What is Paleo?

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What is Paleo?

The basic idea of paleo is eating non-processed, grain-free foods.

Foods that are good to eat include all meats, all vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fats that are not high in omega-6s (like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil).

Foods that are discouraged include all grains (e.g., wheat, rice, barley, rye, quinoa, couscous, etc.), legumes (beans, peanuts, soy), fats high in omega-6s (like canola, sunflower, vegetable oil), and processed sugars (although eating copious amounts of honey, maple syrup or any other form of ‘natural’ sugars is also discouraged).

Is there any science backing this?

Science Behind Paleo

Contrary to what some people may think, the paleo lifestyle is simply chock-full of science. In fact, some paleo writers tell us so much of the science behind the lifestyle that it’s practically impossible to keep up! Even I’ve broken into the occasional medical study or two (despite having promised myself that I wouldn’t do so after quitting my life as a physicist!). But if you’re just itching to learn all the science behind paleo, then check out this handy Resource section.

What is all that caveman talk?

Paleo Caveman

Part of the idea behind Paleo is going back to what our ancestors ate (hence the name of my blog, Ancestral Chef). But by ‘ancestor,’ I mean Paleolithic ancestors (i.e., caveman-era people). That’s why many people following the Paleo lifestyle fondly refer to themselves as caveman or cavegirl. Of course that doesn’t mean we actually have to grunt when we eat, eat with our hands, forgo electricity or live in a cave (although you are of course free to try any of these)!

Why I went Paleo!

Ancestral Chef

I was definitely a skeptic when I first heard about Paleo. Why was there so much emphasis on our ancestors? And wasn’t meat supposed to be bad for you? And then of course, there was the “I can’t not eat bread!” response.

All of this changed after I read more about Paleo and discovered first hand just how much better I felt! It’s hard to deny the great feeling you wake up with every day regardless of how much of a skeptic you might be.

So what is so great about Paleo?

Eating less processed sugar meant that that I had much more energy. There were no more horrific sugar crashes after lunch (or after breakfast and dinner!). Eliminating wheat and other grains from my diet cured most of my gut problems. And, my heartburn issues (for which I had been taking medication for years) suddenly vanished.

I have to admit that eliminating bread, pasta, and cakes was difficult at first, but now that I’m acutely aware of how bad it makes me feel when I eat it, the temptation just isn’t there anymore.

Why does eating this way work? It’s not a coincidence that this just magically works. Our modern diets have really only been around for around the past 50 years. Before that we were much less reliant on processed foods in general. Sugar consumption has also increased dramatically over the years, and hardly anyone can deny that eating a diet lower in sugar is good for you!

Different Sugars

As for why grains are detrimental to your health, it’s mainly a problem with some of the proteins in grains (e.g., gluten, which is in all wheat products). These proteins cause all sorts of digestive issues because our bodies view these grains as toxins.

Even though we think people have been eating grains forever, the fact is that scientists believe that grains entered our diet around 12,000 years ago (even though humans have been around for 2.5 million years). More and more people are discovering that even if they are not celiac, they are still gluten sensitive. So even people without any health problems often feel much better (just generally) when they cut out wheat and sugar.

Paleo is NOT…

  1. Eating raw foods (whether it be meat or otherwise, although there are a small number of raw Paleo eaters).
  2. Paleo is Not Raw Foods

  3. Eating only meat. Veggies, fruit, and nuts also play a large part in our diets.
  4. Paleo Vegetables

  5. Full of crazy people. I personally think I’m quite “normal.”
  6. Paleo is not full of crazy people

  7. A get thin quick diet. This is a lifestyle for healthy living. It’s quite likely that you will lose weight too, but the aim is actually being better for your body rather than starving yourself into a thinner body.
  8. Paleo is not a get thin quick diet

Other Facts About Paleo:

Like I’ve mentioned above, Paleo is really a lifestyle rather than a 2 week diet! Some exercising (especially lifting) is greatly encouraged.

Perhaps the most important thing that Paleo emphasizes…SLEEP!

Paleo Sleep

This is perhaps the part of Paleo I’m really not good at. Most of us just don’t realize how lack of sleep truly affects us in so many ways (from brain function, to aging, to stalling weight-loss).

How do you start living a Paleo Lifestyle?

Paleo No Bread

The first thing you should do is to cut out wheat from your diet. So, no bread and no pasta. This would be a great start. If you want to go further, cut out all processed sugars from your diet, and then all other grains (like rice, quinoa, etc.). It’s also good to start cooking with coconut oil (olive oil shouldn’t be heated as it changes when heated, but it’s great for salads!).

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Leave a Comment

  • Rita June 26, 2013, 11:24 am

    Clever, quick, clear and easy explanation for the Paleo-curious. Love the graphics. Thanks for providing scientific references. Good work!

