sliced fruits on white ceramic plate
Photo by Sam Moqadam

Executive summary of the Paleo diet

The Paleo diet is the “sexy diet.” Definitely would be Samantha, if it were a Sex and the City character. The Paleo diet evokes images of ravenously devouring meat – sexy, right? I have been to Paleo-land and will definitely visit again. Here is what you need to know.

What’s the skinny?

  • This article will tell you what you need to know before deciding to try the “Paleo” diet.
  • After an overview and how it works, you will get guidance on the difficulty level, traps for the unwary, and what both the proponents and opponents of the diet say.
  • Then we will conclude with resources for Paleo apps, blogs, and recipes. There are a lot of Paleo products on the market (that’s a good thing and a bad thing), and the marketplace has already done a lot of the work for you.

What it is

The diet itself goes back to 1985, but really exploded on the scene in 2002 with the book written by Loren Cordain, founder of The Paleo Diet movement and author of “The Paleo Diet.” The timing of this diet becoming popular was perfect for social media’s rising popularity – all of a sudden, you saw photos of (lean) steaks, avocado bacon BLTs, and the most artistic chicken lettuce wraps.

What it is

The Paleo diet is meant to mimic the style of “hunt and gathering” eating that humans relied on in the Paloelithic era. Basically, if you could not hunt and eat it then, you cannot eat it now, in a nutshell.

How you follow it

The main driver of the Paelo diet is to encourage eating anti-inflammatory whole foods and to eliminate processed foods. The basic “universe” of foods is lean meats, fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, nuts and various oils.

Besides processed foods, the diet is designed to eliminate “inflammatory foods,” including grains, dairy, and processed sugar.

The below link gives a good “101” overview of the Paleo diet.

Paleo diet 101 – Paleo leap

Photo by Liam Johnson

How Paleo is different than Keto

It is easy to confuse all of these diets (believe me, I was confused, and still sometimes am). Here is how I understand the main difference between Keto and Paleo:

Unlike Keto, Paleo is not necessarily a low-carb diet, although as explained, it eliminates a lot of the common carbs, like grains.

Both diets restrict sugars, but keto’s macros are much harsher; Paleo also has more flexibility with protein consumption. In fact, protein is a huge part of the diet (lean meats, eggs, etc). And you can have fruit, yay! Keto basically rules that out. This is why some health experts favor Paleo over Keto, because there isn’t such a “fear” of carbs or of getting “kicked out” of keto.

Despite more apparent flexibility with carbs, both diets have serious food group eliminations that draw a lot of criticism and concern from the health community. You can read more about the Keto diet in this post.

For more on the difference between keto and paleo, you can read this Men’s Health article.

Paleo versus Primal diet

Wait, what? Isn’t Paleo primal? Yes, it’s primal, adjective, but it is not the noun Primal diet. The Primal diet is like the nicer cousin of Paleo. Both diet emphasize the consultation of lean meats, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats, but Primal does not ban dairy, as long as it is grass fed and well sourced (like butter). Legumes are also permitted on the Primal diet. For more about the diet and the recipes, see here.

What you can eat

The Paleo Diet features lean meats, seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds, olives, and some oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut). Avocado oil is highly favored, oils that are high in saturated fat, like canola, are disfavored.

three doughnuts on white ceramic plate
Believe it or not, Paleo donuts are a thing. Why hasn’t Dunkin’ caught on? Photo by S O C I A L . C U T

What you cannot eat

The diet discourages added salt and refined sugar. Whole grains are out. Any kind of white OR wheat flour is out. Beans are out. Rice is out. Dairy is out. Yup, that means cheese. And yogurt. Even Greek yogurt. Which is why almond and a variety of other nut milks became so popular. In addition, coconut and almond-flour based products and recipes exploded on the scene.

This article has a good list of dos and dont’s on the Paleo diet. –

What proponents say

The Paleo diet’s positive attributes include low sugar, low sodium, and emphasis on grass-fed, lean proteins, as opposed to processed meats. Because of its allowance for fruits and veggies, it lends to being high in fiber. There are many communities and support groups available for people on this journey. Supporters also say the elimination of dairy and grains, two types of foods that became prevaluent in the Agricultural era, rids the body of toxins, antibiotics, and inflammatory growth-stimulating. Hormones.

