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What is Paleo Diet? A Definitive Guide to the Paleo Diet that you need to know!

by Lauryn Lax
Home/Blog/Protect Your Mental Wellbeing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

paleo food list

Table of Contents

What is the Paleo diet?

Ask one hundred different 21st century cavemen (and women) “What is the Paleo Diet?”, and you might get one hundred different answers.

However, the definition is pretty simple:

The Paleo, or “Paleolithic,” diet is the original human diet.  It embodies a commitment to eating the same foods that your Stone Age ancestors ate.

Although modern day grocery store, rush-hour traffic sitting and desk-jockey lifestyles may not totally mirror the diet of Pebbles and Bam Bam, the “Paleo diet” is backed by science as the number one diet humanity evolved to consume for health and survival.

There seems to be some confusion about what Paleo is — and what it is not.

We here at Paleo f(x)™ have got your back. Here’s all you need to know about what the Paleo diet is, and how to make it work for you.

Paleo 101: The Basics & Benefits  

Definition of the Paleo Diet

Most people define (and explain) “Paleo” as one of three things:

A traditional Paleo diet plan will typically admonish adherents to focus on one thing: Eat real food.

What is “real food?”

Answer: If it didn’t grow on the land, swim in the sea, or walk the earth, it’s not real food (or “Paleo”).

Paleo Diet: Foods to Eat & Not Eat

Eat in Abundance

paleo meals

Eat in Moderation

Don’t Eat

non paleo food

Wait a second…No yogurt? No whole wheat bread or brown rice? No sugar-free ice cream? No edamame or peanut butter?!  

Although the foods on the Paleo diet’s “Don’t Eat” list make up the majority of most modern day Westerners’ diets (fun fact: 80% of foods sold in the grocery store contain these ingredients), the Paleolithic diet template is founded on the belief that optimal human health is a byproduct of living in accordance to our ancestral genes.

True, there are exceptions (like coconut flour tortillas and paleo cookies that we will discuss below), but as a whole, Paleo-friendly foods are foods humans thrived upon for thousands of years (before McDonald’s happened).

Science backs this up.

The Science Behind the Paleo Diet

Although it may seem like a no-brainer that eating a balanced diet rich in natural, fresh foods (like veggies, fruits, sustainable animal meats, some starchy plants, leaves, anti-inflammatory fatty acids and oils, nuts and seeds) improves health, research proves that “going Paleo” is one of the healthiest lifestyles and diets that modern humans can adopt.

Benefits of the Paleo Diet







The bottom line: The Paleo diet includes numerous benefits for your health and wellness that stems back to the beginning of time, when humans were, well…human.

Being Human: Paleo is More Than a Diet

The “Paleo diet” is most often referred to as a “healthy eating” food prescription or weight loss plan.

However, the Paleo diet is so much more than modern culture’s definition of diet (often focused on weight loss, calorie counting, macronutrients and restrictive eating).

We here at Paleo f(x)™ recognize that “Paleo” actually means: A way of life. (In fact, did you know that the original form of the word “diet,dieta, means “a way of life?”)

The Paleo diet is a “way of life,” or lifestyle, built on the way that we as humans were intended to live.

The Paleo Diet: Beyond Diet & Weight Loss

A Paleo diet (ie. lifestyle) not only includes real food (proteins, veggies fruits and healthy fats), but it also encourages:

A Paleo diet or way of life is about you thriving in all aspects of your health and life!

So why aren’t we thriving?!

man on top of mountain - paleo diet

 A Brief History of the Paleo Diet

If Paleo has been the “way of life” for humans throughout millenia, how did humanity lose its way in the first place? How did frozen dinners, McDonald’s hamburgers and Quest Bars happen?  

One word: Technology.

We (modern humans) can trace our lineage back some 60 million years.

Our oldest ancestors subsisted on fruit, leaves, and insects, just as primates do today.  They also scavenged the leftovers of kills made by the meat-eating predators of that time.

Then everything changed…

Roughly 2.6 million years ago, things began to change: the Paleolithic Era began. The “Paleo Era” was marked by physiological adaptations, such as the opposable thumb, a decreased digestive tract and increased brain size.

What else happen? Fire and crude stone tools (ie. weapons and cutlery).

These new, positive “technologies” gave rise to neweating patterns, and what we consider today as the Paleo:  As humans discovered how to use fire for cooking, and crude stone tools (for killing prey and carving food), they were able to eat even more foods.

As a result of consuming higher quantities of nutrition, humans’ brains grew larger, they ate more variety, and they developed an external digestive system that made eating enough easier.

These evolutionary changes led to the formation of the “hunter gatherer” culture (humans began forming tribes). The more humans began hunting, foraging, cooking and fellowshiping (over food) together, they relied on one another for survival and found connection in community.

So how did we get so far away from “Paleo,” if “Paleo” was how humans lived for years?

Meet the Agricultural Revolution.

The Dawn of the Agricultural Revolution

Civilization (as we currently know it) began moving away from our Paleolithic roots with the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago. This era introduced the concept of farming land on a large scale, foreshadowing our processed food industry in the coming Industrial Revolution.

