The Paleo Diet Food List: What To Eat and Avoid

Shannon Slabaugh
     
Shannon Slabaugh
Shannon Slabaugh

The Paleolithic diet or "caveman diet" has been a popular approach to weight loss for years. Mainly because it works! And because unlike many fad diets that certainly “work” at targeting weight loss, the paleo diet also incorporates the basic principles of nutrition and is pretty sustainable long term.

Because of its simple principles and whole food approach to eating, it is pretty easy to tell which foods fit into a paleo meal plan and which don't. Below is our complete list of paleo friendly foods to include in your diet as well as which foods to avoid. 

What is Paleo?

The Paleo diet follows the basic principle of “eat foods a caveman would have access to.” Or better yet known as “eat whole foods.” This would include plenty of healthy fats, proteins and produce, but exclude grains, dairy and processed foods. This diet also emphasizes grass-fed, wild caught and free range options - similar to the type of protein options a caveman would have to hunt or gather on their own. 

The theory behind this style of eating stems from the theory that our DNA make-up has changed very little since paleolithic times, yet our diets have changed drastically. And paleo advocates argue that we have fallen susceptible to numerous diet related diseases because of our modern diet (1). 

While the research behind this theory is far from conclusive, a well executed paleo diet is one way to focus on nutrient dense foods and might be a sustainable approach to weight loss and better health for some. 

The Benefits Of A Paleo Diet

Perhaps one of the largest benefits of a paleo diet, from a nutritional standpoint, is that it is a balanced way of eating. This sets most participants up with a great framework for not only losing weight, but actually eating a healthier diet.

Growing research continues to suggest that eating a diet consisting of mostly whole foods is associated with more weight loss (2,3,4). Not to mention that highly processed foods tend to be higher in added sugar, sodium and trans fats, which research suggests may play a role in increased inflammation and actually counteract your weight loss efforts (5).  

Is Paleo Gluten Free?

Because a paleo diet excludes all grains - including wheat, rye and barley, a paleo diet is also naturally gluten-free. And for those looking to avoid gluten, paleo options are a safe bet! 

How a Paleo Diet Helps With Weight Loss

An added benefit of the paleo diet is the simplicity of it. The rule to “eat foods a caveman would have access to” makes it very easy to shop, plan, and stick with the diet. 

Even when eating out, or ordering food, it is still relatively easy to differentiate between processed foods and whole foods “a caveman would have access too.”

Because of the simplicity of a paleo diet, it does not require participants to do too much thinking. While calories in versus calories out is the most basic rule to weight loss, a paleo diet takes a lot of thinking out of dieting. As long as you are eating whole, nutritious foods, you will probably find that weight loss will follow naturally—mainly because this style of eating cuts calories automatically.

And while this certainly is not a “one size fits all” approach to dieting, most people will find that if they are filling their body natural, whole, nutrient-dense foods, it will have a substantial impact on your overall weight and body composition as opposed to processed foods.

One study even suggested that your body may burn twice as many calories digesting less processed foods (2). 

A Comprehensive Paleo Diet Food List

Paleo foods include plenty of plant based fats, grass-fed and wild caught proteins, and nearly all fruits and vegetables. Here are all of the foods considered to be “paleo.”

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Paleo Proteins

Protein is a staple of the caveman diet- specifically options that are grass-fed, wild caught or organic, as these options are often from animals raised in environments that encourage natural behavior. And because our ancestors didn't just live off chicken and beef, they hunted a wide variety of meat, the more variety you can add to your proteins, the better!

The best paleo proteins include: 

Grass-fed Meat 

  • Beef
  • Steak
  • Bison
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Goat
  • Veal

Game Meat 

  • Venison
  • Elk
  • Antelope
  • Wild Boar
  • Rabbit
  • Moose
  • Emu

Poultry

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Quail
  • Goose
  • Ostrich
  • Duck

Wild Caught Seafood 

  • Salmon 
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Tuna
  • Cod
  • Tilapia
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Grouper
  • Catfish
  • Trout
  • Bass
  • Haddock
  • Walleye

Shellfish

  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Clams
  • Lobster
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Mussels
  • Crawfish

Other Proteins

  • Free Range Eggs

Paleo Carbs

Because a paleo diet eliminates all grains, this diet tends to be naturally low in carbohydrates. But if you are looking to add some more carbs to your meal plan, here are the best starchy foods that are also paleo:

Starchy Vegetables

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Yams
  •  Acorn Squash
  • Butternut Squash
  • Beets

Sugary Fruits

  • Mangos
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Figs
  • Dates
  • Guava
  • Pineapple
  • Papaya
  • Lychee

Paleo Fats

Many plant based fats - like nuts and seeds, as well as less processed oils fit into a paleo diet. However, it is important to note that fats are also an easy source of calories and if you are looking to lose weight on a paleo diet, you'll want to limit your portion sizes for these foods: 

Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Almond Butter (no added sugar)
  • Cashews
  • Cashew Butter (no added sugar)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Chia Seeds
  • Flax Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Pine nuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Oils and Butters

  • Coconut Oil
  • Coconut Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Avocado Oil

Other Fats

  • Olives
  • Avocado
  • Tahini
  • Shredded Coconut
  • Cacao

Paelo Fruits

Just about any fruit or dried fruit (as long as no sugar is added) can fit into your paleo meal plan. Look for more low carb options like these: 

  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Raspberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Blackberries
  • Plums
  • Blueberries
  • Jicama

