What is the Paleo Diet and How to Get Started With It

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Thinking about getting on board with the Paleo diet but not sure exactly how to go about it? As a general rule of thumb, you’ll only be eating foods that were readily available to our “caveman” ancestors. This can seem incredibly daunting, especially if your day-to-day diet includes plenty of processed foods and grains, but it could be worth a shot! The Paleo lifestyle has been linked to a host of health benefits, including lowered inflammation, improved energy levels, sustainable weight loss, and disease prevention.

Paleo blog title page
A focus on real foods

One of the big advantages of the Paleo diet is the lack of processed foods. Many of the modern day diseases we struggle with, are triggered and fueled by inflammation. Processed and sugary foods are a big culprit for this but the Paleo diet goes beyond this. It also cuts out grains, dairy and legumes. The thinking behind this is that these are also inflammatory as our bodies haven’t adapted enough to deal with them.

Artichokes

Instead, the Paleo diet focuses on wholesome, real foods and has a strong leaning towards vegetables, fruits, roots, fish, nuts, seeds and good quality meat. With a balanced Paleo diet, you can get plenty of antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats. 

Eating in line with genetics

The basis of the Paleo diet involves getting back in line with the way that our bodies were designed to function. According to experts, this can help us to avoid many of the diseases and health problems that have become more common off the back of the typical Western diet and its inflammatory effects. 

Helps to use energy efficiently

As a lifestyle that is rich in vegetables, fruits, good quality protein, and healthy fats, the Paleo diet is a good bet for encouraging your body to get energy from the food you eat. And that means less potential for storing calories as fat. In particular, refined carbs are known to raise blood sugar levels and get stored as body fat.  Excluding these helps to keep your blood sugar on a more even keel, and your fat stores in check!

What to eat on the Paleo diet

Vegetables, some fruit, tubers (such as sweet potato), high-quality meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds make up the bulk of a typical Paleo diet. One of the biggest misconceptions about the Paleo diet is that it’s mostly meat, but vegetables are a major part of a Paleo lifestyle and you can enjoy them in abundance. In short, you’re loading up on whole foods that will help you to feel full. And that means you don’t need to calorie count and you’ll probably still maintain a healthy weight.

Paleo salad
A simple salad topped with protein is a perfect Paleo meal!

Confused about how to shape your meals from these food sources? Having protein as a staple in most meals gives you a great base to work from. You can vary between different meats, fish, eggs to give some choice and reap the health benefits of these foods. Alongside this, pack your plate with veggies and add some healthy fats into the equation. Olive oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters and seeds are perfect for this. 

What not to eat on the Paleo diet 

Wheat, grains, soy, dairy, legumes, and sugar are all a big no-no on the Paleo diet. For drinks, anything that is processed or has lots of sugar is excluded too. Alcohol is best avoided but use your own discretion. An occasional glass of wine or spirit is fine, just watch out for sugary mixes. Beer is out, I’m afraid.

Grains weren’t part of our diet back in the hunter-gatherer days, or for the majority of our evolutionary history, for that matter! These days, they’re at the center of so many of our meals – cereals, bread, baked goods, pasta, rice etc. Our bodies may not be able to handle grains to this extent, which experts believe to be a factor in a lot of health problems, including diabetes and obesity. If you struggle to get grains out completely, cutting back on your intake (especially gluten-containing grains) can still potentially be a game changer for your health.

Chia pudding with coconut milk
Chia pudding made with non-dairy coconut milk.

Dairy is another excluded item on the Paleo diet. The thinking from a Paleo mindset is that our bodies haven’t evolved to handle dairy in very large amounts so it’s best avoided. In fact, dairy is one of the most common allergens, and can be particularly irritating to people with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and acne.  Concerned about calcium?  There are plenty of non-dairy sources of calcium you can enjoy on a Paleo diet – a variety of leafy greens, nuts and seeds, canned salmon and sardines, and dried figs are all good sources of calcium!

Getting started 

So, ready to get going on the Paleo diet? These tips should help you to stay on track with your plans.  

Eat when you’re hungry
Eggs

You don’t need to eat at certain times on the Paleo diet and experts often argue that our ancestors go easily go all day (or even longer!) without being successful in their hunting or foraging attempts. In this situation, they just dug into their fat reserves to keep them going.  You’ve probably heard that you should eat every few hours to “keep your metabolism running”, but if you’re constantly in a fed state, you never give your body a chance to tap into your fat stores for energy!  So listen to your body,  eat when you feel hungry, rather than to a specific schedule.  

Where to buy Paleo ingredients

Sometimes Paleo recipes require different ingredients to the type that you’re used to buying in the grocery store, and it can be hard to know where to look for them. Coconut oil, nut butters and nut flours are often available at grocery stores these days but if you can’t find them at yours, health food stores will have them or you can often find them online on sites like Amazon or Natura Market.  

Experiment with Paleo recipes

You might be surprised to discover how many non-paleo foods have a paleo friendly alternative that you can switch to and make your paleo lifestyle more interesting and versatile than you anticipated. (Like my Paleo Cauliflower & Beet Hummus or Raspberry Lemon Loaf!) On the flip side, it can also throw up some challenges as you get to grips with different ingredients. In the early days, you’re probably going to find it easier to tackle Paleo recipes that only have a few ingredients – keep it simple!

Meal planning 

Once you’ve played around with Paleo recipes and found a few go-to meals that you love, it can be super helpful to plan out your meals for the week and prepare them ahead of time. That way, you don’t have to think about what you’ll be eating every day and you’re a lot more likely to stick to your Paleo eating habits. And when life gets busy and stressful, this can make all the difference as to whether you’ll stay on track. 

So whether you choose to go completely Paleo or not, the basic premise of eating plenty of veggies, fruits and healthy fats and cutting out processed and sugary foods is something you can incorporate into a healthy lifestyle. 

Need quick and easy Paleo meal inspiration? Download my FREE “Easy Weeknight Paleo Meals in 30 minutes or less” recipe ebook! Click the link for more details!