A primer on paleo

If you’ve ever considered taking things way back and trying out the paleo diet, here’s what you need to know.

Paleo is an approach to eating that’s based on how our ancestors ate in the Paleolithic era, when they were limited to foods that they could hunt (meat or seafood) or gather (plants, nuts and seeds), says Toronto nutritionist and registered dietitian Jaime Slavin. So why eat like they did? There are many foods available to us now that experts say aren’t right for some of our bodies, says Slavin. Grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugars, alcohol and coffee are no-go foods on the diet. “[They] can cause inflammation and can contribute to a host of health issues,” she says.


Anyone can give paleo a go, though it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider first. People who have a dairy intolerance, celiac disease or other autoimmune conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and psoriasis have reported improvements after trying the diet. “More research is needed,” Slavin cautions. “However, paleo advocates suggest that anecdotal stories are proof that this lifestyle may be helpful.”


Animal products (such as grass-fed beef, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs), vegetables (including root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beets and carrots), fruits, nuts, seeds and good-quality fats such as coconut oil and olive oil are permitted on a paleo diet. Unlike today, however, people in the Paleolithic era had limited access to meat — and depending on where your ancestors are from, may have eaten more seafood than meat — so it’s key to keep your diet from becoming all meat all the time. “Today, [when] following a paleo diet, it is important to balance your animal-based consumption with plant-based options in order to ensure that you are getting enough vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre and antioxidants,” says Slavin. Once you start following paleo eating guidelines, listen to your body to make sure this approach is for you; if you feel unwell on the diet, you don’t have to follow it to a T. “What works for one person may not work for you, because everybody is different,” she explains. Something else to consider: eating pre-packaged food while on the paleo diet is very tricky, since it’s often made with ingredients on the no-go list. If you don’t have time to commit to making most of your food from scratch, paleo may not work for you. If you do choose to commit to it, Slavin suggests the following cookbooks to help kick-start your paleo plan: Against All Grain by Danielle Walker and Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo.