Paleo Diet: What is it and how does it work?

Paleo Ernährung: Was ist das und wie funktioniert sie?

Paleo nutrition, Paleo diet or Stone Age nutrition: The simple principle of the new type of nutrition is becoming increasingly popular and has already found numerous supporters. No matter whether you want to eat more consciously in the long term or want to get rid of excess kilos, the Paleo diet promises amazing success.

But what exactly is behind the nutritional concept, in which only "Stone Age" foods are allowed? In our article, we not only explain to you what is meant by modern Stone Age nutrition, but also answer the most important questions about Paleo.

the essentials in brief

  • Paleo is a nutritional concept according to which only foods that were already available in the Stone Age may be consumed. The low-carbohydrate diet is particularly popular with people who want to lose weight as an alternative to conventional diets.
  • Many studies have been able to demonstrate a positive influence of the Stone Age diet on the body. The Paleo diet is also intended to prevent diseases of civilization such as high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity.
  • If you are considering the Paleo diet for yourself, in addition to a step-by-step approach, you should also consider existing disadvantages and risks in your decision.

Background: What you should know about the Paleo diet

Before you can start eating according to the Paleo concept, you should deal with the essential content. In our guide you will find detailed answers to the most important questions about Paleo.

What is the Paleo Diet?

The word Paleo is an abbreviation of the English "paleolithic", which means Stone Age. As the name suggests, Paleo is a diet that is based on the so-called Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic).

The aim of the Paleo diet is to eat only foods that were already available in the Stone Age.

So the common name of the Stone Age diet is quite accurate. The Paleo menu therefore mainly consists of meat, fish, seafood, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Although the Paleo diet is often touted as an effective alternative to a diet in the traditional sense, it is more of a long-term change in diet.

The Paleo diet cannot be compared to a crash diet. In fact, for many, weight loss goes hand in hand with dietary changes. The reason for this positive side effect is the low-carbohydrate food, which is the main component of the Stone Age diet (1).

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy?

Unlike many other diets, nutritionists largely agree on the Paleo diet:

A diet based on fresh vegetables and fruit as well as protein-rich meat and fish can have a positive effect on health.

It should be clear to many that common diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are mostly due to sugary and processed foods. There is good news, especially when it comes to overweight people: A study showed a significant loss of fat mass, especially in the first 6 months. In addition, a reduced waist circumference was observed as a result of the Paleo diet (1).

In addition, studies have shown that there is a connection between the Paleo diet and an improvement in the appearance of the skin. Scientists cite the high proportion of fish and vegetables as the main reason for this.(2). In the following table we have presented the most important health aspects again:

criteria health effect
body weight Studies have shown significant weight loss and reduction of dangerous belly fat
complexion A Paleo-based diet can prevent breakouts and improve the complexion
civilization diseases Illnesses favored by sugar consumption, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, can be avoided or treated

What foods are allowed on the Paleo diet?

Basically, you can remember: With the Paleo diet, you can eat everything that was hunted and collected in the Stone Age. We have listed exactly which foods these are in the following list:

  • vegetables and mushrooms
  • fruit (especially berries)
  • seeds and nuts
  • Meat (red meat and poultry)
  • fish and seafood
  • eggs

You can use honey or maple syrup as a sugar substitute. Instead of unhealthy pressed oils, healthy fats such as coconut, avocado or olive oil are allowed. However, those who want to lose weight should eat nuts and oils in moderation due to their high energy content.

fruit, vegetables and meat

The main components of the Paleo diet are vegetables, fruits and nuts. But animal products such as meat, fish or eggs are also among the essential foods of the Stone Age diet. (Image source: Valeriy Evtushenko / Unsplash)

Which carbohydrates are allowed?

Vegetables containing carbohydrates such as pumpkin, carrots or sweet potatoes are generally allowed. Since rice and potatoes and other grains only came about through farming, these carbohydrate sources are taboo. Depending on how strict you want to keep the Paleo diet, you can also make exceptions.

It is important that you are consistent for the most part and, above all, that you do not eat any processed foods or finished products.

Which meat can be eaten?

In principle, you can eat any type of meat as part of the Paleo diet. In the best case, however, you should reach for game, as this is not only healthy, but also particularly "Stone Age-friendly". However, other red meat such as beef or lamb is also allowed. Chicken and turkey in particular are a valuable source of protein for sports lovers.

What can't I eat on the Paleo diet?

Basically, you can remember: Everything that has been processed industrially is taboo. Fans of sweet foods in particular have to be strong: in addition to sugar , sugar substitutes, sweeteners and even agave syrup are "forbidden". You should also avoid the following foods:

  • Cereals and cereal products (pastries, pasta, rice, bulgur, etc.)
  • Legumes like lentils and beans (since they contain unhealthy antinutrients from a Paleo perspective)
  • Milk and dairy products (quark, yoghurt, cream, cheese, etc.)
  • Pressed or refined vegetable oils and fats

When it comes to legumes, some Paleo adherents make an exception, as they serve as a great source of protein alongside meat and fish. But you are not only restricted when it comes to eating: With the Paleo diet, you also have to say goodbye to soft drinks, coffee and alcohol.