The Agricultural Revolution entailed new practices for:

Although the wide-availability of foods and expansion of farming practices seems like a good thing, the Agricultural Revolution also may be considered our revolution in becoming anti-human.

The Industrial Revolution

On the tails of the Agricultural Revolution, the  official “anti-human” diet began in the late 18th century (late 1700s) with the Industrial Revolution, the overturning of the way humans lived (forevermore).

The Industrial Revolution took people out of their predominantly farm-based and rural societies, introducing new manufacturing technologies and the “food processing” industry producing more convenient food options gradually over time.

Once the Industrial Revolution was in full swing with Wonder Bread, Twinkies, pasteurized milk, and eventually, Stouffer’s Lasagna and Kraft mac & cheese, “Paleo” (real food), as we know it was far gone (at least in our Western culture society).

The Death of the Paleo Diet

By the 21st century, Americans now consume:

paleo findings

The Paleo Diet: A Re-Revolution

Unfortunately, along with these eating statistics, the Western world’s disease epidemic also continues to be on the rise:

Enter: the Paleo Re-Revolution–bringing the healthy Paleo “way of life” back to the mainstream.

As disease grows, and more Westerners wise up to the fact that something is not working with our Standard American Diet and modern sedentary lifestyles, the Paleo diet has witnessed a resurgence over the past 100 years.

The Modern Day Paleo Diet: Milestones

Although this “re-revolution” is still in its infancy, here are some milestones:                                          

Joining the “Revolution”: Should You Go Paleo?

So should you go Paleo?

If you want to rewire your genes and get back to being human, the Paleo way of life is the ultimate human diet (no juice cleanses or treadmills required).

If you’re interested in adopting a Paleo lifestyle for yourself, here’s what it looks like in action.

How to Do It: a Paleo Diet in Action

Step 1: Eat Real Food

Put simply, emphasize whole, minimally processed foods, and avoid heavily processed choices.

Can you hunt, fish, or trap it?  Can you pull it from the ground, or pick it from a tree? If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track.

Now, that’s fine and dandy if you live off the grid. But what if you’re like the rest of us? Happy (well, kinda) humans living and loving in the modern zoo. Urbanites, suburbanites, and those in rural communities? Well, let’s look a little closer, because a Paleo diet works for you folks too.

Think farmers market.  Think perimeter of the supermarket produce, meat, seafood, and eggs.

shopping for paleo diet plan

For further clarification, here’s a brief review of your Paleo food list:

Eat This:

Vegetables (non-starchy).
These provide micronutrients, fiber, bulk, and variety to your diet. Examples:

Meat, fish, fowl, eggs

Healthy Fats

Herbs and Spices

Roots and Tubers

Fruit (Moderation)

Bone Broths and Fermented Foods

Don’t eat this (red light):

Gray Area Foods; Eat in Moderation (yellow light):

Gray area” foods are the foods that some can tolerate well, and others can’t at all. The amounts you consume of these foods may also vary depending on your current health status, health goals, nutrient needs, gut health status and lifestyle.

paleo diet on restaurants

Various Paleo Diet Types & Approaches

Once you’ve got the nuts and bolts squared away, you may benefit from a slightly varied version of a Paleo, template.

From “Primal,” to Ketogenic to Bulletproof to Autoimmune Protocol and beyond, there are tons of “tweaks” many people make to the Paleolithic foundation, based upon their bio-individualized goals and health.

What’s the difference? Aren’t they all just like Atkins or something? Not quite! Here’s a brief overview of some common varieties of Paleo:

“Vanilla” Paleo

What we have described above. Based around evolutionary biology and food quality above all. Example: Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet


Mark Sisson’s approach to Paleo. Includes a little more wiggle room for indulgences like alcohol, dark chocolate, and dairy. Check out The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson.

The Keto Diet (or Keto-Paleo)

A low-carbohydrate, higher-fat diet designed to teach the body to efficiently metabolize fat. Puts greater emphasis on food quantity than food quality, as reducing carbohydrates while upping fat intake is the primary goal of the ketogenic diet.

FAQ: What about Atkins?

Atkins is indeed a low-carbohydrate diet. The difference is in terms of food quality; there are tons of highly processed foods like bars and shakes that are Atkins approved but certainly not Paleo approved.

Bulletproof Diet

Primarily aimed at reducing inflammation, balancing blood sugar and hormones, and increasing cognitive performance, all achieved by improving fat metabolism. Based around the popular “Bulletproof Coffee.” Bulletproof differs from Paleo because of its emphasis on “Bulletproof” supplements and shunning of higher carbohydrate foods like fruit and tubers. The Bulletproof Diet lies somewhere between Keto and Paleo. Check out The Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey.


A very strict 30 day elimination diet founded on Paleo principles, the goal of which is to fight food addiction and help identify problematic foods on an individual level. Promotes whole, real foods, shuns all processed foods, including those made with “Paleo” ingredients. Check out the books It Starts With Food and The Whole30 by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig for more information.

