paleo letter blocks

The Paleo Diet: A Beginner’s Guide

If you’ve landed on this article, then it most likely means you’ve either heard of the Paleo diet and want to give it a go, or you’re intrigued as to what the Paleo diet actually is!

Either way, this guide should tell you everything you need to know so that you can decide whether it’s the right diet for you.

And if you want to skip ahead to a particular part, you can use the menu below!

A Quick Overview...

So, what is the Paleo diet?

Sometimes referred to as the “caveman”, “stone age” or “hunter-gatherer” diet, the Paleo diet consists primarily of meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, and excludes all modern food such as processed food, grains, cereals, dairy and refined sugars.

Ultimately, it harks back to what our very early ancestors would’ve eaten (hence the caveman reference!)

Therefore, a good rule of thumb when undertaking this diet is to always stop and ask yourself “would a caveman eat this?”

If the answer is “no”, then put down that bag of crisps and don’t eat them!

All joking aside, regardless of your motivations, the Paleo diet is a great way to eat more naturally.

So, let’s dive in…

Things to Consider About the Paleo Diet

As with any diet, the Paleo diet might not be best suited to everyone.

Let’s start with some of the proposed health benefits of the Paleo diet (of which there are many!)

  • Higher energy levels. It is worth saying (as is mentioned further down this article) that you may initially experience lower energy levels as your body adjusts to this way of eating which is most likely attributable to a decreased carbohydrate intake. However, once adjusted, the increased intake of protein and fat may lead to more consistent energy levels and better glucose control.
  • Better sleep quality. As the Paleo diet is good for weight loss, it can also help improve your quality of sleep, as a smaller waist circumference is linked to the ability to sleep better.
  • Improved mood. Inflammation may be elevated with the regular intake of certain foods  (such as sugar, certain seed oils and soy) but with these removed from your diet and an increase in anti-inflammatory foods (such as fish, veg and fruits), you may see your mood improve. This is because inflammation has been linked to several mental health conditions and diets characterised with high intakes of inflammatory foods and low intakes of anti-inflammatory foods.
  • Improved focus. Better sleep quality, improved mood and mental health also positively impact your ability to focus. Many people on the Paleo diet also notice an improvement in “brain fog”, which leads to better focus.
  • Better gut health. As we mentioned above, the Paleo diet cab help reduce inflammation within your body, which also leads to a healthier gut. Not to mention that fact you’ve removed processed foods and sugars, which so often lead to problems within the gut.
  • Clear skin and healthy hair. The anti-inflammatory benefits of the Paleo diet also have an impact on your skin, helping to improve conditions such as eczema, acne and psoriasis. The increase in nutrients like zinc, iron and key amino acids  that the Paleo diet provides also helps to improve the health and appearance of your hair.

The downside of the Paleo diet is that some people do experience certain side effects when first starting.

Fortunately, most of this is simply down to the body getting used to the new diet and leaving some old dietary habits behind.

Common side effects of the Paleo diet often include:

  • “Low-carb flu”. For some people, the Paleo diet can mean a large decrease in their normal carbohydrate intake. A big drop in carbs can cause you to experience symptoms similar to the flu. These usually subside after a week or two, once your body adjusts to the lower carbohydrate intake.
  • Cravings. As you’ve reduced your intake of sugar and carbs, your body will naturally start to crave them, especially in the first few days of changing your diet.
  • Low blood sugar. As above, because you’ve reduced your carb and sugar intake it can impact your blood sugar levels.
  • Lack of energy. Your change in diet has led to a change in sources of energy. Whilst your body processes this change, you will likely experience a short-term decrease in your energy levels
  • Change in bowel habits. Your bowel will also need to get used to your change in diet, so you will also notice a change in bowel habits. Some people may experience discomfort, whilst others actually report it improves their bowel movements. It’s important to maintain a high water intake to support good bowel health.
  • Bad breath. This is thought to be caused by an increase in protein intake and the bacteria that are important in breaking them down..

All of the above often subside, once your body has got used to the new diet. However, it is recommended to check with a healthcare professional before embarking on any significant changes to your diet or if any of these issues are excessive of causing disruption to your normal routine.


Finally, what do the scientists say?

Numerous studies have been carried out

around the effectiveness of the Paleo diet for:

  • Weight loss. Whilst the Paleo diet isn’t necessarily a calorie controlled diet, research often suggests that participants following the Paleo diet spontaneously reduced their calorie intake by 300-900 calories per day.. Taken collectively, these studies all demonstrated weight loss as a result of the Paleo diet.
  • Glucose tolerance. Participants in this study saw a significant improvement in their glucose tolerance, as a result of following the Paleo diet.
  • Metabolic and physiologic changes. When eating the Paleo diet, participants in this study saw improvements in blood lipid profiles, glucose tolerance and blood pressure even in the absence of weight loss.

