Paleo Eating and Lifestyle: The Rules

Important – Before you begin

As a nutritionist who for whom clinical studies are important to back up any advice or anecdotes, it is important for me to add this proviso:

Many people get great success by following a paleo diet, however, if you try a paleo diet and it does not work for you, don’t persist in trying harder or longer.

Please do not change your diet without medical advice, particularly if you are on medication or have health problems which may be affected by a change in diet.

Note that some people do have a ‘reaction’ changing diet and this often occurs in the first 3 weeks, it is typically an adjustment to changes in food, and may be unpleasant, gut changes, headaches, feeling tired and achy, this for some is normal and does not mean the diet is toxic or bad for you. Once adjusted you will feel normal again, if not better. If you do not feel better after an adjustment, this may not be the right way of eating for you.

For those of you who wish to try a paleo diet – here are the ‘rules’ to follow to ensure you are doing it the best way.

Do you need to do a strict paleo diet forever?

My recommendation is to use the paleo diet as an elimination style diet, eat strictly, if you have health improvements, try to find if any food in particular triggered the ill health, by doing a careful re-introduction of foods one at a time. You may decide dairy is something you would like to include in your diet, add in cheese and only cheese over 3-7 days and see if you get any immediate or delayed responses. If not continue to eat that food if you wish. Keep in mind this is not what all paleo advocates agree with, however for me looking from the point of view of a nutritionist, I think it healthy to incude any food (that has health benefits) if you do not react to it.

Levels of Strictness

The Paleo diet (also called ancestral, primal, native, or hunter-gatherer diets) is eating today’s food in a way that mimics the best diet of our Hunter Gatherer or Paleolithic ancestors. This diet is not just following the diet we imagine our ancestors  would have eaten, (e.g. caveman recreation) we also use current clinical studies, genetic / environment studies, and our knowledge of human biochemistry and evolutionary biology to inform our choices. We make choices from today’s every day food that gives us the healthiest possible human diet, so we eat food that our bodies are best adapted to eating. As a general rule food that you can’t imagine hunting or gathering is not paleo. The paleo diet is primarily focussing on eating high nutrient non toxic food that nourishes the body.

Before you start, fill in this questionnaire, Client health checklist Nov 2011

Here are 3 levels of strictness eating Paleo – Read through them and decide which level you are willing to adhere to.

1. Hard Core Paleo (I recommend a 30 day trial at this level)– strictly cutting out all foods that do not fit with a hunter and gatherer / paleo diet: no grains (that’s all grains, includes corn, and pseudo-grains like buckwheat), no legumes (includes soy and peanuts), no potatoes, no sugars or synthetic sweeteners, no processed food, no dairy, no alcohol, no omega 6 / chemically extracted vegetable oils or chemically altered fats (like margarine)

2. Using alcohol in restricted amounts and type . (Yes – I mean restricted – alcohol is a gut irritant, however 1 small drink occasionally is permitted) If you can’t stop at 1 x 4oz (125ml) glass of wine once or twice a week – cut alcohol out – the programme wont work.  You should avoid alcohol for the 30 day trial especially if you have gut issues or auto-immune disease – it is a gut irritant, and can increase the wrong type of gut bacteria.

3. For those with severe gut issues or auto-immune problems I recommend strict paleo, plus avoid nightshades (capsicum, all peppers, eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes) and eggs, alcohol, dairy, all nuts and seeds for at least a 30 day trial

The paleo diet can be done without measuring or weighing food, or it can be done in conjunction with the Zone Diet (if that approach is familiar and works for you)

Paleo Diet and Lifestyle Rules –

What to eat

Protein Foods

‘Leanish’ unprocessed meat: grass-fed, wild and free range animals, beef, chicken, poultry, lamb, pork, venison, rabbit etc, including organ meats (ideally organic), and bone broth for calcium, minerals and nutrients for cartilage, it is also good for gut health.
Bacon: use Freedom Farms Nitrite free bacon (or any free farmed bacon that has no chemicals)
Seafood and shellfish: all types
Egg White protein powder

More about protein can be found in this article How much protein should I eat? Protein & fat amounts in fish, meat, eggs and poultry.

