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.

In fact, 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.

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.

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

Avoid these foods and ingredients:

  • Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup: Soft drinks, fruit juices, table sugar, candy, pastries, ice cream and many others.
  • Grains: Includes breads and pastas, wheat, spelt, rye, barley, etc.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils and many more.
  • Dairy: Avoid most dairy, especially low-fat (some versions of paleo do include full-fat dairy like butter and cheese).
  • Some vegetable oils: Soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil and others.
  • Trans fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods. Usually referred to as "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, sucralose, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame potassium. Use natural sweeteners instead.
  • Highly processed foods: Everything labeled "diet" or "low-fat" or that has many additives. Includes artificial meal replacements.

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

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.

Base your diet on whole, unprocessed paleo foods:

  • Meat: Beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork and others.
  • Fish and seafood: Salmon, trout, haddock, shrimp, shellfish, etc. Choose wild-caught if you can.
  • Eggs: Choose free-range, pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs.
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes, etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, avocados, strawberries, blueberries and more.
  • Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more.
  • Healthy fats and oils: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and others.
  • Salt and spices: Sea salt, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, etc.

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.

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.

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.

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

  • Wine: Quality red wine is high in antioxidants and beneficial nutrients.
  • Dark chocolate: Choose one that has 70% or higher cocoa content. Quality dark chocolate is very nutritious and extremely healthy.
Summary When following the paleo diet, you can indulge in small amounts of red wine and dark chocolate from time to time.

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

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

  • Tea: Tea is very healthy and loaded with antioxidants and various beneficial compounds. Green tea is best.
  • Coffee: Coffee is actually very high in antioxidants as well. Studies show that it has many health benefits.
Summary Water should be your drink of choice when following the paleo diet. Many people also drink tea and coffee.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million.

This short video explains everything you need to know about the paleo diet.

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

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

Monday

  • Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables fried in coconut oil. One piece of fruit.
  • Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil. Handful of nuts.
  • Dinner: Burgers (no bun) fried in butter, with vegetables and some salsa.

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Bacon and eggs, with a piece of fruit.
  • Lunch: Leftover burgers from the night before.
  • Dinner: Salmon fried in butter, with vegetables.

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Meat with vegetables (leftovers from night before).
  • Lunch: Sandwich in a lettuce leaf, with meat and fresh vegetables.
  • Dinner: Ground beef stir-fry with vegetables. Some berries.

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Eggs and a piece of fruit.
  • Lunch: Leftover stir-fry from the night before. A handful of nuts.
  • Dinner: Fried pork with vegetables.

Friday

  • Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables fried in coconut oil.
  • Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil. Handful of nuts.
  • Dinner: Steak with vegetables and sweet potatoes.

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Bacon and eggs with a piece of fruit.
  • Lunch: Leftover steak and vegetables from the night before.
  • Dinner: Baked salmon with vegetables and avocado.

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Meat with vegetables (leftovers from night before).
  • Lunch: Sandwich in a lettuce leaf, with meat and fresh vegetables.
  • Dinner: Grilled chicken wings with vegetables and salsa.

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

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

If you want more examples of easy paleo meals, read this article: 20 Paleo Work-Friendly Lunch Recipes.

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.

There really 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:

  • Baby carrots
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • A piece of fruit
  • A handful of nuts
  • Leftovers from the night before
  • Apple slices with some almond butter
  • A bowl of berries with some coconut cream
  • Homemade beef jerky
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.

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:

  • Meat: Beef, lamb, pork, etc.
  • Poultry: Chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Fish: Salmon, trout, mackerel, etc.
  • Eggs
  • Fresh vegetables: Greens, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions, etc.
  • Frozen vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, various vegetable mixes, etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, pears, oranges, avocado
  • Berries: Strawberries, blueberries, etc.
  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts
  • Almond butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Olives
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Condiments: Sea salt, pepper, turmeric, garlic, parsley, etc.

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

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

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 coconut 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.

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.

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