I want to provide you practical and actionable Paleo diet food list that you can use right now to dramatically increase your energy levels and overall health.
While diet and nutrition are not the be-all-end-all when it comes to living a healthy life, they are probably the most significant factors and the things that we have the most control over.
I believe the primal or paleo framework to be one of the most effective systems of eating for health and wellness. And while this diet is all over the place on the internet, I’ve found that almost nobody has heard of it on the “outside.” And, those who have heard of it, seem to be confused what it is all about.
So I’ll kick things off here after my brief hiatus on eating according to the paleo diet.
I’ll lay it out super simple (because it’s actually not that hard). I also won’t be getting into any evolutionary theory or splitting hairs about the fine details. It’s not necessary.
If you can eat according to these principles most of the time, you will enjoy huge increases in your energy levels, lose weight effortlessly (or maintain your healthy weight), significantly decrease your risk of all degenerative disease, and feel the best you ever have!
Paleo Diet Food List: What To Eat!
At every meal we should eat meat and vegetables, cook (or make dressings) with healthy fats, and add spices liberally.
Vegetables should be organic and not genetically modified (GMO). Sustainable, local, and homegrown are ideal. If you don’t know the source of your vegetables, be sure to wash and scrub them thoroughly.
First of all, fats don’t make you fat, so skip any of that horseshit that says low-fat on it.
Second, saturated fat and cholesterol are not bad for you.
Third, you need high quality fats to absorb vitamins in your food, make hormones, help your brain work correctly, help you feel satiated, and for about a thousand other metabolic functions.
You can do almost everything you could ever want with these three and they are readily available:
Not only do they taste great, almost every herb and spice in your cabinet has beneficial properties. So add them liberally to all your meals.
Go Into Action! Prepare Paleo Breakfast
Skip the cereal and oatmeal and eat a high protein breakfast. This will help you feel satiated, stabilize your blood sugar, and get you off to a good start for the day.
Try a veggie scramble
- 1 tbsp Butter.
- 2-6 Eggs.
- Handful of Vegetables
- A Pinch of Pepper and Sea Salt
Add Butter and Vegetables to a skillet and simmer on medium heat. After a few minutes add the eggs, pepper, and salt. Mix the ingredients together (scramble). Occasionally mix and turn the eggs until they are finished cooking.
This recipe takes about 10 minutes to make and tastes great. Top it with some salsa at the end and you’re really living large!
Check out some more Paleo Diet Breakfast Recipes!
Paleo Diet Food List: Not Allowed!
The dreaded Paleo Diet Food Not to Eat list. If we eat these foods, will we get a horrible disease and keel over? That depends. If we are young and/or relatively healthy, chances are we can indulge in these foods and not notice too much effect.
However, if we continue to eat them frequently over time or already have some sort of illness or condition, these foods can have a severe negative impact on our health.
Remember, this Paleo diet is about optimal health, not about just getting by. Some of these foods may be acceptable to eat in moderation if certain steps are taken in preparation or with supplementation. I’ll cover more on that later, but for now, it’s just best to avoid these foods:
The Insulin Response (High Glycemic Foods)
Sugars, starches, and carbohydrates are converted into glucose. Many of the “Not Allowed” items have a high glycemic index (they are converted into high levels of glucose in the body) and a high glycemic load (they are quickly converted into glucose).
While some glucose is absolutely essential, it doesn’t take much to become toxic to the body. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas in response to glucose to “remove” it from the bloodstream.
Insulin is also referred to as the “master hormone” because it plays a role in almost every metabolic function. But balance is the name of the game with insulin and unfortunately many of our modern foods stimulate the production of WAY too much.
When we constantly overproduce insulin, all kinds of bad things can go wrong. First of all, insulin is a fat storing hormone. There are plenty of other factors that contribute to weight gain (and loss), but chronic insulin response from high glycemic foods are BY FAR the most significant to most people.
Along with weight gain, the blood sugar/insulin roller coaster is the biggest contributor to all degenerative disease including: insulin resistance, thyroid conditions, free- radical damage (cancer precursor), heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
First, they are hard to digest. Second, they bind to the intestines and damage and kill the intestinal lining and villi. This causes decreased absorption of nutrients and minerals. It also causes inflammation and alters the gut flora for the worst.
Altered gut flora and inflammation open the door for conditions like GERD, ulcers, IBS, and all kinds of different digestive disorders.
Gluten is technically a type of lectin. People who are completely intolerant of gluten (Celiacs) make up at least 1 percent of the population.
Around 30% actually test positive for gluten allergies. I would maintain that everyone has at least a mild sensitivity (causing low grade inflammation and digestive disturbance).
Even if you “feel fine” eating gluten (I thought I did), I challenge to remove it from your diet for a few weeks and see if you don’t notice a huge difference in the way you feel.
Phytates (and Phytic Acid)
Phytates are indigestible and significantly decrease the absorptions of nutrients and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Phytates are present in most plant foods but are particularly high in many of the foods listed below. If you are worried about bone loss and osteoporosis, make sure you avoid these.
