Paleo noobs constantly ask for a comprehensive list of what they should and shouldn’t eat and it’s not always as easy as saying “meat, seafood, eggs, veggies, fruit, fat and nuts…” I decided to make that list of do’s and don’t's if you want to eat strict paleo. I tried to include foods that are widely available in most parts of the USA, please let me know if there’s anything I should add to the list.
Paleo as I see it…
Meat – Grass fed/Pastured (farmers market) is ideal. Grainfed (supermarket) meat is ok but eat grassfed when affordable. Don’t be scared of dark meat and fatty cuts. Over-achievers eat organ meats once or twice a week, grassfed liver = superfood.
Beef – Pastured, grass-fed/finished cows are the best source. Real farmers raise their animals on the foods they were meant to eat so they don’t need antibiotics or hormones. For cows that’s fields full of grass, weeds and herbs. The corn/soy/wheat fed supermarket beef is definitely inferior but favorable to no beef at all. All cuts are good, eat head to tail.
Bison/Buffalo - More often than not grass-fed and pastured raised since there are not many Buffalo farms. Good choice but pricey.
Chicken - Chickens evolved to eat insects, plant and animal scraps and run around outside a lot. Supermarket chickens do not have that quality of life but you have to eat what you can afford. The dark meat is the good stuff.
Lamb - Seem to be fairly naturally raised, good to go.
Pork - Pastured, scrap fed, happy hogs. Or the buy 2 get 3 free supermarket packs of bacon if money is tight. I don’t see any harm in eating up to a few pounds of bacon a week (and I have) especially of the farmers market variety. Fatty pork is good pork.
Turkey - Just like chickens, pretty tough to find naturally raised birds in some places.
Venison – Two-words. Jer key.
Eggs - extremely nutritious, especially from properly pastured chickens. Remember, dietary cholesterol has never been linked to any type of disease and is seen by many as an essential nutrient in the human diet.
Chickens should eat insects, grass and food scraps, not soy and other grains.
Seafood – Wild caught is preferable to Atlantic caught or farmed seafood.
Clams/Mussels/Snails - Steamed, fried in pastured butter, grilled…
Crab - Expensive but full of good nutrients, eat whenever you get the chance.
Lobster - See Crab.
Octopus/Calamari - See Oysters.
Oysters - See Lobster.
Salmon - Wild caught > farmed. Always and for every type of seafood. Salmon is all the good kind of fatty and delicious.
Sardines - Cheap, good source of Omega-3′s and much needed minerals.
Scallops - Packed with protein, not much fat but just cook in some good pastured butter or eat raw in a ceviche. Mmm.
Shrimp - Wild caught > farmed. Don’t worry about the cholesterol content. Seeing a trend yet?
Trout/Bass/Catfish/Tilapia - Catch it and cook it yourself. Or buy it stuffed with crab meat at the store. Either way, you win.
Tuna - Stick to a few cans or less a week, the worries about mercury and BPA are warranted according to the research.
Vegetables – Frozen veggies are convenient and possibly more nutritious than fresh. Eat lots of veggies. Cook with colors.
Artichokes - Delicious and nutritious.
Asparagus - Asparagus + Butter + Pepper + Salt + Oven = Heaven. I love roasted asparagus.
Brussel Sprouts - Cruciferous veggies are always a good choice. Slice and roast under the broiler with bacon fat.
Cabbage - Super cheap and homemade sauerkraut is a very important prebiotic for feeding all those hungry beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Carrots - Root vegetables tend to be pretty awesome, the more colorful, the better.
Celery - Not a superfood but is packed with water and makes for a great snack. I get most of my celery in the form of chili and sautees.
Cucumbers/Pickles - Bonus points if your source is a garden in your neighborhood, very easy to grow outside.
Eggplant - Also a nightshade, like peppers, problematic for people with digestion issues and allergies but just fine most of the time.
Garlic - Antiviral, Antibiotic, should be in bed with pastured butter for just about every meal (if I had my way…)
Ginger - Amazing once you learn how to use it, anecdotally proven to be great for upset stomachs and bowel issues. Ginger works well with meat, wink wink.
