Skip to main content

What is the Paleo Diet? Learn the Pros, Cons, and More

A diet is any typical mix of foods that an individual or species habitually consumes and thrives on. All too often, when most people hear the term “diet” nowadays it induces thoughts of caloric restriction, weight loss, or more importantly, no fun. But a diet shouldn’t always be that way. It should be something that you enjoy utilizing, that helps provide nutrient-dense foods, and that you can thrive on for life, without feeling regret or remorse.

With a new diet popping up on an almost seemingly quarterly basis, it can be overwhelming. To be honest, most have been around for years, they’re just re-branded as something new and shiny. The paleo diet is anything but shiny and new, technically. The diet first came to popularity in 1975, and then again in 2002 by Loren Cordain who technically coined the term “paleo diet.” It is based on the idea of eating the way that our prehistoric ancestors ate, as in a paleolithic (era)-based diet. Think caveman, hunter-gatherer sense.

Paleo is spelled out in Scrabble tiles on a white marble table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While there are no exact set rules (macros) for the majority of those on the diet, it tries to incorporate the idea of eating whole foods and eliminating junk like processed foods, refined sugar, refined grains, and, depending on how strict, dairy, refined oils, coffee, and alcohol. So, what exactly does the diet consist of exactly?

What Is the Paleo Diet?

There’s a lot of information out there on the paleo diet and a lot of people have interpreted it to their own liking. According to, which happens to be founded by Dr. Cordain himself, “When you get down to the basics, it’s just eating a lot of vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish, eggs, and some nuts and seeds — what you find at your local farmer’s market.” It tends to be higher on the protein side, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetable varieties included as well.

Gentleman is cooking a steak in a cast iron pan.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why Does the Diet Work?

According to Dr. Cordain’s research, this way of eating is how we as humans have evolved over time and what our prehistoric ancestors ate and adapted to. It flips the script on the recent standard of the Western diet, where almost everything is easily accessible, prepackaged, convenient, and processed. As a result, the worldwide obesity rate has nearly tripled since 1975, with 13% of adults suffering from obesity as of 2016.

By eliminating those processed foods and inflammatio- triggering foods, we can reduce things like chronic body inflammation, and other comorbidities like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and more. Though the paleo diet has evolved throughout the years, and subcategories of the diet have branched off, let’s take a look at some of the typical foods to include and avoid while on the diet.

Sunny side-up egg with fork, broccoli, meat and other greens on a bowl beside an avocado, glass of lemon juice, and condiments.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Foods to Eat On the Paleo Diet

  • Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, carrots, peppers, etc.
  • Fruit: Berries (blue, black, straw, rasp), bananas, oranges, apples, avocados, etc.
  • Animal By-Products: beef, fish, chicken, pork, lamb, turkey, eggs, seafood (shrimp, sardines, etc.)
  • Nuts/Seeds/Tubers: Sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, turnips,  pumpkin seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, etc.
  • Miscellaneous: Oils (Olive, coconut, avocado), Salts (sea, Celtic, pink Himalayan), rosemary, turmeric, garlic, curcumin, etc.
  • Others: Since the diet has been knocked for lacking things like calcium, others have learned to incorporate things such as full-fat or raw dairy to get some natural calcium
  • Full-Fat or Raw Dairy: Butter, milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Occasional Indulgence: Wine, coffee, teas, dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher) are all extremely good antioxidants
A close-up of broccoli salad served on an oval plate.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Foods to Avoid On the Paleo Diet

  • Highly Processed Foods: Pre-made meals (frozen pizzas), pre-packaged snacks (granola bars), canned foods (fruit and veggies), foods labeled as “low-fat” and or “diet”
  • Legumes: Beans, lintels, peas, etc.
  • Sugars and Syrups: Table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fruit juices, anything with additional sugar
  • Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame potassium, etc.
  • Grains: Breads, pastas, wheat, barley, etc.
  • Vegetable Oils: Peanut, sunflower, soybean, grapeseed, safflower, corn, cottonseed, etc.
  • Trans Fats: Partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils

To keep things super simple, if you cannot buy it at your local farmer’s market, you probably shouldn’t be eating it, especially if those ingredients are made in a factory.

