oil
- Dairy spread
- Tonic water with added sugar
- Juice with added sugar
- Corn-derived vodka
- Grain-derived spirits such as bourbon, whiskey and some gins
- Cane sugar
- Rice malt syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Honey or maple syrup made from other sugars or syrups
- Soy sauce
- Sauces containing sugar, gluten and vegetable oils
Processed Food on the Paleo Diet
Paleo’s motto is “just eat real food”, but the rule on processed foods isn’t clear-cut.
Some might suggest that consuming processed food on the paleo diet goes against it’s natural, wholefoods philosophy. But where’s the line? Are fermented foods unacceptable, as they’re a result of processing? Or foods such as kelp, konjac or sweet potato starch noodles, which only contain one ingredient (vegetables) but have been processed to resemble something pretty far from their natural state?
It pays to get specific in this case, because processed food is any food that has been altered from it’s raw, whole form.
That means that if you grind almonds to make almond flour, that’s a processed food. It’s also paleo-friendly.
Paleo protein powder (such as hemp or egg white) is processed, even if it contains nothing other than hemp or egg white.
Technically, when you cook, bake, or alter the state of any food, you’re processing it. So even if you make your own paleo-friendly baked goods, they’re still “processed”.
Here’s a rule of thumb for any diet on whether processing is a yay or nay:
Eat Real Food with Clean Ingredients
Cooking and eating only whole foods 100% of the time is unrealistic in today’s world.
Life happens, and sometimes you need to rely on paleo-friendly “processed” foods (or enjoy a slice of paleo cake on your birthday).
Thankfully there are a lot more ready-made paleo options available to buy these days. Allowing for paleo versions of formerly unhealthy foods also makes this way of living a lot more accessible to far more people.
Avoid These Fake “Paleo” Foods
Following a paleo diet means spending a lot of time reading ingredients lists because sadly, packaging can’t always be trusted. You don’t want to make the mistake of getting that cauliflower pizza base home, only to find it contains wheat.
Becoming an ingredient detective is an inevitable part of eating paleo, but to save you the trouble, here are some deceiving terms and non-paleo ingredients to watch out for:
- Pea protein— this is derived from legumes
- Rice protein— this is derived from grains
- “Gluten-free”— this label isn’t synonymous with paleo, and is often used in products that contain rice, corn, or soy
- Rice malt syrup— this is derived from grains
Always read the label on anything that you buy from the store.
Where to Find Paleo-Friendly Food Options
The benefits of eating a whole foods diet is you can shop wherever you can buy real food. That means less convenience stores and fast food chains and more grocery stores and markets.
Your failsafe options include:
- Online markets & stores
- FBOMB: Most of our snacks are 100% paleo-friendly and we ship worldwide
- Thrive Market (US)
- Natura Market (Canada)
- Organic stores
- Farmer’s markets
- Butcher stores
- Bulk food stores
You can also shop for specialty ingredients, such as baking items and protein powder, online.
As for ready-made food, hot food bars and salad bars can be a great option. Just be wary of vegetable oils and added sugars.
Don’t forget to search online for local paleo cafes and restaurants in your area. Eating at a regular restaurant? Stick with meat and vegetables while avoiding the usual non-paleo culprits (especially gluten and dairy) and you should do just fine.
Paleo Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
Following a paleo diet doesn’t have to be healthy. Forget expensive organic grocery stores and spending half your pay cheque on activated nuts. It’s totally possible to keep your food costs down while eating like a caveman.
Here are some money saving hacks to make paleo affordable for anyone:
- Be realistic about the quality you can afford. Can’t justify organic produce or locally-sourced meat? That’s okay. Buy the best you can afford and remember that you’re still doing a lot better than the standard American diet.
- Stick with simple foods. Elaborate paleo meals can be fun, but all those ingredients can add up. You can do just fine with some canned fish and avocado on a bowl of greens.
- Eat seasonally. Not only are they tastier, but seasonal fruit and vegetables will be cheaper than those that are out of season.
- Grow (or make) your own. Start a windowsill herb garden. Brew your own kombucha. Ferment your own sauerkraut. Hunt your own meat. Okay, that last one might not be realistic for you— but hey, it’s pretty paleolithic, right?
What Makes a Food “Paleo”?
Ironically, paleo itself has evolved from its original inception. Once-forbidden foods such as tubers have since been happily welcomed into the paleo family since the diet’s somewhat dogmatic early days. Many people also consume ghee (made from cow’s milk), green beans (legumes), and pseudo-grains such as buckwheat and quinoa.
Then there’s the matter of how closely the food we consume today really falls to what our paleolithic ancestors would eat. Apples were once an incredibly sour-tasting fruit. But we now happily enjoy the sweeter, modern-day version with reckless abandon.
Which begs the question:
What does “paleo” even mean?
Despite its name, the paleo diet doesn’t require strict adherence to a typical caveman’s diet. Nor does it strictly ban every single food that falls under the “non paleo” category.
Some people even choose to follow paleo 80% of the time and allow themselves more freedom for the other 20%. Then there’s the Primal Diet, which is essentially paleo with dairy.
The point is, paleo is less about adhering to a strict dietary dogma and more about eating in a way that will promote health as suggested by our evolution and biology.
So what about those specific aforementioned paleo-ish foods? Ghee may come from dairy, but it contains very little lactose, the protein that many people have difficulty tolerating. And much like ghee and lactose, green beans contain hardly any problematic lectins, galectins, or phytic acid found in most other legumes.
Just as paleo has evolved over the years, so too can you adapt your diet to your interpretation of paleo. That might be a strict no-tubers-zone, or it might allow for the occasional grain-fermented whiskey.
The point is, eat what makes you feel good— not just the paleo police.