What Kind of Paleo are You?

Earlier this month, the NY Times ran an article entitled The New Age Cavemen and the City.

And it sent the Paleo/Primal/Caveman online community into a frenzy.

Never before had this niche community received such mainstream attention.

It’s too bad that the Paleos interviewed for the story came off as a bunch of New York hipster douchebags.

Now, instead of not knowing what Paleo is, people are going reference this article and assume that Paleo means:

  • Eating raw meat
  • Or running barefoot on New York streets
  • Except when we’re running around Central Park on all fours
  • Or throwing rocks at each other
  • Or eating with our hands
  • And my personal favorite – bloodletting


From now on, Paleo = Crazy-Ass New York Hipster Douchebag.

And that’s too bad.

Because if more people jumped on the Paleo bandwagon, we would see a drastic reduction in:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Love Handles
  • Muffin Tops
  • Fat Kids
  • Fat Parents
  • Diet Menus at Taco Bell
  • you get the idea.

So, Now That I Have Convinced You To Reconsider Going Paleo

What kind of Paleo are you going to be?

Because, going paleo doesn’t mean you have to eat raw meat. Most of us don’t. Heck, if you sat next to us at a restaurant, you would never even know we were Paleo.

In fact, odds are that you have already eaten Paleo…and you didn’t even know it.

So, without any further ado, I give you…

The Health Habits List of Paleo Sub-Groups

Paleo Basic

Eat This

  • Foods that are as close to nature as possible. If our Paleo ancestors couldn’t make it, you can’t eat it.
  • Meat -i.e  beef, pork, chicken, fish, seafood, etc…
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Seed Oils
  • Water

Don’t Eat This

  • Grains
  • Sugar
  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • or any other Processed crap. If it comes in a box or has multi-syllabic ingredients, it ain’t Paleo.

If you’re still confused, watch this…

Less Restrictive Options

1.    Say Yes to Dairy

The Paleolithic era ended about 10,000 years ago. There is evidence that humans domesticated cattle around 8500 years ago. Therefore, it is unlikely that our Paleo ancestors consumed dairy – milk, cream, yogurt, butter, cheese.

But, 8500 years is a long, long time.

Is it possible that during the past 400 generations some of our familial digestive systems have evolved in order to effectively digest dairy?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

For that reason, some Paleos eat and/or drink dairy

2.    Say Yes to Legumes

Like dairy, humans have been eating legumes for about 8000 years.

Some of us do fine with beans and some of us….don’t

For that reason, some Paleos eat legumes.

3.     Say Yes to Fruit & Vegetable Juices

Our Paleo ancestors never had access to the Jack LaLanne Power Juicer. So, it’s highly unlikely that they were able to enjoy a nice big glass of carrot-apple juice (yum).

But, for us modern Paleos, when time is short and our stomachs are grumbling, a bottle of V8 from the nearest convenience store can make the difference between going hungry and inhaling a bag of Doritos.

4.     Say Yes to Lightly Processed Foods

Along the same lines as the convenience store V8, some modern Paleos don’t want to make every meal from scratch. They take advantage of the growing organic food movement to buy lightly processed, Paleo-friendly meals. In fact, there are even a few fledgling Paleo-food manufacturers out there.

Paleo Treats, Caveman Cookies, Paleo Brands, PaleoKits

5.     Say Yes to Supplements

Multi-Vitamins, green food powders, fish oils, protein powders, creatine, leucine, Zyflamend, Curcumin, etc…

None of these products were available to our Paleo ancestors. But, then again, our Paleo ancestors entire food supply was organic, free range and free of pollution.

More Restrictive Options

1.    Say No to Cooked Food

Some Paleos eat their food raw…fruit, veg, even meat.

The theory is that cooking food decreases the quantity & quality of the nutrients.

And they may be right.

On the other hand, humans have been cooking with fire for about 1.8 million years. This means that our Paleo ancestors probably enjoyed a good barbecue as much as you do.

2.    Intermittant Fasting

This is a unique offshoot of mainstream Paleo. The idea here is that back in the olden days, our ancestors couldn’t count on a constant supply of food. If they wanted meat, they had to go out and kill the meat. If they were unsuccessful, they went to bed hungry.

