Advocates of the paleo diet reject modern diets that are full of processed foods. They believe that returning to how hunter-gatherers ate may cause fewer health problems.
The paleo diet is not safe for everyone. Doctors do not know its effects on children, pregnant women, or older adults. People with chronic conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, should also speak to a doctor before trying a paleo diet.
This article explores paleo principles and provides a 7-day paleo diet meal plan to follow. Read on to learn how to eat like our ancestors.
What is a paleo diet?
People who support the paleo diet claim that it can aid weight loss and reduce the risk of some health conditions.
The focus of the paleo diet is on eating foods that might have been available in the Paleolithic era. The paleo diet is also known as the stone age diet, hunter-gatherer diet, or caveman diet.
Before modern agriculture developed around 10,000 years ago, people typically ate foods that they could hunt or gather, such as fish, lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
The development of modern farming changed how people ate. Dairy products, legumes, and grains became part of people's diets.
Proponents of the paleo diet believe that the human body has not evolved to process dairy, legumes, and grains and that eating these foods could increase the risk of certain health conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Foods that a person can eat on the paleo diet include:
- lean meat
- oils that come from fruit or nuts, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and almond oil
People following a paleo diet tend to choose grass-fed, organic meats because these are the least processed.
Foods to avoid on the paleo diet include:
- grains, including wheat, oats, and barley
- legumes, such as beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts
- trans fats (hydrogenated oils)
- refined sugars
- artificial sweeteners
- low-fat or diet products
Getting regular exercise is another vital part of the paleo lifestyle.
7-day paleo diet meal plan
We have created a 7-day paleo diet meal plan with the intention of providing a guide for people who want to try this way of eating.
People can make changes to each meal according to their personal preference. Fruits, nuts, and seeds make excellent snacks or desserts.
On the first day, a person could eat the following:
- Breakfast: Avocado, kale, banana, and apple smoothie with almond milk.
- Lunch: Mixed salad leaves with fried seabass, pumpkin seeds, and an olive oil dressing.
- Dinner: Roast chicken with a stuffing of onions, carrots, and rosemary.
On the second day, use the leftovers for lunch and enjoy fish for dinner:
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with wilted spinach, grilled tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds.
- Lunch: Mixed salad leaves with leftover roast chicken and an olive oil dressing.
- Dinner: Oven-baked salmon with asparagus and broccoli fried in coconut oil.
On day 3, use any leftover salmon from the previous day:
- Breakfast: Chopped bananas with blueberries and almonds.
- Lunch: Mixed salad leaves with leftover salmon and an olive oil dressing.
- Dinner: Beef stir-fry with mixed peppers, using coconut oil to fry.
On the fourth day, start with a protein-packed egg:
- Breakfast: Broccoli fried in coconut oil with toasted almonds and a poached egg.
- Lunch: Mixed salad with tuna, boiled eggs, seeds, and olive oil.
- Dinner: Harissa-baked chicken wings with steamed broccoli.
On day 5, a person could prepare the following:
- Breakfast: Coconut milk, mixed berries, and spinach smoothie.
- Lunch: Butternut squash, broccoli, and tomato omelet with mixed salad.
- Dinner: Red pepper, broccoli, baby corn, and salmon stir-fry.
On the sixth day, start with a savoury breakfast:
- Breakfast: Bacon, eggs, and tomatoes fried in olive oil.
- Lunch: Mixed vegetable and chicken soup with turmeric.
- Dinner: Grilled lamb chops with wilted spinach and spiced red cabbage.
On day 7, add healthful fats by using avocado:
- Breakfast: Spring onion, tomato, and mushroom omelet.
- Lunch: Mixed salad with chicken, avocado, seeds, and olive oil.
- Dinner: Slow-cooked beef stew with mixed vegetables.
Health benefits of paleo
People claim that the paleo diet offers many health benefits, which include promoting weight loss, reducing the risk of diabetes, and lowering blood pressure.
In this section, we look at the scientific evidence to see whether research supports any of these claims:
An older 2008 study found that 14 healthy volunteers achieved an average weight loss of 2.3 kilograms by following the paleo diet for 3 weeks.
In 2009, researchers compared the effects of the paleo diet with a diet for diabetes on 13 people with type 2 diabetes. The small study found that eating the paleo way reduced participants' body weight and waist circumference.
A 2014 study of 70 postmenopausal women with obesity found that following a paleo diet helped participants lose weight after 6 months.
However, after 2 years, there was no difference in weight loss between participants following the paleo diet and those adhering to regular Nordic nutrition recommendations. These results suggest that other healthful diets may be just as successful at promoting weight loss.
Overall, the research suggests that the paleo diet may help people lose weight initially but that other diets that reduce calorie intake may be just as effective.
More research is necessary before doctors recommend the paleo diet for weight loss. Currently, doctors advise people to follow a calorie-controlled diet and exercise more to lose weight.
Reducing diabetes risk
Will following a paleo eating plan reduce a person's risk of developing diabetes? The results of some initial studies are promising.
Insulin resistance is a risk factor for diabetes. Improving a person's insulin sensitivity decreases the likelihood that they will develop diabetes and can help those who have diabetes reduce their symptoms.
A small study in 2015 compared the effects of the paleo diet with those of a diet based on recommendations from the American Diabetes Association on people with type 2 diabetes.
While both diets improved the participants' metabolic health, the paleo diet was better at improving insulin resistance and blood sugar control.
An older 2009 study of nine sedentary volunteers without obesity also found that the paleo diet improved insulin sensitivity.
There is a need for more recent research on the paleo diet and diabetes, but the evidence to date suggests that eating like a hunter-gatherer may improve insulin sensitivity.
Lowering blood pressure
Research into the impact of the paleo diet on blood pressure is ongoing.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. Some people think that the paleo diet can help keep blood pressure in check and promote heart health.
An older 2008 study of 14 healthy volunteers found that following the paleo diet for 3 weeks improved systolic blood pressure. It also decreased weight and body mass index (BMI). The study did not include a control group, however, so the results are not conclusive.
A 2014 study supported these early findings. Researchers compared the effects of the paleo diet with those of a diet that the Dutch Health Council recommend on 34 participants with characteristics of metabolic syndrome, a condition that increases the risk of heart disease.
Results showed that the paleo diet reduced blood pressure and blood lipid profile, both of which can improve heart health.
Although initial studies suggest that the paleo diet may reduce blood pressure and support heart health, more recent and extensive studies are necessary to make any conclusions.
Followers of the paleo diet aim to eat in the way that our prehistoric ancestors did. They seek out whole, unprocessed foods and avoid processed foods, grains, legumes, and dairy.
Paleo advocates argue that our bodies are unable to process foods that emerged after the development of farming.
A paleo meal plan may support weight loss, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce blood pressure in the short term. The results of small, initial studies support some of these health effects, but more research is necessary to confirm them.
The paleo diet may not be safe for everyone, so it is best to speak to a doctor or dietitian before making significant dietary changes.
For people who are interested in trying the paleo diet, the 7-day meal plan above is a good place to start.