Foods Forbidden on the Paleo Diet

What Not to Eat on a Paleolithic Diet

Corncobs On Barbecue
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The paleo diet only allows food that would have been available to hunter-gatherers before the dawn of agriculture. Many of the food items you are used to eating are forbidden on this diet. See what you'll need to eliminate on Paleolithic-type diets, with a few caveats.

Refined Sugars

There is a long list of ingredients which are essentially sugar. Some paleo diets allow small amounts of honey or pure maple syrup, but these would have been a rare treat in prehistoric times.


A few roasted kernels of wild grains have been found in ancient fires. But not much could have been collected at a time, and they were very different in form and yield from today's domesticated and hybridized grains. Paleo pundits consider corn to be a grain.

Starchy Tubers

Whether to shun tubers is an area of disagreement in the Paleo community. Some say we should eat no tubers, while others point to evidence for Paleolithic people eating roots. They are split into factions of those who say to eat no tubers, those who only shun potatoes but allow other tubers, and those who say all tubers are acceptable. You can decide which camp to follow, perhaps basing it on how well you tolerate potatoes and other tubers. In general, avoid:

Legumes (Beans, Peas, Peanuts)

These are usually prohibited on the premise that most of them can't be eaten without cooking (so wouldn't have been eaten during the Paleolithic era), and that legumes have a high content of lectins and other anti-nutrients. Research into lectins is in its infancy and not a lot is known about this with any certainty. If you are interested, Loren Cordain's book, "The Paleo Answer: 7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young," has a section about the subject.

Dairy Products

Early people did not eat dairy products before animals were domesticated. It has been pointed out that there has been an adaptation to dairy products in some genetic lines, but most authors of this type of diet exclude eating dairy including milk, butter, cream, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, etc. Others say that butter (and to a lesser extent cream) don't have much lactose or casein and are probably acceptable on occasion. All would agree that if you are going to eat dairy, make sure the animals are grass-fed, and most would encourage people to seek out raw forms of dairy foods.

Some Meats

Most processed meats (made with nitrites and additives) are not allowed by some, including hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and lunch meats. Others point out that there is a difference between processed meats and simply "cured" meats such as bacon, and it's most important to know how the animal was was raised and treated.


Avoid the following:

  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Soybean oil (same as soy oil)
  • Rice bran oil
  • Wheat germ oil

This includes products, such as most commercial mayonnaise, which include these oils.

Loren Cordain, author of "The Paleo Diet," has a long list of preferred oils in his book based on their ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. He disapproves of tropical plant oils (coconut and palm) which have high levels of saturated fats. Other writers approve of or even encourage eating these tropical oils.


Most authors of this type of diet advocate at least being moderate with salt intake. Some say cut down as much as possible.


Earlier paleo authors were negative on vinegar. More recent thinking seems to be moderating on this.

How Strict Should You Be With the Paleo Diet Philosophy?

In the book  "NeanderThin," author Ray Audette toes a very strict line, both in his food recommendations and his insistence that you must change your diet entirely and never look back.

Loren Cordain in "The Paleo Diet" is more forgiving, advising three stages of easing into the diet, and also including what he calls open meals where a person can loosen the rules. He feels you can still get benefit by at least partially following the program, and recommends starting out with three open meals per week.

Mark Sisson, author of "The Primal Blueprint" advocates an 80/20 rule—align your diet with the principles 80 percent of the time.

The bottom line is to know yourself and what works for you. Experiment, tweak, and experiment some more.

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