What is the Paleo Diet? How it works and how it can help you lose weight

"What is the paleo diet?" is such a popular question we get asked that we thought it was about time to answer it...

What is the paleo diet
(Image credit: Getty Images / samael334)

"What is the paleo diet?" we hear you cry! Well, if you're looking to lose weight, it could be the solution for you. Especially as its about getting back to basics when it comes to food, so it's really easy to follow.

Here's everything you need to know about the paleo diet before you give it a try...

What is the paleo diet?

The paleo diet is pretty easy to follow. “The paleo diet is designed to resemble the diet of hunter gatherers in the Palaeolithic era from 2.5 million to 10,000 or so years ago," says dietitian, Dr Carrie Ruxton, from The Health & Food Supplements Information Service

So it's time to forget any ready meals or artificial foods. "A paleo diet typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds – foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering," says Dr Ruxton. "Depending on the part of the world, some hunter gatherers may have eaten high quantities of meat and few plant foods whilst others ate more plant foods.” 

How does the paleo diet work?

“The aim of a paleo diet is to return to a way of eating that is more like what early humans ate," says Dr Ruxton. "The diet's reasoning is that the human body is genetically mismatched to the modern diet that emerged with farming practices.  Farming changed what people ate and established dairy, grains and legumes as additional staples in the human diet. This relatively late and rapid change in diet, according to the hypothesis, outpaced the body's ability to adapt. This mismatch is believed to be a contributing factor to the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease today.”

What do you eat each day on the paleo diet?

Here's the good news – you won't feel hungry on the paleo diet. 

“Recommendations vary for paleo diets with some diet plans stricter than others," says Dr Ruxton. "In general, paleo diet recommends fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean meats (especially grass fed and wild game), fish, especially oily fish, oils from plants such as olive oil. The diet recommends avoidance of grains, such as wheat, oats and barley, legumes such as beans, peas and lentils, dairy products, sugar, potatoes and highly processed foods (in both snacks and meals).”

Could the paleo diet work for you?

In a word, yes. “It could help you to lose weight," says Dr Ruxton. "A number of randomised clinical trials have compared the paleo diet to other eating plans, such as the Mediterranean Diet. Overall, these trials suggest that a paleo diet may provide some benefits when compared with diets of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, legumes and low-fat dairy products."

And it's not just good for your waistline. "These benefits may include more weight loss, better appetite management and improved glucose tolerance," says Dr Ruxton. "However, longer trials with large groups of people randomly assigned to different diets are needed to understand the long-term, overall health benefits and possible risks of a paleo diet.”


Is the paleo diet bad?

Not really. In the diet world, it's actually really healthy. 

“A paleo diet is rich in vegetables, fruits and nuts – all elements of a healthy diet," says Dr Ruxton. "The main difference between the paleo diet and some other diets is the absence of whole grains and legumes, which are considered good sources of fibre, vitamins and other nutrients. Also absent from the diet are dairy products, which are good sources of protein and calcium. These foods not only are considered healthy but also are generally more affordable and accessible than such foods as wild game, grass-fed animals and nuts. For some people, a paleo diet may be too expensive.”

How much weight could you lose on the paleo diet?

“A study in 70 women found that following the paleo diet for six months resulted in 14 pounds (6.5 kg) of fat loss, on average, and a significant reduction in central abdominal fat," says Dr Ruxton. "Another review of 11 studies concluded that the diet may aid weight loss, noting that participants lost an average of nearly eight pounds (3.5 kg) in trials lasting anywhere between two months and two years.”

Is the paleo diet worth a try?

Yes, it's definitely worth a try in the short term. “The paleo diet has been linked with weight loss," says Dr Ruxton. "Weight loss is likely as food groups are cut out and calorie intake is likely to be reduced because of that. However, it is restrictive to follow particularly in the longer term. Given its avoidance of many healthy foods, there is a risk of fibre, vitamin and mineral shortfalls (e.g., calcium in dairy foods, fibre and B vitamins in legumes and wholegrains). Anyone following this diet should be recommended to take a multivitamin/multimineral supplement.”

What does the paleo diet cost and do you have to sign up?

Here's both good and bad news. "There is no need to ‘sign up’ to anything to follow this diet. Various Apps are available some of which are free, some of which have a charge,” says Dr Ruxton. However, you may find you have to spend more as you'll be buying good quality groceries. Although this is an investment in your health.

Faye M Smith

Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of theHealth Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. 

Currently Acting Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships. In fact, having previously been the go-to sex columnist for Now magazine, there isn't much she won't discuss when it comes to women's health. This makes her the best person to review must-buy sex toys, describe how to have a mind-blowing orgasm or explain how to navigate sex in the shower without it ending in a medical emergency. 

While not anti-gym, Faye’s fitness routine is more focussed on finding inner balance rather than burning excess calories. An advocate of mindfulness, she loves power breathing, yoga and plenty of walking in nearby woodlands rather than a sweaty HIIT class. Follow her @fayetuned