Greens - Collard, Mustard, Kale or any other type - Sautee in lots of healthy fat or bake slower and make chips. Kale chips are the bomb.
Lettuce - Tupperware + Lettuce + Veggies + Protein = Lunch. Use a healthy oil and raw apple cider vinegar as a dressing for bonus points.
Olives - We know the oil made from them is fairly healthy as long as it’s not overcooked and we know it’s best to get nutrients from the whole food. Go olives.
Onions - Possibly anti-carcinogenic, good for beneficial bacteria, heart-healthy, cheap and delicious.
Peppers - A member of the nightshade family, have been problematic for people with autoimmune issues (achey joints, IBS) but have also been shown to be good for the cardiovascular system.
Pumpkin - Save the almond crusted pumpkin pie for holidays but have at pumpkin all year round.
Radishes - Tasty addition to salad. Root vegetables as a whole seem to be pretty awesome.
Seaweed - Interesting source of iodine, could be useful for thyroid problems. Go out to sushi as much as possible, just bring your own coconut aminos. You’ll never need soy sauce again.
Spinach - Fresh, frozen, in salads, in smoothies, in omeletes, in stews. Spinach is full of goodies and should be a frequent passenger in your shopping cart.
Squash - Spaghetti squash for a pasta substitute, all squash is nutritious and fair game.
Sweet Potatoes - Cheap, super nutritious, versatile. I should buy stock in sweet taters. Great for post-workout meals. Very safe source of good carbohydrate should be a staple in the diet of any type of athlete.
White Potatoes - Stick to sweet potatoes if you’re trying to lose weight. If you’re fairly active, white potatoes are a good source of glucose to refuel glycogen stores.
Zucchini - Very versatile, good to go.
Fruit – Berries are your best bet, the fruits higher in fructose like melon might cause problems in some people. Limit fruit intake if weight loss is your goal. Like veggies, frozen fruits are usually very nutritious.
Apples - The apple a day adage looks to hold true. As with most fruits and veggies, they taste great fried in coconut oil.
Apricots/Peaches/Nectarines - Sugary but still good for you. Peaches fried in coconut oil…nuff said.
Avocado - Full of good fiber and healthy fat, make lots of fresh guacamole and other avocado snacks.
Bananas - Fairly sugary, eat in moderation if weight loss is a goal.
Berries (Straw, Blue, Cran, Black, Rasp, etc.) - Make for an amazing snack when mixed in a bowl with full fat coconut milk. Buy the frozen gigantaur packs from Costco for a good deal and plentiful supply. Eat frequently.
Cherries - Supposedly good for boosting moods by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Dark cherries on a hot summer day = winning.
Citrus (Lemons, Limes, Oranges, Grapefruit) - Great acid source for dressings, marinades and ceviches. Possibly a powerful digestion aid and great with some carbonated water and tequila (thank you Robb Wolf.)
Coconut - From what I can tell, with the few people that are unfortunate enough to be allergic to it, humans thrive when using coconut for everything from a dietary staple to an antiviral skin moisturizer. I dig coconut.
Grapes - Sugary but good, there’s something behind the resveratrol in red grapes but more work needs to be done. Taste best when fermented.
Mango - Same as bananas, very sugary. Use occasionally in salsas, ceviches, salads and smoothies but not every day.
Plantains - Less sugary than bananas, smashed and fried in coconut oil = heaven
Tomatoes - Amazing orbs of nutrition, especially for us man folk. Both sexes can benefit from eating tomatoes daily.
Fats/Acids/Sweeteners: Natural saturated fat is good for you. If paleo teaches you anything, let it be that fat from actual food sources is incredibly healthy and is essential for mental health, hormone balance and energy. Saturated > Polyunsaturated (O6+O3′s) > Trans Fat.
Animal Fat (bacon fat, beef tallow, lard) – Saturated fat in all it’s goodness. Yes, this stuff is good for you. Great for frying, sautees, sauces, whatever. Here’s a cool fact, the healthiest thing McDonalds could probably do to make their french fries healthier, is frying the potatoes in pastured beef tallow. Ask your grandparents about lard, all their stuff was cooked with it and tastes wayyy better than anything made with low fat oil crap.
