Paleo diet

Beginner's guide and meal plan for the paleo diet

This is a detailed beginner's guide to the paleo diet. What it is, how it works, what to eat, what to avoid, and a sample paleo meal plan for one week.

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The paleo diet is designed to resemble what human hunter-gatherer ancestors ate thousands of years ago.

Although it’s impossible to know exactly what human ancestors ate in different parts of the world, researchers believe their diets consisted of whole foods.

By following a whole-food-based diet and leading physically active lives, hunter-gatherers presumably had much lower rates of lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Several studies suggest that this diet can lead to significant weight loss (without calorie counting) and major improvements in health.

This article is a basic introduction to the paleo diet, providing a simple meal plan and other essential information.

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Paleo diet meal plan

There is no one “right” way to eat for everyone and paleolithic humans thrived on a variety of diets, depending on what was available at the time and where in the world they lived.

Some ate a low-carb diet high in animal foods, while others followed a high-carb diet with lots of plants.

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Consider this as a general guideline, not something written in stone. You can adapt all of this to your personal needs and preferences.

Here are the basics:

Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, healthy fats, and oils.

Avoid: Processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, grains, most dairy products, legumes, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, margarine, and trans fats.

Summary: Paleolithic humans’ diets varied depending on availability and location. The basic concept of the paleo diet is to eat whole foods and avoid processed foods.

Foods to avoid on the paleo diet

Avoid these foods and ingredients:

A simple guideline: If it looks like it was made in a factory, don’t eat it.

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If you want to avoid these ingredients, you must read ingredients lists, even on foods that are labeled as “health foods.”

Summary: Avoid all processed foods and ingredients, including sugar, bread, certain vegetable oils, trans fats, and artificial sweeteners.

Foods to eat on the paleo diet

Base your diet on whole, unprocessed paleo foods:

Try to choose grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic if you can afford it. If not, just make sure to always go for the least processed option.

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Summary: Eat whole, unprocessed foods like meat, seafood, eggs, veggies, fruits, potatoes, nuts, healthy fats, and spices. If possible, choose grass-fed and organic products.

Modified paleo diets

Over the past few years, the paleo community has evolved quite a bit.

There are now several different versions of the paleo diet. Many of them allow some modern foods that science suggests are healthy.

These include quality grass-fed butter and even some gluten-free grains like rice.

Many people now think of paleo as a template to base your diet on, not necessarily a strict set of rules that you must follow.

Summary: You can also use the paleo diet as a starting point, adding in a few other healthy foods like grass-fed butter and gluten-free grains.

Sensible indulgences

The foods and beverages below are perfectly fine in small amounts:

Summary: When following the paleo diet, you can indulge in small amounts of red wine and dark chocolate from time to time.

What to drink on the paleo diet

When it comes to hydration, water should be your go-to beverage.

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The following drinks aren’t exactly paleo, but most people drink them anyway:

Summary: Water should be your drink of choice when following the paleo diet. Many people also drink tea and coffee.

A sample paleo menu for one week

This sample menu contains a balanced amount of paleo-friendly foods.

By all means, adjust this menu based on your preferences.

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

There is usually no need to track calories or macronutrients (protein, carbs, or fat) on the paleo diet, at least not in the beginning.

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However, if you need to lose a lot of weight, it is a good idea to cut carbs somewhat and limit your intake of high-fat foods, such as nuts.

Summary: You can make a variety of delicious meals using paleo-friendly foods. Above is a sample menu of what one week on the paleo diet might look like.

Simple paleo snacks

There is no need to eat more than three meals per day, but if you get hungry, here are some paleo snacks that are simple and easily portable:

Summary: Paleo snacks are easy to prepare and take with you on the go. A few ideas include fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, or baby carrots.

Simple paleo shopping list

There is an incredible variety of foods you can eat on the paleo diet.

This simple shopping list should give you an idea of how to get started:

It is a good idea to clear all unhealthy temptations from your home, including sugary sodas, pastries, cookies, crackers, bread, ice cream, and cereals.

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Summary: To get started on the paleo diet, clear your kitchen of unhealthy temptations. Next, use the shopping list above to stock your pantry and fridge with delicious, paleo-friendly foods.

How to make restaurant meals paleo-friendly

It is fairly easy to make most restaurant meals paleo-friendly.

Here are some simple guidelines:

  1. Order a meat- or fish-based main dish.
  2. Get extra vegetables instead of bread or rice.
  3. Ask them to cook your food in olive oil or avocado oil.

Summary: Eating out while following the paleo diet doesn’t have to be hard. Simply select a meat or fish dish on the menu and swap in some extra veggies.

Summary

The paleo diet is modeled after the diets hunter-gatherers are likely to have followed. While there is no one way to follow the paleo diet, the basic idea is to avoid processed foods and focus instead on healthy, whole foods.

Paleo-friendly foods include meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, fruits, and veggies, along with healthy fats and oils. Avoid processed foods, grains, and sugar.

You can also base your diet on paleo foods, adding in a few modern healthy foods like grass-fed butter and gluten-free grains.

To get started on the paleo diet, check out the sample menu and shopping list above. Stock your kitchen and pantry with these healthy, paleo-friendly foods.

Suggested read: The ketogenic diet: A detailed beginner's guide to keto

You can also check out the articles below for paleo recipe ideas and more.

Last updated on November 18, 2021, and last reviewed by an expert on October 29, 2021.
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