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Is the paleo diet right for me?

A note from Tsh: This guest post is a follow-up to my experience with eating “paleo,” a particular diet involving a heavy amount of veggies, a decent amount of sustainably-raised meats, fruit, nuts, and seeds, and avoiding dairy, soy, grains, and legumes. I don’t eat 100% paleo, but I do my best to stick to that general diet 80% of the time.

Chances are good that you’ve heard of the paleo diet. Maybe you’ve looked into it since reading about Tsh’s experience, or maybe a friend or family member has had some amazing results and you’re wondering if it would work for you, too.

I personally believe that some version of the paleo diet is for pretty much everyone, but there are groups of people who will benefit most. If you fit into one of the following categories, this means you.

Low energy

Eating paleo helps with low/erratic energy in a couple ways: it takes out the grains, sugars, and processed foods and stabilizes your blood sugar, which in turn balances your energy and hormones. Also, many people who have low energy are dealing with hidden food intolerances.

When you eat food to which your body is intolerant, your body recognizes these foods (primarily gluten, dairy, corn, and soy) as foreign invaders and attacks them the way it would attack a virus. This is the root of many issues, not least of which is low-energy.

Brain fog

Did you know the number one symptom of gluten intolerance isn’t digestive distress, but brain fog and other neurological issues? Doctors are learning that the gut and brain are intimately connected, and symptoms of food intolerance are seen more frequently in brain dysfunction than digestion.

Digestive issues

The number one over-the-counter drug sold in the US? Antacids. We have been trained that when our body experiences a symptom after eating, like burping, farting, acid reflux, bloating and stomach aches, it is a “normal” response to eating, and we should take a pill to dull the symptoms.

How great would it be if those antacid commercials instead said, “If any of these symptoms persist, check your diet, honey.”

When your digestion is working and you’re eating foods that agree with your body, you shouldn’t notice any side-effects other than having MORE ENERGY after a meal. This stands in stark contrast to that feeling of being hit by a truck that many people experience daily after eating. The paleo diet removes the foods that trigger digestive distress for most people.


Your gut, brain, and skin are intricately intertwined. Emotional stress is proven to exacerbate acne, and your gut bacteria are proven to impact your emotions. Further, your gut microflora influences your skin more directly, as signals from these gut microorganisms are sent throughout your body and interact with organisms in your skin and gut mucosa. Healing your digestion is the fundamental way to clear up your skin.

Photo by SummerTomato

Excess weight

Good fat does not make you fat, and not all calories are created equally. Fructose and dietary carbohydrates (grains, which break down into sugar) lead to excess body fat, obesity, and related health issues.

Eating paleo eliminates grains, drastically reducing fructose intake. In addition, obesity is linked to chronic inflammation, so when you remove foods that are toxic and inflammatory to your body, it can begin to heal and release excess weight naturally.

Autoimmune diseases

The most common forms of autoimmune disease include some thyroid diseases (Hashimoto’s and Graves are most common), multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and vitiligo. Elements of autoimmunity are likely at play in conditions as seemingly unrelated as schizophrenia, infertility, and various forms of cancer.

In simple terms, autoimmunity means your immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s tissue in the way it would attack bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. In the specific case of Hashimoto’s Disease, eating gut irritating foods like gluten and casein actually leads to the immune system attacking thyroid cells.

High cholesterol > heart disease

I know, I know—how could eating eggs, loads of fat, and red meat reduce cholesterol? Surely this is a typo. Truth is, the story that eating dietary cholesterol leads to heart disease and high cholesterol (LDL) is one of the most insidious health myths ever told.

The paleo diet, rich in fat, can be very effective for reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels—more effective, in fact, than a statin drug. It is not uncommon for people to see a 30-point drop in cholesterol in just two weeks of eating paleo!

It’s actually excess sugars (including grains) that promote unhealthy cholesterol levels and raise triglyceride levels because they over-tax your liver, as it cannot properly make cholesterol while simultaneously processing fructose (which it turns into fat). As a result, you end up with impaired cholesterol formation, and eventually your body begins to form arterial plaque to compensate for this deficiency, increasing your risk for heart disease.

