The Paleo Diet — A Beginner’s Guide Plus Meal Plan

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.

A Paleo Diet Meal Plan

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.

Foods to Avoid on the Paleo Diet

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
  • 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.

Foods to Eat on the Paleo Diet

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
  • Healthy fats and oils: Extra
    virgin olive 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

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Modified Paleo Diets

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.

Sensible Indulgences

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.

What to Drink When You’re Thirsty

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.

Watch This Video

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.

A Sample Paleo Menu for One Week

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

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


  • Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables
    fried in olive 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.


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


  • 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.


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


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


  • 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.


  • 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.

Simple Paleo Snacks

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.

Simple Paleo Shopping List

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,
  • 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
  • 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.

How to Make Restaurant Meals Paleo

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 avocado 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 Bottom Line

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.

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Written by Kris Gunnars, BSc on August 1, 2018

20 Paleo Dessert Recipes

The paleo diet means sticking to foods our earliest ancestors enjoyed before the advent of farming and processing. Some paleo plans avoid milk products and refined sugar altogether. So, other than grabbing an apple off of a tree, is there any way to treat yourself to a dessert that’s paleo-friendly? The answer is yes.

Sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and agave are considered OK in many paleo circles. Chocolate, which comes from the seed of the cacao plant, is accepted by some paleo dieters if it’s high in cacao (which reduces the sugar content). Read on for the best paleo desserts you can eat.

1. Crepes with Warm Apple Compote

Sophisticated, elegant French cuisine and earthy paleo cooking might seem worlds apart, but they meet in this delicious dessert crepe. This crepe batter is composed of flax meal and hemp seeds, which are both rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. This essential fatty acid assists in everything from blood clotting to brain chemistry.

2. Cinnamon Apple Crisp

Every recipe box, whether digital or made of wood, should have an apple crisp recipe. This autumnal treat makes for a delicious breakfast dish or a yummy dessert. One of any crisp’s attractions is its combination of textures. The pecansTrusted Source and walnutsTrusted Source provide crunch and are a good source of fiber and iron. Top this with a coconut-based whipping cream to keep this dessert strictly paleo.

3. Chocolate Chip Cookies

Not even the most committed paleo devotee can pass up warm chocolate chip cookies. This recipe is sure to satisfy a cookie lover’s heart after just a few bites. The extra (healthy) fats help the delicate almond flour hold together.

Top tip: If you’re still worried about your cookies falling apart, let the dough set for a half-hour in the refrigerator.

4. Banana Bread

Paleo breads and muffins don’t rise like grain-based recipes do, and it’s that dense quality that makes them rich and indulgent enough to call dessert. The mashed bananas in this recipe provide the moisture needed to hold the delicate almond flour together. Those bananasTrusted Source are also a good course of potassium, which is important for building and maintaining muscle, as well as managing blood pressure.

5. Pumpkin Bars

Pumpkin provides a whopping dose of nutritional value. Enjoy it for copper and iron, and for vitamin KTrusted Source (which helps with blood clotting and aids bone health). PumpkinTrusted Source also serves up plenty of fiber.

This recipe uses pureed pumpkin, making the bars especially moist. The end result is warm and gooey, with fall flavors that might convince your taste buds that Halloween is on the way.

6. Chocolate Chip Blondies

One of the things the paleo diet does best is serve up brownies. The same is true for blondies, the brownie’s lighter, less chocolate-y cousin. Blondies’ dense texture is perfectly suited for paleo’s flourless, quick baking methods (these blondies bake up in 20 minutes).

7. Maple Pumpkin Custard  

This custard gets its richness from coconut milk and an extra egg yolk, and its natural sweetness from maple syrup. Maple syrupTrusted Source is a surprising source of minerals such as iron, calcium, and magnesiumTrusted Source, which is critical to muscle and nerve function. Enjoy this recipe as pumpkin pie without the crust, or add a paleo-friendly almond flour pie crust.

8. 7-Ingredient Cheesecake

Cheesecake: It’s fattening, full of empty calories, and unfortunately, it’s irresistible. It’s also decidedly not paleo — unless you make it with delicious, nutrition-packed ingredients like cashews, dates, and walnuts! You can reduce the calories by using light coconut milk.

Top tip: These yummy mini cakes don’t have to be baked. Just put them in the freezer to enjoy them frozen or let them soften up at room temperature.

9. Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Here’s a paleo recipe that looks as good as it tastes and with plenty of fiber to boot. Rhubarb’s bright red livens up any table, whether you’re serving this nutty crisp for breakfast or dessert. In this recipe, the strawberry’s sweet, jammy consistency contrasts nicely with the crunchiness of rhubarb and pecans.

