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The Definitive Guide to the Paleo Diet

The Definitive Guide to the Paleo Diet

Is the Paleo Diet just another fad or is it the diet of the future?


Like CrossFit and intermittent fasting, the Paleo Diet has taken the health and fitness world by storm.

And like CrossFit and IF, the Paleo Diet also has some big promises to make good on if you’re to listen to the hype.

According to its more fervent supporters, the Paleo Diet is the ultimate way to eat. The commonly touted benefits are quite impressive:

  • Rapid, easy weight loss without having to “count calories.”
  • High, balanced energy levels with no crashes.
  • No cravings for junk.
  • Better workouts.
  • Protection against various types of disease like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  • Clearer skin and prettier hair and teeth.
  • Reduced allergies.
  • Improved sleep.

In short, many gurus sell the Paleo Diet as the ultimate “diet hack.” A way to put the power of genetics on your side and positively alter how your genes express themselves.

And if you combine it with CrossFit? Well, have you ever wanted to be superhuman?


Jokes aside, can the Paleo Diet actually deliver on these claims?

Let’s find out.

What is the Paleo Diet?

Paleo is a contraction of paleolithic, which refers to the Paleolithic era in history, which was a period from about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. During this time period, humans grouped together into small, roaming societies and developed simple tools to hunt and fish with.

The idea behind the Paleo Diet is to “eat how our ancient ancestors did”–a diet mainly consisting of fish, grass-fed meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts. That’s why it’s also called the caveman diet, the stone age diet, and the hunter-gatherer diet.

The foods excluded from the Paleo Diet are grains, legumes (peanuts, various types of beans, and chickpeas) , dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils (trans fats, as well as refined vegetable oils like canola, safflower, and sunflower oil).

As you can see, it’s an inherently high-protein, low-carbohydrate, high-fat type of diet, and has you eating a ton of animals and animal products.

If that sets off alarm bells in your head, warning of impending heart attacks or worse, hold your horses. We’re going to address the health aspects of the Paleo Diet in a minute, but first, let’s start with a quick review of its theoretical foundations.

Why Should We Eat Like Cavemen?

That’s the first question I wondered when I heard about the Paleo Diet.

Who cares how our ancient ancestors ate?

Well, the Paleo enthusiast would reply, for millions of years (before the Age of the Big Mac), us humans were hunter-gatherers. We had no agriculture, grocery stores, or ways to store and process food. We had to eat nuts, wild plants, and fresh meats. And, he will proclaim, we were much healthier back then–no arthritis, no cancer, no osteoporosis, and no heart disease. Thus, he will conclude, we should eschew modern dietary habits and return to our roots.

Well, while ancient humans may not have been as healthy as some people think, the idea still has an immediate appeal. With disease exploding over the last century, something is deeply wrong with how modern humans are living, and diet is a primary culprit.

But is a return to the Stone Age the answer?

Well, the first problem with the theory of the Paleo Diet is the assumption that just because a dietary behavior or method of food processing is more recent, it’s automatically worse than the ancestral model.

Our prehistoric forebears had one thing in mind, every day: survival. They ate whatever they could get their hands on, including each other sometimes. (Uh, is human flesh Paleo-approved?) The point is their food choices weren’t always optimal, and if we were transported back to the Paleolithic times, we would be smart to decline a dinner invitation.

Although it doesn’t have much bearing on the actual dietary protocols themselves, I found it slightly ironic that he Paleolithic humans didn’t follow the Paleo Diet.

The historical angle of the Paleo Diet is based on a set of findings by its founder, Dr. Loren Cordain, and other researchers, which proposes that humans during the Paleolithic era were primarily hunter-gatherers, with an emphasis on the hunting.

This paper is an important piece of the scientific underpinnings of the Paleo Diet, and is, in turn, based on the flawed Ethnographic Atlas, a database on many cultural aspects of 1167 societies.

Primate ecologist Katherine Milton wrote an insightful paper on the matter, and here are a few highlights:

  • The sources of data for the Ethnographic Atlas are mostly from the 20th century. We’ve since learned that some societies coded as hunter-gathers weren’t exclusively hunter-gatherers.
  • Some of the authors that helped compiled the Atlas were sloppy in their data collection. Furthermore, most of the researchers were male, and much of the collection and processing done by women was likely mis- or underreported.
  • The hunter-gatherers included in the Atlas were modern-day humans, not people living in the primitive conditions of our distant past. The wide variety of dietary behaviors seen don’t fall into a nice pattern that we can emulate. Furthermore, most of the hunter-gatherer societies lived off vegetable foods–an emphasis on hunting was rare.

These critiques have been borne out by other studies.

So, while the “eat like our ancestors” pitch makes for good marketing, the reality is actually doing it doesn’t equate to the Paleo Diet as we know it.

Now, even if that strips the Paleo Diet of a bit of its scientific legitimacy and luster, it doesn’t mean it’s not a healthy way to eat.

