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What You Can’t Eat on the Paleo Diet

Knowing what not to eat on Paleo is sometimes easier than trying to determine what’s OK. It can sometimes be hard to put yourself in the shoes of people that lived tens of thousands of years ago, when the world was a very different place. There are some key things that jump out at you right away as being definite no-gos. Others are more subtle and are the subject of some debate in the Paleo community.

11 Foods to Avoid on the Paleo Diet- some of these may surprise you.


Taking It All The Way: Anything Involving Agriculture and Cultivation
The true theory behind the Paleo diet is that the Neolithic era is when we really started mucking things up as far as nutrition goes. Paleo purists would reject anything that hints at being an invention of the Neolithic era, that time that spelled the end of the Paleolithic era and ended a mere 4,000 years ago. That’s a bit too extreme for most to follow, and the vast majority of those that eat Paleo-inspired diets are not getting caught up to that degree, as there wouldn’t be much to choose from for anyone living in or near a major metropolis.

The moniker of Paleolithic Diet leads to a lot of ambiguity of what you can and can’t have, and causes debate within Paleo circles. On some foods you’re going to have to make up your own mind how often you have them and in what amounts. The Paleo Era lasted for so long and includes so many changes, many of which we have no way of knowing about or accounting for, so it’s all left to the individual and what feels right for them.

The Easy Stuff
These foods will stand out like a sore thumb when you’re following a Paleo lifestyle, and are easy to spot and say no to. It’s still good to have a strong why behind not eating it, so we’ll lay it out for you..

artificial ingredients

Artificial Ingredients
Suffice it to say that if it wasn’t around 200 years ago, it wasn’t around 10,000 years ago. Many of the artificial ingredients commonly found in foods eaten daily by the majority of Americans were created in the last 100 years, some even more recently. Once you go down the rabbit hole on artificial ingredients you’ll be blown away by just how much stuff is consumed that doesn’t contain natural ingredients.

Common additives that are avoided on Paleo, and should be avoided in general for a healthier life: aspartame, calcium sorbate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, potassium bromate, saccharin, sorbic acid, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners and GMOs.

sodas

Sodas
It’s easy to understand the beverage of choice for early man: pure water. Today’s sodas are rife with High Fructose Corn Syrup and other artificial ingredients, and have no nutritional value whatsoever. Often written off as empty carbs, they often contain caffeine which is not a natural substance for humans, and not a chemical that is consumed while following a Paleo way of life. Sodas are often linked to conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and even cancer. If sodas are a part of your daily life you’ll likely notice weight loss and feeling of well-being once you get past the headaches of caffeine withdrawal.

partially hydrogenated oils

Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Early man just didn’t have the capacity or the resources to try and figure out how to make oil sit on the shelf for months without spoiling. But today’s major food corporations needed a way to do just that, and invented partially hydrogenated oils to extend the shelf life of foods. This has lead to many commonly available foods having trans fat in them. In response to public outcry on how unhealthy trans fats are, these companies have been forced to come up with new ways to either hide the trans fat from the Nutritional Information, or newly created oils that don’t have trans fat, but are likely just as bad for the body and soul.

junk food

Junk Food
Paleolithic man was bent on survival, which didn’t leave much time for food that leaves you feeling fat and gross. Junk food represents a quick snack designed to tantalize your taste buds with chemicals created in laboratories for that very purpose. These snacks are typically devoid of any nutrition, contain mostly fried corn or potatoes in one form or another, are heavily salted with industrial grade salt or are sweetened with ultra-sweet sweeteners like High Fructose Corn Syrup.

fast food

Fast Food
There definitely wasn’t a Burger King competing next to every McDonald’s in the time of Stone Age man, no matter what The Flintstone’s would have you believe. Nothing that comes out of a fast food restaurant would be considered Paleo, and would actually be considered the opposite of Paleo for how much engineering goes into every morsel they create. There has been plenty of media attention as to just how bad fast food is for the body, including the documentary Super Size Me and the book Fast Food Nation. For Paleo followers these slingers of burgers and fries are to be avoided entirely.

grains

Grains
Paleo diets cut out the grains, which is why they’re often confused as being grain-free diets or gluten-free diets. By avoiding wheat you’re cutting out breads, bagels, and plenty of other foods that are encouraged by the official Food Guide Pyramid endorsed by none other than the US Department of Agriculture. Grains represent one of the biggest tiers of that pyramid, with meats forming the tiniest sliver, which means the Paleo diet is going against much of what your brain has been pummeled with since you were a kid. Many have found that by just cutting out the wheat they feel better, have more energy, lose weight, and have better digestion.

