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The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain (2002/2010): What to eat and foods to avoid

The Paleo Diet - book by Loren Cordain PhDThe Paleo Diet was first published in 2002, when low carb diets were popular, and reissued in 2010 because of its continued popularity. It’s a “diet for life,” not intended primarily as a fast weight-loss diet.

  • Eat unlimited non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins
  • Avoid dairy, cereal grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, salt, fatty meats, sugar, fruit juices, bad fats
  • 3 levels, progressively reducing the number of cheat meals

See below on this page for a description of the food recommendations in the diet. Summary  |  What to eat | What to limit | Transitional foods | Foods to avoid.  There’s a lot more in the book.

Get a copy of The Paleo Diet for information on Paleolithic eating habits, a discussion of the health benefits, menus, and recipes. Also see The Paleo Diet Cookbook for menus, treats and meals for athletes, and more recipes.

The reasoning behind The Paleo Diet

This book, like other primal/caveman/Paleolithic/Neolithic diets, argues that we should go back to the basics of what our ancestors ate tens of thousands of years ago, and that will help us get healthy and lose weight. We should eat foods closer to their original forms, including meats that aren’t fed grains in feedlots and made considerably fattier and higher in omega-6 than wild meats. Cereals (even whole grains), milk-based foods, and legumes were introduced only about 10,000 years ago, and our bodies aren’t adapted to them.

The Paleo Diet plan – food list

There are three levels of The Paleo Diet, with a progressively restrictive number of “open” meals. As you progress through these stages, the diet becomes more strict – it’s basically breaking you in to the diet, and allowing different levels of strictness. Fewer “open” meals – where you can eat some forbidden foods but not pig out on them – are allowed on each level. With 20 meals a week plus snacks, this means that every meal is 5% of your total for the week.

  • Level I – Entry level. 85-15 rule, 3 “open” meals a week out of the 20 meals most people eat. You may want to use some “transitional” condiments, such as low-fat salad dressings without large amounts of corn syrup or salt, and commercial sauces such as mustard, hot sauces, and prepared salsa (no ketchup). You can also have moderate amounts of coffee, beer, or wine, working towards cutting back on them as you become accustomed to the diet.
  • Level II – Maintenance level. 90-10 split, 2 “open” meals a week. Restrict or eliminate all the transitional foods. Many people do quite well at this level and find that there’s no need to move to the next level unless weight loss or health considerations are paramount.
  • Level III – Maximal weight loss level. 95-5 rule, 1 “open” meal a week. Restrict or eliminate all the transitional foods.

Do your best to follow the spirit of the diet; don’t eat certain Paleo foods or combinations excessively.

The foods listed below are taken from both The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Diet Cookbook.

What to eat | What to limit | Transitional foods | Foods to avoid (except “open” meals)