The irony is that cholesterol-rich foods (HDL), like eggs, actually help reduce the bad LDL cholesterol. So the recommendation to remove dietary cholesterol and fat from your diet and replace with fat-free processed grains and sugars has further exacerbated the problem.

Photo by USDAgov

Blood sugar issues > diabetes

With type-2 diabetes, your body becomes desensitized to insulin, the hormone that takes glucose out of your blood stream and releases it into your cells. Since the paleo diet eliminates refined sugar and grains but includes lots of healthy fat and protein, meals are very satisfying and balance your blood sugar, so you are left feeling less hungry and with fewer cravings.

Most people expect that once they’re given a diabetes diagnoses, they’ll have it forever, but it’s actually very common to get off diabetes medication and reverse diabetes when following a paleo diet. Makes perfect sense, since the foods that caused the disease in the first place are eliminated.

Now what?

By healing the underlying imbalances, inflammation, and toxicity caused by the Standard American Diet (SAD), you can begin to heal from the issues listed above. If you’d like to take a paleo diet for a test drive, there are lots of people and resources to support you!

I’m offering a free Paleo Starter Guide on my website that will help you setup your paleo kitchen and also give you yummy and easy paleo ideas for every meal of the day. If you’re ready to go all the way, I’m about to release an at-home learning program: “Paleo Cooking at Home: Fast, Cheap & Easy,” created specifically to address the needs of people transitioning to a paleo lifestyle or looking for new tools to add to their paleo arsenal.

A final note from Tsh: I know a lot of you have asked about my experience with switching to a paleo diet, and I promise, a post is in the works. Hopefully this simple primer from Camille has given you a rundown of the basic benefits for eating this way. I don’t subscribe to any school of thought that says you have to do something perfectly in order for it to work (hence my 80% approach to paleo). But I will say that I’ve felt better than I have in years eating paleo—in a nutshell, I feel normal, like my body functions the way it has always meant to work. That’s been amazing. In the spirit of simple living (the clarion call of this blog), the paleo diet has helped simplify my family’s approach to eating—simple, whole ingredients, eating ethically-raised meats and produce, and focusing on seasonal meals. It’s been fun.

What questions do you have for Camille about the paleo diet?

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  1. Julia

    I have hereditary high cholesterol, thanks to my Scandanavian heritage. Would you be able to point me to some scientific studies about the possibility of consuming meat, fat, and cholesterol to lower a person’s cholesterol?

  2. Carla

    Can you point me in the direction of peer reviewed studies on the paleo diet? I am coming short on real scientific studies just seem to find anecdotal data


      • Tsh

        While I’m also curious about what the science community has to say about paleo, for me (and this is just me), I find things like blogs and personal stories actually more convincing than scientific studies, which are very often “sponsored” by companies that have a preferential outcome.

        • sarah

          I’m a physician and scientist published in multiple medical journals. (and no ‘company sponsorship’ of my research, btw). I understand people find blogs and personal anecdotes appealing, but to actually understand whether something is scientifically valid necessitates using the scientific method. The gold standard are peer reviewed double-blind placebo controlled trials. Medical and scientific journals (I’m talking about real ones, not blogs and news articles and such) are required to disclose any sort of financial connection the authors of a study have to what is being researched. This is necessary to even be accepted into respected journals, and a financial bias and connection disqualifies scientists and physicians from being able to publish in the reputable journals. Are there disreputable journals out there? sure. But anyone truly in the scientific community knows not to look twice at them. Also, part of our training in science and/or medicine involved knowing how to interpret the results of all these studies, as there are sometimes conflicting results in different trials, or things that are discovered to be contrary to what was hypothesized. There is so much involved in the evaluation process I can’t sum it up here. Except to say that to blanketly make an assumption that complanies “sponser” all scientific studies is completely incorrect.

