What Does Paleo Mean?

Paleo is a hot topic these days, but what does it mean exactly, why do people do it, and what does it encompass? We are excited to offer these answers and more in today’s sponsored post by our friend Allison Stevens, who is a chef and nutritionist with her company Prep Dish and also lives the paleo(-ish, as she puts it) life. She offers her insight and story below.


My Story

by Allison Stevens

Paleo often gets a bad rap. And I have to admit, I used to think this diet trend (based on eating similar to our Paleolithic ancestors) was ridiculous because I didn’t truly understand it. Today, I am proud to say I am, what I call, Paleo-ish. Here is what I mean by this and why I choose to eat this way.

At the core, what most widely seems to be considered Paleo is eating real food—principles that are very similar to Lisa’s. Although Paleo goes a step farther, following the principle that if a food item wasn’t eaten thousands of years ago, pre-agriculture, don’t eat it.

This not only eliminates processed foods from your diet, but also food such as grains and legumes. There are foods that are allowed and avoided when following a Paleo lifestyle, as outlined below.

The following are allowed on the traditional Paleo diet:

  • Veggies – There are many veggies allowed, I never get bored or run out of options!
  • Grass-fed & pastured meats
  • Sustainable seafood
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Fruit
  • Grass-fed dairy

The following are avoided on the Paleo diet:

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Sugars
  • Most processed foods

Why I Call Myself Paleo-ish

Four years ago I discovered I was gluten intolerant (believe me, as a dietitian, this came as a shock!). When I removed gluten from my diet, I had more energy. My occasional bouts of nausea or digestive problems disappeared.

Better yet, I stopped getting sick as often as I used to! I used to think that getting sick a few times a year (colds and usually one episode of strep throat) was just the norm.

In addition, while I was never quite overweight when I was eating gluten, I certainly looked “puffy” in pictures taken prior to going gluten-free (likely inflammation from the gluten).

What Does Paleo Mean? on 100 Days of #RealFood #Paleo
Allison Stevens before and after starting her “paleo-ish” lifestyle.

After removing gluten, I became much more aware of how food makes me feel. Sugar is not something I eat daily since it really impacts my energy levels. For example, I am aware of how much sugar I consume, and I limit it to an occasional piece of dark chocolate or a gluten-free brownie or cupcake on special occasions.

I also found that other grains, especially oats, cause stomach pains, and thus I eliminated oats from my diet. Slowly but surely, I was unknowingly becoming Paleo.

I was eating a primarily Paleo diet without even realizing it and have since come to embrace a Paleo-ish lifestyle. Personally, I think Paleo’s strength is that it is based on following a healthy diet with real foods at its core.

What I’ve come to realize is that, just as everyone has their own personal definition of real food, the definition of Paleo varies from person to person. Indeed, it has been said that there are as many definitions of Paleo as there are practitioners.

The Guidelines I Follow

There are a lot of gray areas in following the Paleo lifestyle; this is how I choose to handle them. Maybe you do the same?

Dairy

Some Paleo folks shun dairy. I find that as long as I stick to low-lactose cheeses and avoid heavy cream, I’m fine. I choose grass-fed dairy whenever possible.

Legumes

While I don’t actively add beans into my diet, I don’t avoid beans, either. I lump foods such as green beans and peanut butter into this category.

Gluten-Free Grains

I still eat rice and quinoa on occasion, and okay, gluten-free pizza as a treat (this is so not Paleo!).

Alcohol

I enjoy having a glass of red wine with dinner and include this as part of my regular diet most days of the week. Here I have a confession: when I met my fiancé, I was nervous when I learned he was Paleo because I was afraid this meant he didn’t drink!

What Does Paleo Mean? on 100 Days of #RealFood #Paleo
Bison Chili by Chef Allison Stevens/PrepDish.com

Many of you reading this will recognize that I don’t follow Paleo precisely. Those of you with an auto-immune condition may follow a stricter version of a Paleo diet for health reasons.

The overall goal, I believe, is to eat healthier, less processed foods in order to feel better. Everyone has a different definition of what that means for them, and that’s okay.

A Day in the Life

For example, here’s a day in the life of my Paleo-ish diet:

Breakfast: Caramelized onion, mushroom, potato, & chicken sausage frittata

Lunch: Butternut squash & bison chili

Dinner: Paprika roasted chicken leg with trio of roasted root veggies, side salad, & glass of old vine Zinfandel

I cook Paleo meals just like the ones above for my fiancé, friends, and clients, and I don’t feel the need to advertise it as Paleo. There’s a good chance that some of your favorite real food meals are Paleo already! I find Paleo to be very approachable and enjoyable and most of all – healthy!