Paleo diet foods to eat – unlimited

  • Plate proportions
    • 50% of your daily calories should come from fruits and vegetables – for a net alkaline load. Eat fruits and vegetables with every meal, along with moderate amounts of nuts, avocados, seeds, and healthful oils
    • All the lean meats, fish, and seafood you can eat. Protein should make up 19-35% of calories. You should eat animal food at almost every meal, along with fruits and vegetables too
  • Vegetables
    • All the nonstarchy vegetables you can eat – for a large amount of fiber, plant phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
    • Artichoke, arugula, asparagus, avocado, beet greens, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, red cabbage, cactus strips/nopales, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chayote squash, collards, cucumber, dandelion greens, eggplant, endive, fennel, garlic, green onions, kale, kohlrabi, lamb’s lettuce, leeks, lettuce, mâche, mushrooms, mustard greens, onions, parsley, parsnip, peppers (all kinds), pumpkin, purslane, radish, rutabaga, scallions, seaweed, spinach, squash (all kinds), sunchokes, sweet potatoes (according to the cookbook but not the original book), swiss chard, tomatillos, tomatoes, turnip greens, turnips, watercress,  yams (according to the cookbook but not the original book), yellow squash, zucchini
    • The only banned vegetables are potatoes/very starchy tubers (listed under foods to avoid below – note sweet potatoes/yams are listed as foods to avoid in The Paleo Diet and okay to eat in the later Paleo Diet Cookbook – presumably this means they should be limited), legumes (including peas and green beans), and corn
  • Fruits
    • Fresh fruits
    • If you are very overweight or have insulin resistance, limit high-sugar fruits, but otherwise fruits are also unlimited
    • Fruits low in total sugars: blueberries, casaba melon, elderberries, fresh figs, grapefruit, guava, mamey apple, papaya, starfruit, strawberries
    • Fruits moderate in total sugars: apricot, blackberries, cantaloupe, sour cherries, honeydew melon, jackfruit, kiwi, nectarine, orange, peach, pear, plum, pomegranate, raspberries, tangerine, watermelon
    • Fruits high in total sugars: apple, banana, sweet cherries, grapes, mango, passion fruit, pineapple
    • For more information on fruit sugars, see http://thepaleodiet.com/fruits-and-sugars/
  • Cook meats and animal proteins simply, without too much added fat – broiling, baking, roasting, sautéing, or browning, then pouring off excess liquid fat, or stir-frying over high heat with a little olive oil
  • Lean meats (trimmed of visible fat):
    • Meat should preferably be pastured / range-fed. The words “natural beef” are no guarantee that the animal hasn’t been fattened with grains or pumped full of antibiotics. Pasture-produced meat has fat that is orange to dark yellow in color, whereas grain-produced meat has fat that appears white. See www.eatwild.com for sources.
    • Lean beef: flank steak, top sirloin steak, extra-lean hamburger (no more than 7% fat, extra fat drained off), filet mignon, London broil, chuck steak, lean veal, any other lean cut
    • Lean pork: pork loin, pork chops, any other lean cut. Pork should be naturally grown
    • Other meats: lamb (grass-fed, free-range), rabbit meat (any cut), goat meat (any cut), escargots
    • Organ meats: beef, lamb, or pork – livers, heart, tongues, bone marrows, sweetbreads
  • Lean poultry (white meat, skin removed):
    • Poultry should preferably be free-range
    • Chicken breast, chicken liver
    • Turkey breast
    • Game hen breast
  • Game
    • Game is mostly raised in free-range conditions
    • Game meat: alligator/crocodile, bear, bison/buffalo, caribou, elk, frog’s legs, kangaroo, New Zealand cervena deer, rattlesnake, reindeer, squirrel, turtle, venison, wild boar
    • Game birds: emu, goose, Muscovy duck, ostrich, pheasant, quail, squab, wild turkey
  • Fish
    • Any commercially available fish from clean unpolluted waters, except long-lived predatory fish that tend to accumulate more mercury
    • If you have a choice, always choose fresh or frozen fish over canned fish. If you do eat canned tuna, try to find brands that are packed in water only (no salt) or in more healthful oils such as olive oil
    • Anchovies, bass, bluefish, branzino, carp, catfish, Chilean sea bass, cod, croaker, drum, eel, flatfish, flounder, grouper, haddock, halibut, herring, mackerel, monkfish, mullet, northern pike, orange roughy, perch, pike, pollock, pompano, red snapper, rockfish, salmon, sardines, scrod, smelt, snapper, sole, striped bass, sturgeon, sunfish, tilapia, trout, turbot, walleye (note – see “limit” list of fish below)
  • Shellfish
    • Abalone, clams, crab, crayfish, lobster, mussels, octopus, oysters, scallops, shrimp, squid/calamari
  • Beverages
    • Water
    • There are no guidelines on tea or herbal teas, although herbal teas are included in recipes
  • Condiments and pantry
    • Low-salt spices – e.g. allspice, anise, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne pepper, celery seeds, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin, curry powder, fennel seeds, garam masala, garlic powder, ginger, lemon juice, lime juice, lemon crystals, lemon pepper, mace, nutmeg, powdered onion, paprika, black pepper, salt-free spice mixes, turmeric. (Avoid lite salts or potassium chloride salts)
    • Herbs – e.g. basil, bay leaf, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
    • Pimentos (no salt)
    • Natural vanilla extract, almond extract

Paleo Diet foods to eat in limited amounts / with moderation

These foods are allowed in moderation for all meals.