          As far as the paleo diet, I’ve read numerous studies that cause me to doubt whether it’s the ideal way to eat. Most people who feel wonderful on it are feeling that way because they’ve ditched processed food and refined sugars–definitely a good thing. But there is simply no evidence that eliminating beans and whole grains from your diet is better for your nutritional state. Nor is there good evidence that eating a diet full of saturated fats is beneficial. Also there are so many unproven anecdotal statements in this post that I can’t even start to discuss them all. I will do a post at my blog sometime in the future on why I don’t eat paleo.

          I don’t doubt that for some people, eating paleo is an improvement on their processed food based diet, and as such, perhaps it can be a stepping stone to a more plant based diet–I agree that a diet high in vegetables is best and if eating paleo will get you there, then maybe it’s the path to take. There is just no reason to vilify the noble bean and whole grain.

          • Adrienne

            Great points Sarah! I think Paleo is another “fad” diet and I completely agree with you! People use anecdotal evidence all the time because it’s easier to “find” for the general public compared to the studies you mention. However, it leads to lots of misinformation and confusion.

          • Amber

            I have to disagree. No I am not a doctor but I do look at science and History. Many, many, many years ago BEFORE they made cheetos and pepsi and”fruit juice” that really doesn’t contain much juice BTW, people died at a very young age. BUT they didn’t die from things AS OFTEN as they do now from Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, and ESPECIALLY Obesity. They dies from, Chicken Pox, the Flu, Infections, things that are easily cured today. Now if we take the diet they were accustom to, The Paleo diet (Caveman Diet), and today’s medical knowledge for things like that, they probably would have lived for a very long time logically. And as for studies or any “Reputable” research, I have seen numerous Doctor’s (Doctor Oz being one of them recently) including my own physician’s have all said that it is a very healthy way of living, but also very difficult to COMPLETELY follow. Most vegetables are drenched in pesticides (which are said to be harmless to humans but they wear full body suits and masks when spraying?) and its not easy to get truly organic foods. I’m not sure if it is the dates of these posts that they have these answers because it was still a newer diet but as of NOW I have seen/heard/read more than enough evidence to believe this is how we are suppose to live. I hope to soon be 100% Paleo along with my children.

        • Josh

          That’s an often overlooked but great point.

    • Dana

      There is a great TED talk on the Paleo diet. Check it out.

  3. Dan Garner

    I was on a strict paleo diet for almost a year before I discovered the Perfect Health Diet. It is semi – paleo but includes a few more starches – rice in particular. The book and diet are very scientific. Google for an overview but one should definitely buy the book for a wonderfully detailed description of the science behind the diet. The husband and wife team are PHD’s that spent years researching nutrition to heal themselves, then wrote the book to share with others.

    Dan Garner

  4. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    I’m completely sold on the benefits of a Paleo diet (and the SCD, GAPS, etc. diets for that matter). I watched a friend diagnosed with MS completely reverse his symptoms through diet alone and know of people with rheumatoid arthritis who, through diet changes, are now medicine-free.
    However, when trying to go Paleo (ish) a budget, the loss of frugal ingredients like legumes and grains is kind of a killer. I’d love to hear your tips for eating Paleo frugally!

    • Ashley // Our Little Apartment

      Yes! I agree. I think Paleo is out of reach for folks who are lower income. Rice and beans are the staple for much of the world (and my family and me!) (I do belong to a CSA and really value spending what money we do have on GOOD, local, whole food – but we still use legumes and brown rice as a cornerstone to most meals.)

    • Jennifer Campbell

      I guess the Paleo diet is definitely for me- I fit into every category mentioned. The biggest reason I am going to do a Whole30 for the month of June is that I have had fertility problems for the past two years, and the more I read, the more I’m convinced it may have a lot to do with my diet. I gave Paleo a sort of trial run the past couple of weeks (still had a bit of half & half in my coffee, and a few other small “cheats”, but for the most part, I stuck to it), and I have to say, I felt awesome. I have never “felt like” working out since I was a teenager- but while eating Paleo, I have gone running (RUNNING! and I HATE running!) faithfully every other day (baby steps- I have issues with shin splints). Just to make sure it wasn’t in my head, I went back to eating my usual crap this past weekend, just to see what would happen… I. felt. AWFUL. Tired, rundown, brain fog, serious digestive upset, I broke out really bad all over… etc. Needless to say, I am SOLD and when I saw a Reese’s candy bar on the counter this morning, I was not even remotely tempted.
      My biggest issue is getting my family on board. My hubby totally doesn’t get the whole “eating healthy” thing, and quite frankly, I can’t afford to feed my boys without the rice, bread, and pasta fillers at each meal. Any tips on what to do to keep costs down and get my family more on board? It makes it so much easier if I don’t have to deal with the “bad stuff” being in the house.

