Everything You Need to Know About the Paleo Diet

This post was sponsored by AlgaeCal.

Going Paleo? Make sure you cover your nutritional bases. As a nutritionist, I get questions every day about different diets. Which ones are legit? Which ones are a waste of time and energy? Where I usually start with a client who’s curious about a certain eating style is to ask them what appeals to them about that plan and work from there. My approach is a little more “you do you” than “by the book” (whatever diet book we happen to be talking about), but having guidelines can be helpful, especially when you’re just starting out. Just know that those guidelines are customizable.

One diet I get asked about the most is the Paleo diet. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve known someone on the Paleo diet, tried it yourself, or at least considered adopting the caveman lifestyle everyone seems to be raving about. This high-protein, high-fat, low-to-moderate-carb plan has gained popularity.

Everything You Need to Know About the Paleo Diet

Here’s the basics:

What foods can you eat on the Paleo diet?

  • Meats—preferably grass-fed
  • Poultry—preferably pasture-raised
  • Fish/seafood—preferably wild
  • Eggs
  • Fresh vegetables—especially the non-starchy ones
  • Fresh fruits
  • Nuts—almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and pistachios (no peanuts)
  • Seeds
  • Healthy plant oils (coconut, olive, avocado, flax, walnut, etc)

What’s off-limits on this diet?

  • For example, oats, wheat (so no bread, pasta, etc), barley, and rice. This also includes popcorn and may extend to corn.
  • Legumes or beans. This includes peanuts and peanut butter as well as soy foods like soy milk, tofu, and edamame
  • Dairy products*
  • High-fat and processed meats. This includes cured meats like salami, bologna, and pepperoni, as well as hot dogs and ribs.
  • This includes table sugar and sweets but also honey and syrups. Artificial sweeteners are also off-limits.
  • Processed foods like packaged snacks, pastries, french fries, fruit snacks, etc.
  • Hydrogenated oils as well as oils made from corn, peanuts, and soybeans.
  • Alcohol
  • Fruit juices are also discouraged

*Dairy is actually a gray area. Some people may include pasture-raised, grass-fed, full fat, and fermented dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and cheese, or may cook with ghee. However, in general, dairy is considered off-limits on a Paleo diet.

As far as capital-D Diets go, the Paleo approach actually has some positives, but it also has some downsides.

The pros:

  • The Paleo diet emphasizes protein, vegetables and minimizes processed foods and sugar, so by default, you’ll find yourself eating a very “clean” diet.
  • Many of the foods encouraged on the diet (like fruits and veggies) boast anti-inflammatory
  • The high protein and fat content makes this diet satisfying for many. While it may take some planning, incorporating enough high-fiber vegetables along with some nuts makes it possible to meet needs.

The cons:

  • Because this diet cuts out several foods groups, it may be hard to sustain.
  • It may not be appropriate for certain health conditions where a lower fat or lower protein intake is recommended.
  • Limiting entire food groups can set you up for nutrient deficiencies if you’re not careful.

Cover Your Bases

The most common nutrient deficiencies to guard against on a Paleo diet are calcium and vitamin D (unless you eat a lot of fish). You may also want to supplement probiotics if you’re not eating dairy. While it may take a little planning to meet your calcium needs ( Current recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for calcium for adults and children age 4 and older generally range from 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day), there are lots of non-dairy sources of calcium. A few to get you started:

  • Sardines, canned, with bones 325 mg per 3 ounces
  • Cooked collard greens 210 mg per ½ cup
  • Cooked bok choy 190 mg per ½ cup
  • Canned salmon 181 mg per 3 ounces
  • Figs 135 mg per 5 figs
  • Cooked spinach 99 mg per ½ cup
  • Almonds 93 mg per ¼ cup
  • Cooked kale 90 mg per 1 cup,
  • Chia seeds 60 mg per tablespoon
  • Sesame seeds 51 mg per tablespoon

Paleo-friendly sources of vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • Beef liver ,egg yolks, and cheese (if you’re including dairy) provide smaller amounts
  • While mushrooms have some vitamin D, it’s a very small amount

Spread out your intake through the day can make meeting your needs less overwhelming, but if you’re struggling to get what you need from food alone, consider a plant based calcium supplement. You may want to consider a Vitamin D supplement as well, especially if you’re not eating fish.

If you need help establishing an eating plan that feels like a realistic fit for you, check in with your doctor or a registered dietitian to help you get into a good routine. I always stress that you are the expert on you, so honor that inner that tells you what feels good.

By Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian and writer in NYC. She blogs at Keeping It Real Food. Want more info on drama-free healthy eating and tasty recipes? Visit her website or follow mehersocial media. She is on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

This post is sponsored by AlgaeCal. I was paid to write about meeting your nutrient needs on a Paleo diet.