I’m really lucky that I can use my personal experience in my working world as well. Here’s more on how that has evolved.

Prep Dish Meal Planning Service

I have run a successful personal chef company in Austin, Texas, for the past five years, preparing meals for my many clients – individuals, busy families, and even celebrities.

After a few years of owning and operating my business, I realized I could reach a much larger audience with my healthy foods by creating meal plans so that families and individuals everywhere could use my recipes and procedures for prepping meals ahead of time. I strongly believe that having prep work done in advance is the KEY to actually enjoying your meals.

So my company, PrepDish.com, was born. I provide subscribers with a weekly meal plan that includes a grocery list and instructions for spending 2 to 3 hours prepping meals ahead of time (on the weekend, if you prefer). All of the meals are gluten-free and based on real foods – my version of Paleo. I also have strict Paleo meal plans available, if desired.

With my meal plans, I aim to make healthy eating approachable. I also take care of the planning so that meal prep is as quick and efficient as possible.

I personally follow my own prep ahead method in order to have food on the table after my workday. What does this look like?

Once a week I spend 2 to 3 hours prepping my food for the week. That way, at 5:00 pm I’m not scrambling to make dinner. Instead, I pre-heat the oven and pop in a delicious Chilean sea bass and an assortment of roasted veggies that I’ve pre-cut (how’s that for “convenience food?!”).

A Special Deal for You!

Does chipotle shrimp with asparagus and sweet potato wedges sound good to you? How about spinach pesto chicken with zucchini noodles? Do you want to add variety to your Paleo lifestyle or want to experiment with the diet for the first time, perhaps for your own personal health reasons or just to get more whole foods in your diet?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then please try TWO FREE weeks of PrepDish Paleo! Sign up for my newsletter on PrepDish.com.

For those of you that are Paleo-curious, this is a great way to get your feet wet! I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Paleo lifestyle in the comments.

Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but 100 Days of Real Food will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us spread our message!

42 thoughts on “What Does Paleo Mean?”

  1. Yes! Yes! I think this is a realistic approach.

    This is real life, with real food. If I say I’ll never eat “chosen food item” again, I’m probably lying. I’m doing the best I can each day. Some days better than others.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. I love her story. It seems that people are “all or none” when it comes to healthy eating and I love to hear that it’s not the end of the world to eat any one particular food group! I did the whole30 (paleo on steroids) and began eating paleo after that, but found that introducing gluten and dairy and no effect on me. Then I became concerned about the amount of meat I was eating and decided to embark on whatever “balance” is for me. The point is that we all want to eat more whole foods but it’s okay if you’re not perfect according to any one particular person’s definition of perfect.

  3. I’m definitely a little gluten intolerant…I can eat it without anything major, but my eczema flares up, my digestive system shuts down, and my body lacks energy. So, I would consider myself paleo-ish…I loved hearing your take on it, because I don’t follow it completely either…It’s interesting to get another viewpoint!

  4. Thanks for sharing this story. It’s great that Allison was able to improve her health with these lifestyle changes. I follow a more flexitarian whole food lifestyle and never really got into Paleo for several reasons, but liked learning more about it. It seems like people who follow the Paleo lifestyle eat a lot of meat and her example included meat for all three meals. Lisa, I know you don’t focus your meals on meat either- Are most Paleo meals meat-based?

  5. I think it’s important to remember everyone has their own journey. It takes time and experimenting to change your eating habits. I also think it’s important to realize you will have moments of slipping back from what you are trying to accomplish. Sometimes these moments come when we think we have made it to a new level and nothing can shake us. Just accept that it happens and pick yourself up and continue in the direction you have chosen. It took me years to give up eating bread. I realized that it was the cause of the heartburn and acid reflux that I was experiencing. I went through many steps: from wholewheat to sprouted wheat to gluten free and now no bread. This process had many slip backs but little by little I progressed to no bread…but wouldn’t you know it, last week I was toasting a bagel for my granddaughter(at her home) and there was 1/2 left, a white bagel yet, and I ate it. Why? Who knows maybe because I am human..anyway the world didn’t come to an end and I didn’t die so I’ll just accept it and carry on. Life is too short to become undone and it won’t cause me to fall of my chosen path so I just remind myself why I am doing what I am doing and carry on.