CrossFit Paleo Diet

Largely Paleo, with a little more added carbohydrate from some “non-Paleo” sources like oats, rice, and potatoes. Also includes supplements in the form of pre, intra, and post-workout performance aids. The typical CrossFit diet is focused more around performance than longevity, though this doesn’t apply to all CrossFit athletes.

Slow-Carb (by Tim Ferris)

Paleo minus starch and fruit plus beans. Meals are based around lean meats, vegetables, healthy fats, and beans. Different than Paleo, Slow-Carb shuns tubers and fruits because of their carbohydrate content and potential effect on blood sugar.

paleo meal beans

Intermittent Fasting

Fasting for a predetermined period of time, shortening the eating window. Popular IF protocols include daily 16 hour fasts with 8 hour feeding windows, or weekly 24 hour fasts. Less of a “diet,” more of a philosophy. You can combine damn near any diet with a practice of intermittent fasting, be it Paleo, Primal, vegan, vegetarian, Bulletproof, Standard American, or anything between.

Integrating The Paleo Lifestyle Beyond Food

Now with your food squared away, here are other ways to take the “Paleo plunge” outside the common definition of “diet:” lifestyle.  


Optimal fitness is a huge component of the Paleo lifestyle. As mentioned earlier, the need to move is woven into our DNA.  This doesn’t mean you have to become a professional athlete; the goal is simply to be active. What does that look like?





Sleep and Recovery

Sleep is vital to good health, and you need more. Period. 7 hours a night is a bare minimum, 8-9 is ideal. You may think you can get away with less, but even short-term sleep deprivation carries some awful consequences for human health. A few top tips:

Tribe, Connection, and Close Personal Relationships

This is an item that can go overlooked even in the healthiest circles. We are social animals – tribe keeps the body and mind healthy. We need a team and support system. What does tribe look like?

hands together for paleo diet


Seasonal Affective Disorder, Vitamin D deficiency AND Circadian Rhythm disruption are real. Fight them by:

Address Stress

Stress is the enemy and number one driver of all disease—mentally and physically. Fight it by:

Stewardship (Financial Stability & Independence)

Financial stability is Paleo? Indeed it is.  

Soul Connection

Lastly, part of the Paleo lifestyle is a sustained practice of mindfulness, spirituality, meditation, giving, gratitude, and connecting with nature. This encourages mental health and well-being, and inspires a more positive outlook on life. And yes, happiness is Paleo!

How Do I Get Started?

Getting started with Paleo is simple. All you have to do? Get back to being human—the way your genes were wired to live. If you want to take the plunge, here’s your 4 step game plan:

Step 1: Try a 30 day Paleo reset.

Step 2:

See how you look, feel, and perform

Step 3:

Assess from there: is something missing? Do I need to do more? Or maybe do less? Find the approach that works for you, be it Paleo, Primal, Keto, or otherwise

Step 4:

Attend Paleo f(x)™ and take it to the next level

family with a paleo diet

Helpful Resources

Here are some of our favorite Paleo “101” type resources to help you on your journey:

The Paleo Solution
Robb Wolf’s masterpiece. Considered by many to be the bible of the Paleo diet. Contains all the whys and hows behind the diet.

Wired to Eat
This counterpart to The Paleo Solution is focused on finding individual differences in dietary needs through some very basic self-science. Contains a 30-Day Reset to get you on the path to health, and guidelines to a 7-Day Carb Test to determine what varieties and quantities of carbohydrate work for you.

The New Primal Blueprint
Mark Sisson’s approach to Paleo. Contains tons of information on diet, but almost more importantly, a
ton of important lifestyle tips like how to get more movement and sunshine.

Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig’s simple 30-day plan to reset your metabolism and reestablish a healthy relationship with your food.

Our online TV service that contains all filmed sessions from 5 years of Paleo f(x)™. Lots of Paleo 101 talks, and several more specialized conversations, should you choose to follow any of those rabbit holes.

Get it? Got it? Good!

The bottom line: Keep it simple.

Although the question, “What is Paleo?” may seem like it opens a can of worms, you can’t go wrong with simply being human and living as you (and your body) were intended.

About the Author:

Dr. Lauryn Lax is a Doctor of Occupational Therapy, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Functional Medicine Practitioner, author and speaker, with over 20 years of clinical and personal experience specializing in gut health, intuitive eating, food freedom, anxiety, hormone balance and women’s health. She is also a published journalist, and her work has been featured in Oxygen Magazine, Women’s Health, Paleo Magazine, Breaking Muscle, CrossFit Inc, USA Today, ABC and CBS News. She operates a virtual Functional Medicine & Nutrition practice, Thrive Wellness & Recovery, LLC, working with clients around the world to reinvent the way their body looks, moves and feels.





The Paleo movement incorporates several different optimizing perspectives for helping you improve your health, all based on the latest science. Everyone is different. We want to support you in understanding your unique genetic makeup, symptoms and health goals so you can choose the path that is right for you.

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