The modern version of intermittant fasting differs from the original in that IFers choose to go 24 hrs+ without eating in the belief that it will cause a release of beneficial hormones and help them lose weight/get fit.

There are a number of IF gurus online marketing their particular brand of IF. A quick google search will bring them up.

Personally, I don’t see any harm in performing the occasional fast. You’re not going to pass out or anything.

But, the whole IF thing seems a little bit cult-y if you catch my drift.

In fact, all of these ultra-restrictive versions of Paleo seem to thrive on their “us v.s. the world” kind of mentality.

It’s kind of like the kids back in high school who thought they were unique and different and no one was like them…except for all of their friends who listened to the same music, wore the same clothes, hated the same mainstream kids…..aaaahhh, high school – what memories.

3.     Bloodletting

The idea here is that our ancestors were more likely than us  to get into a physical confrontation with a Woolly Mammoth or something. And therefore, more likely to lose the occasional pint of blood.

So, to mimic this occasional blood loss, this Paleo sub-set heads down to the Red Cross and makes a donation every now and then.

And, you know what, that’s pretty cool (still kinda weird, but cool)

Did you know that only 3 in 100 Americans gives blood?

4.     No Nightshades

This restriction has nothing to do with what our Paleo ancestors ate. It’s all about the potential negative health effects associated with nightshade vegetables.

Potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tamarios, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, cayenne, and Tabasco sauce are classified as nightshade foods. A particular group of substances in these foods, called alkaloids, can impact nerve-muscle function and digestive function in animals and humans, and may also be able to compromise joint function.

For this reason, some Paleos don’t eat nightshades.

5.     No “Starchy” Vegetables

From a strictly Paleo point of view, there isn’t a problem. While I don’t see our Paleo ancestors chowing down on raw potatoes or corn, I bet the woman who baked the first spud by tossing it on the fire was a big hit around the campfire.

mmmmmmmmmmmmm grilled woolly mammoth and a loaded baked potato. Yum

This is another nutritional complaint.

In particular, this Paleo restriction is all about Fat Paleos trying to become lean Paleos by reducing their Glycemic Load / Insulin secretion and stored body-fat.

Ergo, no potatoes, carrots, parshnips, beets, corn, sweet potatoes, peas and squashes

Kind of a low-carb Paleo Diet.


Alright, that’s it for now.

I have probably missed a few niche Paleo groups, so if you think I have, shoot me a comment/email and I will add them to the list.


And because I love my readers so much, the Healthy Irishman and I have decided to make his Saturday recipes all Paleo all the time.

Once again, feel free to shoot me or him suggestions for future meals.


  1. As one of the people in the article, I would say we are definitely not hipsters and are universally loathed by such. Most of us are nerds, but they wanted to make us look weird and they did a good job.

    They didn’t mention me much because I do almost none of the things on the list, but I guess it would be a pretty boring article “NYC resident stops eating junk food and eats what humans are supposed to eat!”

    Oh well, I at least hope it got people thinking!

  2. First off, my apologies if I offended you.

    Second, it’s not to surprising that the Times massaged the story to make it more “sexy” I did find it odd that you were pictured but essentially ignored in the article.

    And it did get people thinking. My training clients (most have converted to Paleo) were bombarded with questions the next day at work. Co-workers and friends called to discuss the article. Most of them thought that the article made you guys look crazy, but since they had already seen the physical changes made by my clients, they wanted to know what eating paleo was like. Perhaps we do have a few more converts.

    One thing I did find revealing about the Times article was the statement that a lot of Paleos have Libertarian tendencies. Do you find that true of your MeetUp group?

  3. Lovely video DR! grilled woolly mammoth and baked potato LOL! Count me in! On second thoughts who wants to eat sweet ol’ Manny?
    I eat legumes – being predominantly vegetarian. And drink butter milk. Indians are big on buttermilk. As an Ayurvedic physicain “Blood letting” actually makes sense. As does intermittant fasting.

  4. Great post! I just blogged about how happy I am that you sussed out so many different Paleo styles. I adore this WOE because it is so good for us AND adaptable to suit a person’s needs.