Pastured Butter - Like dark chocolate, not purist paleo but I’m totally down with indulging on some Kerrygold pastured butter. Supermarket butter isn’t all that great but usable. +1 if you go raw.
Coconut Aminos - Use in place of soy sauce (which contains gluten and soy.) Found in health food stores, I get mine at Earth Fare. Perfect for stir fries, marinades and sauces.
Coconut Oil - The best stuff is raw, cold-pressed and overpriced with coconut as the sole ingredient but so worth the money. You can use this stuff anywhere you need any type of cooking fat, skin moisturizer, energy boost, sun-tan lotion and ahem…lube. Among sooo many other uses.
Salt – Unless you have abnormally high blood pressure or kidney problems, salt shouldn’t be avoided outright like it has been. Good sea salt is packed full of minerals and other nutrients and is in no way responsible for the current heart disease epidemic. A paleo diet is naturally low in salt and too little intake can lead to fatigue and affect concentration and performance. Just like other foods, salt found in processed foods should be avoided but used the way it’s found in nature, can almost be considered a diet supplement.
Olive Oil - Use for salads, homemade mayo, maybe grilling veggies. High in Omega-3′s that are beneficial but easily altered into harmful compounds by high heat. I only cook with saturated fat these days. See below.
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar - Impressive stuff, gets points for aiding digestion, improving insulin sensitivity and even a kick ass hair conditioner. A must for proper bone broth. I try to never run out of this or coconut oil.
Raw Honey - Very interesting stuff, I don’t want people drinking a bottle a day but use this as your sweetener. The body handles honey differently than they way it does simple sugar. Honey contains almost 300 unique substances, table sugar contains 2. I use raw honey daily.
Foods OK in moderation (not allowed on most Paleo Challenges):
Corn - Oh King Corn. Corn is a grain, Corn is void of nutrition and completely unnecessary in the human diet. It’s been messed with a lot genetically but corn chips/tortillas here and there won’t kill you. Just keep in mind, factory farmers feed their cows corn because it makes them weigh more (fat) and worth more money. Corn fed animals get fat quickly and last I checked, humans are animals
Dark Chocolate - A lot of hard-core paleo challengers look down on this but I see it as a tool. As long as you can control yourself with sweets in the house and won’t down a bar a day, eat some 72% or darker chocolate here and there. Buy the nice stuff, it’s worth it. This can be a very clutch snack for helping people stick out a full 30 days or more strict paleo. Go for it.
Dried Fruit - Very sugary and low in nutrients. If you start eating them like candy, it’s because they’re very similar to candy. Ok for the occasional hike but shouldn’t be a staple in the diet.
Nuts and seeds – Most paleo diets emphasize nuts and seeds but they have a lot of the same properties as grains and I’m not huge on the almond flour craze. I see white rice flour as a more suitable replacement for wheat but don’t hardly bake at all. If you have autoimmune issues (allergies, joint pain, acne) or want to lose weight, limit nut intake.
White rice – Can be eaten in moderation if weight loss is not a goal. I know this seems backward but white rice contains none of the anti-nutrients brown rice does and is pure glucose, good for resupplying glycogen stores.
Wine/Non-Grain Liquor – I just couldn’t bear putting this in the don’t category. Not allowed during most, if any paleo challenges. A serving or two a day might even be good for you but this stuff is obviously problematic for some people. Enjoy in moderation and be responsible about alcohol, too much is most definitely very bad for our bodies.
Grains: Processed, high-calorie, low-nutrient and unnecessary in the human diet. Grain proteins are targeted by the body’s immune system causing autoimmune disorders (acne, arthritis, infections) and gut dysfunction (GERD, bloating, IBS.) The fats from grains (vegetable oils) contribute to inflammation which is related to just about every disease out there.
Quinoa - Yes quinoa. Even though it’s sent from the heavens to “cure” the protein deficiencies most vegans have. Get your protein from meat, eggs and seafood. Quinoa is NOT a health food.
Rice - White rice seems ok, especially after a tough workout. Brown rice has the same anti-nutrients as other grains and legumes.
