What is Paleo?
The notion of “Paleo” as a diet and lifestyle descriptor developed from the study of evolutionary biology, and the assimilation of ancestral foodways from around the globe. With a commitment to good science, rigorous research, epidemiological studies and plenty of anecdotal evidence to boot, “Paleo” has evolved from a little-known nickname for a prehistoric era to a diet and lifestyle template that is sweeping the nutrition scene, helping to reinvigorate the health and happiness of millions of people.
But what, many ask, is Paleo?
Photo by Hans Splinter
Quite simply, Paleo provides a model for holistically healthy living. The Paleo diet recommends whole, nutrient-dense foods, and is at its most basic an elimination diet. By removing many of the causes of allergies and autoimmune disorders, as well as the processed food-like products brought about by modern manufacturing, the human body is able to detox from foreign substances and naturally reset those basic functions that make eating, breathing and moving so effortless in a healthy system. At its simplest, Paleo is a return to the basics—it is the human diet that works with our genetics, not against it.
Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis
Paleo looks to ancestral wisdom—whether from cave-dwelling Paleolithic ancestors or remote native populations untouched by Western disease—for guidance on what to eat and how to live. The foods that our great, great grandparents wouldn’t have recognized in our modern supermarkets shouldn’t be food for us in the first place, and Paleo offers guidance in avoiding those products that do more harm than good. As it is, the modern human body is assaulted on all sides by environmental pollutants that are toxic to our basic chemical processes; avoiding these contaminants, in addition to the many additives found in foods, assists our body to reach vibrant wellness on its own, often without the help of medicine or invasive surgery.
The Paleo diet advises the avoidance of grains, gluten, legumes, low-fat pasteurized and homogenized dairy, corn, soy and sugar. Instead, fill up on grass-fed meat from ruminants like cattle, bison, goats, lamb or wild game. Seek out pastured chicken, eggs and pork, and prioritize wild-caught fish and seafood whenever possible. Do your part to support your local economy and agricultural system by consuming local, organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible, or grow your own to be even more sustainable. Try your hardest to limit your exposure to rancid seed oils like canola, corn, soy, sunflower or safflower oils, and instead use pastured animal fats like lard, tallow or schmaltz, coconut oil, grass-fed ghee or cold-pressed olive oil for your cooking, baking and drizzling needs. Nuts and seeds are also included in a Paleo diet, and offer a healthy alternative in a diet devoid of conventional snacks.
Many people find that chocolate, some dairy, some alcohol or other such items fit nicely into their personal Paleo template—and this is fine. The Paleo diet offers an evolutionary framework for the most nutritious way of eating, but the fact remains that everybody—and every body—is different. Try the Paleo template at its most basic before adding or subtracting. You may discover food intolerances, reactions, or new favorite ingredients along the way that could shape how you eat for the rest of your life.
Along with the diet component, Paleo seeks to address serious ailments caused by modern living. With a focus on stress reduction, community engagement and support, fitness and play, exposure to nature and honoring the body’s circadian rhythms, Paleo encompasses so much more than just food.
Photo by Zach Dischner
Smart exercise is an important component of Paleo. With a focus on weight-bearing loads, mobility and lots of slow, sustained movement, we can model the fitness patterns of our ancestors to promote both peak physical performance and longevity with minimal effort. No longer are health-conscious folk relegated to the cardio machines at the gym; rather, Paleo recommends combining pleasure with prescription, and taking exercise outdoors whenever possible. Compete in a sport or play with the kids, go for a walk downtown or a hike through the woods, kayak, sprint, deadlift or swing kettlebells. Whatever you do, do it with joy and with a focus on long-term results.
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Sleep is an integral part of fitness, as recovery makes up a significant proportion of the body’s overall performance level. To improve sleep, limit exposure to artificial light after sundown to reduce disruption of the circadian rhythm, and sleep for at least eight hours whenever possible in a dark, cool room. Whenever possible, align sleep patterns with the cycles of the sun.
Photo by Andrezza Haddaway
The sun is not only useful as an alarm clock—smart sun exposure boosts production of vitamin D, a hormone crucial to most of the body’s chemical pathways. It is a relief to no longer fear the sun as something harmful; in fact, when harnessed for good and managed responsibly, a little sun every day boosts mood, hormonal regulation and overall health.