A close-up of granola bars on wooden board.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Pros of the Paleo Diet

  • Eliminates Processed Foods – Highly processed foods have been linked to almost every type of health issue from diabetes to obesity, high blood pressure, etc. Removing those from an individual diet can have positive health improvements.
  • Removes Added Sugars – Again, same as processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and added sugars are horrible for overall health and removing them can be extremely beneficial.
  • Weight Management and Weight Loss – By removing a lot of key inflammatory food groups individuals will report great weight loss on the paleo diet.
  • Improves Health Biomarkers:
    • Glucose control
    • Improved body fat
    • Lowers high blood pressure
    • Healthy cholesterol levels
A close-up of spinach leaves on a colander.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cons of the Paleo Diet

  • Lacks Some Key Vitamins – Diet does not lead to adequate amounts of vitamin D or calcium, which leads many to supplement and add in full-fat or raw dairy products
  • No Grains – Grains have been shown to be beneficial in those who do not have gluten intolerance and can help with regularity. It’s easy to find gluten-free food products nowadays, either.
  • No Dairy – Depending on how strict you follow, some who follow paleo say that in order to be true paleo, no dairy should be consumed. However, full-fat and raw dairy products can help provide enough calcium which is extremely important for bone health as we age.
Roasted pork chops and a salad on a wooden board.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Our Take On the Paleo Diet

The paleo diet is a great starting place for most people who want a sensible approach to the world of healthier eating habits. While demonizing or eliminating food groups altogether can have its disadvantages, a more appropriate starting place would be something paleo-adjacent. Following the paleo diet, but then also making sure to get dairy or gluten-free grains, as well as ample carb sources, into your meals as well, as all have been proven very beneficial for overall well-being.

Salmon with greens served on a plate beside a condiment on a gray table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Editors' Recommendations

Jeff Turbett
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jeff Turbett is a health and wellness coach with over three years of experience transforming clients lives and physical…
Try these 10 foods high in vitamin D for healthy bones
Thinking about vitamin D levels and bone health? These foods will help you in those departments
Two fried eggs and salmon served on a blue oval plate.

Remember all those glasses of milk you chugged as a growing person, convinced they would keep your bones strong? Well, there's truth to that, but vitamin D plays a major role too. On top of keeping your skeleton in good working order, it creates key hormones that help out with keeping inflammation in check and your immune system thriving.
Our bodies make vitamin D, especially when we're hanging out in the sun (Hawaii, anyone?). For us mainlanders stuck in the throes of late fall and early winter, funding sunshine can be tough this time of year. Folks everywhere from Portland to New York City can go weeks without seeing the big glowing star in the sky. Fear not, there are other ways to keep your vitamin D levels where they ought to be.

Speaking of upping your intake, the current recommended daily value of vitamin D for most adults is 800 IU or 20μg. That said, your needs may be higher or lower, particularly if you don’t get much direct sun exposure. The tricky part is that very few foods are naturally high in vitamin D, so if you're looking to boost your levels significantly you may want to consider a vitamin D supplement or light therapy. That said, the foods highest in vitamin D listed below are nutritious additions to your diet overall, and can help ensure you're getting adequate amounts of vitamin D throughout the day.

Read more
The low-carb diet guide: How to eat better and optimize your health
This is everything you need to know about embracing a low-carb diet
Large steak on an open grill.

One of the best ways to take control of your health is through the implementation of a well-optimized wellness plan. The two biggest components that most people start to focus on first usually happen to be exercise and, more importantly, diet. All diets focus on the big three macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
Sugars, starch, and fiber, which are types of carbohydrates, are found in nearly all foods to some degree, but in much higher quantities in foods like bread, oatmeal, pasta, cereal, and other grains, along with fruits, legumes, potatoes, and certain dairy products. Even the healthiest vegetables like kale and broccoli contain carbs. In contrast, foods like meat, poultry, eggs, and fish, are low-carb foods, with most of the calories coming instead from protein or fat.
While there are benefits to consuming carbohydrates, some people believe that carbs lead to excessive weight gain and cause unhealthy spikes in blood sugar. While that may not seem like a great fear for most, usually those individuals also have issues with portion control when it comes to consuming carbs. A low-carb diet aims to minimize carbohydrate intake as much as possible by focusing on consuming protein and fat and limiting high-carb foods. If you love steak, chicken, and scrambled eggs, you may find that a low-carb diet is the best way for you to lose weight without feeling deprived. Keep reading for our complete guide on getting started with a low-carb diet to decide if ditching the bread is your path to better health.

What is a low-carb diet?

Read more
The 5 best Indian butter chicken recipes we’ve tasted
Master an Indian cuisine favorite with these chef-curated butter chicken recipes
Indian butter chicken in a black pan with a spiral of cream being added.

Creamy and savory, Indian butter chicken is a must-order for any fan of Indian cuisine. An extremely popular dish at most Indian restaurants in America, this combination of tender chicken and rich sauce is equally delicious with basmati rice or Indian naan. While butter chicken can be time-consuming to make, the results are deliciously fulfilling and perfect for leftovers.

To help us navigate this classic dish, The Manual has collected five amazing recipes from various chefs and Indian cuisine professionals, including Maneet Chauhan, a Food Network star, and restaurateur Gaurav Anand. With the expert guidance of these chefs, butter chicken can be a great addition to anyone's dinner repertoire.

Read more