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Paleo Diet Basics: Food List, Rules, & Meal Plan

By Steph Lodge on Apr 09, 2020

Tags: Paleo

Much of the food you see out in restaurants or grocery store chains today is overly processed food containing additives and other unnecessary ingredients.

The progress nutritional research has made over the last few decades has helped demonstrate just how much our diets have changed over time. One of the more popular diets that have come to surface over the last few years is the paleo diet. This diet brings us back to our roots, including what our hunter-gatherer ancestors used to eat.

The paleo diet is associated with a number of health benefits from decreased inflammation to improved blood sugar. The paleo diet is even considered one of the best diet plans for improved weight loss due to the high protein, high fat and low carb intake.

In this article, we'll discuss the basics of the Paleo diet including:

  • The rules of the paleo diet
  • Paleo-friendly foods
  • Foods to avoid on the paleo diet
  • Paleo-friendly beverages
  • Paleo-friendly snacks
  • Health benefits of the paleo diet
  • Paleo diet meal plan
  • Paleo diet recipes

The Rules of the Paleo Diet

"If a caveman didn't eat it, neither should you." This is the general guideline when following a paleo diet.

The paleo diet includes foods that were only available to our hunter and gatherer ancestors. This means that the processed foods, refined grains, and cereals we see in the store today are off-limits. Instead, you should be consuming foods such as meats, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.

The paleo diet is based around the idea that these foods are what our bodies were meant to eat, not the processed foods and additives you see today. It's thought that a planned Paleo diet can lead to improvements in all aspects of health.

While there's no real way to know exactly what paleolithic humans were eating at the time, you can make a pretty educated guess. It really comes down to thwart was available to them at the time and their location.

Some paleolithic humans ate a diet higher in animal fats and lower in carbs, while others survived off of mainly plants and carbs.

So what are some paleo-friendly foods?

Paleo-Friendly Foods

If you're wondering if a food is paleo-friendly or not, it's pretty simple. Could our ancestors hunt or gather it? If the answer is yes, it's paleo-friendly.

Some of these foods include:

  • Grass-fed meat
  • Wild-caught fish and seafood
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Bacon
  • Turkey
  • Fresh fruits (apples, berries, melon, grapes, bananas, lemons, oranges, limes, peaches, plums)
  • Fresh vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cabbage, spinach)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pine nuts, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseed)
  • Oils (including coconut, avocado, macadamia, flaxseed, olive, walnut)

Foods to Avoid on the Paleo Diet

When it comes to foods you should avoid on the paleo diet, you want to ask yourself the same question from above, "could our ancestors hunt or gather it?". However, this question might cause slight confusion.

Foods you should avoid on the paleo diet include:

  • Grains (bread, rice, oats, pasta, quinoa)
  • White potatoes
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Legumes (peanuts, beans, lentils, tofu)
  • Refined sugar
  • Processed foods
  • Soda & sweetened beverages
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • Salt
  • Artificial sweeteners

Paleo-Friendly Beverages

You know what foods to eat and avoid on the paleo diet, but what about beverages? Paleo beverages include a variety of beverages including different versions of water. Different types of water you can include in your paleo diet are beverages such as sparkling water, sparkling mineral water, club soda, soda water, seltzer, or other types of carbonated water.

However, if you're looking for a non-water option, you're in luck.

Some other options for paleo beverages include:

  • Kombucha
  • Herbal, caffeine-free teas
  • Coffee and other caffeinated drinks
  • Coconut water
  • Freshly-juiced fruits and vegetables when consumed with their pulp
  • Drinks containing natural sweeteners such as raw honey, stevia, etc.
  • Drinks sweetened with stevia or sugar alcohols

Paleo-Friendly Snacks

The paleo diet excludes many popular snack foods, so finding paleo-friendly snacks might seem like a challenge. However, you can enjoy many store-bought and homemade snacks on the paleo diet.

