Also known as the Caveman diet or the Paleolithic diet, the Paleo diet works by only allowing foods that were available in the Stone Ages. But don't worry, you are allowed to cook it all using modern technology!
The Paleo diet is about changing your lifestyle and eating habits to facilitate weight loss. With a delicious array of recipes and a simple set of principles, you can say goodbye to extreme diets for good.
What is the Paleo diet?
The diet excludes any foods with modern toxins, limiting you to ingredients you could literally hunt and gather (if the mood took you). The theory behind it is that our bodies haven’t really changed since the Stone Ages and we aren’t designed to cope with a modern diet, which is why there is an obesity epidemic across the world.
Dr Loren Cordain is a big supporter of the Paleo diet and believes that processed and artificial foods have had a terrible effect on our health.
His book, The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy By Eating The Food You Were Designed To Eat is a highly rated book on the subject on Amazon and it breaks down how you can incorporate caveman eating rituals into everyday life.
Skip straight to our Paleo diet recipes
Who is the Paleo diet good for?
It has been reported that people on the Paleo diet feel less tired so this could be a good one to try if you suffer from low energy levels.
It’s also a steady, long-term diet so ideal if you’re after a lifestyle change, rather than a quick, extreme diet.
Lots of celebs, such as Uma Thurman, Jessica Biel and Gwyneth Paltrow, swear by the Paleo lifestyle, and there’s good news if you like meat… You can eat as much steak as you like!
What does a typical Paleo day look like?
Due to its strict nature, the Paleo diet encourages a gradual adjustment, so a typical day shifts as time goes on. To make the transition easier, Dr Cordain has developed 3 stages to help the body adjust, giving you an idea of how your days might look.
Stage 1 – Entry level
Dr Cordain explains that on average we eat 20 meals a week, so to start the Paleo diet he suggests leaving 3 of the meals ‘open’. In other words, you can eat what you like. The open meals, he says, provide a good opportunity to taste some of the foods you may miss the most. This also helps the body adjust to the gradual removal of major food groups.
Also, during this stage you may still have salad dressings, sauces, coffee, alcohol and sugar-free soft drinks. Start using them in moderation to assist with the transition.
Stay on this stage until you feel comfortable with the adjustments and then move on.
Stage 2 – Maintenance level
For the second stage the ‘open’ meals are reduced to 2 per week. At this level you should restrict all transitional foods to these 2 meals.
Stage 3 – Maximum Weight loss Level
This stage leaves only 1 ‘open’ meal per week. Dr Cordain says: ‘This is the highest level, designed for true Paleo diet aficionados who wants to maximize health and wellbeing, or for individuals suffering from true obesity or high levels of chronic disease who need to maximize the therapeutic effects of the diet.’
Once you know what you can and can’t eat on a Paleo diet you can make your own meals. Below, Dr Cordain has given an example of what a full day of meals might look like on the Paleo diet.
Typical Paleo diet meal plan
Steak with peach salsa
You will need:
- 1 cup fresh peaches, peeled and finely chopped
- 1⁄4 cup red onions, chopped
- 1⁄4 cup yellow or green peppers, chopped
- 1tsp lime juice
- 2tsp fresh cilantro
- Cayenne pepper to taste
- 2 beef steaks
In a medium-sized bowl, stir all ingredients together. Cover and chill for up to 6 hours.
Heat your griddle pan and cook the steak to your liking. Serve with the salad.
Shrimp stuffed avocado
You will need:
- 4 large avocados, peeled and halved, seeds removed
- 11⁄2 cup small salad shrimp, cooked and washed
- 1tsp lemon juice
- 1tsp onion powder
- 1tsp black pepper
- 1tsp paprika
Set avocados on serving plate with cut side facing up. Combine shrimp, lemon juice, onion powder, and pepper in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Spoon shrimp mixture onto each avocado, covering generously. Sprinkle top of each stuffed avocado with paprika before serving.
Boiled tenderloin of pork with a spicy rub
You will need:
- 1 minced garlic clove
- 1tsp paprika
- 1tsp dry mustard
- 1tsp ground coriander
- 1tsp canola oil
- 1tsp flaxseed oil
- 1tsp red wine
- 1lb very lean pork tenderloin, trimmed of all visible fat and cut butterflied down the middle
Mix garlic and dry spices with a mortar and pestle. Add in the oils and wine to make a paste. Rub the paste on the butterflied pork one hour before broiling. Broil pork 2 to 3 inches from heat source for about 6 minutes per side or until it is cooked to desired condition.
