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What is the Paleo diet? Foods to eat and avoid, rules to follow

The high-protein, high-fiber eating plan is sometimes also called the "caveman" diet.
/ Source: NBC News

The quest for health and weight loss has led many people to a diet that some believe our ancestors followed, but not everyone is a fan.

What is the Paleo diet?

It’s been sometimes called the “caveman” diet because it’s supposed to mimic the eating style of humans who lived in the Paleolithic era — hunter-gatherers who likely ate lots of protein because of their high consumption of meat and other animal products, and plenty of fiber from non-starchy vegetables and lower-carb fruits. The diet also emphasizes a lower carbohydrate and salt intake.

What can you eat on the Paleo diet?

The eating plan is big on lean, grass-fed meats, wild fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs and certain fruits. It also encourages monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocado and olive oil.

What can you not eat on the Paleo diet?

Cereal grains (including wheat, rye, oats and rice), dairy, potatoes, legumes (including beans and peanuts), refined sugar, processed foods and refined vegetable oils.

This eating plan cuts out whole grains, though there’s some evidence the real “paleo diet” of humans who lived thousands of years ago might have included bread.

Why is Paleo bad for you?

Some experts believe a strict Paleo diet lacks nutritional balance, falling short in essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. Critics say eliminating entire food groups like grains and dairy is problematic.

“My biggest issue is [that it] excludes things like beans that have well-established health benefits like fiber,” Marisa Moore, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, told NBC News.

Many people also find it too restrictive, which can make it hard to stick with long term.

There's no scientific evidence that the Paleo diet helps prevent disease.

Does the Paleo diet work?

The Paleo diet ranked “poorly” in U.S. News & World Report 2019 Best Diets, coming in at No. 33 out of 41 eating plans. It was considered "extremely difficult" to follow, "minimally effective” when it came to heart health and lacked any good research to show that it could lead to sustainable, long-term weight loss, the magazine’s experts said.