    • Tsh

      Agreed. I’m mulling over a post about this! (Paleo on a real budget.)

    • Kat

      I think a plant-based diet is important, so whether omnivore or veg*n it should be full of vegetables. I find that soaked beans and grains tend to digest easier for me, as in the Nourishing Traditions method. It is also cheaper to buy whole grains and dry beans in bulk rather than canned or already-prepared. Cheap(er) cuts of grass-fed beef can be made tender and delicious by cooking in the crockpot all day, and can be filled out with plenty of root vegetables to fill many tummies. Bones for broth are also helpful– I cook my chickens whole for about 2 family meals, then turn several carcasses into broth which can then be used to cook my grains and beans. Grass-fed soup bones for broth can often be found at farmers markets, as well.

  5. Esther

    I can’t commit to the paleo thing (I’d still like to see true studies), but I know that going GF has helped my gut tremendously.

  6. Mary Beth

    I went vegan nine months ago to work on my cholesterol and in six months my total cholesterol dropped 80 points, and LDL went down 75. I think Paleo is really intriguing but I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around how it can be healthier than a whole foods, plant based diet and actually make my cholesterol stay in a good place. I’ll be interested to read the study you referenced above. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    • Tsh

      I think the common denominator is LOTS of veggies. Honestly, I think that’s the biggest key for any healthy lifestyle!

      • Jennifer Ott

        We eat a primarily vegan paleo diet…does that make sense? Lots of veggies! I have 4 kids, and they do get some grains, but only one serving a day. I haven’t found that we spend more on food than we used to, but it does take some adjusting (my husband is a student, and I stay home with the kids, so I know what a “budget” is). I send people to this article when they ask me about our diet:

  7. Lisa

    I’ve heard of the Paleo diet, but never actually knew anything about it. Interestingly, it is very similar to a diet called the Belly Fat Cure by Jorge Cruise. I am thinking he has studied the Paleo diet.

  8. Kelly

    While I am sure that the author has experienced health benefits from the Paleo diet, I am disturbed that this post makes claims that are not backed up with research from peer reviewed research.

    Even worse than the unsupported claims is an actual inaccuracy. in the post, the author claims that antacids are the number one sold OTC medication. This is simply not true. According to “The Global OTC Pharmaceutical Market 2010-2025” published by Visiongain, an independent industry information provider, the number one OTC med is cough/cold medicine and the number 2 is pain medicine. To be clear, I in no way think that the author intentionally posted false info. (I enjoy and value this blog very much). However, I think that the information was read and passed on without verifying it against peer reviewed studies.

    This post hints that this diet will prevent/cure cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, infertility, and MS with NO research cited. And when asked for research, the author directs a reader to who also does not present studies. I checked out his site and the closest he came to citing scholarly research was to link to a NY Times article that summarized a study.

    Again, I like this blog alot, but I am disappointed that this article is so lacking in real information.

    • Tsh

      Let’s see what Camille has to say! 🙂

  9. Faigie

    The best way to eat Paleo frugally is to eat a small piece of protein with lots of vegetables. People think that you need to eat alot of protein, but small amounts are better anyway. Even though they say to eat grass fed meat which is more expensive it is better to eat paleo with regular meat than not paleo. About the grains: Paleo says go off of it for 30 days and then try reintroducing grains and legumes to see how you react.
    I went Paleo then heard about the virgin diet which is very similar but she allows certain grains and legumes. So I figured great, I can have brown rice and brown rice noodles. I made myself a big bowl of brown rice noodles and 2 hours later came down with crazy indigestion.Every persons system is different and you need to test out your own reactions to the food.

