One of the most perplexing stages of the Paleo Diet is towards the beginning when you are trying to understand what foods you can and can’t eat. You’ve no doubt got a pretty good idea what a Paleo Diet Foods list might look like, but having a well-researched resource guide can be priceless. Thinking of the Paleo Diet in terms as if it were a cavemen diet can be a good way to conceptualize the general idea, but sometimes you need specifics.
This list will be undated as regularly as possible, to help serve as a valuable asset to you in your quest to find your paleolithic prime. If you see anything that you feel doesn’t belong or maybe something you think should be on the list that isn’t already, feel free to reach out and let us know. If your experience with the Paleo Diet has been anything like mine, you will most-likely end up with a sense of having many more items on your plate than you did before. I had always assumed any diet would leave me with homogeneous pantry but, it turns out I simply had very little concept of all the great-tasting foods out there!
Paleo Diet Food List
The Paleo Diet Food List offers a great many suggestions to help you form a more complete idea of they type of foods that should be on your plate while eating Paleo. Your first-stop in eliminating foods from your diet should be the exclusion of ultra-modern foods such as GMO foods, candies such as Skittles or M&M’s, and those packed with toxic preservatives such as nitrites. These foods haven’t existed except within the last hundred years or so of human history and present a gigantic biological challenge to our digestive tracts.
You next stop should be Grains, which encompassing foods such as oats, wheat, barley, rye, millet, amaranth, rice, and other similar foods. These foods are viewed as having only been available to humans, in large amounts, within the relatively recent part of our lineage. Modern species of wheat, for example, has also been hybridized to such an extent that it no longer resembles what our more modern ancestors consumed.
A very important step of any diet meant to improve your health is the elimination, or drastic reduction of, sugar intake. While the elimination of chemical-laden petro candies like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Smarties seems like a no-brainer; natural foods such as bananas contain large amounts of sugar as well. While you’ll be infinitely better-served by choosing a banana over a Twix you should pay close attention to the total amount of sugar you’re consuming, not just that of the candy you’ve given up! Unfortunately for many, Alcohol falls into the category of high-sugar content and is recommended to be eliminated entirely. Beers are often largely-comprised of grains as well, and should not be made an exception of. Wine, while high in sugar, is viewed by some as being acceptable to allow within the Paleo Diet. However, even those calling for its inclusion do so in VERY moderate amounts. The idea that a caveman would distill his own liquor is somewhat far-fetched; brewing his own beer sounds plausible, but not the cultivation of the ingredients; having a container full of grapes sit around long enough to produce wine—that very well could have happened.
Along with these food items, there are many other particulars about which types of foods should be eaten, and which should be avoided, to properly adhere to the Paleo Diet guidelines. Below you will find a comprehensive list of the different types of foods you should, and should not, be finding on your plate while eating Paleo.
Paleo Diet Meats
As a rule, you want to try and source any meats that you will be eating in the most health-conscious manner possible. This means eating meat from animals that have been humanely raised without the used of hormones, anti-biotics, or steroids. When at all possible you should try and purchase meats that have been certified USDA Organic as well as having been grass-fed. Grass-fed can be thought of kind of like the Paleo Diet for animals; they didn’t have access to large grain stores throughout their evolution either! The following meats are all found on The Paleo Diet Food List:
- Wild Boar
- Turtle (trust me)
- Snake (trust me)
Many of these are simply broadly descriptive of meats acceptable while on the Paleo Diet rather than specifically-descriptive. For instance “Cow” includes a variety of meats such as T-Bones, New York Strip, Fillet Mignon, Chuck Roast, Shanks, Bone Broths, as well as others. Consideration for meats on the Paleo Diet is largely focused on how the animals were raised, how they spent the majority of their time, and what foods they ate. For example, cows probably didn’t get fed hay, or get injected with hormones, or find themselves being fed large quantities of corn right before they were slaughtered. For any of you that may be freaking out a little at this point; yes—bacon is ON the acceptable Paleo Diet food list! (just get nitrite & preservative free!)