The new question, then, becomes:

Even if our ancient ancestors weren’t “Paleo,” is the diet worthwhile nonetheless?

Making a Case for the Paleo Diet

Here’s the premise of the Paleo Diet, as stated by its founder, Dr. Loren Cordain:

“With readily available modern foods, The Paleo Diet mimics the types of foods every single person on the planet ate prior to the Agricultural Revolution (a mere 333 generations ago). These foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood) are high in the beneficial nutrients (soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates) that promote good health and are low in the foods and nutrients (refined sugars and grains, trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and processed foods) that frequently may cause weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and numerous other health problems. The Paleo Diet encourages dieters to replace dairy and grain products with fresh fruits and vegetables – foods that are more nutritious than whole grains or dairy products.”

Despite his revisionist version of how our ancestors ate, it seems like a pretty sensible way to eat, no?

“But wait!” You might be thinking. “Won’t eating a bunch of saturated fat cause your heart to explode?”

No, it won’t. The myth that saturated fat intake is associated with heart disease been thoroughly debunked, yet still lingers.

The reality is there are quite a few good things that can be said about following the Paleo Diet:

There’s no question: the Paleo Diet is a healthy way to eat, and is supported by peer-reviewed literature.

A study conducted by the University of California found that compared to the subjects’ normal (poor) dietary habits, the Paleo Diet improved blood pressure, glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and lipid profiles.

Another study, conducted by the University of Lund, found that the Paleo Diet was better for type 2 diabetics than a traditional “diabetes diet” in terms of improving glycemic control (the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels) and cardiovascular risk factors.

So, clearly the Paleo Diet has its merits. But the problems with the Paleo Diet begin when we dive deeper into its dogma.

The Problems With Paleo

The first big problem with Paleo is the stance that one singular way of eating is superior to all others.

The longest living populations on the planet are the peoples of Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California–the “Blue Zones,” as these geographical locations have been labeled.

These people are quite un-Paleo–they don’t eat much animal food, and instead live on starch-based diets. To quote an extensive review on their dietary patterns:

“…dietary patterns associated with longevity emphasize fruits and vegetables and are reduced in saturated fat, meats, refined grains, sweets, and full-fat dairy products.”

And further:

“Equally notable is the wide variation in other aspects of healthy diets, particularly macronutrient intake. Traditional Okinawan diets provide ≥90% of calories from carbohydrate (predominantly from vegetables), whereas the traditional Mediterranean diet provides >40% of calories from fat, mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.”

The point is while it’s tempting to conclude that the diets of “Blue Zoners” are the best way to achieve optimal health, it would be erroneous to do so. There are too many other non-dietary factors that contribute to longevity. The same can be said for the Paleo Diet.

The second big problem with the Paleo ideology is not what it has you eat, but what it has you avoid.

By following the Paleo Diet strictly, you miss out on potential benefits from foods like dairy, legumes, and whole grains, and the reasons given for avoiding such foods are scientifically flawed.

For instance…

  • Dairy products are a good source of calcium, protein, and vitamin D. Potassium, magnesium, zinc, and several other vitamins. Research has shown that dairy can improve bone healthmuscle mass and strength, and even weight management. Now, lactose intolerance is fairly prevalent and people can get these nutrients in other ways, but for those that do fine with dairy, it’s a highly nutritious food.

It’s worth noting that I’m a bit concerned with the quality of run-of-the-mill dairy here in the States due to the poor health of many of the dairy cows and the artificial hormones many are given that find their way into the milk. These issues aren’t part of the Paleo argument against dairy, though, which is simply that our ancient ancestors didn’t eat dairy so neither should we.

Paleo gurus will often say that whole grains damage the intestines, but there simply isn’t any reliable, in vivo (in living organisms) research available to support these claims.

Now, as with dairy, some people don’t do well with grains. A true gluten intolerance is much less common than Paleo gurus would have you believe, but it’s out there. And refined grains are not a good replacement for whole grains as they lose many of their nutrients during processing, and have been associated with increased inflammation in the body.

But for those that do fine with whole grains, they are a great source of carbohydrate, various nutrients, and fiber.

Paleo proponents often say you should avoid legumes because they believe our ancestors didn’t eat them, and because they contain antinutrients that interfere with nutrient absorption. While legumes do contain these antinutrients, so do many other foods, and they are reduced by simple processing methods like soaking and cooking.

The bottom line is antinutrients found in whole grains and legumes are not a problem unless your diet is devoid of nutritious foods and horribly imbalanced in terms of macronutrients. Yes, if you mostly eat uncooked whole grains and beans all day, you will have some problems. However, there’s no research to indicate that such antinutrients are a problem at normal intake levels and as a part of a properly balanced diet.

As you can see, while Paleo’s “approved foods” are quite alright, its blacklisted foods just don’t make sense.

One last little point I would like to address is the claims that you can lose weight on the Paleo Diet without having to count calories.

This is a bit misleading because the fact is weight loss requires a caloric deficit, regardless of how you get there in terms of actual food eaten.