  • Eggs
    • Eggs should preferably be enriched with omega 3
    • Limit to 6-12 a week, or one a day – mixed guidance
    • When you have the choice, avoid fried eggs
    • Chicken eggs, duck eggs, goose eggs
    • Powdered egg whites
  • Fish – predatory and farmed
    • Eat big, long-lived predatory fish sparingly as they tend to accumulate more mercury – swordfish, shark, tuna
    • Decide for yourself whether to eat farmed fish – usually salmon, trout, catfish, tilapia, carp, eels, shrimp, and crayfish are produced in closed waters and ponds and fed soy- and cereal-based diets
  • Fruits – high-sugar
    • Dried fruit – no more than 2 ounces a day, particularly if you are trying to lose weight. Dried apricots, currants, dates, dried figs, dried mango, dried papaya, dried pears, dried peaches, prunes, raisins
    • High-sugar fruits are limited for people who are severely overweight, obese, or have symptoms of metabolic syndrome – apple, banana, sweet cherries, grapes, mango, passion fruit, pineapple. For more information on fruit sugars, see http://thepaleodiet.com/fruits-and-sugars/
  • Nuts and seeds
    • No more than 4 ounces a day, particularly if you are trying to lose weight. Once your metabolism has increased and you’ve reached your desired weight, you can eat more nuts, particularly walnuts, which have a favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio
    • Try to buy raw, unsalted nuts
    • All nuts and seeds except peanuts, which are legumes
    • Avoid nuts if you have allergies. Pine nuts can be particularly troublesome for some people
    • Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, coconut, hazelnuts/filberts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios (unsalted), walnuts
    • Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
    • Nut flours
    • Nut butters
    • Coconut milk
  • Oils
    • Use in moderation – 4 tablespoons or less a day when weight loss is of primary importance
    • Avocado oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, macadamia oil, olive oil (choose extra-virgin if you can), walnut oil
  • Meat (and presumably poultry) – farm-raised
    • Farm-raised meats, fed on cereals and high in omega-6s
  • Canned foods
    • Limit these because of the effects of the processing
    • Make sure they don’t have added salts
  • High heat-cooked foods
    • E.g. griddle-cooked


To fuel your muscles for long runs, swims, bicycle rides, and other hard workouts, you will need to eat concentrated carbohydrate sources to refuel muscle glycogen, particularly before and after workouts. Use yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, dried fruit, fruit juices, and very-high-sugar fresh fruits and high-sugar fresh fruits

Transitional foods

Transitional beverages and condiments may be used in Level 1 and cut back in Level 2 and Level 3.

  • Transitional beverages
    • Drink these in moderation, working toward cutting back on them as you become accustomed to the Paleo Diet
    • Coffee, tea
    • Wine – two 4-ounce glasses, presumably per day; don’t buy “cooking wine,” which is loaded with salt
    • Beer – one 12-ounce serving, presumably per day
    • Spirits – 4 ounces, presumably per day
    • Alcohol note – if you don’t already drink alcohol, don’t start. If you have an autoimmune disease, you should avoid alcoholic beverages and other yeast-containing foods
    • Diet sodas (these often contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharine, which may be harmful; you’re better off drinking bottled and mineral waters)
  • Transitional condiments
    • Use these in Level 1 and try to reduce or eliminate them
    • Low-fat salad dressings – use in moderation; stay away from brands that contain large amounts of corn syrup or salt
    • Commercial sauces – mustard, hot sauces, prepared salsa (avoid ketchup)

Paleo Diet foods to avoid

These foods are allowed in moderation in the “open” meals at each level of the diet, but should be completely avoided in the other meals each week.