Top tip: Serve this dish home style in the same skillet you cooked it in.

10. Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies certainly don’t sound paleo, but these grain-less treats look like they came from a bakery and taste every bit as good, if not better. Most frosted sugar cookies rely on their icing for flavor. Here, almond and vanilla supply sweet subtlety and the icing is just…well, the icing on the cake.

Top tip: Enjoy them dressed up with holiday designs and lovey-dovey messages, or without frosting as an after dinner treat.

11. Fruit Dip

Here’s a paleo and vegan snack everyone can enjoy. It’s especially perfect for kids, who will love using it for dipping single pieces of fruit or a skewered bunch. Young children will benefit too from the high fat content for their brain development. Just stack raspberries and blueberries, melons and bananas, alternating colors and textures.

Top tip: You can also use this versatile dip as a dressing for a bowl of fruit salad.

12. Lemon Macaroons

Macaroons have long been a dessert staple for gluten-free cookie lovers. This recipe continues that tradition. These chewy, gooey treats are densely delicious, with a twist of lemon juice and zest to keep them interesting.

Top tip: Dip them in chocolate for even more variety.

13. Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocolate Ganache

Paleo dining probably doesn’t make you think of French delicacies, but this recipe is one luscious exception. Chocolate ganache is usually made with generous helpings of heavy cream. Here, the use of full fat coconut milk achieves that same creamy texture.

And did we mention dairy-free ice cream? You’ve got to have something to put the ganache on, even if it’s just to keep yourself from eating it straight from the spoon!

14. Birthday Cake

Paleo recipes usually work well for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Still, it can be difficult to find good grain-free cake recipes. Here’s a recipe that puts the celebration back in birthdays.

Top tip: Don’t shy away from the amount of eggs this recipe calls for. They keep this cake moist and light, letting it rise like flour-based cakes.

15. Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Balls

Admit it. Ever since you were a kid in your mother’s kitchen, you loved to sneak bites of raw cookie dough. With this recipe, not only can you eat all the “dough” you want, but you’ll be getting some major nutrition disguised as a tasty treat.

One cup of garbanzo beans offers 38 percent of the fiberTrusted Source you need each day, and is a goodTrusted Source source of folateTrusted Source. But don’t think this recipe is packed with garbanzo bean flavor. The taste of the beans easily adapts to the rich cocoa and peanut butter.

16. Strawberry Cupcakes

If you thought going paleo meant you couldn’t enjoy bakery style treats, here’s one recipe that will prove you wrong. Extra eggs ensure that the cupcakes don’t get too dense. Egg whites supply protein, one vital nutrient not associated with traditional cupcakes.

Top tip: If strawberries aren’t in season, you can use frozen strawberries. Just let them thaw first, then drain for about five minutes in a sieve.

17. Almond Bundt Cake

Four ingredients stand between you and a gluten-free, paleo-friendly cake. This recipe makes a world-class dessert incredibly simple. Separate the eggs and whisk up the whites to keep the almond flour from becoming too dense.

Top tip: Powdered sugar is not paleo (though it is gluten-free!), so use powdered coconut or date sugar instead.

18. Double Chocolate Baked Doughnuts

Pop quiz: What are some foods you never thought you’d eat again once you went paleo? Chances are donuts are on that list. Yet here they are in fine paleo form! They’re as dense and sweet as traditional donuts, without the frying or trans fats.

Top tip: The flax in this recipe is a good source of omega-3s and thiamine,Trusted Source while chiaTrusted Source is high in fiber, so either one is a good option in this recipe.

19. Fudge Chocolate Brownies

What’s the secret to the very best paleo and gluten-free brownies? Don’t let any grains get in the way of chocolate deliciousness. This recipe focuses on rich and flavorful ingredients: coconut milk, butter, chocolate chips and cocoa powder, vanilla and coffee, and fragrant almond flour. High in fat and calories, but every bite is delicious.

Top tip: These brownies don’t take long to bake, so get ready to enjoy them warm with your favorite paleo frozen treat or a topping of berries.

20. Orange Chocolate Chip Muffins

Olive oil has a long but almost secret history in baked goods. Its delicate flavor goes especially well with citrus-y cakes and dessert breads. Here’s a treat that builds on those fine flavors with yummy chocolate chunks. Who can resist?

Top tip: Feel good about these paleo, gluten-free muffins as a breakfast treat, or drizzle them with paleo chocolate ganache.

Meal Prep: Apples All Day

Meal Prep: Apples All Day

Watch how registered dietician Shane Spence makes her apple compote and what food she recommends pairing it with.

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Last medically reviewed on January 26, 2016

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