Don’t believe me?

Check out this professor that lost 27 pounds by eating junk foods like Twinkies, Little Debbie snacks, and Doritos. How did he do that? Simply by regulating the AMOUNT of food he was eating (total daily calories), not WHAT.

I’ve worked with scores of people that weren’t losing weight on the Paleo Diet simply because they had no concept of how many calories they were actually eating.

Eating a healthy, low-carb diet doesn’t mean you automatically lose weight–you have to maintain a caloric deficit.

The Bottom Line

While its historical foundations are flawed, the Paleo Diet has a lot going for it. It’s a hell of a lot healthier than the average person’s diet, and you can derive many health benefits from it.

The mistake many people make with Paleo is accepting its extremes, which simply aren’t scientifically defensible. 

I actually eat fairly Paleo, because I enjoy meats, fruits, and vegetables. I also enjoy grains like rice, quinoa, and whole-grain pasta and bread, as well as a bit of dairy and legumes here and there.

Unsurprisingly, some of less dogmatic and better informed Paleo gurus like Mark Sisson advocate this “80/20” approach. That is, you mostly eat meats, veggies, fish, fruit, and nuts, but you include limited amounts of dairy, grains, legumes, and other “non-Paleo” foods as needed or desired.


What are your thoughts on the Paleo Diet? Have anything else you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments below!

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Leave a Comment!
  • Guest

    Great article. I’ve been ‘Paleo-lite’ 80/20 or so for over a year now. Still loving it.

  • Ryan Turner

    Great article. I’ve been ‘Paleo-lite’ 80/20 or so for over a year now. I’m still loving it.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Ryan! Great, keep it up!

  • Theresa

    Thanks so much for this article. I’m doing primarily Paleo for 30 days and then I’m going to reintroduce Greek yogurt as I don’t eat much dairy currently and have had to give up grains due to a sensitivity.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Theresa! I’m glad you liked it. Your plan sounds good.

  • Freddy Nomura

    Very informative and i like all the hyperlink references if I wanted to learn more. After reading this article I feel a lot more comfortable with the way i eat and how my “Caloric Deficit” along with my anaerobic and aerobic program all goes hand in hand, plus my results also confirm what I just read. Thank you once again for a great article.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Freddy! I’m glad you liked it! Keep up the good work. 🙂

  • Arti

    Until they dig up a sick shredded caveman I’m gonna pass on the paleo diet. 🙂

    • Michael Matthews


  • Jon

    Could you write an article on good macronutrient intake percentages?

    • Michael Matthews

      I like a standard 40/40/20 approach, which you can modify based on your needs. (40% of calories from protein, 40% from carbs, 20% from fats–you can raise or lower fats and carbs as needed, but protein always stays around 40%.)

  • Themgainz

    Could you perhaps eventually talk about the Atkins diet? Cause the theory behind seems to be pretty attractive. Thanks.

    • Michael Matthews

      I hate low-carb diets. You can read more about my views on carbs here:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /carbohydrates-and-weight-loss-should-you-go-low-carb/

      • Themgainz

        Nice article on the carbs! I really like the way you implement hyperlinks into your articles. Just two more questions if you wouldn’t mind:
        Do you believe in ketosis and the whole idea that your body is burning fat cells instead of using carbs for energy? (if you did mention that in your article and I missed I apologize)
        And will you ever consider making an article on solving skinny-fat conditions? I think it would be really good because you always sum everything up into one article from various sources and then conclude.
        Because some sources say just choose between bulking or cutting. Some say bulk and cut, and some say have a maintenance diet and start working out( which to be honest seems the best one). I would really like to see your take on it especially if you include many different opinions on it.
        Thank you very much, keep up the hard work!

        • Michael Matthews

          Thanks! Glad you liked it.

          I’m not a fan of keto diets at all. Just completely unnecessary, and you can forget about lifting with any intensity on such a diet.

          Yeah I’ll definitely talk about skinny fat. It’s a matter of changing overall body composition, and it takes time.

      • Jonas

        Ido Portal is doing a low carb diet. Strictly paleo, animal protein 4-6 times a day, no grains, nondairy, just “meat and veggies”, as he calls it. Ido Portal is THE man, traininh 6-8 hours a day, doing crazy strength stuff that one could barely dream about. Look him up if you dont know him (also youtube) ,

        now what?

        • Michael Matthews

          It’s a healthy way to eat but restricting carbs like that just isn’t necessary.

          Anyone that is training 6-8 hours per day with any intensity is on drugs.

          • Jonas

            Woo did you check him out?
            I think he would be the last person on earth to take drugs..

            Do you disagree with the assumption that the human body can be fueled by fat?
            I dont want to defend him in any way, but i find interesting…

            According to him hes been doing paleo diet for 15 years, has best cholesterol levels ( he posted his tests on fb), and is constantly at an bodyfat% of ~6%….

          • Michael Matthews

            If he’s WORKING OUT for 6-8 hours per day, he’s on drugs. A lot of drugs.