Fresh fruit, homemade beef jerky, raw vegetables, nuts, sunflower seeds, avocado or tomato slices, cold slices of beef or chicken.
Paleo food list:
Here is a quick reference guide that outlines the foods you can and cannot eat while on the Paleo diet. It will soon become second nature but for now, have a scan at the list and assess if the diet is for you.
Ingredients you can eat:
- Fresh fruit – all non-dried fruit
- Fresh veggies – all non-starchy veg
- Fish and seafood – any commercially available fish: bass, cod, salmon, tuna, trout etc
- Grass-fed meat – beef and pork trimmed of visible fat, but nothing processed
- Game-fed meat – goose, wild boar, wild turkey, pheasant, quail etc
- Lean poultry – chicken or turkey breasts, skin removed
- Eggs – limited to 6 a week
- Nuts – no salted nuts
- Healthy oils (use in moderation – less than 4tbsp a day) – think olive, flaxseed and coconut
Ingredients to avoid:
- Processed foods (Sweets, crisps and other processed food)
- Refined vegetable oils
- Dairy – all processed foods made with any dairy products including butter, cheese, cream, yogurt and milk
- Fatty meats – bacon, ribs, chicken legs/thighs/wings/skin, pork/lamb chops, etc
- Cereal grains – barley, corn, oats, rice, rye, wheat, etc
- Legumes – beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils, peanuts, soybean products etc
- Refined sugar and honey
- Starchy veg – potatoes and all potato products, cassava root, tapioca pudding, yams
- Overly salty food – salad dressings, condiments, ham, olives, processed meats, sausages, smoked/dried/salted meat, canned meats and fish, chips, pickled foods
- Fruit juice
- Soft drinks
What are the pros of the Paleo diet?
Most people who have followed a Paleo diet have reported weight loss – so that’s the obvious pro. Aside from maintained weight loss it’s also good for people with a big appetite because there’s no calorie counting or portion-size restriction.
With its restrictions, it cuts out additives, preservatives, or chemicals so would be perfect if you’re concerned about these in your diet too.
What are the cons of the Paleo diet?
The Paleo diet is quite an extreme eating plan to follow and there are a few drawbacks you should consider before starting on it.
It is very restrictive and some people find the rules difficult, or even impossible, to stick to. The food could also become boring without any of your familiar treats allowed.
The diet eliminates some vegetables, so if you’re a picky eater it could be tricky to find healthy, nutritious options that you still enjoy eating. Plus, by excluding various different types of food, some claim the diet is very low in nutrients like calcium and dietary fibre.
Sad news for vegetarians, this one isn’t for you. Vegetarians and vegans cannot follow the Paleo diet as protein is gained through meat and maintaining a healthy and balanced diet on fruits and veggies alone would be tricky.
Some critics of this weight loss method think that the diet contains too much meat, which they say isn’t good for you.
Whether you want some Paleo breakfast inspo, or dinners including beef mince, chicken breast and prawns we’ve rounded up some tasty options. Where the original recipe included non-Paleo ingredients we’ve listed some alternatives and instructions.
Once you’re in the full swing of the Paleo lifestyle you’ll be able to browse our full selection of healthy recipes and make the substitutions for yourself.
Griddled asparagus, sweet potato and poached egg
Ideal as a Paleo breakfast, brunch or light lunch, this delicious combo will certainly become a favourite. Instead of a salad dressing, finish with a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a little salt and pepper.
Get the recipe: Griddled asparagus, sweet potato and poached egg
Pan-fried salmon fillet
Serve this salmon with a simple green salad with tomatoes for a quick light meal option. You could also try it with steamed broccoli or roasted vegetables. Just remember to go easy on the quantity of oil you use.
Get the recipe: Pan-fried salmon fillet
Spiced cottage pie with sweet potato topping
To make this recipe suitable for Paleo you’ll need to ditch the Lea and Perrins, King Edward potatoes and butter. Just use more sweet potatoes and a dash of coconut milk instead of butter. It’s best to make your own coconut milk or ensure the one you buy is as natural as possible. It’s also best to make your own beef bone broth but you can buy paleo specific stock cubes.
Get the recipe: Spiced cottage pie with sweet potato topping
Warm broccoli and chicken salad
Swap the sunflower oil for olive oil and skip the crusty bread to serve and this is a delicious Paleo lunch or dinner option.
