What Is the Paleo Diet? Here's What You Need to Know

In a nutshell, the Paleo diet includes anything that pre-agricultural societies would eat and forbids anything they wouldn’t. Essentially, the Paleo diet mirrors a hunter-gatherer diet, or, as Ferris Jabr of the Scientific American describes, “Proponents of the Paleo diet follow a nutritional plan based on the eating habits of our ancestors in the Paleolithic period, between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago.”

Since that time, human beings have figured out how to raise livestock, plant and harvest crops, cultivate grains, and produce dairy products. As noted in Richard Manning’s Against the Grain, this signified many cultural shifts, but the most significant changes following the agricultural revolution were to our diet. People started to consume far more sugar and grains, he says, leading to higher instances of tooth decay and obesity, among other health concerns. By contrast, the Paleo diet focuses on foods our non-farming forebears would have consumed, such as grass-fed meats, nuts, natural oils, and forageable fruits and veggies.

There are a number of factors that make the Paleo diet so appealing. While many diets rely on rigorous rule systems and by-the-books calorie counting, the Paleo diet instead sets a clear range for what is and isn’t on the menu. A number of celebrities have at one time or another signed off on the food trend, from Gwyneth Paltrow to Matthew McConaughey and even a post-vegetarianism Megan Fox.

Overall, the most notable critique of the Paleo diet is that what was good for our ancestors might not necessarily be what’s good for us. Indeed, a lot can happen in 10,000 years, but it’s worth noting that the Paleo diet still enjoys a high degree of success in enabling people to reach their health and fitness goals.

If you’re considering giving the Paleo diet a try, the quick and dirty rule is to cut out sugar, grains, and processed food. For a more complex approach, the official Paleo diet site provides a comprehensive resource, and we recommend checking out Diane Sanfilippo’s Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle as well as consulting with your personal doctor to ensure a change in diet is right for you.

Up next, discover four sugar detox recipes to help you get on track with your health goals.