Prior to the invention of agriculture, humans lived in numerous climates, ecosystems and environments. So, exactly what is a "paleo" diet?

For example, at some point in time before the origin of agriculture, there were "paleo" humans who ate grains. The original grain eaters were no doubt hunter-gatherers who happened to live in a region where grains were a "gathered" food source. Another example is an acquaintance who follows a paleo diet, but eats a large amount of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. This strikes me as odd, because from what I understand, hunter-gatherers didn't limit themselves to breast meat.

Is there a link perhaps with good clarification on exactly what a paleo diet is?

  • So, the "paleo" diet is not actually a "paleo" diet? Seems like the modern interpretation of a "paleo" diet is not a hunter-gatherer diet but one where one actually eats very few processed foods. It seems to follow [Michael Pollan's ideas][1]? Just asking? [1]: michaelpollan.com/books/food-rules
    – wdypdx22
    Apr 2, 2011 at 3:18
  • Pollan advice is better than 99% of Americans eat, but he doesn't recognize any problem with grain, and is a bit negative on meat. I'd add that "paleo" advice often includes intermittent fasting, and interval or high-intensity exercise rather than long hours of low intensity cardio.
    – J. Win.
    Apr 2, 2011 at 17:12
  • Since this isn't an answer per se I am just going to leave it as a comment. Kurt Harris shares a similar adieu from the inherent strictness of the word "paleo" and coined his own more appropriate for the situation term he calls "archevore". Perhaps that would be more interesting to you. archevore.com/panu-weblog/2011/4/9/… Jun 22, 2011 at 17:26
  • Off topic according to the FAQ since the scope change of the site excluded questions not related to exercise.
    – Baarn
    Sep 13, 2012 at 16:08

4 Answers 4


One of the more accessible (and less dogmatic) approaches can be read here: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/primal-blueprint-101/

There are many varieties of the Evolutionary Eating idea, so a strict definition of "this is PALEO" will be hard to come by.

http://www.paleonu.com/panu-weblog/2011/3/30/paleo-20-a-diet-manifesto.html is a good view as to what the Paleo movement may be evolving into....

I'm pasting an answer here that I wrote for Paleohacks.com in regards to which BOOK was a good first introduction to Paleo.

It really depends on the learning style and history of the targeted reader.

They are just looking a solid approach in an entertaining (tough-loveish) format? Robb Wolf's The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet

They have a science-minded bent, but just want the overview? Gary Taubes' Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

They have a science-minded bent, but want all the details? Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health

They need the friendly, easy access version. Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy

Personally, I started with Sisson's work and website, and then dove into GCBC and loved it... but I'm a huge science geek.

I would give Sisson to my ( not steeped in science ) relatives, and I would would set the rest up with Taubes' Why We Get Fat.

Make sure to tell them that this is the first stepping stone, and the start of a great journey.

  • Wow easy on the Italic, it seriously hurts the readability of your answer!
    – Ivo Flipse
    Apr 5, 2011 at 15:05
  • Thank you. The book references are very useful and I have just added three of them to my Amazon shopping cart. More useful knowledge on my way to my own personal "Grand Unified Theory of Nutrition". :-) Apr 4, 2012 at 15:25

There are a lot of resources that I use for it, but it's very hard to find a concise source, as a lot of people have varying degrees of what they'll allow that range from no concessions (strict paleo) to including dairy and peanut butter and the like (usually when it's paleo with dairy, the word primal is thrown around.

Some resources:

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/ - Marks Daily Apple (A paleo blog (refers to it as "primal" though)

http://robbwolf.com/ - Robb Wolf's blog

Here is a list of foods, but the more you search lists, the more you find that they'll contradict each other based on how paleo the list maker is.

Summary: Eat lean meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar. Generally avoid foods that come in boxes (preservatives and other added ingredients).

  • 1
    I don't think "strict paleo" and the like are useful terms. All diets can be followed strictly or not, and I think the real underlying issue is that there is no one true "paleo diet" because early humans ate very differently depending on the particular season, location, and time period. Apr 1, 2011 at 15:11
  • Just asking, it looks more like eating "closely to natural foods" as opposed to "processed foods"?
    – wdypdx22
    Apr 1, 2011 at 22:27
  • This link says to avoid legumes. Why? Fresh fava beans are quite good and I can't imagine my paleo ancestors refusing them.
    – wdypdx22
    Apr 1, 2011 at 23:13
  • @wdypdx22 yeah, that's pretty much the main point of the diet. and legumes generally cause gut inflammation.
    – Phil Quinn
    Apr 4, 2011 at 15:40

Paleo is a poor term choice, because the point is to eat healthy, not to replicate a lifestyle. The goal is to eat what we have evolved to eat during millions of years.

Grains were only widely available in our diet when we started agriculture, a few thousand years ago. Before that, they couldn't be a material part of the diet. In fact, many modern grains probably didn't exist in a calory dense format until recently.

People who follow a paleo diet are warry of nuts and chicken fat (therefore skin) because of the high omega-6 content. Our modern diet is much richer in omega-6 than what we used to eat for millions of years before agriculture started.


I think it's most important what you DON'T eat.

Rather than trying to re-enact caveman or hunter-gatherer dietary practice from whatever region and time period you can imagine to be most important, stick to this rule of thumb: avoid foods that are not available without processing and machinery, OR are plausibly linked to modern "diseases of civilization."

Personally I keep fructose, seeds and seed oils to a small fraction of my diet. Other than that, I eat whatever tastes good to me.

Here's a good resource: http://www.paleonu.com/get-started/

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