Photo by U.S. Navy
The human journey is not an isolated one—no man is an island. In social circles, seek meaningful relationships rather than hundreds of online “friends,” and cultivate those relationships through the sharing of food, activities and significant life events. Face-to-face conversations, physical touch and emotional exchange are all valuable aspects of human relationships. Plus, the support of a community helps to mitigate stress in times of need, as well as to improve quality of life.
When it comes to a Paleo lifestyle, use the most natural products and accoutrements available, but also know that modern life does make it difficult to walk barefoot or shun all electronics for the sake of historical reenactment. Use the gadgets and employ social media enough to enhance your life, but establish boundaries such that technology does not rule your life. Make a point to regularly “unplug” and reconnect with nature, with yourself and with your community.
Photo by Nickolai Kashirin
Stress management is a key factor in mitigating the onset of disease, and an important aspect of Paleo living. As with much of Paleo, stress reduction calls for personalization—whether you require deep meditation, a yoga practice, a church service or the embrace of a loved one, the end result is improved neurology and cortisol response, thereby contributing to a healthier, happier you.
Paleo is Simple
We believe there are 3 equally important components that make up the Paleo lifestyle – Diet, Movement and Lifestyle. These pieces of the Paleo pie are:
If it sounds simple, it’s because it is. There may seem like a lot of complicated information to take in at the beginning, but once you start your Paleo journey, it’s easy to see how our bodies, minds and spirits quickly adapt to the changes. Why? It’s because we are created to move often and with joy and a sense of playfulness. We are meant to eat whole foods found in nature, properly raised and free of additives and chemicals. We evolved to live in close community with others, to share our resources and experiences with close friends and family. All the rest falls into place as we learn to listen to our bodies for what they really are: intelligent, finely tuned machines that require the right fuel for optimum performance.
Paleo cookbooks are a great way to start your paleo lifestyle! Here are some of our favorite cookbooks that will help you maintain your paleo diet while making your search for the perfect recipe as easy as possible.
|“Digestive Health with REAL Food: The Cookbook” by Aglaée Jacob, MS, RD
The companion to Jacob’s first book, “Digestive Health with REAL Food,” this collection of recipes serves to heal and nourish while offering real-food–based recipes that are sure to please.
|“Paleo Magazine Readers’ Favorites Cookbook” by Paleo Magazine
With more than 50 of the most popular recipes from past issues of Paleo Magazine, this cookbook also features readers’ recipe submissions and transformation stories.
|“Make Ahead Paleo” by Tammy Credicott
The more than 100 recipes within this cookbook offer inspiration for quick, healthy and flavorful meals. Perfect for weeknights or full weekends, Credicott proves that busy can still be beautiful when it comes time for dinner.
|“Paleo Indulgences” by Tammy Credicott
Maintaining a gluten-, dairy- and grain-free lifestyle does not mean sacrificing flavor, especially in the realm of desserts. With recipes for Lemon Poppyseed Muffins, Decadent Brownies and Pecan Sandies, no shortage of indulgence is in sight.
|“Well Fed” and “Well Fed 2” by Melissa Joulwan
The “Well Fed” cookbooks were inspired by Melissa Joulwan’s epicurean past and her present-day love for flavor. These guides simplify home cooking while providing plenty of inspiration to jazz up standard dishes.
|“Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook” by Sarah Fragoso
This book started it all for the “Everyday Paleo” maven. Inspired by the journey her own family took in adopting Paleo, Fragoso includes recipes, fitness instructions and tips to get everyone in your household on board.
|“Everyday Paleo: Italian Cuisine” by Sarah Fragoso
Equal parts travelogue and recipe cache, “Everyday Paleo: Italian Cuisine” is a manual on all things authentically Italian. Fragoso recreates family favorites like Lasagna and Bolognese in this, her second cookbook.
|“Everyday Paleo: Thai Cuisine” by Sarah Fragoso
Following up the success of her first ethnic-cuisine cookbook, the latest by Sarah Fragoso outlines her family’s journey through Thailand with local recipes and travel tips.