    • Tsh

      Yes. This is what I did with the Whole30—went strict paleo for 30 days and then reintroduced food to see what happened. I’ve been surprised at how sick I feel from eating corn-based products.

  10. Colleen

    I eat a paleo-inspired diet. Things start to go awry when I don’t eat enough grain. I discovered the paleo people because of my own intolerance of ALL legumes. They provide a good source of non-leguminous recipes for me. @Kelly: I haven’t looked for research about paleo, but research does abound about how much soy is/could be harming us.

    If we use a common sense approach to diet, I think there is room for differing judgements on how much of a grain, protein, fruit, etc we might need in a day. But I think that the consumer has been led astray by the over- hyping of soy. I’ll never again be convinced that tofurkey or a soy “chicken” nugget could possibly be better for me than the real thing.

  11. Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha

    This is great information! I started eating gluten-free a few months ago, and I can definitely feel a difference (especially if I eat something with gluten now, I can really feel how it impacts me). I would love if you have cookbook suggestions, recipe suggestions, etc. My worry is about finding enough variety of foods. And also suggestions for getting your kids and family on board! Thanks for the info!

  12. Corrie

    My house is allergic to: gluten, dairy, peanut, tree nut, coconut… Paleo seems to fit perfectly except that almost every recipe I find calls for coconut oil, coconut flour or almond this or that. What can I do to get around this? I don’t want to be a short order cook forever, fixing different meals around everyone’s allergies!

  13. Amy

    What a great introduction to paleo! It’s thorough without being preachy! I think this might be the new thing I send people when they want to know about paleo. I have been paleo for 18 months, and I think it is hand down one of the best decisions of my life. At first it did seem restrictive and expensive. But as the months went by and I felt better and better, we got better at making wonderful meals on a budget. We snack and eat out less, which helps the budget, and our spending on doctors visits and over-the-counter medicines is way down so that helps it as well. But at the end of the day, it’s just a priority. It’s worth it to feel good consistently. Tsh I can’t wait to hear more about your own journey!

  14. Ellen W

    I’ve eaten gluten free (I have celiac) for several years and although my GI issues resolved I honestly didn’t notice any major change in energy or lose weight. My main question with paleo is the restriction on legumes and the nightshade family. Most nutrition information points to beans as a healthy, inexpensive protein source and what is wrong with tomatoes?

  15. Jamie

    Fascinating that the millions of people who ate this way throughout their lifetime generally died before the age of 30. Of course, this was probably due to infectious causes, but we now have evidence that affluent people living thousands of years ago who were mummified and likely ate a “paleo diet” also had evidence of coronary artery disease. I guess it might not be the “perfect” diet for all.

  16. Brianna

    I have terrible self discipline but I would love to try this, even for 30 days. Another thing that worries me is that I have a 1-year-old who LOVES milk. She drinks way more than what our doc recommends, but every time we try to load her up on veggies, grains, fruit, and protein she still wants her milk. We cannot afford to buy organic milk but I wish there was a solution to get her down to about 15 oz of milk per day. I’d be happy with that. I’m thinking of doing almond milk as a substitute…anyway that is kind of off topic but if any one has suggestions!

  17. Trisha

    While I think paleo is a GREAT idea for the general population, as an endurance athlete (competitive long distance runner) there is SIGNIFICANT lack of information on how to accomodate for the increased need for carbohydrates, specifically during recovery and pre-race periods (without completely OD’ing on sweet potatoes). In addition, (in my personal case) I am egg intolerant. The paleo diet relies so heavily on eggs for many recipes and as a protein source. Do you have any suggestions for these points? I know paleo is very trendy with Cross-fit athletes, but the fueling requirements are extremely different for this type of exercise versus hard endurance training.


  18. Jennifer

    I would love to hear what you think about a vegetarian approach to Paleo. When I looked into it, I got the impression that “Well, I guess, if you HAVE to be vegetarian, you can eat some beans. But it won’t work very well that way.” Thoughts?