  6. Too many times I’ve tried sticking to a paleo-ish diet. Every time, after a month or 2, I found myself nibbling on a piece of leftover white bread I was using to make the kids’ lunches. I would tell myself that it was just this once. It didn’t work. At the beginning of the year, I dropped my pretenses. I realized that it was just unrealistic for me to eat different from the rest of my family. We are currently transitioning to “real food”. I still don’t eat as many grains as the rest of my family, but now I don’t feel guilty for having a piece of toast or pancake or cracker or pasta or rice. As long as it’s whole grain, I’m not breaking any rules here. And there is no more white bread around for me to cheat on. Everyone is eating healthier! I think Allison’s story is great because it leaves out all the pretentiousness. She described paleo and stated “I’m that most of the time, and the rest of the time it’s OK that I’m not” I wish people would take the time to read her whole story before responding to the post. Right now I’m grateful that I’m also somewhere in the middle of paleo-ish and “real food” and that it’s ok. :)

    1. couldn’t agree more!
      And switching over your whole family to a healthier lifestyle was the best decision you could have made. Real food vs./ food fads and diets will always win.
      As a chef I am always interested to see what’s out there. Most of the diets however are nothing but fads, unrealistic for this century and sometimes outright dangerous. The trick here is to eat HEALTHY and just try to eliminate processed junk….WITHOUT feeling guilty when you do sneak a piece of that left over candy from your kid this Halloween/Chrismas/Easter/insert your own. You won’t die, nobody will hate you, you won’t have to call yourself a cheater. Just enjoy the moment that will quickly pass. (Of course there are restrictions for the serious allergy/sensitivity ridden folks among us) To much hype about food these days. Supermarket? >>just shop the perimeter….simple really! Do what you can and want to, but don’t overdo it, or you’ll just simply give up frustrated one day.

  7. I really disagree with the paleo lifestyle for those that are hardcore. Giving up a whole food group is unhealthy and the only reason that they see benefits is not from removing grains but from removing processed foods and sugars. For those that do have a gluten problems there are lots of grains that don’t contain gluten which should be eaten in their whole grain form.

    1. So, you are giving an opinion based on something you haven’t done. Interestingly, some of us actually see benefits from removing certain foods. For me, wheat causes fatigue and IBS, and I am not celiacs. I still partake of junk foods, and as long as they aren’t wheat based, I do alright.

      Furthermore, there absolutely no evidence that supports your claim that eliminating a food group is bad. Its just a tiresome meme that grain and sugar addicts use to support their lack of desire to experiment with their diets. You can’t learn about your body if you never experiment with it. Thats why paleo is at its core, a whole foods elimination diet.

      But hey, you have obviously made up your mind.

      1. I see no need to be so nasty. I consider everything that I read a gift. I may not agree with the author, but I am capable of expressing my thoughts without being horrible to someone. I truly hope that you’ll take my words to heart and consider writing an apology.

  8. Great post! I started with Allison’s Prep Dish at the same time I started the 100 Days pledges. It’s been a great system. Like Allison, I eat paleo-ish. I’ve tried doing the Whole 30 version of paleo, but it just didn’t work for me. The goal is to eat healthy in a way that works for your family. Plenty of room on the internet for all of us. I know haters gotta hate, but it seems silly to do that here!

  9. We started out with Paleo, but now we are vegan. We love our food so much more and its more for me to cook again. I love it.

  10. Geez some of these comments are so harsh and cynical. The name of her post is “MY Story,” not “How to be Super Duper Perfect Paleo,” and as Lisa said, this is not a Paleo blog. It reads to me as an introduction to what Paleo *can* be depending on what your needs and goals are. I started out being as strict as I could be, but learned over time that you can make allowances for yourself depending on what your body can handle and what makes you feel good, while using Paleo as a framework to guide your choices. And that’s perfectly okay!

    1. I agree! I guess we can’t all be as perfect as some of the posters, but I’m guessing a large group of 100days is looking for good whole food with balance.

  11. I completely agree with Kate that this is a terrible example of “Paleo” if you are, in fact, actually trying to educate people on Paleo. However, if you just want to give a little space to Paleo so you can say you mentioned it in a blog post, then well done. You mentioned it. And gave people a completely confusing and mixed up explanation and “story” about someone who doesn’t eat Paleo and says she sort of sometimes does. And her discussion of her gluten puffiness is, again, extremely misleading and confusing.

    That being said, I think that many people who are Paleo because they are trying to eat healthier and eat less processed foods probably have a similar story and approach. They are paleo-ish instead of 100% Paleo all the time.

    The major problem I have with your “article” is that you’ve completely ignored discussing the fact that some people have to eat Paleo for health reasons. Serious ones. And that within those people there are many variations and many stories of how certain foods work for certain people and others don’t. Some can tolerate dairy and some can’t. Some are ok with some legumes and some aren’t. Some are sensitive to nightshades and some aren’t. Etc. I think this particular post was very poorly conceived and a total cop out to your readers. If you are going to “explain” Paleo then find someone who can truly explain what the diet/lifestyle it, explain the science behind it, and explain how it truly affects the body.

    1. I am sorry you were looking for more of a dramatic before and after story and hard-core Paleo follower. If that’s what you’re seeking I would recommend this post from a few months ago: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2014/11/24/recipe-slow-cooker-sunday-roast-new-deliciously-organic-cookbook/ As you will see in that post we recently just discussed eating Paleo for serious health-reasons (and included very dramatic before and after pics) so rather than covering that same point again today’s post is more about a casual Paleo-follower who still saw benefits from making changes. I personally liked Allison’s story and her approach because it is a little more relaxed. I think some feel overwhelmed when they consider going all or nothing Paleo. I felt no obligation whatsoever to “mention Paleo in a blog post” – again Allison is our sponsor and we thought others would enjoy reading about her story that she offered to share. It’s honestly as simple as that.

  12. We also eat paleo-ish at our house, although we purposely add more beans and legumes because of costs. We started trending that way after discovering my daughter’s gluten intolerance and have just continued. The reason we don’t do full on paleo is because it costs too much, especially for properly raised meats.

  13. Paleo is great but she’s not eating a paleo diet… not even a little. She doesn’t “avoid” beans… she eats cheese(!) and dairy… she sometimes has pizza… she eats rice for goodness sake! Could you all not have found someone who actually sticks to a paleo diet to feature??? Her before & after pics have almost zero change at all, there are hundreds and hundreds of people who have lost a TON of weight or whose skin has totally cleared up or… just someone that could have actually inspired people to really consider this diet. This whole post felt like a passive aggressive way for 100Days to claim they gave room to talk about paleo while also making sure no one would really want to do it. It seems like you went out of your way to find someone not doing paleo well to talk about it so you could keep your customers… opps, I mean readers.

    1. Wow, talk about reading into things Kate. For starters – Allison clearly says that she is not 100% Paleo, although I have seen others who call themselves Paleo and still eat dairy FYI. Second of all, she is our sponsor (as stated) and actually came to us with the idea of writing about her lifestyle and meal planning service. This was also not the first time we’ve shared Paleo stories (did you see my post about Carrie Vitt late last year?). In this post Allison also stated that she was not overweight but “puffy” before (which I can see compared to the after picture) and many of her positive changes in health are things you cannot see on the surface. I obviously have nothing against Paleo since I’ve shared both stories here on the blog and friends’ Paleo cookbooks on Facebook, but clearly this is not a lifestyle I personally follow and this is my blog so I wouldn’t expect to see a focus here on giving up grains anytime soon (or probably ever). Thanks for your feedback.

  14. Interesting article, and some of the recipes sound yummy. But you lost me by coupling “sustainable seafood” with Chilean Sea Bass, which is neither Chilean, nor bass. There are many better seafood choices out there where the lineage of MSC-certified fish can be trusted and doesn’t have to come from waters near Antarctica. (We have the good fortune in Charleston, SC, to be part of a community-supported fishery where we get the freshest seafood from healthy fisheries while supporting a local fisherman, but I still believe it’s critical to really understand where your seafood comes from and how it’s caught.) As for grains causing puffiness, do you think this is the case for people without gluten intolerance, too? I have a family member with celiac disease and understand the need for gluten-free labeling, but it seems to be such a hot term for people to throw around these days. Just not sure I think all grains are evil, but I can see how many crops today are so genetically altered and could be more of the problem.