Chemicals, Poisons, and Other Nefarious Characters from the Food and Agriculture Industries
Each of these items can have all kinds of really negative health implications (things like inflammation, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to name a few).
Getting into each is well beyond the scope of this post. But one thing is common; our bodies don’t know how to properly use these mostly unnatural substances. It’s best to avoid them all.
Not Allowed Paleo Diet Food List In Detail
Wheat and Grains
There are absolutely no good reasons to eat grains unless you will actually starve to death otherwise. Granted, there are some tasty foods made with them (pizza and tortilla chips are my favorite), but besides the occasional treat, it’s really not worth it.
First of all, grains are loaded with the above mentioned Anti-Nutrients in really high quantities. Second, what little nutrition that might be present in grain is largely unavailable. Third, they are high glycemic.
And finally, they are often combined with other foods you shouldn’t eat to make products that are especially crappy for your health.
Soy, Beans, and Legumes
While free of gluten, beans and legumes are extremely high in the other anti-nutrients (soy being the worst offender of all).
Most Soy and Peanuts are heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides and they contain other naturally occurring toxins as well. To top it off, most Soy is now genetically modified.
As mentioned above, Anti-nutrients play a big role in digestive issues, malabsorption, and inflammation. Beans and legumes are also high glycemic, further exacerbating their menace.
Oils and Fats
These bad oils and fats are highly oxidative and inflammatory – a perfect combination for both cancer and heart disease.
Also be aware of trans-fats, anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, anything deep fried, or any good fats and oils that have gone rancid or overheated.
Most Dairy Products
Unfortunately most dairy products from commercial sources contain at least some hormones, pesticides (from feed), and antibiotics. These can interfere with your hormones, alter the healthy bacteria in your intestines, and contribute to free-radical damage.
Don’t bother with the low or non-fat dairy either. The healthy saturated fat in whole milk, cream, and butter helps stabilize blood sugar and makes you feel full (and they don’t make you fat).
Farmers feed pigs skim milk to actually fatten them up. As stated in a paper called Fattening Pigs for Market by Oregon State Agricultural College from 1930, skim milk is “not only the very best supplement for growing pigs, but is of almost equal value for fattening purposes.”
Besides all this shady stuff going on in the dairy industry, many people just have sensitivities to dairy or are lactose intolerant.
Obviously it’s a good idea to avoid anything with preservatives and additives, but also be aware of meat that comes from animals that eat only grains and spend their lives in cramped feed-lots and coops/houses.
The meat from these animals contain an extremely disproportionate amount of Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6’s in excess are extremely inflammatory. These animals are also often treated with hormones, antibiotics, and receive pesticides from their feed.
Fruits and Vegetables
Genetically modified fruits and vegetables have very similar effects on the body as Anti-nutrients. Many types of fruit have very high glycemic values.
Fructose (the type of sugar in fruit) is also converted into triglycerides and fat very efficiently and should probably be avoided for those looking to lose weight or those who are worried about their cholesterol.
Sugars, Sweets, and Sweetened Beverages
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory at this point. Sugars and Sweets have very high glycemic values and are often combined with all kinds of harmful chemical additives, grain flours, and bad oils and fats. Besides, sugar is addictive, so avoid it by all costs.
Most Alcoholic Beverages
Alcohol is definitely inflammatory; plays havoc on many of the body’s systems, and can be addictive.
I was tempted to put alcohol in “What You Should Eat In Moderation” section because I like to drink it.
And while red wine probably will be on that list (it does have some beneficial properties), the truth is that alcohol should be avoided.
Paleo Diet Food List: What To Eat In Moderation
Moderation foods are often controversial among the Paleo community. There is a lot of debate and disagreement about which foods are “Paleo” and which aren’t.
The cool thing for a health geek like me (and maybe you?) is that we can learn much about nutrition, evolutionary biology, disease and health by following these discussions and reviewing the current research.
Despite the big claims, you can probably eat Twinkies in moderation if you are reasonably healthy and eat well otherwise. But as I mentioned above, this diet is about optimal nutrition, not just getting by.
Most moderation foods have redeeming value in some areas (like vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants) but are somewhat problematic in other areas (like the effect on blood sugar and anti-nutrient content).
Also the words “moderation” and “occasionally” can mean different things to different people, but for the sake of this discussion, I’ll describe them as follows:
Moderation: 1 – 4 servings per week.
Occasionally: 1- 4 servings per month.
And then there are other foods that are on the “not allowed paleo diet food list” that can actually be prepared in a way that neutralizes or extremely decreases the problematic aspects of those foods and may even enhance the beneficial aspects.
Most of these processes came from traditional cultures throughout the ages and include practices like soaking, sprouting, fermenting, and specific cooking methods.
If you are trying to lose weight, have blood sugar issues, a degenerative disease, or are concerned about your cholesterol levels, it’s best to avoid fruit altogether.
However, if you are healthy and active, fruit is totally fine and does have some redeeming benefits (antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals).
Also, be sure to monitor your serving size with fruit. It’s pretty easy to go overboard. The general rule of thumb is ½ -1 cup (1-2 handfuls) per serving.
See some Paleo Diet Snacks Ideas!