|“Against All Grain” by Danielle Walker
This collection of recipes was born out of a desire to heal. Self-trained chef and blogger Danielle Walker shares the story of how she recovered from autoimmune disease with delicious, grain-free, gluten-free food.
|“Nom Nom Paleo” by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong
With plenty of family-friendly humor and family-inspired illustrations, the Nom Nom Paleo cookbook is more than just a collection of recipes—it’s a manual on living a Paleo life with minimal work and maximum flavor.
|“Paleo Lunches and Breakfasts On The Go” by Diana Rodgers
Packing healthy Paleo lunches for school and work is easy with Diana Rodgers’ book. With a diverse array of inventive recipes for portable snacks and meals, reheating leftovers is a thing of the past.
|“The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook” by Mickey Trescott
What can often be a restrictive form of the Paleo diet is now made easier and more delicious. With more than 100 autoimmune-friendly recipes, this cookbook places as much value on flavor and enjoyment as it does on healing.
|“Paleo Cooking from Elana’s Pantry” by Elana Amsterdam
The queen of gluten-free baking entered the world of Paleo with a bang, and Amsterdam’s newest cookbook offers an inventive, family-friendly perspective on Paleo cooking and eating.
|“Paleo Happy Hour” by Kelly Milton
Equal parts cocktail recipe collection and lighthearted instruction manual on navigating boozy parties with a focus on health, “Paleo Happy Hour” strikes just the right chord between indulgence and pragmatism.
|“The Ancestral Table” by Russ Crandall
Russ Crandall is inspired by ethnic cuisine from many diverse cultures. On his blog The Domestic Man, and in this, his first cookbook, Crandall adapts weird and wonderful cuisine from around the world to fit the Paleo diet and the modern kitchen—no passport required.
|“The Primal Blueprint Cookbook” by Mark Sisson with Jennifer Meier
Tried and tested by California Culinary Academy graduate Jennifer Meier, with inspiration and insight from the leading authority on the Primal lifestyle, “The Primal Blueprint Cookbook” makes everyday cooking easy, delicious, affordable and healthy.
Paleo apps make it easy for you search for all your paleo needs while you’re on the go. Whether you’re at the grocery store, or you just want the information in the palm of your hands, these go-to apps will make your paleo lifestyle so much easier.
|Paleo Magazine App
Available for iOS and Android, and via Amazon download, the Paleo Magazine app offers online access to new issues, along with access to archives and special, subscriber-only resources like cookbooks and how-to guides.
This app provides Paleo and Primal recipes, workout programs and comprehensive guides cataloguing availability and use for many fruits and veggies, along with opportunities to engage with the online Paleo community and find Paleo resources around the world. You can find the iOS version and Android version online.
With more than 1,000 Paleo-friendly recipes, plus meal plans and customizable shopping lists, MyKitchen is a valuable resource created by the bloggers behind the popular Paleo site PrimalPalate.com. MyKitchen is available on both iOS and Android.
|Nom Nom Paleo
The stunning Nom Nom Paleo app showcases the unique, umami-packed recipes from Michelle Tam’s kitchen, along with nearly 2000 photos of the step-by-step processes in each recipe. If that weren’t enough, this app also has email-friendly grocery lists, shopping guides and a Whole30-friendly meal plan. The Nom Nom Paleo app is available on iOS, and is designed perfectly for iPads.
The Nourished app contains nearly 150 Paleo recipes created by the darlings of the Paleo blogosphere, plus exclusive app-only recipes from creator Michele Spring. In addition, the app has a serving-size and metric converter, interactive shopping lists and a fully searchable recipe archive. The Nourished app is available for iOS.
This database of more than 4,000 searchable food items offers an easy answer to the question, “Is that Paleo?” Paleo Central also provides support to newbies with its “Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet.” Paleo Central is available for iOS.
Paleo Diet Infographic
Want to share the Paleo Diet with your friends? Here’s an infographic we made explaining the basics of the paleo lifestyle.
Feel free to copy/paste this code on your site to share our infographic with your readers!
Paleo 101 Download
Also, here’s a quick reference PDF you can download, print, and stick on your fridge, and/or share with friends.