Carbohydrate foods

Vegetables, colourful and green, non starch – eat lots
Starchy and root vegetables peeled – in moderation, depends on body type, metabolic issues like diabetes and exercise load
Fruit, fresh especially berries, in moderation,

Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut

More on carbohydrates here: Paleo diet carbohydrate list and carb counter

Fats and oils

Extra Virgin Olive oil
For cooking: coconut oil (I like oil that has had flavour removed)

Lard or tallow
Avocado and avocado oil

Macadamia nut oil
Nuts, fresh unsalted (not peanuts), best nuts- lower in omega 6 – macadamia and cashews, hazelnuts, limit if wanting to lose weight. Nuts are best fresh, soaked for 24hours and oven dried to decrease phytic acid

More on Omega 6 and 3 here: Omega 6 and 3 in nuts, oils, meat and fish. Tools to get it right.


Filtered water, ideally chlorine and fluoride free
Sparkling or soda water (make your own with a soda stream)

Mineral water
Herbal and fruit teas
Coffee (in moderation any amount can affect sleep)
Almond milk (unsweetened)

Coconut water (no added sugar)
Cocoa powder drink (hot water, cocoa powder, no sugar, coconut cream) Weird at first with no sugar but you get used to it

Other foods:

Fermented foods – like coconut Kefir and kimchi add important friendly bacteria into your gut.

Bone Broth- calcium, minerals, gut healing and joint cartilage building blocks

What not to eat

Protein foods

Processed meats (sausages, salami, bacon etc – see this study on processed meats)
High fat meat, especially from grain and feedlot animals (saturated fat has been given a bad rap, studies now show it isn’t that bad, in the context of a paleo diet, but more fat usually means more omega 6 and for some people too many calories)
Dairy products, includes milk, yoghurt, cheese
Legumes: Tofu and soy products, including soy protein powder, peanuts, peanut butter and oil


Carbohydrate foods

Grains and grain like foods (wheat, rye, barley, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, linseed, chia, rice, linseed. etc)
Grain products (bread, crackers, bakery products, pasta, cakes etc.)
Legumes (peanuts, soy, baked beans, chickpeas, humus, broad beans, lentils etc)
Potatoes for some (auto-immune, joint inflammation)- but okay peeled for most
Sugar, all types including honey and fructose, agave, coconut sugar etc,                          

No sugar replacements, even stevia

Fats and oils

All vegetable seed oils except listed above and peanut oil
Any commercial food cooked in oil or fats, e.g. deep fried food, or made with cheap vegetable oils, soy, sunflower, safflower etc.
Margarine – all types


All juices, including freshly squeezed. Only freshly squeezed pure vegetable juice is okay, green smoothies are prefered as they include fibre
Soft drinks or any drink with sugar
Artificially sweetened drinks
Other alcohol apart from spirits or dry wine (if drinking alcohol)
Milk, soy milk, rice milk, oat milk


Dry wine or spirits, NOT beer (has gluten / grains)
Small amounts only – occasional glass of dry wine (e.g. once week)
No mixers apart from soda water, mineral water or water, or freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice


Get the sun vitamin: In the winter it is nearly impossible to get sun to get enough vitamin D. Take 2000iu Vitamin D per day. In summer 5 t0 10 minutes, don’t burn. More on Vitamin D, and sun bathing

Sleep: 7.5  – 9 hours per night. Sleep in imperative, lack of sleep will dash your efforts for health and fat loss, and put your body in an insulin resistant state, and increase your appetite for junk

Exercise: any exercise is good, add a few short bouts of high intensity exercise – run fast, do some push-ups and squats. Lots of movement like walking and light activity. If you are at a desk – use a high chair with feet on floor, a large ball to sit on, or stand (i.e. find ways to get more get more movement at your desk) Lift heavy weights to maintain muscle mass.

Stress: avoid stress or find ways like meditation to minimise it. Carefully evaluate your lifestyle, the high value house with the big mortgage is not worth it if your health is put at risk

Socialisation: All long lived people have a strong community, make sure you don’t neglect this.


Here are 8 ways that our diet today is dramatically different from Paleo / Hunter and Gatherer diets, and how we can correct each

By following the paleo diet we are eating as we are designed to eat.

1. The Glycemic Load-the ability of food to spike or elevate blood sugar / insulin levels, we eat too much high GI foods.

By eating mainly non starch vegetables and fruit with starches from vegetables rather than grains and sugar, we dramatically lower the glycemic or blood sugar load. By including lean protein and good fats with each meal we get further blood sugar control. See Glycemic load for more info and glycemic index chart.

2. The Fatty Acid Balance- the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio, our diets are now very high in Omega 6 and low in Omega 3, plus the addition of chemically altered fats.

