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Paleo Diet Review: Does It Work for Weight Loss?

16 min read

The paleo diet is a high protein, low carb eating plan that’s modeled after the presumed diet of early humans.

It’s based on the belief that these hunter-gatherer ancestors had lower rates of chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and it’s said to be attributed to differences in their diet.

However, while some claim that the paleo diet can improve health and boost weight loss, others point out that it’s overly restrictive and can be difficult to follow.

This article reviews the paleo diet and whether it works for weight loss.

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What is the paleo diet?

The paleo diet is an eating pattern that is designed to mimic the diet of early human ancestors.

Though the concept emerged in the 1970s, it gained widespread popularity in 2002 after scientist Loren Cordain published a book advocating the diet.

It encourages the consumption of whole foods like fruits, veggies, meat, fish, and poultry.

Meanwhile, processed foods, grains, legumes, and artificial sweeteners are off-limits.

According to proponents of the diet, following it may help prevent chronic disease and improve overall health (1Trusted Source).

On the other hand, critics point out that it can be very restrictive and eliminates many food groups that are rich in important nutrients.

SUMMARYThe paleo diet is an eating pattern based on the diets of early hunter-gatherer human ancestors. It’s believed to help prevent chronic disease and improve overall health.

How to follow the paleo diet

The paleo diet involves limiting any foods that were not available to early hunter-gatherers, including processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy products, and added sugar.

Instead, the plan encourages filling your plate with minimally processed whole foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.

Yet, there are several variations of the diet, each with slightly different guidelines about which foods are permitted.

For example, some modified paleo diets are less restrictive and allow grass-fed butter and certain gluten-free grains and legumes in moderation, as long as they have been soaked and cooked.

SUMMARYThe traditional paleo diet involves limiting processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy products, and added sugar and eating mostly whole foods instead. However, there are several variations.

Does it aid weight loss?

The paleo diet encourages eating nutrient-rich whole foods and limits processed foods, which are often high in calories and can contribute to weight gain (2Trusted Source).

It’s also high in protein, which can reduce levels of ghrelin — the “hunger hormone” — to keep you feeling full for longer (3Trusted Source).

In recent years, several studies have found that the paleo diet may help increase weight loss.

For instance, one study in 70 women observed that following the paleo diet for 6 months resulted in 14 pounds (6.5 kg) of fat loss, on average, and a significant reduction in belly fat (4Trusted Source).

Another review of 11 studies concluded that the diet may aid weight loss, noting that participants lost an average of nearly 8 pounds (3.5 kg) in trials lasting anywhere between 2 months and 2 years (5Trusted Source).

SUMMARYThe paleo diet focuses on nutrient-rich whole foods and eliminates processed ones. Studies have shown that this way of eating may aid weight loss.

Other benefits

The paleo diet has been associated with several potential benefits.

Promotes heart health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths (6Trusted Source).

Promising research shows that the paleo diet may help improve heart health by reducing several risk factors for heart disease.

In one study, 20 people with high cholesterol levels who followed the paleo diet for 4 months experienced improved HDL (good) cholesterol and reduced triglyceride levels, as well as lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol (7Trusted Source).

Another study in 34 people observed similar findings, noting that following the paleo diet for just 2 weeks reduced blood pressure, total cholesterol levels, and triglycerides — all of which are risk factors for heart disease (8Trusted Source).

Supports blood sugar control

Some research suggests that the paleo diet may help reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Increased insulin sensitivity can improve your body’s ability to use insulin effectively and support healthy blood sugar management (9Trusted Source).

One study in 32 people with type 2 diabetes found that following the paleo diet for 12 weeks improved blood sugar levels and enhanced insulin sensitivity by 45% (10Trusted Source).

Similarly, a small study in 13 people with type 2 diabetes noted that the diet was more effective at lowering levels of hemoglobin A1C, a marker of long-term blood sugar control, than a traditional diabetes diet (11Trusted Source).