Paleo Diet Fish
Technically, fish should find itself in the meat category but since even vegetarians view it slightly differently, I felt it deserved its own category. Again, the conditions in which the animal was raised in has a large influence on whether or not it is allowed by the Paleo diet. Pretty much all water-bound critters are allowed, seafood and freshwater alike. The trick is to try and stay away from anything that’s been farm raised. For instance, wild-caught Alaskan salmon tends to make any Paleo-goer bang his or her utensils on the table in delight, but you should stay away from those fillets that are extra orange, which have been fed something while in captivity to make them look more appealing when served. Typical, I know. With only a few pitfalls to watch out for, fish and seafood can be a large portion of your diet while eating Paleo, and below is a list of many of the plentiful options of fish on the Paleo Diet Food List:
- Sardines (watch for added ingredients)
- Tuna (Steer clear if you’re watching out for Mercury)
- Bass (if you really want to)
- Sea Trout
As you can see, the acceptable fish and seafood list is pretty much inclusive of all varieties of scaled delicacies and, as a rule, if you can find it in water you can eat it. Just make sure that water isn’t closed off and subject to added chemicals such as many hatcheries and “farms” in which fish are raised for commercial sell. One notable point here is that you can’t really keep an eye out for “Organic” fish, and the most-natural type is usually considered to be labeled as “wild-caught.”
Paleo Diet Vegetables
There really isn’t much limitation in the types of vegetables you are allowed to eat while on the Paleo Diet and, again, the real key to success is to focus on the quality and history or the foods. As with the meats, you should try and eat organic as much as possible. Organic means several considerations were taken during the growing phase of a vegetable such as a lack of synthetic pesticides or use of GMO seeds. While most vegetables are allowed on the Paleo Diet a certain few aren’t frowned upon such as kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, peanuts, and other foods considered Legumes. The following vegetables are on the Paleo Diet Food List:
- Avocado (technically a fruit)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Green Beans**
- Sweet Potatoes*
- Bell Peppers (All Colors)
- Jalapeno Peppers
*Certain starchy vegetables such as potatoes should be eaten in moderation and recognized as very counter-productive for those dieters with weight loss as a primary goal of theirs.
**Legumes (beans) are largely viewed as being non-Paleo for several reasons. Green beans are viewed by many as being in a grey area between legume and non-legume, leading many to view it as an acceptable Paleo food.
There are a few curveballs in the vegetable kingdom, such as legumes and starchy vegetables like potatoes or squash. A good rule of thumb is that those vegetables that are suspect should only be consumed in very small portions. Legumes, a class of vegetables that are inclusive of most all beans such as peanuts, soy beans, and lentils is comprised of foods that are rich in Phytic acid. Phytic acid isn’t harmful necessarily, but it’s known to bind to the nutrients in other foods making them harder to adsorb. For an in depth-discussion regarding the considerations of legumes while on the Paleo Diet, I would recommend reading What’s Wrong With Beans and Legumes by PaleoLeap. Another commonly-overlooked aspect of vegetables are the oils made from them, which can often be sourced from non-Paleo foods. Soy and peanut oils are used quite often in the food industry, and while obtaining peanut oil is a fairly straight-forward process, dangerous chemicals such as hexane are often used to produce soybean oils.
Paleo Diet Fats & Oils
Contrary to long-held medical belief, a mountain of evidence has grown to support the fact that sugars, grains, and processed carbohydrates are responsible for increased risks of cardiovascular disease—not eggs, fats, or oils. While this core concept may be hard for many to get past, the facts speak for themselves and uphold a long held sentiment by many that avoidance of sugar and processed carbohydrates offers a natural life extension for most. When your body isn’t exposed to excess amounts of processed carbohydrates and refined sugars, which are typical to modern western diets, it functions as a fat-burning machine! The fats you eat are turned into energy by your cells, and excess fat is quickly burned up as well. So crack open some eggs and fry them up in some of these delicious oils, because these are all on the Paleo Diet Food List:
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Macadamia Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Rendered Fats from Organic Grass-Fed Animals
Paleo Diet Nuts & Seeds
While peanuts falling into the legume family, as well as being excluded from the Paleo Diet food list, many people assumed most other nuts are crossed off as well. Certainly not the case, the Paleo Diet is very nut friendly and you should feel free to eat most all nuts or seeds as you please! Of course, modern times allow for modern means; we are able to get access to much more quantities of these types of foods that the caveman would have every found laying around in natural circumstances. Feel free to slather on a generous proportion of almond butter onto you plate next to those apples, but just consider how many almonds it would take to make that amount. Then ask yourself; “how quickly could the caveman have picked and eaten this many nuts?” With that sentiment in mind, the following nuts and seeds are all found on the Paleo Diet Food List:
- Macadamia Nuts
- Pine Nuts
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
Note: Peanuts are NOT Paleo, and they are not technically considered a nut either—they’re considered a legume.
Paleo Diet Fruits
The Paleo Diet accommodates most-all fruits, but recommends you be very conscious of the amount of sugar you may be consuming. Natural sugars found in apples or strawberries are an infinitely-wiser choice than High Fructose Corn Syrup—but they’re still sugars! Sugar is know to exacerbate many health conditions such as fungal and yeast infections, bacterial infections as well as viral infections. If you are eating Paleo, you’ve eliminated so many processed carbohydrates and refined sugars that you are ahead of the curve. It’s still good practice to be aware of your total sugar intake, which will help to maintain your body’s natural balance more effectively. With those sentiments in mind, the following fruits are on the Paleo Diet Food List:
- Apples (Granny Smith have the Lowest Sugar)
- Avocado (technically a fruit)
- Bananas (Watch for the sugar)
Bananas and other starchier fruits can be great pick-me-ups for Paleo athletes, but can have an impact on weight if you are not burning a significant amount of calories. Also, they tend to be high in sugar, so you will need to pay close attention to how they affect you as an unique individual.
Herbs & Misc Foods
While all foods fit into a category, many like tomatoes, avacados, or garlic are less clear-cut in which category they fall. Additionally, herbs and spices would probably qualify as vegetables techically, but they certainly warrant some special mention. Again, pay close attention to how these foods are grown or processed; looking for the most-natural of practices to have been observed. Organic, Non-GMO, and Local if you can find it; these practices help to ensure your body exposed to as few toxins as possible. With that in mind, the following herbs & misc items are on the Paleo Diet Food List:
- Cayenne Pepper
- Sea Weed
- Bay Leaves
- Tapioca (often used as a Paleo flour substitute)
- Chill Peppers
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Curry Leaf
- Mustard Seed/Powder
- Aloe Vera
- Maple Syrup
- Fermented Foods
- Agave Syrup
The list of possible herbs and spices to use on your Paleo Diet dinners is exhaustive, and if you would like to view more specialty herbs I’d suggest checking out Mountain Rose Herbs which not only carries a large variety of herbs and spices, but also great essential oils and medicinal herbs as well!
Foods Not Allowed on The Paleo Diet
This section is at the bottom of the article in the hopes that your resolve is strong, and having already been reminded of all the delicious foods available to you on the Paleo Diet, perhaps a survey of those not won’t be quite as depressing. The foods that are advised to avoid on the Paleo Diet largely are associated with their cultivation methods and, in many cases, are excluded simply because humans haven’t been able to produce them until recently.