  15. This is such a timely post! I have been dealing with adult acne and thyroid issues and am uncertain if foods like grains or sugar are causing inflammation in my body. I’ve previously thought about trying to be “paleo-ish” and have a few paleo books. I have not tried cutting out grains or dairy yet because I know how hard it will be, and I *love* cheese. I’m curious what constitutes a low lactose cheese?

    1. Hard cheeses like cheddar are low lactose, soft cheeses have more lactose. Lactose is a sugar, so any cheese with zero grams of sugar has a negligible lactose content.

  16. I struggle with eating in a way that can sustain a global population. Consuming meat two or three times a day, eating vegetables when they are out of season (so often imported), avoiding grains and legumes, and shipping products from other countries (like Chilean Sea Bass) only exacerbate the extremes between haves and have nots. These habits also use significant natural resources and have steep environmental costs.

    Grains and legumes are staples for most of the world. Eating high on the food chain is a privilege. As countries like India and China develop, the demand for meat is rising – further taxing limited resources. We are exporting the privilege of eating high on the food chain. How will that end?

    My hope is that we can develop healthy eating habits that create more for others and allow for sustainable fisheries and production globally.

    1. “Eating high on the food chain is a privilege” – what a powerful statement. I’ve never thought about it quite like that before, but I think that statement sums up what has been my struggle to come to terms with Paleo-eating. I have friends who are strictly Paleo, and I so appreciate this author’s flexible attitude that isn’t so do or die, all or nothing. I guess I just can’t help but look to the rest of the world, especially to the countries that still eat culturally, the way their ancestors did. If they are still consuming grains, legumes, etc., why is it all of the sudden so harmful to Americans to consume these products (allergies and autoimmune diseases excluded, of course)? I understand the arguments that our grains are not the same grains of centuries past, etc., but I just can’t seem to reconcile it all. This was an interesting article; thank you for sharing!

      1. Agriculture as it stands is unsustainable. 10.6% of the Earth’s land is arable. Agriculture leads to deforestation, habitat destruction, displaced wildlife, mono-crop ag, over population, famine and pollution from fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides.

        Meat isn’t the only product that affects the poor. When we as Americans target new foods from other countries, like quinoa for example, it it can often make that food to expensive for the poor there.

        Lastly, poor health is also unsustainable and expensive. Think about the massive amounts of dollars we spend on diet related preventable diseases. Yes, you can buy cheap foods like grains, but you may be only deferring the cost till later.

        We have to figure out a way to make both animal and plant production unsustainable.

    2. It is practically impossible to eat in a way that can sustain an unsustainable population. This problem is not one of diet, but of overpopulation.

      IMO, from a health or global population, unsustainable grain agriculture is not the answer.

      Not eating grains has little to do with history/evolution and everything to do with nutrient density. In America AKA obesity capital of the universe, basically everyone should be focused on getting the most nutrients per calorie which grains are at the very bottom of the list.

      1. Enriched flours, junk food, and sodas are at the bottom of the list. If Americans actually ate the whole grain, then they would ultimatly consume less of it (fiber fills you up). Enriched=empty, which in turn keeps you craving more. Since switching to whole wheat and other real food, my husband and I have both lost weight.

        I agree that we should be focused on the nutrient/calorie ratio but do not believe that grains (whole grains) are to blame for America’s obesity issues.

      2. The problem with whole grains is that they also contain anti-nutrients which makes accessing the nutrients difficult or impossible. Thats why they are processed in the first place, to remove the bad stuff. These anti-nutrients, like phytic acid, bind with minerals and make it impossible for our bodies to absorb them.

  17. I understand that this diet is based on what was eaten long ago during the paleo period but sorry to say, most vegetables would not have been consumed then. It would have mostly been perennial vegetables and perhaps mainly greens. I still find it interesting though. Thank you for your post.

    1. Many people get confused or stuck by the word Paleo. Yes, paleo practitioners often talk about the diet of our ancestors, but they are not saying that we have to eat those foods. What they are trying to say is that humans have preferred certain foods over others. Just like a panda eats bamboo, we humans also do best on certain foods. Paleo at its core is an elimination diet that focuses on whole foods. Experiment with foods, eliminate, and then reintroduce. Take stock of your health and how you feel as you do so.

      Look, American zoo gorillas were becoming obese and dying of CVD despite being vegan. The reason is that they were being fed processed foods made of sugar and starch. Zoo keepers then switched their diets to one that wild gorillas consume, and despite eating twice as many calories, they lost weight and improved their CVD markers.

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