Foods Forbidden on the Paleo Diet

What Not to Eat on a Paleolithic Diet

no soda sign
Photo © Jaruek Chairak

A Note on "Cheating"

If you read the book NeanderThin, you will see that the author Ray Audette toes a very strict line, both in his food recommendations, and his insistence that a person change entirely and never look back. Loren Cordain is more forgiving, advising three stages of easing into the diet, and also including what he calls "Open Meals" where a person can loosen the rules. He feels you can still get benefit by at least partially following the program, and recommends starting out with three Open Meals per week.

See more about this in his book The Paleo Diet. Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint advocates an "80/20 Rule" -- align your diet with the principles 80% of the time. I say, know yourself and what works for you. Experiment, tweak, and experiment some more.

The following categories of food are forbidden on Paleolithic-type diets, with a few caveats:

Refined Sugars

There is a long list of ingredients which are essentially "sugar". Some allow small amounts of honey or pure maple syrup - but these would have been a rare treat in prehistoric times.


Yes, there were wild grains, and a few roasted kernels have been found in ancient fires. But really - how much wild grain could have been collected at a time? Answer: not much. Corn is a grain by most definitions, by the way.

Starchy Tubers

This is actually an area of some disagreement in the Paleo community. Some say we should eat no tubers, while others point to evidence for Paleo people eating roots.

  So some are coming down on the the side of no tubers at all, some say no potatoes, but others are OK, and others say tubers are all fair game.  I think this is an area where people should really closely watch their own reactions.  I know people who are Paleo who do well with them, while others don't

In general, avoid:

Legumes (Beans, Peas, Peanuts)

These are usually outlawed on the premise that most of them can't be eaten without cooking (so wouldn't have been eaten during the Paleolithic), and that legumes have a high content of lectins and other antinutrients. Research into lectins is in its infancy and not a lot is known about this with any certainty, but if you are interested, Loren Cordain's 2012 book, The Paleo Answer: 7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young has a great section about what is known at the present time.

Dairy Products

Early people did not eat dairy products before animals were domesticated. It has been pointed out that there has been adaptation to dairy products in some genetic lines, but most authors of this type of diet exclude eating dairy including milk, butter, cream, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, etc. Others say that butter (and to a lesser extent cream) don't have much lactose or casein and are probably OK on occasion.

All would agree that if you are going to eat dairy, make sure the animals are grass-fed, and most would encourage people to seek out raw forms of dairy foods.

Some Meats

Most processed meats (made with nitrites and additives) are not allowed by some, including hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and lunch meats, although sometimes more healthy forms of these can be found. Others point out that there is a difference between processed meats (e.g. hot dogs) and simply "cured" meats (e.g. bacon), and it's most important to know your sources.


Definitely avoid the following:

  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Soybean oil (same as soy oil)
  • Rice bran oil
  • Wheat germ oil

This includes products, such as most commercial mayonnaise, which include these oils.

Cordain has a long list of preferred oils in his book based on their ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids. He also is down on tropical plant oils (coconut and palm) which have high levels of saturated fats. Other writers definitely include these tropical fats as fine to eat, or even encouraged.


Most authors of this type of diet advocate at least being moderate with salt intake; some say cut down as much as possible.  See: How Much Salt Should We Eat?


Earlier paleo authors were negative on vinegar -- more recent thinking seems to be moderating on this.

Check Out This List of Acceptable Foods for a Paleolithic Diet

Continue Reading