            Yes you can become fat adapted and do fine with fats.

            You can eat non-Paleo foods and have great cholesterol levels and stay lean. It’s not hard. Just takes discipline…

          • Jonas

            You have to check him out… hes training differently from you…
            Hes practionizing mainly bodyweight stuff (for upper body), but also is doing olympic lifting for lower body development.. ( “Scapula craves complexity, hips intensity”)

          • Michael Matthews

            I will but I’m telling you…nobody can train for hours and hours per day and be big and lean without drugs.

          • Jonas

            I’m quite sure he’s clean…
            but you also have to consider that he likes to talk of ‘movement’, so it doesn’t automatically mean he’s doing heavy squats 6-8 hours a day, but maybe 1 hour, rest may be equilibre and auxiliary work… idk..

            (by the way: do you also practice some advanced bodyweight drills like handstands, levers, maybe even planches,too? 🙂 )

          • Michael Matthews

            Okay if you say so. 🙂

            Ah I see. That’s possible then.

            Nah, those are just for goofing around.

          • Miz Eloise

            yessss as per mike of u are working hard enough u cant train for 6 hours a day!

  • Kevin

    Twinkie diet FTW!

    • Michael Matthews


  • Dave Ray

    I’m on an 80/20 paleo diet. I started last September and i have lost 45 pounds and my BP went from 180/102 to 120/72. I now think better, sleep better and see better. I do my best to stay gluten free but i will enjoy some beans, Greek yogurt, kifer, and a beer or glass of wine now and then. The two or 3 times i have been tempted by pizza or a slice of cake i have had cramps and muscle aches for days after rarely have any temptation. I miss the idea of an ice cream cone, and the social aspect of Pizza and beer with the guys but the health and well being far out way those.

    • Michael Matthews

      Great Dave! I eat the exact same way. I do indulge in cheat foods once every week or two though and don’t notice any negative side effects.

  • Jim Corcoran

    Science Debunks the Paleo Diet—Again

    In recent years, the “paleo diet,” a diet based on the perceived eating habits of prehistoric people has become wildly popular. But, says paleontologist Christina Warinner, this diet is based on an incorrect view of how early humans lived. Using modern day research, Warinner traces the roots of the human diet to discover what we can really learn from the food of our ancestors. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Debunking-the-Paleo-Diet-Christ

    If the Paleo Diet fad is so healthy and responsible for brain growth, then why didn’t the Neanderthals survive and thrive? They had 300,000 years in Europe following the diet to make themselves into “Einsteins!” Speaking of Albert Einstein, this is what he had to say on the subject of health and survival: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” http://www.veganfitness.net/viewtopic.php?t=723 & http://nutritionfacts.org/.

    You get better results with a vegan lifestyle, without the risks of cancer and heart disease. It’s eliminating processed foods and eating veggies that make you healthy!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment Jim!

      A vegan diet has its drawbacks as well, namely micronutrient deficincies.

      It’s especially problematic for us people that lift due to it being quite hard to get enough high-quality protein without over-eating.

      • Jim Corcoran

        Many of the most successful athletes worldwide are now vegan. While they may differ in that they have decided to go vegan to avoid animal cruelty, for their health, to reduce environmental impact, or other reasons, they have one large similarity. They have proved that excellence and veganism often go together.

        Myths still persist that state that it is not possible to be vegan and be successful in sport. These myths do not have a foundation in science, and athletes build muscle, endurance and ability on plant sources and many go on to achieve great things. The performance of these athletes is proof that veganism can and does enable excellence


        • Michael Matthews

          Yup I’m not saying you CAN’T do it, it’s just more complicated.

          You also have to remember that a vast majority of professional athletes are on drugs (steroids, GH, etc.), which changes everything…

          • Mr. Anonymous

            There’s plenty of natural vegan bodybuilders out there.

          • Very rare in this space actually and the ones that I’ve seen that are most “known” (and actually look the part) are most definitely not natural.

          • The ones I’ve seen that actually look better than average are most definitely not natural, heh.

  • ScottA1

    Good article, especially hearing more about what people ate like thousands of years ago.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Scott! Glad you liked it.

  • Luke Saintignan

    As I was reading this article, specifically the human flesh part, this came to mind: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

    • Michael Matthews

      Hahah. He was Paleo. 😛

  • David Shay

    I really enjoy your blog posts. Very very clearly thought out. You have really challenged my beliefs on various topics. This being one.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks David! I really appreciate it.

  • Peter

    This article pretty much matches up with my opinions. I do agree though with the paleo folks that on that diet you can often lose weight without counting calories. Most people are slightly overweight due to having our appetites stimulated by the large quantities of junk food we eat. Remove the junk and your natural sense of when you’ve had enough will not be as screwed up. You don’t have to count calories in order to be at a caloric deficit, especially if you’ve been low carb for long enough to get past the hunger stage.

    Obviously the dietary situation is radically different for someone who is already in shape.