Some of these snacks include:

  • Whole fruit: Fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas, pears, and clementines make the perfect go-to portable snack if you follow the paleo diet.
  • Turkey sticks: Many stores carry different types of jerky including turkey sticks made from turkey, spices, and more. Be sure to check the ingredients list to be aware of any additives or artificial ingredients you might otherwise be trying to avoid on the paleo diet.
  • Roasted almonds: Almonds and other nuts are a simple yet effective portable and highly nutritious paleo-friendly snack.
  • Paleo-friendly protein bars: Finding paleo-friendly protein bars can be difficult, but not impossible. Be sure to read the nutrition label before purchasing protein bars at your local grocery store. Or you can make your own paleo-friendly protein bars at home.
  • Sweet potato avocado toast: Thin slices of sweet potato are a great substitute for bread. Slice 1/2-inch pieces of sweet potato and roast them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven for 20 minutes. Top these slices of sweet potato with avocado and enjoy.

Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet

Research has shown the paleo diet is capable of providing a number of different health benefits. By following a whole food-based diet such as the Paleo diet and increasing your physical activity (much like our hunter-gatherer ancestors), it's thought that individuals can avoid a number of health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Some health benefits of the paleo diet include[*]:

1. Improves Weight Loss

While every individual is different, following the paleo diet could be very helpful in the process of weight loss. Swapping out processed foods and artificial ingredients for nutrient-dense foods can easily cut calories and help you lose those pounds.

The specific foods consumed on the paleo diet plan can also increase weight loss. However, it's important to note that the amount the Paleo diet will impact your weight loss can depend on a number of different things such as how many calories you're consuming, how much you're sleeping, and what other nutrient deficiencies and pre-existing hormone imbalances you might have.

2. Helps Increase Protein Intake

One of the biggest issues with most diets today is the lack of protein. Getting enough protein in your diet with the paleo diet is key to maintaining proper health. Why? Protein plays a huge role in repairing and building muscle tissue, maintaining blood sugar levels, building muscle mass, and transferring messages to different cells[*][*]. It also helps keep you satiated for longer periods of time, helping reduce your cravings and hunger pains.

3. Reduces Inflammation

While inflammation is a natural defense mechanism by the body, chronic inflammation is what you want to avoid. Chronic inflammation is at the root of most diseases you see today such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes[*]. The paleo diet is abundant in a number of anti-inflammatory foods including different fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

4. Helps Improve Nutritional Deficiencies

The paleo diet is known to improve health markers. But why is that? One reason is that it cuts out all heavily processed or refined foods and prioritizes nutrient-dense foods. These foods are key as they provide a number of essential vitamins and minerals your diet might otherwise be lacking.

For example, adding more red meat to your diet can help improve your iron levels while adding more fatty fish and nuts can increase your levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

5. Helps Regulate Blood Sugar Levels

The paleo diet doesn't include many types of carbs. In fact, it restricts a number of different grains that have been thought to play a role in high blood sugar levels. The paleo diet is mainly made up of protein and healthy fats which are both slowly digested, keeping blood sugar levels stable. This avoids the spike in blood sugar you would otherwise see in a meal full of grains.

One study showed the benefits of following a paleo diet versus a diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association in subjects with diabetes. The researchers found that this caveman diet led to improved blood sugar levels vs. the conventional diabetes diet[*].

Paleo Diet Meal Plan

Planning a paleo meal plan for yourself or family members might be difficult at first if you're used to eating grains, beans, or processed foods. But it doesn't have to be complicated. Follow this simple weekly meal plan to start yourself off.


  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon
  • Lunch: Grilled chicken lettuce wraps
  • Dinner: Grilled salmon with roasted broccoli


  • Breakfast: Grain-free oatmeal
  • Lunch: Stir fry with grass-fed beef and mixed veggies
  • Dinner: Salad with baked chicken, avocado, tomatoes, spinach and walnuts


  • Breakfast: Veggie omelet
  • Lunch: Salmon taco bowl with cauliflower rice, tomatoes, avocado, and lettuce
  • Dinner: Grilled pork chops with sweet potato wedges


  • Breakfast: Egg casserole with sausage and avocado
  • Lunch: Beef taco bowl with cauliflower rice, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce and cilantro
  • Dinner: Lamb chops with cauliflower rice


  • Breakfast: Onions, mushrooms, and spinach roasted up with bacon or sausages
  • Lunch: Shrimp stir fry with asparagus, tomatoes, snap peas, avocado, lettuce and cilantro
  • Dinner: Mediterranean grilled lamb chops with sweet potato wedges

Paleo Diet Recipes

Following a diet doesn't have to be boring and the Paleo diet proves that. No matter what you're in the mood for, chances are you can find a dish you'll love from these simple and easy paleo recipes.