    LOL about the Libertarian tendencies! I’m both Paleo and Libertarian. 🙂

    FWIW, I’m Paleo, add dairy, subtract fruit, nightshades, and new world vegetables.


  5. Hey there!

    Loved the article. I love your ‘no bull’ writing style too! I don’t know that I’d have the nerve to throw around the word ‘douchebag’ with such ease… 🙂 Though it was well used!

    Great information. I’ll be keeping tabs. Enjoy the snow!


  6. “But, the whole IF thing seems a little bit cult-y if you catch my drift.”

    I adopted the paleo/primal lifestyle only about three weeks ago, so I haven’t had time to get into Paleo Politics yet, but this struck me as kind of funny in a pot/kettle/black sense. In fact, earlier this week, I grouped everybody together in this one tweet:

    “Best cult ever! -> #primal #paleo #ifast”

    The whole thing comes across as cult-y to me, but it’s a cult that can point to empirical evidence that it actually works pretty damn well and lives up to its claims of simplicity, effectiveness and increased fitness. Anecdotally, I’m losing weight rapidly and physically stronger than I’ve ever been, and these facts can be observed and measured (though I believe we would need a randomized controlled trial to really see how it works with assigned participants rather than self-selected participants…those of us who are “into it” are really into it, really excited and enthusiastic, and could potentially be blind to some things because of our enthusiasm…a little humility goes a long way as far as I’m concerned).

  7. I hear you about the whole pot / kettle thing. Whenever I encourage clients/readers to give Paleo a try, I feel a little cult-y myself. The same goes for my love of high intensity exercise programs.

    However, while I love both of these concepts, what I love more are ideas that produce results. And while I love the science and common sense behind paleo, I break the rules 4 times per week with my workout drink & post-workout protein shake. Both are definitely non-paleo, but both are a must for the body I am continuing to sculpt.

  8. Well, I’m a Paleo Basic (newbie) with a bit of cheese in the mix and the occasional fasting. I did the fasting before and it worked for me. I felt better phychologically as well, so…

  9. What kind of IF fast

    The one day a week type of fast or the only eat one meal a day type of fast?

  10. Great post!

    Lets see, I am Paleo with some dairy (butter, full fat plain yogurt, aged cheeses, and sometimes heavy cream), only fruit I do is berries occasionally, no starchy veggies, IF about every 10-14 days, and I supplement with Vit D and Magnesium/Calcium only. I do include some nightshades like tomatoes and peppers….but I am finding too many of them and I have issues. I have been 100% grain free for 3 months, GF for 4.5 yrs. Going 100% grain free has been the best step….just removing gluten did not solve my health issues.

  11. Excellent post. I particularly liked the part about the potatoes. I get asked about spuds a lot. During a recent conversation with my dad he said, “I want to get to the bottom of this potato thing…” You explained it well. I’m Paleo in Manhattan and have found the growing community to be really cool. I don’t run barefoot or eat raw meat, but I eat simple meals and don’t worry at all about meal-timing. There’s no grain or legumes in my life, but a little yogurt (full-fat, of course) and butter mixed with coconut oil for cooking. There are many upsides to eating Paleo and as you pointed out, everyone can find some version that works for them.

  12. I’m trying out the Paleo diet this week on the advice of my doctor – he recommended that I concentrate on cutting out any and all grains. I had no idea there were so many different factions of Paleo, though. I looked for a Paleo cookbook today, but apparently it’s quite obscure as the lady at the bookstore could only find one that she could order from me.

  13. I get most of this all… I do already eat as such more or less… HOWEVER, in ANY age that people are eating off the land, I SERIOUSLY DOUBT they would not eat edible foods like roots and tubors and tomatoes, etc. They would TRY a little of just about anything and if no side effects (bad taste/numbing/tingling tongue, etc), they would decide it edible! They didn’t have groups of people wandering around spreading rumors of the deadly tomatoes or CARBS!!! lol

  14. Thanks for this HH. I eat this way anyway because it makes sense to me and it has served me well, so I am pleased to see that I’m not alone.

    Quick Q: I don’t eat root veg or beans because they just don’t agree with me, but even if they did, I don’t understand why anyone would want to eat a substance (with particular reference to the red bean) that had to be soaked, boiled, rinsed etc ad infinitum before it became non-toxic. So are legumes in or out ?

