Eat like a caveman and shed pounds. That's the theory behind the Paleo Diet.
Loren Cordain, PhD, who literally wrote the book on The Paleo Diet, claims that by eating like our prehistoric ancestors, we’ll be leaner and less likely to get diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems.
Also called the Caveman Diet or the Stone Age diet, it’s basically a high-protein, high-fiber eating plan that promises you can lose weight without cutting calories.
What You Can Eat and What You Can't
Go Paleo, and you'll eat a lot of fresh lean meats and fish, fruits, and vegetables, and healthier fats.
You can also eat:
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthier oils, including olive oil and coconut oil
You can't eat any processed foods on this diet. And since our prehistoric ancestors were hunter-gatherers, not farmers, say goodbye to wheat and dairy, along with other grains and legumes (such as peanuts and beans). Other foods to avoid:
- Refined sugar
- Refined vegetable oils, such as canola
Level of Effort: Moderate
There’s no calorie counting, and the fiber-rich fruits and vegetables will fill you up, as will the lean meat.
Limitations: The Paleo Diet allows for some cheating, especially at first. When you're just starting, you can eat what you want for 3 meals a week. Cordain calls those "open meals." Or you can challenge yourself to just one "open meal" per week.
Shopping and cooking: You'll need to stock up on the allowed foods and cook from scratch, so plan for kitchen time.
Packaged foods or meals? None. Processed foods are a no-no.
In-person meetings? None.
Exercise: Not required when you're losing weight. But Cordain strongly recommends it to maintain weight loss and for overall health.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarian or vegan: This diet emphasizes meat and fish, and Cordain says it's impossible to follow a Paleo Diet without eating meat, seafood, or eggs. Excellent vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans and other legumes, are not allowed.
Low-salt diet: The diet doesn't allow salt, so it may help you cut down on sodium. If you do eat any foods that come from a can or a box, you would still need to check the sodium on food labels.
What Else You Should Know
Costs: Eating a lot of meat and fish can raise your grocery bill.
Support: You can do this diet on your own. If you want to connect to your fellow Paleos, there are Paleo Diet forums online.
What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:
Does It Work?
Eliminating all grains, dairy, processed foods, sugar, and more will most likely lead to weight loss, but it may be a tough plan to follow long term due to the dietary limitations and restrictions.
There are several studies on certain aspects of the Paleo Diet. While they may not support all the claims made in the book, they have found that a diet rich in lean protein and plant-based foods can make you feel fuller, help control blood sugar levels, and help you lose weight.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
The author claims there are clinical trials that show a paleo diet can lower the risk of heart disease, blood pressure, and inflammation, plus lose weight, reduce acne, and promote optimum health and athletic performance. But many experts are not so sure and more research is needed.
Eliminating salt and processed foods makes this low-sodium diet good for people with high blood pressure.
Check with your doctor before starting on this plan.
The Final Word
If you’re able to spend the money buying more whole, unprocessed foods and are willing to dedicate the time in the kitchen to preparing them, then this plan may help you lose weight.
To help fill in the nutrient gaps, supplement the plan with a multivitamin.
If you prefer a more flexible approach to weight loss that’s less focused on meat and offers a wider variety of foods, look for another plan.