SUMMARYResearch shows that the paleo diet could help improve heart health and enhance blood sugar control.

Potential downsides

While the paleo diet offers several potential health benefits, a few drawbacks need to be considered as well.

First, it eliminates several food groups that are highly nutritious and can generally be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet.

For example, legumes are rich in fiber, protein, and a wealth of micronutrients, such as iron, zinc, and copper (12Trusted Source).

Meanwhile, studies show that whole grains may be linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer (13Trusted Source).

Given that the paleo diet deems many food groups off-limits, those with dietary restrictions, including vegans and vegetarians, may find following it difficult.

What’s more, it may be challenging to eat out or attend family gatherings, as you may not be sure of the ingredients used in certain dishes.

Plus, it may be more expensive than other eating patterns, as it requires a lot of fresh produce, meat, fish, and poultry — all of which can be pricey.

SUMMARYThe paleo diet restricts several healthy food groups and can be expensive. Those with dietary restrictions may also find it challenging to follow.

Foods to eat and avoid

The paleo diet encourages a variety of minimally processed foods like meat, poultry, seafood, fruits, and vegetables.

Meanwhile, grains, legumes, added sugar, and processed and refined foods are all limited.

Foods to eat

Here are some foods that you can enjoy as part of the paleo diet:

  • Meat: beef, lamb, goat, venison, etc.
  • Poultry: chicken, turkey, goose, duck, etc.
  • Seafood: salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, trout, cod, haddock, catfish, etc.
  • Eggs: egg yolks and whites
  • Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, plums, peaches, melons, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, etc.
  • Vegetables: bell peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, onions, garlic, spinach, arugula, zucchini, squash, etc.
  • Nuts: cashews, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, etc.
  • Seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, etc.
  • Fats: olive oil, avocado oil, palm oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, etc.
  • Herbs and spices: cumin, oregano, basil, pepper, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, ginger, etc.

Foods to avoid

Here are some foods that you should avoid as part of the diet:

  • Legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, etc.
  • Dairy: milk, yogurt, butter, kefir, cheese, etc.
  • Grains: bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, barley, rye, buckwheat, farro, etc.
  • Potatoes: white potatoes, french fries, potato chips, etc.
  • Refined vegetable oils: canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil, etc.
  • Processed foods: chips, pretzels, cookies, convenience meals, fast food, etc.
  • Artificial sweeteners: sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium, etc.
  • Added sugar: baked goods, candies, desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, table sugar, etc.

SUMMARYWhole foods like fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry are encouraged on the paleo diet. On the other hand, processed foods, legumes, grains, dairy, and added sugars should be limited.

Sample meal plan

Here is a sample 3-day menu for the paleo diet.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: omelet with garlic, onions, tomatoes, and spinach
  • Lunch: zucchini noodles with turkey meatballs and marinara sauce
  • Dinner: oven-baked salmon with roasted broccoli and sweet potato wedges

Day 2

  • Breakfast: grain-free granola with almonds, walnuts, pecans, coconut flakes, and dried fruit
  • Lunch: bison burger with lettuce wrap and side salad
  • Dinner: grilled chicken with vegetable soup

Day 3

  • Breakfast: chia pudding with coconut milk, walnuts, strawberries, blueberries, and cinnamon
  • Lunch: avocado and veggie egg salad with mixed fruit
  • Dinner: burrito bowl with cauliflower rice, beef, salsa, guacamole, peppers, and onions

There are also several paleo snacks available if you’re hungry between meals.

SUMMARYThe sample menu above provides some ideas for meals that can be included as part of the paleo diet.

The bottom line

The paleo diet is an eating pattern that’s designed to mimic the diets of early hunter-gatherer human ancestors.

Some research has found that this way of eating may help increase weight loss, promote heart health, and support better blood sugar control.

However, it may not be a great fit for everyone, as it restricts several healthy food groups and may be more expensive than other diets. Plus, those with dietary restrictions may find it difficult to adapt to.


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