Overall, participants of these studies did not experience adverse effects, suggesting the effectiveness of the Paleo diet.

However, they do note that, due to the duration of the studies and the small sample sizes, they were unable to form a definitive conclusion about the diet’s effectiveness.

How to Get Started on the Paleo Diet

paleo diet food pyramidFirst and foremost, you need to get to grips with what you can and cannot eat.

You may find it easier to be strict and rid your cupboards of the nogoers to completely remove any temptation, if you want the diet be successful.

Paleo-friendly food and drink:

  • Meat
  • Fish/Seafood
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Berries, seeds and nuts
  • Salt, spices and herbs
  • Healthy fats and oils
  • Tea and Coffee

The meat and fish you choose should be really good quality – remember, you are cutting out processed foods.

The best way to ensure you’re choosing the best quality is to go for grass fed and free range meats (as grass fed and free range meats are generally higher in nutrients compared to the meat from intensively-raised livestock, due to the natural lifestyle the animals live) and fish that is high in omega-3s.

When drinking tea and coffee, remember to drink them black as you are avoiding dairy. Green and herbal teas can also be a great alternative.

We’ve included a shopping list of all of the above types of food later in this article, to help you identify some of the best foods you can choose from.


Food and drink to avoid on the Paleo diet:

  • Processed foods. This includes anything that has additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners or refined sugars, such as ready meals, ice cream, pastries, etc.
  • Dairy. Milk, cheese, cream, etc.
  • Grains and cereals. Bread, pasta, wheat, barley, etc.
  • Legumes. Lentils, beans, etc.
  • Alcohol. Beer and most wines.

If in doubt, take a look at the ingredients list – this will help you to determine whether to avoid it or not.


Food and drink you can have in moderation:

  • Alcohol can be drunk in moderation, as long as it is the right kind. Hard cider, spirits and organic red wine are the healthier options that you can choose from.
  • Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (above 70%) can also be consumed in moderation, as a treat.
  • Some versions of the Paleo diet do allow the consumption of full fat dairy and legumes.

Your Paleo Diet Shopping List

One of the most important things you can do when embarking on your Paleo journey is to stock your cupboards.

Ensure you always have the core essentials and sticking to the diet become far easier!

So, what do you have to choose from on your weekly shop?

Here is a list of some Paleo-friendly items (click on the plus sign to expand each category):

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Bass
  • Trout
  • Cod
  • Haddock
  • Mackerel
  • Lobster
  • Prawns
  • Crab
  • Scallops
  • Mussels
  • Apples
  • Banana
  • Grapes
  • Melon
  • Tomato
  • Peach
  • Kiwi
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Avocados
  • Grapefruit
  • Pomegranate
  • Pineapple
  • Nectarine
  • Plum
  • Cherries
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Mango
  • Coconut
  • Figs
  • Dates
  • Olives
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Courgettes
  • Cucumbers
  • Onions
  • Cabbage
  • Sprouts
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Butternut Squash
  • Asparagus
  • Kale
  • Celery
  • Leek
  • Aubergine
  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuce
  • Watercress
  • Parsnip
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Chillies
  • Ginger
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Cranberries
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Pistachios
  • Pine nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Cashew nuts
  • Unrefined salts (sea salt, pink salt, etc.)
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric
  • Nutmeg
  • Paprika
  • Cloves
  • Vanilla
  • Cinnamon
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Dill
  • Chives
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Basil
  • Coriander
  • Avocado oil
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Grass fed butter
  • Ghee
  • Animal fats

Your choices are not limited to the above, however these are certainly some of the most common foods consumed on the Paleo diet.

Remember to use the rule of thumb we mentioned earlier, and you will struggle to go wrong:

Would a caveman eat this?

Yes = Paleo-friendly!

No = avoid it!

A Typical Paleo Meal Plan

Now you know what you can and can’t eat, and have an idea of the Paleo-friendly things you can add to your shopping list…

You’re probably wondering what you can make with those ingredients.

So, here are some great recipes for each mealtime that you could choose from.

Paleo Diet Breakfast Recipes:

Paleo Diet Lunch Recipes:

rutabaga and parsnip soup the sophisticated caveman

Paleo Diet Dinner Recipes:

Paleo Diet Dessert Recipes:

paleo diet coconut milk dessert

Paleo Diet Snack Recipes:

How to Eat Out on the Paleo Diet

If you can’t see the list of ingredients that are going into the food you’re eating, how can you be sure that it’s Paleo-friendly?