Paleo Veggies

Just like fruit, pretty much all vegetables work on a paleo diet. And non-starchy veggies like the following tend to be low in calories and high in nutrients, meaning your should aim to get a good amount of the following in your diet: 

  • Kale
  • Broccoli Rabe
  • Jalapenos
  • Watercress
  • Bok Choy
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Swiss Chard
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radishes
  • Asparagus
  • White Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Portobello Mushroom
  • Onion
  • Bamboo Shoots
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumbers
  • Leeks
  • Turnips
  • Cauliflower
  • Bell Peppers
  • Kohlrabi
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Green Beans (cooked only)
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Fennel
  • Oyster Mushrooms
  • Rutabaga
  • Artichoke
  • Pumpkin

Paleo Sweeteners

While majority of added sugar is not paleo friendly, some natural sweeteners can be used in moderation on this diet: 

Natural sweeteners 

  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup 
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Date Paste

Paleo Drinks

Look for simple drink options, made without artificial sweetener or too much added sugar, like the following: 

  • Water
  • Coffee (No cream or sugar)
  • Unsweetened Teas 
  • Coconut water
  • Bone broth
  • Sparkling Water (no added sugar or artificial sweetener)

Non-Paleo Foods To Avoid

While a paleo diet has a general "whole food" approach to eating, there are still many traditional health foods that are not considered paleo - like dairy, legumes and whole grains, because they were not commonly consumed by our ancestors. 

A more controversial argument for why legumes and common grains are avoided is because of their high phytic acid content, which is thought to reduce the absorption of certain nutrients like iron zinc and calcium (6). However, phytic acid is also found in many paleo approved foods (like almonds and hazelnuts), and is associated with some health benefits - like protective benefits against kidney stones, antioxidant properties and a suggested link to lower risk for colon cancer (7,8,9). Bottom line, there really isn't any evidenced based reason to avoid these foods because of phytic acid. 

And as for dairy, the research behind whether or not dairy is bad for you, isn't very conclusive either. 

Some people have digestive issues when eating beans, legumes, grains and dairy, for a variety of health reasons. And if any of these foods don't work with your body, this is probably the best excuses to avoid them. 

Because of the debate around these foods, there is a lot of confusion, and some people will choose a more modified paleo diet that still has some dairy or legumes included. But a true paleo diet does not include any of the following: 

Beans and Legumes

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Green Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Snow Peas
  • Soy Beans
  • Tofu
  • Miso
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut Butter

Dairy

  • Cows Milk
  • Goats Milk
  • Sheep's Milk
  • Cheese
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Ice cream
  • Yogurt 

Grains

  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Crackers
  • Barley
  • Ancient Grains
  • Cereal Grains

Starchy Veggies

  • Regular Potatoes
  • Yucca

Processed Cooking Oils

  • Vegetable Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Peanut Oil
  • Palm Oil

Other Processed Foods and Ingredients

  • Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, xylitol, erythritol
  • Refined Sugars: Brown sugar, table sugar, agave, corn syrup
  • Processed Meats: hot dogs, spam
  • Packaged Foods and Snacks
  • Fruit Juices 
  • Candy
  • Chips
  • Popcorn
  • Soda
  • Alcohol

Tips For Shopping Paleo

If you are new to eating paleo, this may seem like a big change to your life. Cutting out grains, processed foods, dairy, and a load of other relatively common items may seem overwhelming.

Here are some tips we have to simplify the process and put your worries at ease. 

1) Plan Your Meals 

If you are struggling on where to begin, planning out meals that you enjoy and then figuring out a way to make that meal paleo will be a good place to start. Instead of immediately switching to a diet full of chicken and broccoli, find ways to get creative with the process so that you can cook food you genuinely enjoy.

Yes, even paleo food can be delicious; it just takes a little bit of creativity and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Here are some ideas for creative paleo meals

2) Make A List

Once you have decided what meals you want to make for the week, create a list of all of the ingredients you need to make that food. As simple as this sounds, it will make it much easier for you to stick to a set plan and not get too deep into the aisles of a grocery store.

Having something as simple as a grocery list will keep you on track and ensure you get exactly what you came for. It will also help familiarize you with where to find these paleo-friendly foods in your local store. 

3) Shop Outside The Aisles

If all else fails, this simple rule of thumb may make it really easy to shop for paleo foods. The layout of most grocery stores is quite simple: in the inner aisles you will typically find packaged, processed foods. Things like bread, pasta, cereal, flour, sugar, etc. For the most part, many of the foods stocked in the inner aisles of a grocery store will probably be "non-paleo approved items." 

Every now and then you may find some "paleo" food items in the inner aisles (a lot of paleo-approved flours may be in the inner aisles of a grocery store), but that is an exception, not the rule. 

Typically, if you are shopping the outer aisles of a grocery store there will be a produce, meat, poultry, eggs, and bulk food section. All of these areas tend to provide you with the foundation of a paleo diet, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and meats.

If you find yourself lacking a clear direction when grocery shopping, using this simple rule should help you create a clear path and help you avoid the variety of temptation within the aisles. 

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Paleo Meal Delivery

If you are new to a paleo diet, it may be in your best interest to start out with a structured meal delivery service. Starting a new diet can be challenging, especially when you really don't know where to begin and aren't ready to spend hours researching ways to make creative paleo meals.

Utilizing a meal delivery service like Trifecta, that can send you fresh, ready-to-eat creative paleo meals, will help you get started on your new lifestyle!

Learn more about the paleo meals Trifecta has to offer here: 

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