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Foods Forbidden on the Paleolithic (Paleo Diet, Caveman Diet)

What Not to Eat on a Paleolithic Diet


Updated May 30, 2014

A Note on "Cheating"

If you read NeanderThin, you will see that Audette toes a very strict line, both in his food recommendations, and his insistence that a person change entirely and never look back. Cordain 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. He recommends starting out with three Open Meals per week. See more about this in his book The Paleo Diet. Mark Sisson advocates an "80/20 Rule" -- align your diet with the principles 80% of the time. I say, know yourself and what works for you. Experiment, tweak, and experiment some more.

The following categories of food are forbidden on Paleolithic-type diets, with a few caveats:

Refined Sugars

There is a long list of ingredients which are essentially "sugar". Some allow small amounts of honey or pure maple syrup - but this would have been a rare treat.


Yes, there were wild grains, and a few roasted kernels have been found in ancient fires. But really - how much wild grain could have been collected at a time? Answer: not much. Corn is a grain.

Starchy Tubers

This is actually an area of some disagreement. Some say none at all, some say no potatoes, but others are OK. In general, avoid:
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yams
  • Cassava
  • Manioc
  • Some say beets

Legumes (Beans, Peas, Peanuts)

These are usually outlawed on the premise that most of them can't be eaten without cooking, and that legumes have a high content of lectins and other antinutrients. Research into lectins is in its infancy and not a lot is known about this with any certainty, but if you are interested, Loren Cordain's 2012 book, >The Paleo Answer: 7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young has a great section about what is known at the present time.

Dairy Products

Early people did not eat dairy products before animals were domesticated. It has been pointed out that there has been 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 OK 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.

Some Meats

Most processed meats (made with nitrites and additives) are not allowed by some, including hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and lunch meats, although sometimes more healthy forms of these can be found. Others say there is a difference between processed (e.g. hot dogs) and simply "cured" (e.g. bacon), and it's most important to know your sources.


Definitely 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 mayonnaise, which include these oils.

Cordain has a long list of preferred oils in his book based on their ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids. He also is down on tropical plant oils (coconut and palm) which have high levels of saturated fats. Other writers definitely include these tropical fats as fine to eat, or even encouraged.


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.

Acceptable Food for a Paleolithic Diet

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