Criticism of the Paleo diet - what are the risks and disadvantages?

Although the Paleo diet is predominantly viewed positively, there are also some negative aspects of Stone Age nutrition. These include health risks, but also disadvantages in the practical implementation of the Paleo concept.

Health risks

Due to its one-sidedness, a Paleo diet can cause deficiency symptoms or even promote certain diseases. This can be caused by a lack of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

In addition, the correct ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) is essential for a healthy diet. With Paleo, just like with other low-carb diets, it is important to ensure that all nutrients are sufficiently represented in the diet. If in doubt, dietary supplements can also help(3).

Disadvantages in practical implementation

Anyone who eats according to the Paleo principle needs strong self-discipline. Industrially processed and sugary foods are taboo, so everyday shopping in the supermarket can be time-consuming and tedious, especially at the beginning.

A detailed shopping list with permitted foods can be of great help to you. A visit to a restaurant can also get complicated: Sometimes you can't find a suitable dish on the menu, sometimes you overwhelm the waiter with special requests.

fish and lemons

If you don't like fish or meat, there are already many possibilities within the framework of the Paleo diet. A diet that is too one-sided can cause nutrient deficiencies, so that dietary supplements may be necessary. (Image source: Agto Nugroho / Unsplash)

From a financial point of view, the Paleo diet does not really score. Especially if you value quality, meat, fish and co. can quickly become expensive. High-quality food has its price and you should be aware of that.

Who is the Paleo diet suitable for?

In principle, the Paleo diet is suitable for anyone who likes animal products such as meat or fish and who dares to avoid dairy products and grains as far as possible. In addition, you should be prepared to dig a little deeper into your pocket for your groceries and avoid particularly cheap, processed foods.

Paleo is particularly suitable for people with lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance.

It is controversial whether Stone Age nutrition is also a suitable form of nutrition for children: supporters describe Paleo as a "safe" alternative to conventional nutrition, since only natural and healthy foods are on the menu. However, it could be a challenge to keep young sweet tooth away from muesli bars, chocolate and Co. Dissenting voices consider the lack of carbohydrates to be particularly dangerous; these are particularly important nutrients for the growth of children.

Are you a vegetarian or even a vegan and would you like to eat according to the Paleo concept? No problem! Although you are more restricted than usual in terms of "allowed" foods, there are already entire books with recipes and helpful tips for veggies. By the way: The combination of vegan and paleo is also called "Pegan". To make it easier for you to decide whether the Paleo diet is suitable for you, we have summarized the pros and cons for you:

  • You are willing to give up dairy and grain products
  • You want to eat more consciously or lose weight
  • You like meat and fish (unless you are vegetarian or vegan)
  • You have enough money for fresh and high-quality food
  • You want to prevent health risks
  • You don't want to give up milk or grains
  • You don't like fish, meat or vegetables
  • You can only afford industrial and cheap food
  • Your health is not your priority
  • Can the Paleo diet help with certain diseases?

    Whether the Paleo diet helps with certain diseases of civilization has already been investigated in a number of studies. A distinction must be made here between the prevention of certain diseases and their treatment or cure.

    As a result of the evaluation of various studies, German scientists were able to confirm that the Paleo diet is superior to other wholesome forms of nutrition. In particular, diseases related to the cardiovascular system or autoimmune diseases could be positively influenced by Paleo in the group examined(4,10).

    In addition, according to a study, the Paleo diet offers great potential in the treatment of lipoedema in adults(5). Scientists were also able to prove positive effects and an improvement in the relevant values ​​in the study participants on the risk of developing diabetes (5,6,9).

    Paleo Diet: Practical Application and Benefits

    Are you now wondering how the Paleo concept can be implemented in practice and integrated into your everyday life? The following section is intended to show you practical tips and general advantages of the Paleo diet.

    How does the Paleo diet work?

    If you want to change your diet to Paleo in the long term, you shouldn't do it radically from one day to the next. A step-by-step approach is often recommended by nutritionists, allowing the body to gradually get used to the changes. In contrast to conventional (crash) diets, the body can prepare for a change in diet. For example, when changing your diet, you could do the following:

    1. Detox Phase: The body is reset to zero through detoxification of the metabolism. Existing inflammations heal, water retention is flushed out and the intestines and mucous membranes recover.
    2. Reset phase: After the detox, complex carbohydrates can now slowly be incorporated into the diet again. Moderate carbohydrate consumption strengthens your body and provides it with enough energy.
    3. Paleo Phase: Your hormones and your body are now back in balance. The foods included in the Paleo diet ensure a wholesome and balanced diet(7).