For the most part, cooking oils and fats fall into either the good or bad category. While not the best for you on a regular basis, oils like sesame oil, toasted sesame oil, and walnut oil in moderation are fine and can add great flavors to your cooking.
Be sure to buy high quality, expeller and cold pressed oils. Also, make sure to store them in cool, dark place in airtight containers.
Starchy Tubers And Squash
Like fruit, starchy tubers are higher glycemic and tend to be a problem for those trying to lose weight and that have blood sugar issues. Potatoes are extremely high glycemic and should only be eaten on the rare occasion.
Sweet potatoes, yams, and squash aren’t quite as high and have nutritional value. They are the best option for highly active people and athletes that need some extra carbs in their diet. They are also good in moderation for the rest of us.
Some of the “Paleo experts” advise against any dairy. Others, including myself, believe that dairy can be enjoyed in moderation if you are able to digest it easily (meaning no bloating, gas, stomach upset, changes in bowel movements, etc.)
Dairy products should be made with whole raw milk that has not been homogenized, from animals that are grass-fed and organically raised. Fermented products like yogurt, cheese, and kefir are also good options.
A note on cheese: some styles tend to be tolerated better than others. Cottage cheese, feta, goat, mozzarella, provolone, queso fresco, and ricotta are the best cheeses to eat. All others should only be eaten occasionally.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and Seeds can be enjoyed in moderation but often they become the salty crunchy crutch of the Paleo community and where many choose to turn a blind eye (I know I’ve definitely fallen into that trap).
While nuts and seeds can be a beneficial source of nutrients, minerals, and healthy fats, they also contain varying levels of phytates, enzyme inhibitors (albeit less than grains and legumes) and omega-6 fats.
The phytates and enzyme inhibitors can be mostly neutralized with soaking and/or dry roasting. The serving size of nuts should be a handful or two (or a tablespoon or two of nutbutter).
Grains and Rice
Grains are another category of foods that many of the talking heads of the Paleo world would have you completely avoid. I agree with them when it comes to wheat and gluten. If you do indulge, make it infrequently as possible
There are other grains like buckwheat and quinoa, however, that with traditional preparation techniques, harmful anti-nutrients can be neutralized. These are probably best avoided if you have blood sugar issues, but for most can be eaten in moderation.
Rice seems to be another gray area when it comes to the moderation category. I imagine if you are reasonably healthy, the occasional sushi or some rice with your Thai food won’t be a big deal.
Beans, due to their levels of anti-nutrients, should probably be avoided for the most part. However, there are preparation methods that can significantly decrease these bad-guys for the occasional bowl of chili or refried beans.
Yep, chocolate, or more specifically cacao, is a legume (another area where a lot of the Paleo folks seem to turn a blind eye). While it’s true that cacao can have a fairly significant phytate load, it also has quite a few beneficial qualities.
Raw cacao is loaded with antioxidants and flavinoids. It has been shown to help a wide variety of health conditions. I can personally attest to its power. If I consume raw cacao products on a regular basis, it’s almost impossible for me to sunburn (which is amazing as fair skinned as I am and how much I’m in the sun surfing).
Be sure to buy high cocoa content dark chocolate that is raw or cold pressed (roasting and Dutching destroys it’s antioxidant content). Also look for products with the least amount of additives and sweeteners. For those with mineral deficiencies, poor diets, and bone loss, it’s probably a good idea to save chocolate for only the rare occasion.
Caffeine is a potent stimulant, keeps the body from getting rid of its excess adrenaline, is addictive, and can set you up for an energy roller coaster. Soda, both diet and regular, should be completely avoided. More than 2 cups of coffee per day is probably too much.
Tea is relatively low in caffeine (especially if steeped many times) and it’s high in antioxidants. It can be used the most frequently of caffeinated beverages.
The rule of thumb for caffeine is that if you use it as a crutch to increase your energy levels or can’t stop drinking it without withdrawal symptoms, you are drinking too much.
Alcohol is a substance that straightaway causes cell death. Alcohol has been linked to several cancers, like prostate, breast and colon cancer.
Every alcoholic drink contains sugar that stimulates the release of insulin, a hormone in charge for conversion of sugars into fats.
All types of alcohol can cause increased bad cholesterol levels, increased blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and increased fat weight.
If you like to drink alcohol, the best options for you are dark beer and red wine. These are the least harmful kinds of alcohol. If you can.
Really strive to not drink more than two drinks at a time regardless of the type. If you have any type of health condition, it’s probably best to avoid it altogether.
Paleo Diet Food List Conclusion
Paleo Diet is a protein-based diet and maintains muscle mass, speeds up metabolism and reduces appetite. This diet is very suitable for people who have high blood sugar levels.
It also improves health, reduces the risk of many diseases, maintains the required level of calcium and preserves bone tissue.
However, following this diet will not be easy, especially in the beginning when you need to get rid of all foods that are very tasty for most of us. As a result, some may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and the need for certain foods.
These problems disappear after a few weeks, and from that moment on, Paleo diet is very easy for most people, because it is essentially a diet without starving.
I hope I helped you overcome your primal fear of Paleo diet food list…