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What Makes Paleo Different

The Paleo diet is unique in many ways, but what distinguishes it from the pack of conventional diets is that it excludes several major food groups and has limited portion guidelines. The Paleo style of eating resembles some low-carb diets you may be familiar with such as Atkins and South Beach by limiting both grains and high-carbohydrate foods. It also shares similarities with a range of fad diets because it also eliminates beans and dairy. However, unlike other diets, Paleo does not provide specific guidelines about the quantities of foods to be consumed, making it more of an eating pattern than a full-fledged diet. Ideally, its restriction of grains, dairy, and legumes should lead to the consumption of more fruits and vegetables. However, some Paleo eaters will replace those foods with animal protein, thus not increasing their intake of plant-based foods significantly. You can achieve a balanced, health-promoting way to go Paleo, with just a few helpful guidelines.

You might find yourself eating more steak.

Paleo promotes eating a large amount of animal protein compared to other diets, and may even be more than the body needs. The US dietary reference intake (DRI) for protein intake is 10-35% of total daily calories for adults. While the Paleo diet does not give an exact protein guideline, since hunters and gatherers’ diets consisted of 19-35% of daily calories from protein, it aims to mimic this greater protein intake.1,2 Other weight loss or protein-heavy diets may prioritize lean meats such as chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, and lean cuts of beef. However, the Paleo diet diverges by not restricting protein to only lean sources, and does include fattier cuts of red meat, poultry with skin, fish, and eggs.1 This is one recommendation to take with caution, as many animal products are high in saturated fats and are linked to adverse health conditions.

Say goodbye to yogurt and oatmeal.

Paleo’s eating plan excludes grains, dairy, and legumes so those following it may not have milk, yogurt, or consume any products that include these items.2 Additionally, people following the Paleo diet may not eat bread, rice, pasta, quinoa (an oil seed), cereal, or any other grain-based foods. This may prove extremely challenging because it eliminates accessible and affordable food options like sandwiches, pasta, and rice. Legumes are also not allowed, which means no beans, lentils, soybeans, tofu, or even peanuts (they’re actually a legume, not a nut!). Other nuts, however, such as almonds or cashews, are allowed. By not banning legumes or beans, this way of eating rids you of easy, healthy (and not to mention, cheap) sources of protein, fiber and phytochemicals (powerful plant compounds that fight disease). This can be especially difficult for vegetarians and even people just looking to eat more plant-based foods. In addition, when you eliminate grains, dairy and legumes, you’re also eliminating sources of essential vitamins and minerals, so following the diet closely may require some extra planning to meet your needs and may necessitate supplementation.

Throw out your salty and sweet snacks.

One healthful aspect of the Paleo diet is its omission of refined sugar, salt, and oil, which are all often found in processed foods, packaged snacks, and baked goods. In this way, eating Paleo is similar to other weight loss and health promoting diets because I don’t know about you, but I’m not familiar with a single diet that encourages potato chips and cookies! One difference between the Paleo style and other diets is that while these foods are simply discouraged or limited in popular diets, a true Paleo dieter would eliminate these foods completely. Given they offer no nutritional value besides excess empty calories, everyone can agree that this restriction is well founded.

It might cost you an arm and a leg.

A huge drawback of living an entirely Paleo lifestyle is that the food in your shopping cart can make a big dent in your wallet. Purchasing fresh vegetables can be expensive in the context of any health-promoting eating pattern, but also prioritizing grass-fed meats and other pricy nuts and oils can really add up. Other tried and true ways to save money at the grocery store, like buying nutritionally super-powered grains and legumes in bulk, are pushed to the wayside on this eating plan. To help ease the financial strain, look for items that are on sale, shop seasonally for produce, and purchase frozen vegetables, fish and meats.

Dos and Don’ts of Paleo

Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
Eat processed foods that are high in refined sugar or salt
Choose lean protein sources like eggs, grass-fed meats, fish and skinless poultry
Consume cereal grains, dairy, legumes, or potatoes
Use healthy oils like olive, walnut, macadamia, avocado, coconut (in moderation), safflower, and flaxseed
Over-do it on the red meat
Make sure you are getting enough calcium through non-dairy sources like sardines, turnip greens, oysters, and broccoli
Resort to butter, refined vegetable oils, or lard for cooking

What are the benefits and disadvantages to the Paleo diet?

The benefits

  • No processed foods
  • No salt
  • Fresh produce
  • Grass-fed meat
  • Carbohydrate control
  • Potential weight loss*

The questionable

  • Exclusion of food groups

The disadvantages

  • Expensive
  • Restrictive
  • Hard to find items
  • Lower in calcium
  • Lacks the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicas found in whole grains, oil seeds and beans known to help fight off disease

*The Paleo Diet is not a weight-loss diet – however, many who strictly adhere to the diet lose weight due to their reduced caloric intake.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  2. Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet Premise. The Paleo Diet. [Online] 2016. [Cited: September 8, 2016.]
  3. What to Eat on the Paleo Diet. The Paleo Diet. [Online] 2016. [Cited: September 8, 2016.]