    Paleo shares much with other popular diets like low carb and BLS: they all start off with getting rid of the junk. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll see improvement just from that. To improve past a certain point though you need to get scientific, like BLS does.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Peter!

      Yeah, you can lose weight without counting calories simply because eliminating the most-often abused foods (carbs) and focusing on meat and veggies makes it easy to put yourself into a caloric deficit (depending on how overweight you are).

      If you want to get really lean though, you HAVE to count calories/macros and make regular small adjustments, as you know.

  • Fahim Khan.

    Thank you for another great article, Michael. Loved it.

    People in the west are forgetting something.

    If anyone of us had been to Africa, we will find tribes that are living a hunters’ lifestyle +/- farmer lifestyle. These tribes wouldn’t able eat meat every single day. There are times that they were not able to hunt an animal or there are famine in surrounding area. Also, some of them had domestic animals for meat/diary/leather.
    I recall an article of an oldest woman in Africa living in a tent in a some tribe far away from the city. Her diet was simple with oats meal, cocoa drink or legumes with few vegetables. Meat in the developing countries is a luxury.

    By the way, the diet 80/20 paleo that people are proposing, already exists in rural areas in developing countries in Asia and Africa. It is funny, some people just called the existing diet with a new name and market it as something new while it already exists in different cultures around the world.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Fahim! Really glad you liked it.

      You’re totally right that the 80/20 Paleo approach can otherwise just be called “healthy eating,” lol. The Paleo tag is really just marketing…

  • Jake Ruby

    Well researched and very informative as always. You do a great job of cutting through the b.s. and de-mything the broscience for us.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jake! Really glad you liked it.

  • Leo Fong

    I agree with most of the article and practice a paleo “lite” philosophy. But disagree that a calorie deficit is required. Calories in the chemical sense is a measure of how much energy is released burning a material in a bomb calorimeter. The metabolic process to convert protien to useable energy is very inefficient in humans therefore a thousand calories of rice is not equivalent to a thousand calories of chicken breast

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Leo!

      Losing weight requires an energy deficit–there’s really no way to debate this. It’s been proven beyond the shadow of even the slightest doubt both scientifically and anecdotally. And a calorie is simply a measurement of energy potential in food.

      That said, you’re correct that macronutrients are used differently in the body. The process by which the body converts protein into fat is VERY inefficient, and it has many other uses for amino acids before turning them into glucose, which can result in fat storage.

      So yes, if you were to eat 3,000 calories of protein per day, you wouldn’t gain as much fat as if you ate 3,000 calories of carbs or fat per day.

      But that’s of little practical relevance. The reality is losing weight requires that you calculate your total daily caloric expenditure and then eat less than that with a good macronutritional balance (40% from protein, 40% from carbs, and 20% from fats is good).

      • Mat marine

        40/40/20 is not how a Paleo diet works out. In Proteins, Carbs and Fats respectively, a Paleo style diet will include most calories from Fats. Normally resulting in a 30/20/50 split.
        I mean, a guy on a 2500 Kcal Paleo diet will not be expected to eat 1000 Cals or 250g a day in carbs, that’s like 10 bananas or 5 potatoes.

  • Chris

    This topic interests me very much as there are many contradictions and it is impossible to measure our ancestors diet exactly..
    Humans are unique in the sense that we have evolved with a digestive system capable of metabolising various types of molecules giving us a varied choice food sources. Part of our gut is sterile for processing proteins and fats and part fermenting for fibrous foods. A varied diet of a healthy mixed sources of food for your lifestyle and
    health requirements because your body can process it. Estimates on
    lactose and gluten intolerance vary but obviously eating to avoid these
    wont facilitate in a less nutritious diet because many food sources
    supply the same essentials. If we stopped feeding cows grass (fermenting gut), they would die. If humans stopped drinking milk, we wouldnt die! If humans stopped eating meats, we wouldnt die! This variation in our digestive system has lead our evolution. There is far reaching evidence of diets such as the Thules and Innuit who live in remote northern regions, who eat mainly fish, whale, seal throught most of the year. One could argue this is a Paleo Diet of non dairy, Protein and Omega 3 fats and very little carbohydrates…for around 2500 years with very little evidence of western illnesses. Similarly, China, a civilisation dating back over 1 million years, has a virtual dairy free diet but agricultural based, hasnt got a word for osteoperosis because its unknown illness. The US. has a far larger instances of osteoperosis illness but is one of the largest consumers of dairy products. Huh? Dairy consumption is one of the biggest false claims made up to monetize farming more efficiently. You dont really need it at all. Go check yourself the main benefical claims of dairy….there`s a ton of plants, vegetables or pulses which provide equal or more minerals, vitamin D, protein and calcium than milk per 100g. Now of course for bodybuilding, the dairy industry is important to manufacture Whey, albeit its a dead processed food and high GI and calorie food. Eating all your essentials from live food, food that has lived and not processed is essentially very similar to a Paleo diet. This is the point here. (I`ll give you all a huge nudge in the right direction though. The conversion from neanderthal to homosapien came from a small region in southern africa, a small coastal community that predominantly ate seafoods, fish, mussels, shellfish….all Omega 3!)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks a lot for the comment Chris.