This is one of the biggest issues you’ll face when trying to eat out on the Paleo diet!

However, it can be done…

The first piece of advice would be to always check out the menu before you go and perhaps even ring up the eatery to ask any questions you may have.

restaurant table with menusNext, when looking at the menu, there are certain things to look out for:

  • Allergen lists. This is a good indicator as to what’s included in certain dishes and will help you decide whether a dish can be an option or not.
  • Gluten-free options. Many eateries now have gluten-free menus and, whilst gluten-free doesn’t automatically equal Paleo-friendly, it can be a good place to start.
  • Meat or fish-based dishes. Choose a meat or fish dish and you can then ask for certain ingredients to be removed or replaced, if necessary. For example, a burger bun could be replaced with a lettuce bun, or a steak could be served without chips and with a salad or veg instead.
  • Foods cooked in oil. If there’s a Paleo-friendly dish on the menu but it obviously needs to be cooked in oil, ask what oil will be used and whether it could be cooked in butter or a healthy oil instead.

As much as you can, try to be reasonable with any requests you have if there are menu items that would require tweaking to become Paleo-friendly.

Whilst many eateries are more than accommodating to meet different dietary requirements now, do remember that they may be restricted to what they can offer.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Paleo Diet

Whilst some of the most important questions have already been covered, there may be a few things that you’re still wondering about.

So, we’ve also endeavoured to cover some of the most frequently asked questions around the Paleo diet.

Q. Isn’t the Paleo diet dangerous?
A. The dangers that people often think of around the Paleo diet usually relate to deficiencies, such as calcium due to reduced dairy intake, and increases in saturated fat, due to a high intake of red meats. However, as you saw from the studies earlier in this article, the health benefits that were noted in these studies suggest otherwise. That doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t be careful – as with starting any new diet, always listen to your body and seek professional advice if you’re ever in any doubt.

Q. Isn’t too much protein bad for you?
A. Protein intake isn’t considered to be harmful to health unless it is consumed in significantly excessive amounts and/or with individuals with pre-existing kidney dysfunction.  Whilst the Paleo diet tends to result in a modest increase in protein intake it most certainly does not promote an excessive intake.

Q. Can I eat gluten-free on the Paleo diet?
A. Anything that can be eaten on the Paleo diet is gluten-free, however not everything gluten-free is Paleo-friendly. This is because gluten-free foods can still contain refined sugars, dairy or artificial preservatives and sweeteners. So, whilst you can eat gluten-free on the Paleo diet, make sure you always read the ingredients to make sure there’s nothing hidden that’s on the list of things you need to avoid!

Q. Is the Paleo diet a low-carb diet?
A. By its very nature, the Paleo diet does tend to include fewer carbs. That doesn’t mean it’s classed as a low-carb diet as you can still eat carbs and aren’t restricted like you would be on a specific low-carb diet.

Q. Which is better – the Paleo diet or the keto diet?
A. The Paleo diet should be considered more as a template than a strict diet whereas the keto diet has a clear and critical physiological aim to have your body enter the state of ketosis.  Whilst the diets share some similarities with food choices, the keto diet requires a significantly higher fat intake and lower carbohydrate intake to be successful whereas the Paleo diet does not force particular nutrient ranges or intakes and contains a greater flexibility of food choices.

Q. How can I get enough fibre on the Paleo diet if I can’t eat grains?
A.Whilst fibre is so commonly associated with grains, it’s often forgotten that nuts, vegetables and fruit contain a large amount of fibre. As the Paleo diet includes plenty of these, you don’t need to worry about losing out on your fibre intake.

Q. Is the Paleo diet good for weight loss?
A. According to the studies we touched on at the beginning of this articles, the paleo diet did promote weight loss and a drop in waist circumference for the participants of those studies. Studies demonstrate that participants following the Paleo diet spontaneously decrease their caloric intake by 300-900 calories per day.

Q. Is the Paleo diet good for muscle gain?
A.In short, yes. Muscle growth requires a sufficient energy and protein intake and neither of these need be restricted following the Paleo diet.

Are you Ready to Take on the Paleo Diet?

So, there you have it – an introduction to the Paleo diet.

Whatever your health and fitness goals, a good fitness regime combined with wholesome, nutrient-rich foods is important, and the Paleo diet can help you reach those goals.

We’d love to know your thoughts, or even whether you have any recipes or tips you would like to share about from your experiences of the Paleo diet.

Simply let us know in the comments below.

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