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Paleo Diet

What is the Paleo diet?

The Paleo Diet concept originated in the early 2000’s and is a nutrition plan that focuses on eating in a similar style to how early humans may have eaten during the Paleolithic era, around 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. Also known as the “caveman” or “paleolithic” diet, it is modeled after what foods our ancestors could have hunted or gathered in nature. It commonly includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Is the Paleo diet healthy?

If you examine clinical trials that compare the Paleo diet to other eating plans and lifestyles, there may be some benefits to an individual’s overall health. These benefits are linked to weight loss, improved blood glucose levels, and better blood pressure regulation, all of which contribute to better long-term health. Long term trials with more participants are needed to better understand the longer term health benefits and to assess possible risks. 

To ensure that the Paleo diet remains healthy, those that follow it should be diligent about eating a wide variety of foods, not just the same limited selection. With such a restrictive diet it can be a challenge to get the vitamins and minerals we need, especially in the winter when many fresh vegetables and fruits are out of season. 

What to eat on the Paleo diet?

A Paleo diet eating plan is focused on meats and animal products, plants, fruit, and fats and oils while avoiding grains, legumes, sugar, and dairy products. The ultimate goal is to eat the way our Paleolithic ancestors would have eaten. Although there are many different variations, the most strict Paleo diet includes only: 

  •  Meat
  •  Fish
  •  Eggs
  •  Vegetables
  •  Fruit
  •  Nuts and Seeds
  •  Healthy Fats
  •  Salt and Spices

The focus should always be on eating whole and unprocessed foods, seasoned only with healthy fats, oils, salt, and spices.

What is the autoimmune Paleo diet?

There are several variations on the Paleo diet, since it can be a challenge to stick to the most rigorous Paleo diet long-term. To make it easier to follow, doctors and dieticians have pioneered variations on the Paleo diet including the low-carb Paleo diet and the autoimmune Paleo diet, for those who wish to avoid foods that trigger inflammation in the digestive tract.

The focus of the autoimmune Paleo diet is the removal and gradual reintroduction of triggering foods. This helps get the gut microbiome back in order while optimizing for better overall nutrient intake. Initially, anyone on the autoimmune Paleo diet should eat vegetables (except nightshades), fruit, fermented foods, organic meats, seafood, and very little else. Gradually, foods can be reintroduced back into the diet.

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Updated on
Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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