      Well, quite a bit of scientific research has actually been done on our ancestors’ diet. You should read some of the papers I cited–they’re quite extensive.

      But yes I agree, focus on healthy foods and everything in moderation is the way to go.

      And omega-3 fatty acids are super important!

  • disqus_AmnImBctRO

    Nice article. I agree Sisson’s system (I believe he calls it the “Primal Diet” is probably a better balance.

    One thing I was confused on though. You said wheat is anti-inflammatory? I thought it was the exact opposite? (a Dr. Dwight Lundell had a book on this very thing a few years ago – cardiac surgeon).


    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yeah, I like Sisson’s stuff. He’s definitely one of the more moderate Paleo gurus.

      Yup, whole-grains can reduce inflammation in the body:


      Refined (junk) grains can increase it, though (same study).

      • Ivan

        I understand that gliadin from gluten causes intolerance in many people, making the body treats the cells to which gliadin attaches to an infection.

  • Toni

    I have found if I follow a loose version of the Paleo diet, I definitely see some physique changes as well as feel better with more energy. Specifically, reducing my consumption of grains and dairy has made a difference for me personally.

    • Michael Matthews

      Same here.

  • The Swiss Miss

    Hmmmm… Now my understanding of human evolution is that it takes roughly 120,000 years for an evolutionary adaptation to take place. During the “paleo” era, most of Europe was pretty much Tundra country. The last ice age, which we are only just now coming out of, has been going on for over 2 million years! All land wasn’t covered with thick sheets of ice as such, but it was pretty darn cold and most of it was fairly bare of trees as it was permanently frozen. I doubt very much that many hunter gatherers would have had much opportunity to subside on fruit and veg, let alone plant anything. I believe that they lived predominantly on meat, and they had it raw, all of it. Fat, offal, the lot. Cooking only started in its most basic form about 30 thousand years ago, if that. They would have gathered what they could during the brief warm spells and subsequently our bodies made the adaptation that eating fruit, means winter must be coming, so hence why fructose / glucose is so fattening to us. It’s our bodies signal to fatten up and prepare for even leaner times. Agriculture only started about 10k years ago and that is in northern Africa, it took a few more thousand years before it hit Europe, especially the northern areas like Scandinavia etc, so hardly any time at all to make the evolutionary leap to enjoying grains. Think about it, the human digestive system doesn’t even possess an enzyme to digest cellulose! The only way we can metabolise the goodies in vegetables is by bursting the cellulose first, by cooking it….. I don’t mean that we should grab the first cow, pull its horns off and wipe its butt and then serve it up, but I also don’t believe we are actually ready to enjoy the sheer volume of sugars and grains that the modern diets are encouraging us to do. Maybe in another 100 thousand years or so, we will be! 😉

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment! If you read the studies I cite, you’ll find a wealth of information about what we know about our ancestors’ diets and health.

      Fructose and glucose aren’t inherently “fattening.” Gaining fat is merely a matter of eating more calories (energy) than you burn.

  • Monte

    Well balanced article, much like Sisson. I followed a really strict Paleo diet and saw great results, but plateaued. I had to add back some carbs such as rice and potatos as well as count calories to get better body comp results. I think we all have different genes, so you have to experiment with what works for you.

    • Michael Matthews


      Yeah, low-carb really isn’t ideal for building muscle and strength. There’s the energy aspect (carbs fuel your workouts) as well as the anti-catabolic properties of insulin.

  • Jonas

    Sisson condems vegetable oils like sunflower or canola oil….
    What do YOU think?

    • Michael Matthews

      I feel like I’ve seen legitimate research on why they should be avoided but it escapes me. I’d have to look again.

  • mhikl

    My body’s my laboratory. I know that on a ketogenic-paleo (animal fat & protein-half of which is eaten raw) diet that I do best. I like hot chocolate (coco + cream + stevia) but it stalls my weight loss and even seems to add fluid weight. Ice cream, yoghourt, fruit, nuts do the same; even in moderation.
    I am left with animal fats and proteins from bovine, lamb & goat, salmon, smelts and a few berries. Occasional chicken again tends to put on weight. Broccoli & peppers in small amounts seem ok but they do not digest all that well- evidenced from tossing up three hours later, meats and fats seemed well into the process of digestion but the greens still looked bright green and re-edible.
    After two years and counting going ketogenic-paleo, food is not my entertainment or obsession, any longer. Twice a day eating is enough for me and as a Buddhist, I am working to get my two meals down before noon time.
    Bovine gelatine from hooves, ligaments and bones seem to have stemmed the pain I have from a thirty year old accident to my left hip. I now eat the stuff every day of the week with every meal. Cow tongue, liver and heart along with my fish and few berries have become my mainstay. All the rest is dressing.
    I believe we each must find the fare that suits our physiology best and experimentation followed by basic medical tests might be the best way to confirm this. (I tried the Ornish diet, to the letter, and in four months gained forty pounds and after my test results, the doctor wanted to put me on statins “for the rest of my life”. So much for Ornish’s idea that low fat and practical vegetarianism is the norm for all. And good luck Bill Clinton :-).
    Namaste and care,
    PS My eczema seems at bay; however, hard knotty bits are still a problem. They are more controlled with lots of D3 (when the sun don’t shine), A and a great multi-Vit (FLW is the old name), zinc, C, and home made MMS & Lugol’s iodine twice a day. My eczema may clear when I can finally source grass fed bovine though I suspect mercury poisoning from my many root canal is the culprit. Magnetite water and other life enhancers may be the answer to that bugaboo.