To mimic the fatty acid intake of wild meats we need to eat lean meat and add primarily monounsaturated oils to our diet (olive oil, raw nuts, avocado).  A small amount of saturated fat may be used such as coconut oil. Use the charts in this post to improve your omega 3 to 6 ratio. Omega 3 and 6 in nuts, seeds, oils, fats, seafood and meat. Most people, unless eating a lot of oily fish will not get adequate omega 3 without taking a supplement. I recommend buying omega 3 that has guaranteed purity.
Omega Science is a high purity, high concentrate and cost effective omega 3 supplement (New Zealand only)

Other fats to avoid are trans fats, found in fast food and deep fried food, vegetable oils (too high in polyunstaurated omega 6) margarine made with inter-esterified fat, and excess saturated fat such as those in meat and dairy. More on omega 3, 6 and 9 here

3. The Macronutrient Balance-the ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fat has changed

Dr Cordain and his researchers have analysed the balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat in the diets of many different hunter and gatherer races and he found that protein was 19 – 35% calories, carbohydrate 22- 40% calories and Fat 28 – 47% calories. The typical US diet contains protein, 15.5%, carbohydrates, 49% and fat 34%. By roughly following Zone diet ratios you will easily hit this balance. Another way to eat is to have a palm size of protein at each meal, plus a lot of non starch veggies, and a piece of fruit or starchy veg (yes carbs in moderation), with a little monounsaturated oil added.

4. The Trace Nutrient Density – the amount of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in the food we eat is very poor

The paleo diet only has nutrient rich foods, there is no place for nutrient poor foods such as white rice and sugar. Traditionally nutritionists have told us that grains are a great source of B vitamins, however compared to fruits and veggies, cereal grains are B-vitamin lightweights. An average 1,000 calorie serving of mixed vegetables contain 19 times more folate, five times more vitamin B6, six times more vitamin B2 and two times more vitamin B1 than a comparable serving of eight mixed whole grains. On a calorie-by-calorie basis, the niacin content of lean meat and seafood is four times more.

5. The Acid/Base Balance -every food reports to the kidneys as either acid or base, we now have a high acid load diet

Foods either report to the kidney as acid or alkaline. Foods that increase acidity are protein, grains and salt laden foods. Fruit and vegetables are alkaline foods. When you have a high acid load diet, calcium is pulled from the bones to buffer it – leading to osteoporosis. Protein is an essential nutrient and by choosing non processed protein foods and balancing them with vegetables and fruit (rather than grains) you will get a net alkaline load. An alkaline / acid food chart here from Loren Cordain.

6. The Sodium/Potassium Balance – We eat far too much sodium and too little potassium

The imbalance in today’s diet – high sodium and low potassium promotes or aggravates diseases due to acid-base balance, including high blood pressure, osteoporosis, kidney stones, asthma, stroke, and certain forms of cancer. Excess salt in the diet also impairs sleep. A low salt diet can help you sleep better.

By cutting out processed foods and added salt,  and eating potassium rich fruit and vegetables this imbalance is corrected. You don’t need to strictly cut out all salt, just avoid high salt foods and add only a little salt to meals.

7. The Fibre Content – we eat a fibre poor diet

Fibre is absolutely essential to health and at least 13 illnesses can result when you don’t get enough fibre in your diet. The Paleo diet is naturally high in fibre because if it’s abundance of fruits and vegetables. In fact it is 3 – 5 times higher than a typical American diet. Common digestive problems typically disappear on the Paleo diet including: Constipation, Heartburn, indigestion, Irritable bowel syndrome, and gallbladder problems. Fibre from fruits and vegetables is especially good as it provides food (pre-biotics) for our gut bacteria (pro-biotics)

8. The addition of large amounts of Neolithic / gut irritant foods that did not exist in our diets in Paleo times

Grains, legumes, and dairy foods were not part of the ancestral diet and have a number of problems, they irritate and gut and interfere with digestion of food and absorption of minerals. 1 in 10 people are known to be sensitive to gluten, most don’t know it. Try cutting these foods out completely for a month to see if they make a difference to your health.

See this extended article 10 Ways our diet today differs radically from the diet that best suits our genes

These points were take from the work by Professor Loren Cordain.

See too this article by Loren Cordain:
The Nutritional Characteristics of a Contemporary Diet Based Upon Paleolithic Food Groups. Full article can be found here – see page 15 of this online PDF