The paleo diet is a high protein, low carb eating plan that’s modeled after the presumed diet of early humans.
It’s based on the belief that these hunter-gatherer ancestors had lower rates of chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and it’s said to be attributed to differences in their diet.
However, while some claim that the paleo diet can improve health and boost weight loss, others point out that it’s overly restrictive and can be difficult to follow.
This article reviews the paleo diet and whether it works for weight loss.
The paleo diet is an eating pattern that is designed to mimic the diet of early human ancestors.
Though the concept emerged in the 1970s, it gained widespread popularity in 2002 after scientist Loren Cordain published a book advocating the diet.
It encourages the consumption of whole foods like fruits, veggies, meat, fish, and poultry.
Meanwhile, processed foods, grains, legumes, and artificial sweeteners are off-limits.
According to proponents of the diet, following it may help prevent chronic disease and improve overall health (
On the other hand, critics point out that it can be very restrictive and eliminates many food groups that are rich in important nutrients.
The paleo diet is an eating pattern based on the diets of early hunter-gatherer human ancestors. It’s believed to help prevent chronic disease and improve overall health.
The paleo diet involves limiting any foods that were not available to early hunter-gatherers, including processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy products, and added sugar.
Instead, the plan encourages filling your plate with minimally processed whole foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.
Yet, there are several variations of the diet, each with slightly different guidelines about which foods are permitted.
For example, some modified paleo diets are less restrictive and allow grass-fed butter and certain gluten-free grains and legumes in moderation, as long as they have been soaked and cooked.
The traditional paleo diet involves limiting processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy products, and added sugar and eating mostly whole foods instead. However, there are several variations.
It’s also high in protein, which can reduce levels of ghrelin — the “hunger hormone” — to keep you feeling full for longer (
In recent years, several studies have found that the paleo diet may help increase weight loss.
Another review of 11 studies concluded that the diet may aid weight loss, noting that participants lost an average of nearly 8 pounds (3.5 kg) in trials lasting anywhere between 2 months and 2 years (
The paleo diet focuses on nutrient-rich whole foods and eliminates processed ones. Studies have shown that this way of eating may aid weight loss.
The paleo diet has been associated with several potential benefits.
Promotes heart health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths (
Promising research shows that the paleo diet may help improve heart health by reducing several risk factors for heart disease.
In one study, 20 people with high cholesterol levels who followed the paleo diet for 4 months experienced improved HDL (good) cholesterol and reduced triglyceride levels, as well as lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol (
Another study in 34 people observed similar findings, noting that following the paleo diet for just 2 weeks reduced blood pressure, total cholesterol levels, and triglycerides — all of which are risk factors for heart disease (
Supports blood sugar control
Some research suggests that the paleo diet may help reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Increased insulin sensitivity can improve your body’s ability to use insulin effectively and support healthy blood sugar management (
Similarly, a small study in 13 people with type 2 diabetes noted that the diet was more effective at lowering levels of hemoglobin A1C, a marker of long-term blood sugar control, than a traditional diabetes diet (
Research shows that the paleo diet could help improve heart health and enhance blood sugar control.
While the paleo diet offers several potential health benefits, a few drawbacks need to be considered as well.
First, it eliminates several food groups that are highly nutritious and can generally be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet.
Meanwhile, studies show that whole grains may be linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer (
Given that the paleo diet deems many food groups off-limits, those with dietary restrictions, including vegans and vegetarians, may find following it difficult.
What’s more, it may be challenging to eat out or attend family gatherings, as you may not be sure of the ingredients used in certain dishes.
Plus, it may be more expensive than other eating patterns, as it requires a lot of fresh produce, meat, fish, and poultry — all of which can be pricey.
The paleo diet restricts several healthy food groups and can be expensive. Those with dietary restrictions may also find it challenging to follow.
The paleo diet encourages a variety of minimally processed foods like meat, poultry, seafood, fruits, and vegetables.
Meanwhile, grains, legumes, added sugar, and processed and refined foods are all limited.
Foods to eat
Here are some foods that you can enjoy as part of the paleo diet:
- Meat: beef, lamb, goat, venison, etc.
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, goose, duck, etc.
- Seafood: salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, trout, cod, haddock, catfish, etc.
- Eggs: egg yolks and whites
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, plums, peaches, melons, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, etc.
- Vegetables: bell peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, onions, garlic, spinach, arugula, zucchini, squash, etc.
- Nuts: cashews, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, etc.
- Seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, etc.
- Fats: olive oil, avocado oil, palm oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, etc.
- Herbs and spices: cumin, oregano, basil, pepper, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, ginger, etc.
Foods to avoid
Here are some foods that you should avoid as part of the diet:
- Legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, etc.
- Dairy: milk, yogurt, butter, kefir, cheese, etc.
- Grains: bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, barley, rye, buckwheat, farro, etc.
- Potatoes: white potatoes, french fries, potato chips, etc.
- Refined vegetable oils: canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil, etc.
- Processed foods: chips, pretzels, cookies, convenience meals, fast food, etc.
- Artificial sweeteners: sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium, etc.
- Added sugar: baked goods, candies, desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, table sugar, etc.
Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry are encouraged on the paleo diet. On the other hand, processed foods, legumes, grains, dairy, and added sugars should be limited.
Here is a sample 3-day menu for the paleo diet.
- Breakfast: omelet with garlic, onions, tomatoes, and spinach
- Lunch: zucchini noodles with turkey meatballs and marinara sauce
- Dinner: oven-baked salmon with roasted broccoli and sweet potato wedges
- Breakfast: grain-free granola with almonds, walnuts, pecans, coconut flakes, and dried fruit
- Lunch: bison burger with lettuce wrap and side salad
- Dinner: grilled chicken with vegetable soup
- Breakfast: chia pudding with coconut milk, walnuts, strawberries, blueberries, and cinnamon
- Lunch: avocado and veggie egg salad with mixed fruit
- Dinner: burrito bowl with cauliflower rice, beef, salsa, guacamole, peppers, and onions
There are also several paleo snacks available if you’re hungry between meals.
The sample menu above provides some ideas for meals that can be included as part of the paleo diet.
The paleo diet is an eating pattern that’s designed to mimic the diets of early hunter-gatherer human ancestors.
Some research has found that this way of eating may help increase weight loss, promote heart health, and support better blood sugar control.
However, it may not be a great fit for everyone, as it restricts several healthy food groups and may be more expensive than other diets. Plus, those with dietary restrictions may find it difficult to adapt to.