What opponents say

There are a plethora of books and other literature by vocal critics, who argue that Paleo diet misrepresents the evolutionary history (like really, vodka is Paleo??). More concerning than this theoretical debate is the opposition to the diet’s nutritional benefit and even safety. and from a nutrition standpoint. A lot has to do with the eliminations of grains of any kind and dairy – these huge slashes of food groups concern many nutritionists. The lack of whole grains depletes the body of B vitamins, and the lack of dairy depletes the body of calcium. Proponent clap back that you can supplement for these missing vitamins/minerals. Yet, there is still literature arguing that supplementation has many pitfalls, posing possibly MORE health threats (i.e., from an overconsumption of calcium).

Also, the diet is criticized for being TOO reliant on protein and meats, possibly encouraging high cholesterol or overconsumption of protein.

Level of difficulty : 6 out of 10

The downside

I would say this is slightly easier than keto, just because of that whole “ketosis” balance issue, if you were to follow the purest form. You don’t even have to necessarily track macros on this diet, as long as you stick to the bright-line list of foods. There is some confusion and disagreement over whether natural sugars, like honey, maple syrup, and agave syrup are “Paleo-friendly”. Although the debate is still alive and well, the middle ground seems to be that these foods should be eaten sparingly.

In addition, it’s also very sneaky with the dairy restriction for ordering in and eating out, because you would need to find out whether a given dish is prepared with butter or just take your chances (in both the Paleo and Keto worlds, a non-dairy butter called Ghee is utilized for cooking because it has a higher smoke point than oils Finally I would say the diet is not very vegan-friendly, because of the exclusion of beans and grains. Although there’s always a solution for that – and if you want it you can go here.

The upside

Like keto, so many labels in stores indicate whether an item like a condiment or a snack is “Paleo-friendly.” You can have Paleo-friendly barbeque sauce with your chicken, or paleo-friendly bread, even (it’s made with coconut flour), or paleo pancakes, etc. The Julian Bakery company has one of the widest selections of paleo-friendly breads, protein powders, and protein bars. I would highly recommend the “Paleothin” line of protein bars, especially the sunflower seed butter flavor.

The downside to the upside

One has to question whether these foods are really an end run the strict definitions in the diet, because essentially, they are “processed” in the sense that they are man-made. But if you don’t care about the ethics or philosophy here, you can pretty much get a lot of Paleo-friendly grub and make a lot of Paleo-friendly recipes.

steam pasta beside tomatoes and plate
Shakshuka is Paleo, but probably not as Keto-friendly. A great way to eat a rich, high-protein, easy to make warm meal on this diet. Photo by Sarah Dubler.


Like with keto, the paleo diet has endless recipes, and many of them overlap as both paleo and keto friendly. You can follow one of many paleo’specific accounts on Instagram to access them. There a lot of “one pot” and “one pan” recipes that you can make, with chicken, seafood, lamb, and eggs.

A lot of recipes for desserts and baked goods that are “Paleo-friendly” call for a “regular flour” substitute – and the market now has a variety to choose from. While almond flour was once the most predominant choice, it now has to contend with coconut flour, cassava flour, and tapioca flour, with coconut and almond flour leading the pack. As far as which is better, this article compares the two from a cooking and nutrition standpoint.

Here are some example recipes:

Shakshuka – Shakshuka is a famous Moroccan egg dish made with tomato sauce. It is SUPER easy to make in one pan. That’s one advantage of Paleo over Keto – in Keto, most tomato sauce and even tomatoes are out because of the sugar content. This recipe comes from the Paleo Chef’s table, which is one of the best Paleo recipe sites (it has Paleo-friendly booze recipes, too).

One pot Paleo lunches (Brit+co lifestyle blog). The blogger (Brit) has collected a great roundup of the best Paleo Instagram pages, if that is your thing.

Paleo pancakes (Downshiftology food blog). I don’t know why pancakes came back in style with the Keto and Paleo phenomena but you can probably find thousands of pancake recipes.

