Is the Paleo Diet Healthy? A Nutritionist Weighs In

Get the nutrition pros and cons of this caveman diet.

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The paleo diet exploded onto the scene within the past several years, and you likely know at least one person who has tried it. The paleo diet is most commonly associated with gym buffs, particularly those in the muscle-building Crossfit scene. (Try this Crossfit-inspired workout to torch major calories.)

But what is paleo food, and is it eating paleo as healthy as people think?

Nutritionist Sharon Richter, RD, explains what is and isn’t permitted in paleo meals. The paleo diet avoids the following foods: dairy, legumes (beans, soy, peanuts), sugar, certain saturated fats, and most carbohydrates. Instead, the paleo diet emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, grass-fed meats, eggs, and non-legume proteins like almonds, walnuts, and seeds.

Notably, people on the paleo diet can substitute coconut or almond products for common, non-paleo items. For example, you can use coconut flour to make baked goods and swap in almond milk for dairy milk. Swaps like this make the paleo diet less restrictive than it may initially appear.

The paleo diet can be healthy—when it’s done right. Overall, paleo food limits saturated fat by cutting out dairy and some meat products. It also eliminates added sugar and emphasizes whole foods.

On the other hand, someone who claims to eat paleo but only eats pork chops and coconut flour brownies would not be eating particularly healthy. But, TBH, anyone on a “standard American diet” is at just as much of a risk of making this mistake as someone following a paleo diet.

Bottom line: The paleo diet can be a healthy way to eat as long as you follow proper meal planning. Maximizing variety on any diet will help you get the necessary nutrients your body craves.