The Tricky Stuff
You might have to do a double take on some of these, and they’re the harder ones to remember, and the ones most likely to trip you up because they find their way into the Standard American Diet all the time.

dairy

Dairy
Because it comes from animals, dairy seems like it would be on the approved list, but it isn’t, at least if you want to be strictly Paleo. This is one item that causes some disagreement, but there’s simply no way that early man was in the habit of drinking milk, or in a position to make dairy products like cheese and yogurt. By the very definition of the diet you would renounce these things as mistakes made by Neolithic man and strengthened by modern man.

It doesn’t take much to see that many adult humans are lactose intolerant to some degree, and that humans are the only species bent on drinking another speices milk. We’re also the only species that drinks any sort of milk after infancy. Human milk as a baby is clearly the natural way to go in regards to milk consumption, and the Paleo diet is all about getting back to the most natural time of our existence.

processed foods

Processed Foods
How much a food has been processed is sometimes a blurry line. If you’re buying it in a box, or if it won’t spoil, it’s probably been processed. The exception to this is canned food, which technically wouldn’t be Paleo because they didn’t can their food back then. This is one of the hardest aspects of the Paleo Diet to keep in mind because processed foods account for a large majority of the food you find in the supermarket or grocery store. Ideally you’d want to avoid the big food stores like this and buy your meats from a butcher, and your fruits and vegetables from a farmer’s market. The butcher is as close as you can come to going out and killing the animals yourself, and a farmer’s market is as close as you can come to growing your own food with few pesticides and herbicides, at least for city-dwellers.

legumes

Legumes
This one is tough because legumes come from the earth so you’d think it’d be OK and get the green light. This rule puts the kibosh on such ubiquitous foods as beans and peanuts, and on foods often considered healthy like peas and lentils. It’s the phytic acid that’s being nixed here, and is the same reason why you’re not going to be eating grains when eating Paleo.

This is one thing that is sometimes hard to come to terms with when eating according to the Paleo guidelines. Foods that are generally thought of as healthy and promoted in several other diet plans, like peanut butter in The Abs Diet or lentils in The Slow Carb Diet, are a no-go on Paleo. You have to be very sure to understand why these foods aren’t recommended for you, so that you don’t cave in and eat them, causing you to feel bad about yourself or to give up entirely.

Phytic acid is referred to as an antinutrient, which means it’s going to cause some of the nutrients you do take in to be improperly absorbed by the body, thus negating their intake in the first place. The problem with many of the most popular foods eaten in our society is that they nullify the good things that are eaten and don’t provide much nutrition themselves, making them doubly bad.

potatoes

Potatoes
Potatoes are such a staple food in America that this one might be hard to avoid. It’s also hard to wrap your head around why you can’t have it. Since it’s grown in the ground it would only seem natural that early man would have stumbled upon some wild-growing potatoes. But as it turns out it takes a good deal of cultivating to grow potatoes, so their popularity would have increased only in the Neolithic era, when man stopped hunting and gathering and started staying in one place longer, growing food around him and raising livestock.

pseudograins

Pseudograins
There are food items like Quinoa that aren’t quite a grain, but function much like a grain and cause a lot of confusion as to whether or not you can have them. The official answer is no, but many Paleo followers will allow themselves to have some on occasion since it falls into a gray area of sorts. It’s definitely a category of food you’ll have to make your own mind up on, with buckwheat and amaranth being two others to keep your eye on.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of foods you can’t eat on the Paleo Diet, but it will help you avoid some of the worst offenders. It’s a two step process when following Paleo, side step the foods you aren’t supposed to have while keeping yourself well nourished and feeling good with the foods that you are allowed and encouraged to eat. It can be tough going against modern society and turning back the clock, but it’s not impossible when you have your facts straight.