The domestication of animals, the hybridization of certain plant species and the biological engineering of others are all practices that were our of our ancestor’s technological grasp. While a pregnant cow might have given up some milk to a curious caveman on occasion, for the most part our Paleolithic lineage didn’t get much dairy in their daily diet. Other obvious “foods” such as artificial dyes, processed sugars, synthetic flavors, and other forms of industrial sludge were not even in existence during the majority of our biological evolution. These foods are explicitly restricted from the Paleo Diet, and shouldn’t be eaten on any diet for that matter. With these thoughts in mind the following foods and “foods” are NOT on the Paleo Diet Food List:
Again, more a product of availability, these types of food are thought to have only been largely available to us within recent times. While they shouldn’t be regarded as unhealthy, or harmful, or otherwise detrimental to your health; the following dairy products are not on the Paleo Diet Food List:
- Cottage Cheese
- Non-Fat Dairy Creamers
- Cream Cheese
- Powdered Milk
- Ice Cream
- Frozen Yogurt
The most notable food restrictions, other than modern synthetics and GMOs, are grains. Excluded for reasons of agricultural ability, modern hybridization, as well as their inflammatory nature within the body, grains are excluded are usually considered wholly-removed from the list of acceptable foods. While anything that can be considered a grain is excluded form the Paleo Diet Food List, you should double check all your labels for these:
- Breads (sourdough is considered Paleo-friendly by many)
- Breading on Most Fried Foods
- Quinoa (while technically a seed, this protein rich super food is allowed by some)
Legumes are a broadly-encompassing type of plant which includes most of the types of foods we consider beans. While inclusive of a great many type of edibles, the legume category is inclusive of many foods that compete for nutrients within your body, as well as tend to cause inflammatory responses within the gastrointestinal tract. While it may seem simple enough to just remove beans from your diet, our modern foods have found ways to sneek these IBS-antagonizing devils in where we least expect them; in the form of oils, emulsifiers, and thickening agents often listed in small fine print on the back of boxes. Soybean oil is used in many products as an emulsifying agent, as well as meat substitutes like tofu. Hummus dips are off the plate since they are comprised of garbanzo beans. Black bean burgers should be simple enough to pick up on, but hopefully you see where this is going—read the label of what you’re eating and know what to watch out for. With these thoughts in mind, the following foods are considered legumes and are NOT on the Paleo Diet Food List:
- Black Beans
- Garbanzo Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Great Northern Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Lima Beans
- Mung Beans
- Navy Beans
- Green Beans (viewed by many as being acceptable)
- Black-Eyed Peas
- Chick Peas
These types of foods are inclusive of anything that has artificial sweeteners, flavoring, or coloring as well as GMO foods, synthetic chemicals like MSG, or foods filled with processed extractives such as energy drinks. All candies are excluded and includes anything with refined sugars. The vast majority of what the average person eats throughout the day has not been available for consumption except within the last several decades. Twinkies, Fast Food, concentrated fruit juices, and garbage items such as High Fructose Corn Syrup are all products of the modern age of food technology. Removing this group of foods from your diet can sometimes be the hardest first step in those seeking to go paleo. With these thoughts in mind, the following items are NOT on the Paleo Diet Food List:
- Food Colorings
- Pop Tarts
- Nutter Butter Bars
- Fast Food
- French Fries
- Most Tobacco Products
This section is pretty bottomless, and you should be able to navigate through these items with little question. These are all found outside of the produce section, often have brightly-colored labels, and many ingredients which look like excerpts from an organic chemistry book. You should steer clear of these items no matter what, but especially if you are planning on staying on course with the Paleo Diet.
This one is understandably the hardest for many people to give up; the daily drink, the celebratory glass of wine, or maybe the weekend binge. While wines could pose an argument of being available to the caveman, beers and distilled liquors certainly didn’t make their way into our lives until relatively recently in our evolutionary lineage. Besides being an unnatural companion to our diets, most alcohols are either almost purely sugars (liquor) or largely carbohydrate and grain-based (beers). Wines are certainly a conceptual exception, but should be understood to contain very high levels of sugars and alcohols which get broken down into sugars by your body. It is highly-recommended to avoid all alcoholic beverages while on the Paleo Diet but if you must partake in some form of drink—wines and ciders would be the best choice.