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome, great job on figuring out what’s best for your body. If you added some resistance training, even if body weight, I think you’d really like it.

  • Vasily

    I think it is the biggest mistake of any eating style to go to extremes. I think true Paleo is a very healthy way of eating. I think that people who are going for the high-protein mostly are not eating Paleo and are the same as vegans in a radical way.

    As for soy, there are great experts who helped a lot of people like Paul Chek or David Getoff. They have links to numerous studies and personal observations that concludes one thing. Soy is okay if it is UNFERMENTED and is consumed in small quantities. Soy isolates of any kind are dangerous not only because of the antinutriens and phitoestrogens but also because of the way they are produced. If you don’t know during the process of soy separating into oil and cake hexane is used. Now, I do not belive that gasoline fractions are good for our health, nor I believe that they are completely removed from soy cake, just because producers claims they are.

    • Vasily

      Just to add. 90% of USA soy is considered GMO, by Jeffrey Smith and his GM research institute. This also does not add to it’s quality.


      Forgot to add. You have an amazing site and very good articles, you do not go into extremes but are reviewing everything from a healthy and balanced perspective. You describe topics from multiple angles and that is extremely rare to find nowadays.

      Cool stuff! 🙂

      • Michael Matthews

        That’s true, and thanks for the kind words! I appreciate it!

    • Michael Matthews

      Great comments and I agree!

    • Ivan

      I think it is the opposite: fermented soy is the healthy option (soy sauce, miso…), unfermented soy the bad one.

  • Luke Schuster

    Great Article: I am currently 2 weeks in on a personal science experiment regarding my own “Sorta” paleo Diet. 2 weeks ago I was 6’4, 278 lbs. Now I am a ex football player and still lift and play basketball, so I wouldn’t say I was fat enough to have my own tv show monitoring my weight loss, but I would say I could lose some weight around my belly. 🙂 I have cut grains and dairy. I am not eating all pasteurized meats, because I would need a small government grant to afford that , which is where the “sorta” comes in for the diet. I went to the doctor right before starting, and have all my blood work recorded, I had good blood pressure 121/ 70, and a ok cholesterol count at 200.
    So far I am down, 14 lbs in 2 weeks, my energy level is up, and it is amazing how NOT hungry I am. I actually went to a family picnic yesterday and didn’t eat dessert.
    I am going back to the doctor after three months to get my blood work done again and see where it lands.
    It should be interesting to compare and contrast, but so far the results are stellar.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Great on what you’re doing.

      Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

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  • James

    The Paleo Diet does refer to the original diet of man, however, it is mostly based on the paleolithic man living close to the North Pole.
    In the Northern regions, due to the climate, the paleolithic diet would have consisted of mostly meat for protein, because wild plants would have been rarer.
    The modern Paleo Diet therefor is valid, but only really when you consider it as the Paleo Diet of the Northern peoples. If you look at the Inuit tribes in the far North, you’d see that their diet consists mostly of meat and perhaps eggs, that too raw meat.
    Furthermore, the modern Paleo Diet incorporates plants from all over the world. If you really want to limit your diet only to things that your ancestors would have eaten, then as someone of Northern European descent you would not be allowed to eat the majority of vegetables and fruits that are available now. Furthermore, animals in their present, domesticated form would also not have been around back then. Ofcourse this doesn’t really make a difference though.
    On top of that, as my friend, who is a student of molecular biology, poined out, there are very little plants that are part of our diet today which existed in their current form before the advent of agriculture. “Genetic Modification” is not a product of the modern age. A paleolithic person would most likely not recognise the vegetables in today’s supermarkets, even the organic ones, because they have been selectively bred to a point where they do not even remotely look like what would have been around back then. For example, as I believe he mentioned, corn (although not paleo-approved) evolved from a kind of bush.
    Also, if everyone were to eat a fuckton of (organic) meat every day, it would not be sustainable to feed the already famine-stricken world.
    Nevertheless, it was extremely easy for me to stay lean when I was on the Paleo diet, but pretty damn expensive if I wanted to gain weight. Also, despite being on it for a few months I felt much better when I reintroduced grains and dairy, plus it was way easier to bulk up. But yeah, what the Paleo Diet is very effective and useful for is helping people discover certain food allergies which they may previously have been unaware of. In that sense it may be like a kind of “reset-button” for your body. I still don’t eat any wheat, but that’s mostly because I’m not that fond of it. I never really ate much of it so I’m unsure how eating it regularly would affect me.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment James! I address many of these points in my article.