Paleo chocolate chip cookies: Yup it is possible to make chocolate chip cookies without butter, eggs, and chocolate. In my honest opinion, though, while these look so pretty on Instagram, it takes a LOT of trial and error- and wasted time baking – to get something halfway decent, and it’s still not the same as real cookies. I still will save a real gooey chocolate chip cookie or two for my “20,”

Paleo apps

The menu of Paleo apps is very long, and this article from spoon university summarizes the best ones. One of the most popular is the Nom Nom Paleo app (and of course there is a blog too), There is also a calendar with a menu of meals by day. For me, this is too complicated for #busyAF women, but overall, the app has a lot of good options, is free, and also has a “Paleo 101” tutorial, more resources and a link to the blog.

Paleo blogs

The best Paleo blogs I have seen include:

Paleo leap- this app has Paleo and Keto recipes in one, plus simple tutorials and articles. The recipes are organized by type of protein (fish, beef, chicken,etc), which makes them very user-friendly.

Paleolista (!) – The blogger (Nell Stephenson) is a celebrity in her own right, having been on Dr. Oz. She has really nuanced approaches to the Paleo diet, including how to Paleo-ize holiday recipes, even hot chocolate! She also touts the supremacy of bone broth and even makes her own shop.

Mark’s Daily apple- this is for the “Primal” lovers – Mark takes on the Primal Blueprint, which he argues is not just a diet but a style for living. His blog features both Paleo/Primal and Keto-friendly recipes, and you can download his free eBook on how to eat Keto when eating out.


Cheese, milk and yogurt

The grocery shelves are now dominated with nutmilks – regular cow’s milk is so 90s, right? For Asian dishes, coconut milk has always been in style, and the Paleo/Keto/Whole30 world has caught on that this is an excellent substitute for both milk and butter in stews, sauces, and desserts. You have to watch the portions and not just dump the whole can in there, because it clocks in at 150 calories and 15 grams of fat for the average serving, which is about the size of a large shot glass. There are low-fat options available, and you can mix it with water to get coverage.

Cheese is also not off the table. There are many cheeses you can buy at organic stores from companies like Daiya and Kite Hill. They make almost every type of cheese substitute product you could want, including feta, cream cheese, cheddar, mozzarella, swiss, gouda, gorgonzola (told ya!). A couple of caveats here before you go take off for la-la land: first, this is NOT cheese, so it will NOT taste just like cheese. Second you really have to read the labels because a lot of the cheese products use potato starch and other highly processed products.

You can read a more detailed guide on Paleo-friendly dairy products here.


You can get paleo-friendly snacks, like tortilla chips, pretzels, and breakfast foods, like waffles. In particular the “Caulipower” brand has really capitalized on this, making all of the above of these types of foods. Quinn snacks is another popular brand.

A word of caution about the chips, pretzels and crackers. The fact that they are “Paleo” does not give you license to chow down like it’s 1999. These products often contain the same amount of carbs as their non-Paleo counterparts, the difference being they are made with non-wheat flour, usually cassava or coconut flour. But going Paleo doesn’t mean just checking the box by substituting coconut flour for wheat flour.

These foods were never high in sugar to begin with, so there isn’t much of a difference between housing a bag of these versus normal pretzels. If you are going to go for the pretzels, which in the grand scheme are not the worst offenders for salty snacks, I would recommend buying the Quinn Snacks brand. These are very chompy/crunchy and take a minute to break down and chew, so you will eat less of them.


What is a girl to do, with all of this conflicting evidence?? There’s no reason to pick on Paleo in particular. Almost all of the popular diets (Paleo, Keto, Whole30, Atkins) have this underlying flaw. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s a fatal one, because you can easily find support for both sides. No diet, or way of eating for that matter, is perfect. Accepting that will take a lot of the pressure off, which is why I favor the 80/20 approach. Having a core approach that gravitates towards whole and healthy foods, that is also buffered by watching intake and calories, is the best approach I know to being a #fitrprofessional.

As I have said before: it’s not black or white. Imagine in your own profession, if a client calls you with a question, is the answer ever yes or no? Rarely. You make judgement calls in your own life and you are more than capable of making them here, when you have the information. Take only what you need from it.

More resources:

The Paleo diet revisited – and explained by the man who developed it

The Paleo diet – back to the stone age? Harvard Health Magaizine Gives a good comparison chart of what is in and out and explores the

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