    @Angel. In many parts of the world tomatoes weren’t considered food until relatively recently and nightshades are still regarded with suspicion by many of the older generation in the Caribbean. Prior to their discovery by Europeans, potatoes were only fed to livestock.

  15. The nightshade question isn’t quite so cut and dry. For instance: potatoes, tomatoes, and tomatillos are all native to the Americas. As far as we know, humans didn’t make it to the Americas until maybe the last two weeks of the Paleolithic. Other nightshades are native to other parts of the world… eggplant comes from India for example. However, even if with the first estimated out-of-Africa migrations estimated to 40K-45K ago, it isn’t easy to say when they would have become a human food source. It’s less clear that enough adaptive pressure was placed on early nightshade eaters to influence our digestive systems on at the genotype or phenotype level.

    I’m pretty sure some nightshades are native to Africa, but I have no idea if/when they entered the human food supply. Some nightshades are still inedible.

    @essemmgee, Native Americans both bred potatoes extensively and used them for human consumption. But like nightshades, that doesn’t mean humans had enough time to genetically adapt to them.

    I eat nightshades shades personally, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say the choice either way “has nothing to do with what our Paleo ancestors ate”.

  16. >> in ANY age that people are eating off the land, I
    >> SERIOUSLY DOUBT they would not eat edible foods like >> roots and tubors and tomatoes, etc.

    i took a wrong turn a while ago, now i’ve just arrived in 2011 AD from 3-million BC.

    i SERIOUSLY DOUBT that rational, clever people of the year 2011 AD, would not eat edible foods like insects. After all, we here at 3-million BC all do.

  17. […] today, I have gone and organized all of these Paleo recipes previously prepared by my good friend Mr. Gavan Murphy – aka the Healthy […]

  18. Doug, you have a very sensible approach to this strategy and I applaud it.

    Just my perspective, but I think the public image problem is almost unavoidable. This has been called the “Paleo” approach and marketed that way from the start with the evolutionary explanation for it as the hook, and to distinguish it from other strategies that it might be confused with it such as “Zone” or “Atkins” or “South Beach.” People need explanations and images to make sense of things and remember them as being distinct from each other. So Paleo and it evolutionary explanation became the distinction. But we already have all sorts of associations in our mind with how evolution works and what is known about human origins, many of those associations are silly, and many, perhaps even most, are only marginally scientific. But I think there is a core to this that does make sense if you apply it intelligently.

    So while it is hard to avoid a “Paleo” approach bringing in more nonsense than reality as it becomes a more popular idea, I think we can still hold the core principles with a sensible experimental approach like yours.

    I particularly like your strategy of gradations of reasonably credible emphasis, without relying on any particular interpretation of human environment of evolutionary adaptedness. To me it serves as a model of a good nutritional change strategy: know the principle and try to apply it, but be flexible in the less critical details.


  19. Regarding that whole “cult-y” thing, yes I think there is a legitimate tendency for us to get somewhat locked into a way of thinking when we identify ourselves with it in various ways, and this is reminiscent of some of the dynamics involved in “cultish” groups.

    In research, if you have two people with the same basic opinion about something, one of whom brandishes T-shirts and bumper stickers with that opinion and the other who doesn’t, the one brandishing their committment is a lot less likely to think seriously about alternatives, even if you control for the reported strength of their opinion. They will tend to use reason to validate their existing committment to a greater degree, while the non-brandisher will tend to use reason to a greater degree to consider the merits of the alternative. It’s not a black and white difference, it’s a difference in degrees of motivated cognition.

    Some people use that tendency deliberately for benefit to commit to something they really do think is a good idea, but if you’re *aware* of it, you can still catch yourself being “cult-y” and back off just a little without losing your committment.

    In most psychological dynamics, awareness of what is happening is a big factor in making use of it rather than being victimized by it.

