The premise of the paleolithic (paleo) diet is simple: Eat only foods that existed during the hunter-gatherer era. That means grass-fed meats and wild fish, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds (including their healthy oils), while excluding all dairy, legumes and grains.
This pre-agricultural, clean-eating approach has spawned a hungry tribe: In 2015, paleo-certified foods sales exceeded $750 million, according to Nutrition Business Journal.
But where’s the beef and what’s chaff? Let's unpack some common stereotypes to find out.
- MYTH: The paleo diet means you only eat meat—and lots of it.
TRUTH: Not necessarily. Although paleo certainly emphasizes low-carb, high-protein foods, some adherents focus on nonstarchy, green, leafy vegetables and try to reduce or even eliminate meat (yes, paleo veganism is a thing). One protein-rich, paleo-friendly plant option: hemp seed, which—though it’s not a complete protein—does contain more protein by weight than grass-fed beef.
- MYTH: The paleo diet isn’t healthy.
TRUTH: On the contrary, recent studies point to Western reliance on starchy carbs and sugar, not fat and protein, as the primary culprit behind chronic illnesses like diabetes, obesity and heart disease. In addition to meat’s benefits, paleo eaters tout easy-to-make (or buy) bone broth for its purported gut-friendly, anti-inflammatory properties. And of course, overwhelming research lauds plant foods for optimal health.
- MYTH: The paleo diet is expensive.
TRUTH: If you slap nothing but bacon-wrapped beef fillets on your plate, then yes, the costs will add up. But before humans hunted animals, they subsisted on fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds—typically the lowest cost-per-calorie foods on the planet. Make those the centerpiece of an affordable and nutritious paleo diet, and occasionally incorporate lean, grass-fed meats.
- MYTH: The paleo diet is boring.
TRUTH: Hardly. With nearly the entire plant and meat world at their disposal, paleo enthusiasts enjoy delightfully inventive dishes and versatile condiments, such as mayo made from avocado instead of canola or soy. And when the sugar comes from fruit, dates, coconut or maple, you can have your chocolate and eat it, too.
- MYTH: The paleo diet is only for CrossFit fanatics.
TRUTH: It’s true that you’ll find paleo products hawked at gyms and competitions. But according to Nutrition Business Journal, the typical paleo eater isn’t a hulky male CrossFitter, but rather a middle-aged, affluent woman trying to boost athletic performance, lose weight or combat a health problem. For both camps, paleo meat snacks offer on-the-go, grain-free energy.
- MYTH: The paleo diet is environmentally irresponsible.
TRUTH: Actually, the paleo movement evangelizes a return to humane, regenerative food and land practices. “Hooves on the ground are essential to grassland health,” says Sarah Gleason of the Savory Institute, a grassland restoration nonprofit. “Properly managed livestock that mimic large, wild herds help restore the land and sequester carbon.” Next-gen paleo: products made from less-used animal parts to create incentives for responsible ranchers.