Be sure to see our list of Paleo-approved foods to know what you can have.

73 Comments

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  1. Why can butter be used but not cheese. Butter is produced very similarly to cheese so if butter is an approved food, why not cheese as long as it’s raw and unpasteurized?

  2. I have friends coming over in a month for the weekend and they eat paleo. What do i serve them to eat that both paleo and non-paleos will enjoy?

  3. Man only started eating meat when he found fire, they did not want to leave it, so built homes around the fire, then how no one knows, they found that they could eat meat by cooking it, it filled them up for more time so did not have to go gathering so much.

    • Well in fact, it’s been discovered that other primates eat raw meat so perhaps, rather likely, early humans did too. Fire creation and meat consumption would not have gone so neatly hand in hand.

  4. What sense does it make to be able to use butter and oils when eating Paleo? Paleo man did NOT have the means to make butter OR oil and yet one is not supposed to use dry beans, ‘cultivate’ a potato, or drink milk. What gives??

    • The Paleo diet is based on a time also when humans did not have advancements in storing, refrigeration. They did not live as long as humans live now. Also, unless you lived in places like Zanzabar which is called the Spice Island, your food lacked less flavor. A paleo diet is a good start to eating well, but you cant over look our advancements such as filtered water and the FDA that helps protects Americans from bad food.

      • The FDA helps “protect Americans from bad food”? Our lovely government is mostly responsible for the poisoning of Americans for decades now. Additives and preservatives in foods fed to us that are actually not allowed in other developed countries because they are so harmful. Misinformation, fluoridated municipal water supplies, chem trails, and the list goes on and on. I would not take as fact anything that the big government FDA states as truth or wisdom. In fact, if the FDA says something is okay, I am inclined to suspect otherwise.

    • True, but if you didn’t know before grasses are what grow grains. Such as wheat, barley, and yes rice including wild or domestic is a grain.

  5. Is there any nutritional reason to avoid potatoes? Are they an anti-nutrient, like legumes, for example, or is simply that we have no record of them being eaten before about 8000BC?

    There’s a lot about eating Paleo that seems to make good sense to me – eating whole, fresh, unprocessed, nutrient rich food for example – but I do like to know that there’s some science behind the things which are excluded rather than just a catch all ‘well, we don’t have any evidence we ate it over 2.6 million years ago so it must be bad!’

    Where does Paleo stand on sweet potatoes and coconuts btw?

  6. I’m haut staring to eat a paleo diet. I have dieted for years and have had the traditional success and failure. I usually eat a pretty clean diet but am wanting to get it more in line with paleo and stop “dieting”. Has anyone found that this “diet” has helped them get off the yoyo and stabilize their weight and eating habits over all? Just curious and thank you. Over all I just want to feel better, weight loss would be an added bonus.

    • I have found the Paleo diet to be very helpful for me in terms of weight stabilization, feeling healthy, and avoiding the yo-yo with dieting and binge- eating. I have a lot of trouble with food, and I always have. I was a vegetarian for years, and some months I’ve been obsessed with extreme low-calorie high-exercise regimes, while other times I rarely exercise and I give up on dieting or eating healthy entirely. The Paleo option removes the foods I usually binge on (peanut butter, chips, popcorn, etc.) and provides only healthy options. I feel good about what I’m putting in my body, and I feel good about the lifestyle I’m choosing. I also do not go without food – I eat when I’m hungry, period. I snack on carrots, apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumbers. I eat meat or eggs and veggies for every single meal. I lost 6 lbs in the first week, and stabilized. I’m pretty happy with it!

      • Unless you weight in at 98 pounds and have lost 10 pounds. I am down to 88 pounds and desperately need to add on some weight! I can’t eat any of the snacks that would put weight on you but eating veggies and fruit does NOT work for us petite and under weight women. There has to be a better answer!!!!!