Wheat/Rye/Barley/Oats - Do not touch wheat of any kind for the entire challenge. See how well your body works without gluten, this includes Beer. Cake, Pasta, Pizza, Cereal, mostly anything processed and even Twizzlers. I’m sorry but just do it for 30 days. Learn to look at ingredient labels, everything has wheat or wheat flour in it.
Legumes: See Grains.
Beans – Lectins + Phytates + Carbs. Totally unnecessary in the human diet. Beans are basically seeds, plants protect their seeds and make us hurt when we we eat them.
Chickpeas - No hummus. There are good non-chick pea hummus recipes on The Google.
Lentils - Are Beans. Peas are beans too.
Peanuts - All the fun of beans wrapped up with a huge amount of pro-inflammatory Omega-6′s. No peanuts.
Soy – sold as a “health” food but soy has been linked to increased estrogen levels in both men and women (both very bad.) I’m fairly terrified of soy at this point.
Dairy: Low/No fat means high/higher carb. Humans don’t process pasteurized dairy well and many people are lactose intolerant.
Cheese - Less problematic than actual milk and tolerated well by some people but take a break from it then see if it bothers you when you reintroduce it.
Creamers - High in sugar and other fake crap. Give full-fat coconut milk a try in its place.
Ice cream - If healthier brands start coming out I might move this to moderation but it’s sugary, lactose-filled and addictive. Cut it out for 30 days.
Milk - Use almond milk or coconut milk where you used to use cow’s milk. Humans don’t process pasteurized dairy well due to the lack of enzymes and beneficial bacteria, anything not marked as “raw” is pasteurized and off-limits.
Powdered Milk – See Milk.
Yogurt (Greek/Yoplait/Activia) - Very high in sugar and other fake crap, there are better sources of probiotics.
Sweeteners: EVERYTHING is sweetened, learn to read nutrition labels. Drop all types of sweeteners whether they be organic, natural, calorie free, “sugar”-free or all of the above.
Agave - is processed pure sugar and nothing like raw honey. No agave.
Aspartame - Research is sketchy about this, mostly because politics are involved and I’m sure giant bags of money are probably hiding something pretty terrible regarding Aspartame. There’s fear of it being linked to mental disorders and was involved in a lot controversy at the time of it’s passing into law. The stuff scares me, don’t drink soda, most other drinks and watch your whey protein, like HFCS, this stuff is everywhere.
High Fructose Corn Syrup - HFCS is sugar…kinda. We already know sugar is bad for us but this “corn sugar” is treated with alpha-amylase to break down the sugar. Then that’s treated with Glucoamylase (which is produced in mold) breaks down the sugar even more. That’s treated by Xylose Isomerase which converts glucose to the much sweeter fructose. Numerous mechanical, boiling, cooling and chemical steps accompany this process. High Fructose Corn Syrup is not natural and is making people unhealthy through physical and mental points of entry.
Sugar – Ask anyone that’s ever been through a paleo challenge, you’re going to lose your sweet tooth, and it hurts. The sugar addiction withdrawal sucks just like other drug withdrawals. Get through the tough part and you’ll be surprised how sweet most of the food we eat is. Do not sweeten any of your food with anything but raw honey or fruit juice.
Sugar Alcohols/Substitutes - Splenda, Stevia, Truvia, Erythritol, Maltitol, Mannitol – Don’t seem to be super bad but a lot of people are intolerant of them and they mimic the effect of actual sugar, even though some “contain no actual calories” (which they still do.)
Fake Crap: Which includes just about everything these days.
Ingredients You Can’t Pronounce - If you can’t say it, it’s probably not good for you.
Partially/Fully Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats) - All kinds of bad, avoid entirely.
Restaurant Food - It’s almost impossible to find a place to eat that’s gluten free, uses fresh whole foods, doesn’t cook in vegetable oil and isn’t insanely overpriced. Make it easy on yourself and just don’t eat out during a paleo challenge.
Snack Food - This includes just about everything that comes in a box, bag, bottle or wrapper. It’s safe to assume most everything you buy in a store that’s on an inside isle has gluten, excess sugar, grain oils or questionable preservatives in it. Eat food that has an expiration date in this decade.
This list will constantly be updated with new facts and references. Please leave comments, suggestions and critiques, I know I missed a lot of things and this being the very first version, it’s going to need work. Check back frequently.