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Overview

The aim:

May include weight loss and maintenance, and prevention or control of many “diseases of civilization,” such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The claim:

You’ll lead a healthier, fitter, disease-free life.

The theory:

Our highly processed, carb-obsessed eating pattern is the culprit behind many of our biggest health ills, so why not go back – way back – to the Paleolithic period of more than 10,000 years ago, when our diet wasn’t full of junk food and pasta? Paleo advocates say we should eat the way we ate when we were hunting and gathering: animal protein and plants.

Balanced Diet

These diets fall within accepted ranges for the amount of protein, carbs, fat and other nutrients they provide.

pros: [
    "Carnivore approved",
    "Very low in sodium"
]
cons: [
    "Goodbye to grains and dairy",
    "Pricey"
]

Pros & Cons

  • Carnivore approved
  • Very low in sodium
  • Goodbye to grains and dairy
  • Pricey

Rankings

Paleo Diet ranked #32 in Easiest Diets to Follow. 38 diets were evaluated with input from a panel of health experts. See how we rank diets here.

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2.0

Overall

Scorecard

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  • Easy to Follow
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  • Healthy
    2.1
Scores are based on experts’ reviews.

How does Paleo Diet work?

Paleo diets are based on a simple premise – if the cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. So long to refined sugar, dairy, legumes and grains (this is pre-agricultural revolution); hello to meat, fish, poultry, fruits and veggies. What you eat and how much depend on your goals or the specific program you’re on, if you choose to follow one.

[Read: Is the Autoimmune Paleo Diet Legit?]



You can find most of what you need to know online, but a book makes a handy reference. “The Paleo Diet,” for example, outlines basic Paleo principles and offers three “levels” that allow for different degrees of cheating – three “open meals” per week on the “entry level” plan, two on “maintenance,” and just one on “maximal.” Depending on the level, you might also get “transitional” condiments (low-fat dressing and salsa) and drinks (coffee, beer, or wine in moderation) to wash down the meat and plants. You can use the levels as you like. Start with the first and move gradually to the more restrictive – or just stay put. For more dramatic changes, head right to the third.

How much does it cost?

It may be pricey – the produce section and meat counter are among the priciest corners of the grocery store.

[Read more: How to Follow the Paleo Diet on a Budget.]

Will you lose weight?

Maybe. If you build a “calorie deficit” into your Paleo plan – eating fewer calories than your daily recommended max, or burning off extra by exercising – you should shed some pounds. How quickly and whether you keep them off is up to you. A 2015 review in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Liver Diseases concluded that a Paleo-esque diet “might be an acceptable antidote to the unhealthy Western diet, but only unequivocal results from randomized controlled trials or meta-analyses will support this hypothesis.” On that, we’re still waiting. In the meantime, here’s what has been found about the diet and others like it: 

[VIDEO: Why the Paleo Lifestyle Works for Me.]

  • One tiny study that looked at weight loss found that 14 participants lost an average of about 5 pounds after three weeks on a Paleo regimen. (But even the researchers called their study “underpowered.”)
  • A 2015 study in the journal Cell Metabolism compared the effects of a low-carb and low-fat diet on 19 obese men and women who stayed in a metabolic ward where they exercised daily for two weeks. While the low-carb dieters lost a bit more weight, the low-fat dieters lost more body fat.
  • A 2014 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine followed 148 obese dieters over one year and found that those who cut carbs lost almost 8 pounds more than those who trimmed the fat.

How easy is it to follow?

Can you get used to the idea of breadless sandwiches? Or having your milk and cookies without either milk or cookies? Diets that restrict entire food groups are difficult to follow. On the flip side, you can determine how primal you want to be, working in some cheat meals if you want.

Convenience. Recipe sites and cookbooks are abundant, but you can also incorporate eating out into your Paleo plan. Alcohol is discouraged but OK in moderation. You’ll have lots of sites and books for support.

Recipes. Free sites like Paleo Diet Lifestyle serve up recipes. There’s even “The Paleo Diet Cookbook,” “Everyday Paleo” and “The Primal Blueprint Cookbook.”

Eating out. Sure, if that means dinner at your neighbor’s cave. While there were no restaurants to tempt our Paleolithic ancestors, you’re free to decide how you’ll work them in. If (or rather when) you do, “The Paleo Diet” recommends simplicity: Order lean meat or seafood with veggies and fresh fruit and call it a night.

Alcohol. Not part of a true Paleo diet. Following “The Paleo Diet,” though, you can have the occasional glass of wine or beer during a cheat meal. (Alcohol only adds empty calories anyway, and if you’re trying to lose weight, every calorie counts.)

Time savers. None, unless you hire somebody to plan your meals, shop for them and prepare them.

Extras. “The Paleo Diet” offers sample meal plans and recipes, lists of approved foods and tips on sticking to the plan while eating out and traveling. You’ll find even more help online, including money-saving tips, quick-start guides and shopping lists.

Fullness. Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. You shouldn’t feel hungry on this diet – protein and fiber are filling, and you’ll get plenty of both. One small study of 29 participants published in Nutrition and Metabolism in 2010 found Paleo dieters felt just as full but consumed fewer calories than their Mediterranean counterparts.

Taste. You’re making everything, so if something doesn’t taste good, you know who to blame.
[Read more: Easy Recipes for a Paleo Diet.]

Health & Nutrition

Slapping the diet with multiple low ratings, the experts couldn’t accept that entire food groups, like dairy and grains, are excluded, making it hard for dieters to get all the nutrients they need. It’s one of the few diets that experts actually considered somewhat unsafe and only somewhat complete nutritionally.


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What is the role of exercise?

Recommended. Although they didn’t think of it as “exercise,” hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic were always on the move.

If you’re following the basic Paleo approach, try to get at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking) each week, along with a couple days of muscle-strengthening activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips to get you started.

“The Paleo Diet” suggests a similar approach, and offers tips to sneak in exercise throughout the day (i.e., getting off the subway a stop early) while reminding you exercise can be fun – if you’re doing something you like.

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