        • Hi Peggy, when you have a good balanced diet, exercice, get rest there is no excuse why you should be underweight or overweight !! If you want to gain, you need to temporarily put in more calories and when the weight is reached, need to stabilize the food and calorie intake.. So eat meat, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds, high nutrient oils and you should be fine..

    • Stop dieting PERIOD and make a healthy eating and active lifestyle change.
      Cut out fried foods,sweets,products that say fat free cause they have even more unhealthy things added to replace the fat,outside of paleo diet if u do eat carbs keep it in your 1st meal of the day(breakfast), no processed foods frsh meats only,and get out hike ride a bike walk fast, join a gym and dedicate 3 days minimum. Thats just my advice healthy lifestyle all around….

  7. real quick question – This seemed thorough but I only skimmed through so I figured there’s some info in here on Paleo in relation to “Gluten-Free Diets” —??? Any relation at all? Similarities?? Or completely different and pretty much all Paleo foods consist or doesn’t matter if they consist of gluten…?? THANKS…!!!
    — D.

    • Paleo would be considered gluten free as there are no grains allowed in the diet. But Gluten free diets tend to use a lot of processed foods still to replace breads, while the Paleo diet focuses on generally using whole, fresh, and clean foods.

  8. Are you able to eat canned tuna on this diet? In your 14 day meal plan, the first recipe for lunch calls for canned tuna? I have read in another source that you are to stay away from canned anything… Please clarify!!! Thank you 🙂

    • Lots of calcium in dark leafy green vegetables and if you get good quality sardines (packed in spring water) there is calcium there. Some people also supplement with a vegan multivitamin. But it always helps to do research on foods. The dairy industry has us all hoodwinked.

      • Hi, if anyone sees these anymore. Wash and dry egg shells and then grinned them up to a paste and add to smoothies or whatever. Lots of calcium in there.

  9. I love this sight and I purchased the cook book I was just wondering if there was a place to find the nutritional value of the meals. My trainer ask me how many calories I was eating a day. and I don’t feel lie breaking it down myself 🙂

  10. What about soaking beans like I do with nuts to take out most of the phytic acid? Your saying here never to eat beans on paleo.

  11. I’m new to this site, I’m highly allergic to a lot of foods. I was told this was the best way to keep on track of not eating my offending foods.

    • Nancy,
      I am sensitive to many foods. Mostly grains, nuts and legumes…seems to be veggie proteins. Paleo has made a huge impact and improvement in my life.

  12. Some of this seems fine – healthy fresh food etc. But why the paleo thing? Life expectany ten was probably late 20’s / early 30’s.

    • Life expectancy back then was low not because of diet, but because of lack of anything truly medical, and the harsh world they lived in.
      Their diet was fine, or at least, their diet was fine if they werent starving.

  13. I’m new to the whole paleo thing but I really like the philosophy behind it..it makes sense to me. It also doesn’t hurt that one of my major interests has always been paleo anthropology and archaeology!
    There are a few foods though that I’m not sure shouldn’t be allowedi and I’m kind of confused by. We know that early man gathered natural growing cereal grasses, wheat etc. as they travelled, which is why it was one of the first things they cultivated when they transitioned to a farming lifestyle or even perhaps, a reason why they settled in the first place. And if these foods are not harmful, I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t eat them. Am I wrong?
    I also want to thank you for all the information and recipes. I can’t wait to try them out!

  14. The way i look at it, if you could come across it in the wild and it could aid in your survival if you were starving, then you can have it.
    I allow legumes and nuts, and i allow potatos as there is no reason not to be able to eat them.
    And things like oats and the like i also allow.
    The antinutrient thing i believe has a hint of bullshit so i will have to do more research.

  15. You said . . . “You have to be very sure to understand why these foods aren’t recommended for you, so that you don’t cave in and eat them, causing you to feel bad about yourself or to give up entirely”.

    It’s what I’ve been looking for to help me stick to my ” food diet”. Every time I start, I falter somehow. I have done similar diets, many years ago and it worked forme, but for some reason, this time I’ve found it hard to keep it up, and your words(above), were what I needed. Thank you!
    Good post very helpful. . .