Paleo Power Pancakes

Pancakes with Blueberry and Strawberry

One of our "in-house" favorites here... the perfect sweet and savory meal for breakfast, brunch, or post-workout!


  • Chomps sea salt beef stick
  • Birchbender's paleo pancake mix
  • Strawberries and blueberries
  • optional: pure maple syrup, almond butter, or topping of choice


  1. Following the instructions on the Birchbender's Paleo Pancake mix, make your desired amount of pancake mix.
  2. While pancakes are cooking, chop up Chomps stick and saute until warm.
  3. Top pancakes with Chomps, strawberries, and blueberries, and pure maple syrup, almond butter, or your topping of choice.

Get the recipe from Chomps.

Broiled Salmon

Salmon with Lemon

This is a super simple go-to recipe that's high in protein, moderate in healthy fat, and contains almost zero carbs.


  • 4 (4-oz.) salmon fillets
  • 1 tbsp. grainy mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced shallots
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Lemon slices, for serving


  1. Heat broiler and line a baking sheet with parchment. In a small bowl, mix together mustard, garlic, shallot, thyme, rosemary, and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture all over salmon fillets and broil 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. Garnish with more thyme and lemon slices and serve.

Get the recipe from Delish.

Paleo Chili


Who doesn't love a hearty bowl of chili in the Winter? This recipe is full of healthy vegetables and tastes great reheated throughout the week.


  • 3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2" strips
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lb. lean ground beef
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (28-oz.) can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
  • Sliced jalapeños, for garnish
  • Sliced avocado, for garnish
  • Freshly chopped cilantro, for garnish


  1. In a large pot over medium heat, cook bacon. When bacon is crisp, remove from pot with a slotted spoon. Add onion, celery, and peppers to pot and cook until soft, 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more.
  2. Push vegetables to one side of the pan and add beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, until no pink remains. Drain fat and return to heat.
  3. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, and paprika and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and cook 2 minutes more. Add tomatoes and broth and bring to a simmer. Let cook 10 to 15 more minutes, until chili has thickened slightly.
  4. Ladle into bowls and top with reserved bacon, jalapeños, cilantro, and avocado.

Get the recipe from Delish.

Slow-Cooker Paleo Meatballs

Meatball Dish

Need a slow-cooker recipe? This Slow-Cooker Paleo Meatballs recipe will have the whole family in love.


For meatballs

  • 1 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/4 c. freshly chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

For sauce

  • 1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. In a large bowl, mix together beef, parsley, egg, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes until combined.
  2. Form mixture into 24 meatballs and place in a slow cooker.
  3. In another large bowl, stir together crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, onion, oregano, and garlic and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Pour sauce over meatballs.
  5. Cook, covered, on low until meatballs are cooked through, 5 to 5 1/2 hours.
  6. Garnish with parsley before serving.

Get the recipe from Delish.

    The Takeaway

    The paleo diet is the perfect option for individuals looking to revamp their diet with whole, natural foods while improving their health at the same time. While there is no one "right way" to follow the paleo diet, the idea of this diet is to avoid artificial and process foods while focusing on healthy, whole foods.

    Pick up some paleo-friendly foods from the store such as meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats and oils and be sure to avoid processed foods, grains and sugar. If you follow these simple rules, you’ll be on your way to a Paleo-lifestyle in no time.

    About the author

    Steph Lodge

    Steph Lodge is a health and wellness writer with a passion for nutrition and fitness. She's taught a number of nutrition seminars at various events around the country and is the founder of a website called The Athlete's Kitchen—an online resource dedicated to all things health and wellness.

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