  • Dairy foods
    • Butter, cheese, cream, dairy spreads, ice cream, milk (whole, low-fat, or skim), powdered milk, nonfat dairy creamer, powdered milk, yogurt, frozen yogurt
    • All processed foods made with any dairy products
  • Cereal grains
    • Barley (barley soup, barley bread)
    • Corn (corn on the cob, corn tortillas, corn chips, cornstarch, corn syrup)
    • Millet
    • Oats (steel-cut oats, rolled oats)
    • Rice (brown rice, white rice, ramen, rice noodles, basmati rice, rice cakes, rice flour)
    • Wild rice
    • Rye (rye bread, rye crackers)
    • Sorghum
    • Wheat (bread, rolls, muffins, noodles, crackers, cookies, cake, doughnuts, pancakes, waffles, pasta, spaghetti, lasagna, wheat tortillas, pizza, pita bread, flat bread)
    • All processed foods made with these grains
  • Cereal-grainlike seeds
    • Amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa
  • Legumes
    • All beans – e.g. adzuki beans, black beans, broad beans, fava beans, field beans, garbanzo beans, horse beans, kidney beans, lima beans, mung beans, navy beans, pinto beans, red beans, string beans, white beans
    • Black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils
    • Peas, snow peas, sugar snap peas
    • Peanuts and peanut butter
    • Soybeans and all soybean products including tofu, miso
  • Starchy vegetables
    • Starchy tubers, cassava root, manioc, sweet potatoes, tapioca pudding, yams. Note that sweet potatoes/yams are listed as foods to avoid in The Paleo Diet and okay to eat in the later Paleo Diet Cookbook
    • Potatoes and all potato products (French fries, potato chips, etc)
  • Salt-containing foods
    • Almost all commercial salad dressings and condiments
    • Bacon, deli meats, frankfurters, ham, hot dogs, pork rinds, processed meats, salami, sausages, smoked dried and salted fish and meat, virtually all canned meats and fish (unless they are unsalted or unless you soak and drain them)
    • Cheese
    • Ketchup, salted spices
    • Olives, pickled foods
    • Salted nuts
    • Lite salts and potassium chloride salts
  • Fatty meats
    • Meats with over 50% of the calories coming from fat and less than 50% from protein
    • Chicken and turkey legs, chicken and turkey skin, chicken and turkey thighs and wings
    • Beef ribs, fatty beef roasts, T-bone steaks, fatty cuts of beef, fatty ground beef, fatty lamb chops, fatty leg of lamb, ratty lamb roasts, fatty pork chops, pork ribs, fatty pork roasts
    • Bacon, bacon bits, bologna, breakfast sausage, deli meats, pepperoni, pork sausage, salami, spam
    • Note that organ meats are acceptable because of the fat type
  • Fish from polluted waters
    • Polluted freshwater fish taken from lakes and rivers – particularly the Great Lakes and other polluted, industrialized areas
  • Soft drinks and fruit juices
    • All sugary soft drinks
    • Fruit juices and fruit drinks – canned, bottled, or freshly squeezed
  • Sweets
    • Candy
    • Sugars including honey, maple sugar, date sugar
  • Fats
    • Mustard seed and canola oils (allowed in the original edition)
    • Corn oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil
    • Palm oil, peanut oil, sesame oil
    • Butter, margarine, shortening, lard
    • Trans fats
  • Condiments and pantry
    • Vinegar
  • Processed foods
    • Including breads, cookies, cakes, crackers, chips, doughnuts, muffins, cereals, candies
    • Fast food
  • Individual problem foods
    • Foods you’re allergic to or intolerant of. E.g. some people, particularly if they are suffering from an autoimmune disease, should stay away from spices made form chili peppers (cayenne pepper and paprika), as capsaicin may increase intestinal permeability
  • Do not eat deep-fat fried foods

Health benefits claimed in The Paleo Diet

The diet in this book claims to reduce the risks for: acne, alcoholism, appendicitis, asthma, autoimmune diseases, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancers, stomach cancer, constipation, Crohn’s disease, dental cavities, type 1 diabetes type 2 diabetes, diverticular disease of the colon, duodenal ulcers, dyslipidemia, gallstones, gingivitis, hiatal hernia, high blood pressure, heartburn, heart disease, hemorrhoids, indigestion, inflammatory diseases, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), kidney stones, Ménière’s syndrome, motion sickness, multiple sclerosis (MS), myopia/shortsightedness, osteoporosis, overweight/obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, stroke, ulcerative colitis, varicose veins, vitamin-deficiency diseases

As always, this is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical diagnosis or treatment for a medical condition. Consult your doctor before starting a new diet. This page describes what the authors of the diet recommend – Chewfo is describing the diet only, not endorsing it.

Get a copy of The Paleo Diet for information on Paleolithic eating habits, a discussion of the health benefits, menus, and recipes. Also see The Paleo Diet Cookbook for menus, treats and meals for athletes, and more recipes.
Buy now from Amazon
Also see http://thepaleodiet.com/

How has this diet helped you? Please add a comment or question below.

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Nina Fritz October 27, 2013, 8:27 am

    I have been on the Paleo diet four days and it has eliminated my chronic head ache problem.

    • Penny Hammond October 27, 2013, 8:48 am


  • Uh Huuuuuhhhh May 18, 2014, 3:26 pm

    So our ancient ancestors only ate lean meat, huh? No chicken legs? The cave men cooked up a bird and then threw away the legs because they were watching their figures? Dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

    • Penny Hammond May 18, 2014, 3:51 pm

      There are a number of newer Paleo books that don’t suggest lean meats – many argue that our paleo ancestors preferred fatty meats, especially organ meats.

  • Angie July 29, 2014, 2:45 am

    *Great website, bravo, thank you so much for doing this! And please don’t pay attention to the idiots who clearly don’t get it. I’ve done this food plan and I’m starting again. Excited to do so with this awesome guide!!

  • Julie Hurd May 24, 2017, 10:23 pm

    I have been following Paleo for awhile, perhaps not faithfully. I am now doing the Ketogenic diet for 30 days. From not eating cheese for so long, it’s been sort of nice to eat cheese. I often wonder how it’s going to affect me after 30 days of returning back to Paleo. What I have a problem with is cookbooks that claim Paleo; then the recipes call for things I know that are not allowed. So it causes confusion. I am so glad I found this way of eating. I have learned so much about food. I feel so good when I follow it to the tee. Thank you for this informative article.

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