  16. I understand no dairy but my mind can’t really grasp “no milk” so what if anything would be a good substitute…I know this wouldn’t be considered true Paleo but everything else I could do without consuming on the do not eat list…so would almond milk be my best go to?

    Thanks,
    Heather

  17. I’d keep it simple…just leave out sugar, dairy, wheat, processed food, sodas, and use all natural stuff…including legumes!!!

    • Fruit is allowed on the paleo diet, but only in moderation. It is not recommended as a large part of a meal, but rather a component. Fruit in large quantities = lots of sugar. While some argue that fruit is “natural sugar,” it is still sugar. A smoothie, for example, with 1 cup of spinach, 1/4 cup of water, 1/4 cup of orange juice, 3/4 cups strawberries, 1/2 cup of blueberries, and 1 banana, contains 32 grams of sugar [Source: nutritionstudies.org]. A 12 ounce Coca-Cola has 39 grams. The smoothie is the lesser of the two evils because of the nutrients, but both will cause an unnecessary spike in blood sugar.

  18. I had went to this diet because my doctor had put me on it did not know it was called a Paleo diet at the time I had lost a great deal of weight and my pain levels went down now that I am eating all this junk again my pain levels are back up and I have gain weight back i will be going back on this Paleo diet as a life changing way of eating because it is better for me.

  19. I’ve just started this lifestyle and loving it BUT I am human and DO feel like some red WINE on the weekends!!!!! I used to drink whisky because I thought it was less fattening but my nutritionist said no lager or spirits but the occasional red wine is ok????? I Know alcohol is a no no but I can’t cut it out for the rest of my life????What are your thoughts????

  20. I am semi paleo… I have reduced my grain and dairy consumption. I have a condition where I cannot eat anything artificial or processed. The biggest thing is that on the paleo diet, it’s all about the nuts. I’m allergic to nuts, soy, caffeine, high citrus fruits, and other things. Most of the recipes, I find, have at least one nut flour and citrus. Hmm. Well, I’m doing this best I can with the foods I can really eat.

  21. I have had increase knee pain some from a sports injury but much of the pain is caused from increase in weight. I am having stem cell injections in my knee. Not a lot of fun. The doctor wants me lose lose 25 and recommended the paleo diet. When can I introduce fruits.? It is just killing me not to eat fruit at least twice a day.

  22. I am on medication that puts weight on me. I have been trying this but I havent lost any weight. Anyone else having this problem and any advice.

  23. My daughter Sarah, age 10 years old , she has life threatening allergy to eggs, and fussy eater as well, also very sweet tooth. I am trying to make her eat healthy food without eggs and other additives, do you have kids meal recipes with photos ? especially lunch box and after school snacks .

  24. I lost 14 kilos on a strict paleo diet. Since heading back to my older ways( im now 70% Paleo)… I have put on 3 kilos, and now am trying to go back to what I was eating previously, to lose those 3 kilos again. It is hard, very hard. Paleo lifestyle is unsociable, but the results are fantastic for weight loss and skin texture and health benefits for me, such as no more headaches/ migraines and I am off my migraine medication. At least take the 30 day challenge to experience this…….it may or may not be for you, but give it a good go, the best you can.

  25. So I’ve been on a modified paleo lifestyle. My problem is I don’t like meat or fish and eggs only a little. I cut out gluten and I make a gluten free, sugar free bread, but most of the time I’m at a loss to get myself to eat protein. Any thoughts?

  26. I am banting at the moment. Are you allowed cream on the Paleo diet. And are you saying ‘No’ cheese whatsoever, or are there some cheeses allowed. Also yoghurt. Full cream yoghurt, and full cream milk?

  27. I’m having trouble defining legumes…
    Can someone give me a list of legumes to avoid?
    Funny enough, with the exception of dairy I almost have this diet already…

  28. I have rheumatoid arthritis. I have gained at least 20 lbs since diagnosed. I know part of it is due to the fact it’s difficult to exercise because of my joints and fatigue. How does this diet work for RA people with inflammatory issues and stuck on medication(methotrexate)?

  29. I had a question about gluten free pasta. I loved pasta, but I am hearing that even the gluten free pasta is no good.

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