  19. jackie

    Thanks for the post – I’m definitely interested in trying out the paleo diet and whole 30, but i’m currently breastfeeding a 6 wk old and my 2 yr old toddler — do you suggest i wait? i don’t want my supply to drop.
    also, can you point me to the free starter guide on your web site?

  20. Rebecca

    What an interesting entry. I’d be very curious to learn more about the connection between Paleo and vitiligo. I’ve always wondered if there’s a way I can control it with my diet. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  21. Rebecca

    Interesting post! Do you have any more info on Paleo and vitiligo? Thanks!

  22. Terri

    Camille & Tsh, I enjoyed reading this article and the comments! I’m a certified health coach that works with women that suffer from inflammation. Most of my clients feel better having some animal protein so I encourage them to use it as a condiment and to eat the very best grass fed, organic meat (or “safe” fish and organice poultry) that they can afford.

    There can be 5,000 studies on the benefits of a certain diet but if YOU don’t feel well on it then do you just stay on it because of all of the peer reviewed studies? Hopefully you’ll embrace bio-individuality and choose a diet that works for you. How do you feel on it? Do your symptoms go away? Do you have more energy and sleep better?

    Some of us have leaky guts and can’t eat legumes, seeds or grains which makes getting protein difficult so having a little high-quality fish, chicken or grass-fed beef makes us feel better. My clients that have autoimmune issues absolutely feel better off of nightshades and some are ok with legumes and sprouted grains but getting off foods that cause inflammation is the biggest component in their healing (no dairy, gluten, sugar, nightshades).

    We are all different—we can all benefit from eating more vegetables and low-glycemic fruit but it’s worth seeing how you feel off grains and legumes or off animal protein. I tell my clients to choose foods that NOURISH your body.

  23. yehudit

    i look for a good diet for ages, and now i found it

  24. Natalie

    While I believe this article was written with the best of intentions and I love this blog I’m having a really hard time with the “millions who have eaten this way throughout time” line. Do people not realize we live in a COMPLETELY different environment than people who may have eaten this way before?? They would have to hunt for their food and if on the amazing chance they came across an animal and killed it (after probably exerting a TON of energy to track/kill the animal) – it was a special treat and most certainly not a daily occurrence. I also agree with the previous commenters who are wanting actual peer reviewed studies, I find this to be a complete fad diet and we’ll see the next one come along soon enough. I think plain old common sense would tell us that fruits, vegetables and whole grains/legumes are what God intended for us to eat since the beginning of time. I don’t mean for this to be taken as rude I just think we need to use a little more caution than to just follow the latest fad diet (and no I’m not a vegan or even a vegetarian, just trying to make healthy decisions each day like the rest of us). This website is a good one that I’ve found where he discusses the latest peer reviewed studies and presents them in a way I at least can easily understand!

  25. A

    Hi Camille! You mention a link between food intolerances and nerological problems. My sweet breast fed baby was diagnosed with epilepsy at just 7 weeks old. I have asked her neurologist about a therapeutic diet (ketogenic) and he wasn’t convinced it would be beneficial for me to follow it. Where can I find info about the Paleo diet positively impacting neurological conditions? I’d be willing to eat or eliminate anything from my diet to keep my sweet babe off anti-epileptics long-term (for now, due to her tender age we’re happy to give them, but we’re also hoping to wean her from them in a couple of years). Thanks!

  26. Laura S.

    I was just reading Tsh’s comment about a writeup on the budget paleo diet and then I saw your post. Thanks for taking the time!

    I actually ended up doing the math and I actually spend more than $125 a week anyways so $5.50 a meal really isn’t that bad.

  27. Minnesotamom

    Hi Tsh, I started a Whole30 last week and I was wondering if you’ve ever done the follow-up post about how 80/20 is going for your family? I’d love to hear more!

  28. Rob B

    Paleo diet can be a big help for people with digestive issues. It naturally rebalances the body’s pH and if you include exercise the body will be very happy
    : )

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