    Since the Paleo diet is not a short-term diet, you should stick to it for at least 6 months. It is only from this period that significant and lasting improvements in the body and metabolism can occur.

    fruit and vegetables

    Changing to a Paleo diet should be done in phases. In order for the physical change to be successful, a detoxification followed by an acclimatization phase should take place in advance. (Image Source: Brooke Lark / Unsplash)

    What are the advantages of the Paleo diet?

    As already described in the upper part of the article, the Paleo diet can have a significant impact on your health. In contrast to other diets, Paleo can be understood as a concept of a long-term diet. The wholesome foods keep you full and provide your body with sufficient energy.

    As a result, problems with the well-known yo-yo effect or ravenous hunger attacks occur less frequently. The fact that your cognitive performance can even be increased can be deduced from the recommendations of the Californian Alzheimer's Dementia Research Institute(8). In the following overview we have put together the advantages and disadvantages of the Paleo eating style for you:

    • Whole foods prevent food cravings
    • Your body will also be supplied with sufficient energy during the diet
    • Cognitive performance can even be increased
    • Weight loss usually comes naturally
    • Paleo can prevent certain widespread diseases or support their treatment
  • Too many prohibitions can be overwhelming and trigger cravings
  • You don't like fish, meat or vegetables
  • Paleo is time-consuming, especially at the beginning, because you should deal intensively with the concept
  • Fresh and quality food can be expensive
  • The Paleo diet requires a lot of discipline, especially at social events
  • Compared to other diets, the Paleo diet stands out in that it does not create a real diet feeling. Your physical activity will not be negatively affected by the change in diet either. On the contrary: an increased protein intake through protein-rich meat even supports muscle building.

    Paleo nutrition plan - what do meals look like, for example?

    After so much text and theory, you're probably wondering what meals in everyday Paleo life could look like. To give you some inspiration and increase your motivation, we would like to introduce you to some Paleo dishes as examples:

    Have a good meal example 1 example 2
    Breakfast Pancakes made from one banana and three eggs, topped with fruit and nuts Banana and blueberry smoothie bowl with paleo granola
    Lunch Asian style chicken with cauliflower rice, vegetables and cashews Honey Glazed Salmon with Roasted Broccoli
    Dinner Paleo tortilla made with eggs and spinach Low carb beef burger with pineapple slices

    Nuts or fruit, for example, can be used as a snack. Of course, you can mix and match any "allowed" foods you like; there are no limits to your creativity when cooking.


    The Paleo diet is based on scientific knowledge and is also recommended by many nutritionists. And not without reason: the health benefits and the promise of losing weight without starving yourself are just two of the arguments for the Stone Age concept.

    Even if the concept is basically simple, a few things should be considered when implementing it. It is not only dieters who are new to the diet who are faced with a major challenge due to severe restrictions on the foods they are allowed to eat. However, once you get the hang of it and your body adjusts, you will benefit from the long-term effects.


      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 68, 350-357 (2014). Source Melnik BC. Linking diet to acne metabolomics, inflammation, and comedogenesis: an update. Clin Cosmetic Investig Dermatol. 2015 Jul 15;8:371-88. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S69135. PMID: 26203267; PMCID: PMC4507494. Source Biesalski HK (2018) Healthy eating. In: Nutrition and exercise - worth knowing from nutrition and sports medicine. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. Source 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 Source Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, Ahrén B, Branell UC, Pålsson G, Hansson A, Söderström M, Lindeberg S. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2009 Jul 16;8:35. doi: 10.1186/1475-2840-8-35. PMID: 19604407; PMCID: PMC2724493. Source Manheimer EW, van Zuuren EJ, Fedorowicz Z, Pijl H. Paleolithic nutrition for metabolic syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Oct;102(4):922-32. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.113613. Epub 2015 Aug 12. PMID: 26269362; PMCID: PMC4588744. Source Blum, Esther. Paleo power for women: Lose weight quickly, quickly and permanently. Goldmann Verlag, 2015. Source Bredesen DE. Reversal of cognitive decline: a novel therapeutic program. Aging (Albany NY). 2014 Sep;6(9):707-17. doi: 10.18632/aging.100690. PMID: 25324467; PMCID: PMC4221920. Source Jamka M, Kulczyński B, Juruć A, Gramza-Michałowska A, Stokes CS, Walkowiak J. The Effect of the Paleolithic Diet vs. Healthy Diets on Glucose and Insulin Homeostasis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Clin Med. 2020;9(2):296. Published 2020 Jan 21. doi:10.3390/jcm9020296 Source Lindeberg S, Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, Borgstrand E, Soffman J, Sjöström K, Ahrén B. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart disease. diabetology. 2007 Sep;50(9):1795-1807. doi: 10.1007/s00125-007-0716-y. Epub 2007 Jun 22. PMID: 17583796. Source
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