The Paleo Diet: An Overview

A Beginner's Introduction to the Paleo Diet

Unrecognizable person placing cardboard box with fresh vegetables on kitchen counter, close-up of hands
Martin Poole/Photodisc/Getty Images


The foundation of the Paleo Diet comes from a collection of research and writings about the diet of human ancestors. Although these writings are not in total agreement as to what this diet was (and it certainly varied a lot, depending on geography and climate), there are many common themes.

"Modern Paleolithic" diets are based on the idea that humans and their ancestors were evolving for millions of years before reaching the Neolithic period, during which farming and other advancements radically changed the human diet to the detriment of human health.

Further changes in the last century, and even more in the last three decades, have accelerated this process.


The diet's variations go by many different names, including: Paleo diet, Primal Diet, Paleodiet, Paleolithic Diet, Cave Man Diet, Stone Age Diet, Neaderthin, Pre-agricultural Diet, Hunter-Gatherer Diet


A wide variety of authors write about paleo eating, including Loren Cordain, S. Boyd Eaton, Arthur De Vany, Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Ray Audette, Walter Voegtlin, and many others.

Main Books:

Popular books about the paleo way of eating include:

    Other Writings:

    Those who are interested in this diet should surely check out the vast array of links on the Paleo Diet web site.  The academically-inclined might be interested in Jared Diamond's essay, "The Worst Mistake in teh History of the Human Race" (hint: it's agriculture).

    Restricted Foods:

    The following foods in our modern diets were not available to Paleolithic people: any processed food, any food with added sugars, grains except for very small amounts of whole grains, legumes, dairy products, and food additives such as artificial sweeteners.

    Tubers such as potatoes that require cooking aren't allowed by most of the diets.

    Allowed Foods:

    Meat, fish, eggs, most vegetables, fruit, nuts. Some allow honey in small amounts. Some emphasize food being organic, if possible. Ideally, animals should eat a diet natural to them -- in other words, cows should eat grass, not grain, chickens should be able to eat a natural omnivorous diet, etc. Animals who eat this way have meat with less saturated fat, and is said to be healthier in other ways.

    Amount of Dietary Restriction:

    By today's standards this diet is very restricted, as it has been estimated that close to three quarters of the standard diet in the U.S. consists of foods not available to Paleolithic people.  On the other hand, it is acknowledged by some Paleo advocates that some human populations have adapted to dairy products via a genetic mutation, and others have added so-called "safe starches" to their diets (e.g. yams).

    Amount of Structure:

    None - the idea is simply to "eat like a caveman", and hopefully to exercise more like him as well (which is to say "a lot").

    No counting or measuring required.

    Related Information:

    What Did the Cavemen (and Women) Eat? - Differences Between Modern and Paleolithic Diets

    Paleolithic Diet Food Lists

    Foods Forbidden on Paleo Diets

    Pros and Cons of the Paleolithic Diet

    Continue Reading