Get the recipe: Warm broccoli and chicken salad
Cauliflower and broccoli steaks with Peri Peri sauce
Cook these as a main with a side salad or to accompany a grilled steak, chicken breast or fillet of fish. They are delicious on the barbecue but can also be cooked on a griddle pan or under a hot grill. The Peri Peri sauce makes a great dip too.
Get the recipe: Cauliflower and broccoli steaks with Peri Peri sauce
Salmon, egg and asparagus salad
Unfortunately, you can’t have the salad dressing in this recipe if you’re on the Paleo diet. However, if you cook the eggs so that they are soft boiled, the yolk will double up as a delicious sauce to bind it all together.
Get the recipe: Salmon, egg and asparagus salad
Traditionally the Paleo diet removes all dairy but in recent years some have made allowances for cheeses like Parmesan and goat’s cheese. If you’re happy to bend the rules a little this pesto recipe will help fill the pasta-shaped hole in your life. Simply swap the pasta for courgetti You’ll need to replace the pasta with courgette noodles, but this is a great dinner option if you previously adored spaghetti!
Get the recipe: Kale pesto
Spring chicken traybake with green vegetables
This recipe works really well with chicken thighs but could be cooked with chicken breast if you prefer. Some Paleo blogs suggest removing the chicken skin, but others say it’s a natural source of fat that needn’t be wasted. Instead of serving with new potatoes we’d suggest upping the broccoli content or serving with a salad.
Get the recipe: Spring chicken traybake with green vegetables
Sweet potato and tomato soup
Once again it is best to make your own vegetable stock rather than shopbought cubes that often contain lots of additives and preservatives. This hearty recipe is perfect for cooler nights and is so easy to make ahead. Make a big batch and freeze for a rainy day if you like!
Get the recipe: Sweet potato and tomato soup
Go back to the basics with this simple tomato soup. It’s a brilliant recipe for using up any tomatoes that are a little soft. If you see a glut of them reduced at the supermarket, now you know how to save them from being wasted!
Get the recipe: Tomato soup
If you swap the sunflower oil for olive and omit the flour this recipe is perfectly okay for the Paleo diet. It’s cheap, quick and easy and brilliant for batch cooking and freezing. Try serving it on a jacket sweet potato, cauli rice or courgetti. To thicken the sauce without flour just simmer over a low heat for a longer time and the sauce will reduce and intensify.
Get the recipe: Basic mince
Sweet potato toast
While bread isn’t allowed on the Paleo diet, slices your sweet potatoes into ‘toast’ may help fill your craving. You’ll need to top it with compatible toppings such as our kale pesto. Once again, some purists won’t allow honey but others enjoy it as an occasional treat. If you do allow honey, try it with some berries on the sweet potato toast.
Get the recipe: Sweet potato toast
Paleo diet cookbooks
We’ve rounded up a selection of highly-rated Paleo diet cookbooks which promise to offer more recipe inspiration and guidance on how to follow the Paleo lifestyle.
The Paleo 30-Day Challenge: A Paleo Cookbook to Lose Weight and Reboot Your Health
Several reviews confirm impressive weight loss results and say the recipes are quick, easy but taste great too. Be prepared to shop around for some unusual ingredients but once you’re stocked up, your transition to a Paleo lifestyle should be relatively stress.
Clean Paleo Family Cookbook: 100 Delicious Squeaky Clean Paleo and Keto Recipes to Please Everyone at the Table
Want recipes the whole family will be excited to tuck into? This book is here to help! With recipes like Taco salad and Double chocolate brownies and a strong five star rating, we’re certain you’ll find plenty of inspiration here.
Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great
For those looking for recipes that pay homage to your life pre-Paleo, this cookbook is sure to help. Danielle is a self-taught chef and understands craving for things like bread and waffles. In her book, you’ll find useful recipes for treats including banana bread and cupcakes as well as homemade granola.
Danielle Walker’s Eat What You Love: Everyday Comfort Food You Crave; Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes
Another book from the best-selling author but this time with a comfort food angle. This cookbook is ideal when you need something wholesome during winter months and you’ve come to a dead-end with ideas. Danielle has done all the thinking for you and has Paleo twists on classic options such as chicken pot pie.
The Paleo Diet Cookbook: More Than 150 Recipes for Paleo Breakfasts, Lunches, Dinners, Snacks, and Beverages
Dr C book makes it easy to plan your weekly menu with plenty of variation so that you don’t get bored or stressed! Reviewers say the book is informative and the recipes taste great, with several boasting impressive weight loss results.