Fish, eggs, green vegetables, and beans

Nutrition & Health Info Sheets for Consumers - The Paleo Diet

Nutrition & Health Info Sheets contain up-to-date information about nutrition, health, and food. They are provided in two different formats for consumer and professional users. These resources are produced by Dr. Rachel Scherr and her research staff. Produced by Melissa Vilas, Savannah VandenBos, Morgan Setness, Grace Simmons, Britt Robinson, Anna M. Jones, Rachel E. Scherr.

What is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo diet, or Paleolithic diet, is a diet modeled after what ancient humans were thought to eat [1]. However, the ancient Paleo diet is not the same as the modern version. The modern diet suggests eating more lean meats, fish, shellfish, fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, and seeds. It limits grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods, added salt, and refined sugars [2]. The Paleo diet has gained popularity all over the world, and in 2014 it was the most searched diet-related term via Google [2].

Are there benefits to consuming a Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet encourages eating more fruits and vegetables, which have many health benefits (2). The benefits include lower risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The Paleo diet also encourages eating less sodium. This may help lower blood pressure [4].

A few short-term studies have shown this diet to be beneficial for a person’s health. These studies were related to decreasing blood pressure, waist circumference, and risk of developing type 2 diabetes [4, 5, 6, 7]. However there have been no long-term studies to date.

What are the drawbacks to consuming a Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet does not include foods like legumes, whole grains, and dairy, which have many important nutrients. For example, eating legumes like beans and lentils may reduce risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Eating low-fat dairy may help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference [4]. By eliminating these foods, the Paleo diet may be low in fiber, vitamin D, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, and iodine [2, 8]. It is also high in protein, which may cause kidney problems for some people [9].

To date, there have not been enough studies to prove that the health claims made by Paleo diet advocates are true in the long-term [10, 11].

How does the Paleo diet compare to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020?

The modern Paleo diet differs from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) 2015-2020 in the amounts of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates [12]. The Paleo diet tends to be higher in protein and fat due to higher meat consumption. The Paleo diet is also lower in carbohydrates due to the limited amount of grains, refined sugars, and legumes [1]. In contrast, the ancient Paleo diet aligned more with the DGA because of its higher intake of carbohydrates, plant-based proteins, and lean meats (Table 1)[13].

Table 1: Comparison of Paleo Diet Nutrient Composition and the Dietary Guidelines


Late Paleolithic Era Diet (13,14)*

Contemporary Paleo Diet (3)†

Dietary Guidelines for Americans (12)‡

Protein (% energy)




Carbohydrate (% energy)




Fiber (g)




Total Fat (% energy)




Saturated Fat (% energy)




Sodium (mg)




Potassium (mg)




Vitamin A (mcg)




Folate (mcg)




Vitamin B12 (mcg)




Vitamin C (mg)




Vitamin D (IU)




Vitamin E (IU)




Calcium (mg)




Iron (mg)




Zinc (mg)




*based on 3000kcal daily intake
based on 25-year-old female, 2000kcal daily intake
based on 19-30 year old female, 2000kcal daily intake
††All values for the Late Paleolithic Diet are not known.
‡‡Estimates of vitamin D intake on the modern Paleo diet are unavailable, however there is concern that the Paleo diet severely limits dietary sources of vitamin D.



  1. Cordain L. The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. J Am Neutraceutical Assoc. 2002;5(3):15-24.                      
  2. Hoffman R. Can the paleolithic diet meet the nutritional needs of older people? Maturitas. 2017;95:63-64. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2016.09.005.
  3. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, et al. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(2):341-354. doi:10.1093/ajcn.81.2.341.
  4. Anand SS, Hawkes C, Souza RJD, et al. Food Consumption and its Impact on Cardiovascular Disease: Importance of Solutions Focused on the Globalized Food System. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66(14):1590-1614. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2015.07.050.
  5. Otten J, Stomby A, Waling M, et al. Benefits of a Paleolithic diet with and without supervised exercise on fat mass, insulin sensitivity, and glycemic control: a randomized controlled trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Metab Res Rev.. 2016;33(1). doi:10.1002/dmrr.2828.
  6. Masharani U, Sherchan P, Schloetter M, et al. Metabolic and physiologic effects from consuming a hunter- gatherer (Paleolithic)-type diet in type 2 diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr.  2015;69(8):944-948. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2015.39.
  7. Whalen KA, Mccullough ML, Flanders WD, Hartman TJ, Judd S, Bostick RM. Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with Biomarkers of In ammation and Oxidative Balance in Adults 1–3. J Nutr. 2016;146(6):1217-1226. doi:10.3945/jn.115.224048.
  8. Manousou S, Stål M, Larsson C, et al. A Paleolithic-type diet results in iodine deficiency: a 2-year randomized trial in postmenopausal obese women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017;72(1):124-129. doi:10.1038/ ejcn.2017.134.
  9. Lindeberg S. Paleolithic diets as a model for prevention and treatment of western disease. Am J Hum Biol. 2012;24(2):110-115. doi:10.1002/ajhb.22218.
  10. Anton S, Hida A, Heekin K, et al. Effects of Popular Diets without Speci c Calorie Targets on Weight Loss Outcomes: Systematic Review of Findings from Clinical Trials. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):822. doi:10.3390/nu9080822.
  11. Mellberg C, Sandberg S, Ryberg M, et al. Long-term effects of a Palaeolithic-type diet in obese postmenopausal women: a 2-year randomized trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014;68(3):350-357. doi:10.1038/ ejcn.2013.290.
  12. Appendix 3. USDA Food Patterns: Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern. Appendix 3. USDA Food Patterns: Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern - 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. Accessed December 5, 2019.
  13. Eaton SB, Konner M. Paleolithic Nutrition: a Consideration of its Nature and Current Implications. New England Journal of Medicine. 1985;312(5):283-289. doi:10.1056/nejm198501313120505.
  14. Konner M, Eaton SB. Paleolithic Nutrition: Twenty-Five Years Later. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 2010;25(6):594-602. doi:10.1177/0884533610385702.


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