  • português

    Dieta mediterrânica, google about

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  • Thomas

    You nailed it again, Michael. Always dig how you back everything up with clinical research. I’m basically following the diet plan out of your books, which probably puts me in the 80/20 group, thats paleo enough. I eat a quite a bit of oatmeal and rice with zero problems, according to most paleo diehards, I should be dead.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Thomas! Glad to hear you’re doing well and eat your oatmeal with pride. 😉

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  • Jonny

    Hey Mike,

    On the saturated fat issue, as much as I’d like to believe it isn’t unhealthy (I eat a significant amount of it myself), there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Regarding the study you referenced here and in other articles, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this:


    • Michael Matthews

      I know, it’s quite complicated and as far as I can tell, we need more research because we’re in this weird limbo where we know it isn’t as harmful as once believed but aren’t quite sure how much we can safely eat, you know?

      Thanks for this. I’ll check it out.

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  • Josh

    If eating Paleo/Primal has been working what would you say would be necessary addition (food item) if any when adopting your heavy lifting program?

    Great website. Actually look forward to the gym now trying to push heavier weight each time rather than screwing around for 2 hrs trying to isolate/superset etc.

    • I would say your favorite type of carb. For most people it’s a grain of some kind.

      Thanks! Really glad to hear it!

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  • Hi Mike.
    I’m diving back into your BLS program (re-reading and preparing). I’m a fan of Mark Sisson’s work and have been loosely following a paleo plan, taking in about 75g carbs per day and 60+% of my diet coming from healthy fats with some saturated fats. I have one cheat meal on Sunday and take in about 2100 calories keeping me at maintenance.

    I know you mention calories in trumps everything else (for the most part). What are your thoughts in continuing this protocol and following your BLS program. Can muscle gains be made while eating low carb (75%, maybe less, or even ketogenic at 50g or less?).

    Low carb seems to work well for me aesthetically, but I want to maximize muscle gains. Example, could I eat in a caloric surplus, say 2300-2500 calories, high fat, low carb and 1g protein / lb of body weight and make good muscle gains?

    IF NOT:

    What is the best way to reintroduce carbs? i.e., how many per day and how long should I allow myself to get accustomed to a gradual carb increase?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Thanks Mike!

      I’m a huge fan of Sisson as a person but am not quite on board with the Paleo deal, as you know.

      Great questions and check this out:


      It’s long, I know, but I think you will really like it.

      Let me know and we’ll go from there?

      • Thanks Mike! I should have known there’d be a concise blog post you’d written ;). Great read! I’m sold on what you say about carbs facilitating an anabolic environment and being crucial for muscle building. I know my own lifts have suffered slightly (not huge) but I’m not making gains either.

        The appeal is the loss in water weight which I’d mistakenly thought was body fat weight. Mark discusses gluconogenesis at length. In short, I thought I was good to go but feel I’m at a stalemate in terms of gains.

        Perhaps this is a good approach (50g / day) for getting stage- and/or beach-ready – that is, a temporary approach for the average gun, not suffering from Type II diabetes or considering this as a treatment option for cancer, as you mention.

        Quick thing: I found your reverse-dieting article which was a good read as well – thanks for your top-shelf writing. More specifically, what would you recommend for coming off of a Keto diet and back into introducing carbs, if overall calories remain roughly the same? Does it matter how many carbs are introduced at once within the same calorie target?

        Cheers Mike – looking forward to diving in on the 24th… doing my homework and prep between now and then 😉

        Best to you.

  • Jenny Hudson

    Paleo diet is effective diet plan. See here for very fast and easy weight loss. http://www.amazingaus.com/seven-day-diet-to-lose-weight/

  • Jay

    Good article.
    You mention whole grains. I’ve shied away from them because of Anthony Colpo’s writings.
    Anthony Colpo has written that whole grains having antinutrient toxins that can cause a reduction in mineral status, among other things.



    Any thoughts? Thanks.

    • From what I’ve read the effects are minimal at best and, in many cases, mitigated by cooking the food.

  • Joe

    Hey Mike,
    I have a question about dairy. I recently made a switch from conventional milk and eggs to organic. What about yogurt? I eat Fage, and saw somewhere that you do too, but read that their yogurt is probably from cows likely fed GMO feed. Is there something else you can recommend or do you think that the Fage is safe? I heard good things about Wallaby Organic.

    • I like Wallaby too and alternate between them.

    • Ron

      Wallaby is pretty good, though I prefer Maple hill Creamery. Just be careful with the organic milk. Make sure it’s not UHT (ultra high temp) processed, which kills all the bacteria, good and bad.

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