    Just one comment: I’m all grown up and I don’t refer to myself as a cavegirl. I’m a cavewoman all the way. ; -)

  • Pam August 1, 2013, 2:03 pm


  • Tana October 28, 2013, 11:15 pm

    Like to learn more

  • Elizabeth November 15, 2013, 6:42 am

    I know a few people who live the Paleo Life style, still had no desire to change the way I cooked. I , now know that I am gluten sensitive, lactose tolerant n when I eat SUGAR I am an ANIMAL this is I have know for awhile , still I indulged in sweetened yum yums occasionally . I am a personal trainer n pilate instructor and recently started Yoga due to an injury. I am looking for a change in my dietary consumption. I eat to live not love to eat. I would however enjoy more palette tasting culinary yums. Thanks so much , I have searched many many sites and yours has me convinced this will be a perfection match to my life style. Happy Day . E

    • Louise November 15, 2013, 3:22 pm

      Thanks Elizabeth – let me know how it goes :)

  • Una November 23, 2013, 1:15 pm

    Hi Louise, I just found you and I’m hoping Paleo can really help me. I have many food intolerances some I’ve identified and others I have yet to figure out. I have to be careful not to eat anything too often as I’ll develop an intolerance if I do. I also have very painful arthritis so I have to avoid nightshade veggies. I really love your 3 day plan and I’m hoping I can adjust it for my needs; unfortunately I have to freeze most of my batches of meat as I can only eat the same thing every 4 days. I find it so difficult to figure out what to eat and as you say snacks are the hardest. I also find breakfast very difficult. I’d love to hear from anyone that has similar issues and has discovered some tricks. Great wesbite Louise a real find for me. Thank you

  • Jamie January 30, 2014, 12:55 pm

    I’m wondering if you have nutritional values for your recipes. They all look so amazing. An i know most “Paleo” do not worry about calories and tho I’m not counting them completely, I would like to have an idea on how many calories I take in each day. Where can I find these? Almost all paleo recipes I have found via the web do not include nutritional values at all.

  • Rhonda February 14, 2014, 6:41 am

    Considering starting this diet plan – my son is already on it because he has GERD extremely bad and his doctor put him on it. I have bouts with it myself. I only have one issue with what I just read-Man has only been around for 6,000 years – read the Bible.

    • andy February 25, 2014, 7:50 am

      Rhonda: That’s an interesting comment. It makes it difficult to account for many natural processes that are observable today. For example, atomic decay, petrification, continental drift, or even the formation of a diamond. Those processes (and more) would be difficult to explain; given a timeframe of what we now define as 6,000 years… just saying.

      Maybe the definition given in the bible of a day, meant something else; like say an eon?

  • julie barkoff March 1, 2014, 12:11 am

    Hi, came across your cite and really enjoy it, however im so confused because every one is saying how fantastic they feel on paleo, well i was on scd(specific carb diet) they allow almond flour which i know now was making me feel worse, but didnt make the connection then. I always thought potatoes were not allow only sweet but nom nom paleo says if they are peeled its ok, what are your thoughts on that? I dont know why am so hestitant to try paleo i hate always feeling so lousy, fatigued and then when i try these plans i never end up feeling better. So i spent my nites reading all these paleo cites hoping to get inspired again. Hope to hear from you and man you are really a very intelligent girl!

  • LISA HREHA March 6, 2014, 12:01 pm


    • Louise March 6, 2014, 12:39 pm

      Hi Lisa – there’s some concern about heating EVOO up to a high temperature, but as long as you’re not only using EVOO for high temperature cooking usually, once in a while isn’t a big issue. For coconut oil, I usually place a small spoon in the container, scoop out however much I want, and then melt it in the pan on the stove (or you can melt in a microwave if you have one). It takes very little time for the coconut oil to melt.

  • Felicia March 16, 2014, 8:38 am

    Hi: I have been gluten-free for 8 months and now, paleo for the 1 month. One thing I read was brown rice was okay in moderation, especially if you are from a culture where rice is a staple. (I’m Filipina.) Your thoughts?

    • Louise March 17, 2014, 7:47 pm

      I think white rice is ok in small amounts, but not brown rice (as far as I’m aware, brown rice still has phytates and prolamins but white rice has much less).

  • Donna March 16, 2014, 11:33 am

    Hi- I just found your site as I was searching for new & yummy recipes to try, have been on Paleo for about a month now & absolutely love the results! In recent years, I’ve had alot of joint pain & sluggishness so decided to change my lifestyle/diet & came across the Paleo diet. Love all your recipes, can’t wait to try each one. Thanks!

Pure Paleo Fat Loss Program

Louise Yang Ancestral Chef

Hi! I'm Louise - I am "beyond gluten-free," grain-free, paleo/primal, a lawyer, an ex-physicist, a cook, a blogger, a Brit living in the US, an ex-violin player, an occasional crossfitter, a mystery book junkie, and of course, I am the Ancestral Chef :) Read my About Me Page for more!

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