  20. So what all of these folks who claim to be living isn’t actually ‘paleo’ by definition… It’s a variation on an idea. It’s their perception on scientific findings and facts — how does that make what they’re doing ‘paleo’? Dairy, legumes and sugar have all been proven harmful to the human body when consumed in even moderate quantities. If they have questions, they need to read ‘The Paleo Diet’ by Loren Cordain’, ‘The Paleo Solution’ by Robb Wolf or the ‘Primal Blueprint’ by Mark Sisson — all of this literature is basic, informative and defines the correct parameters of the paleo way of LIFE, not just eating. As a nutritionist and personal trainer, I understand and live by the chemical processes of the human body; what it can, cannot and will not use for fuel. We need carbs, but from healthy fruits and veggies, not boxed starches. While fueling the body, we also have to be wise about the GI impact and the risk for diabetes that comes with it, hence the dismissal of potatoes, corn, etc. Dairy isn’t paleo. Sorry to break ya’lls little baby hearts, but it’s not. You should check out ‘kidney stones’ and pass one — it’s just about the most painful experience out there, next to childbirth (yes, I’ve done both).

    Basically, what I’m saying is this: Don’t be a poser. Either live the life or shut the hell up, because those of us actually doing instead of talking are living healthier, more productive lives. If you are too, great! Congrats, how do you feel? If you aren’t? Get off the bandwagon.

  21. Oh dear Mandy your attitude is far from dandy. In fact it outright stinks. Why don’t you come down off your high horse and join the rest of us humans okay?

    1) You say these un-Paleo people need to read and quote 3 books, white toting dairy, legumes and grains are bad. Yes i agree they are bad however i took this from Mark Sisson’s webpage, “because dairy, especially raw and/or fermented full-fat dairy, resides in a Primal gray area.” So Sisson apparently has some gray areas on Dairy. That doesn’t sound up to your strict 100% assimilation now Mandy. So if you are talking Paleo lets leave the Primal books out of it otherwise you are contradicting your own comment.

    2) Who are you to chastise people that have thrown away a COMPLETELY unhealthy crap ridden diet to go Paleo!? Because they have the occasional cream in their coffee, or piece of dark chocolate they are Un-Paleo but claiming to be so they must be evil. WTF is wrong with you, seriously?

    3) Having the holier than thou attitude you have and treating nutrition like it’s a damn religion is REALLY doing Paleo education a disservice. You and others like you are the reason people get turned off of Paleo and run right back to their fast food sugary diets. Ease the heck up.

    Am i Paleo, DAMN RIGHT I AM! Do i conform 100%, no and i don’t know anyone that does. If they do then kudos . . this movement is about making good whole food choices from sustainable resources. Not criticizing and belittling people while telling them they aren’t good enough.

  22. Biff, well said. Mandy, and all others who are so high-and-mighty and think that only THEY “get” Paleo. Answer me this question: If paleo man killed a beast would he have eaten all of it? As in, flesh, organs, brain, eyeballs…ALL of it? I think we can agree that he would have done just that. So, if that beast the paleo man killed happened to be a female nursing her young, and her udder was full of luscious milk for her babies, do you think paleo man would have stopped and thought, “Ugh, milk no good, me no want inflammation.” and wasted that part of the animal? A resounding NO!

    It boggles the mind to think that people like you actually believe that. Just like the “tomatoes didn’t exist at that time so they are not paleo” argument. Please.

    Of all times in human history the paleolithic period was the most opportunitist of all…meaning, humans would have eaten whatever they could find. It was a day-to-day struggle for survival. To see it any other way is ridiculous.

    Fast-forward to today: the thought that you and your ilk criticize others (for ANY reason) based on their personal decision about food is terribly immature. Especially if you’re talking about someone who has made drastic improvements in their diet, albiet choosing to include a few items which you choose to avoid. Hey, that’s your choice, right? Well, it’s everyone else’s choice too.

    Get over yourselves already.

  23. I’ve just started SLOWLY going Paleo, but I see how most of my friends and family shun this lifestyle….and that’s basically what it is….a different lifestyle for the majority of humans ! I’ve been reading all I can about Paleo, and reading a lot of blogs and posts ! Paleo will be hard for most Americans to embrace ! We’re talking here about throwing away a lifetime of eating habits, which, like tobacco is hard to break !! Couple that with the fact that Paleo “extremists” exist, and belittle people who are in a transition phase of changing diet, and we almost sound like a small, exclusive club !! I live in a VERY small town, have a VERY small Disability income, and have a hard time finding and affording quality food ! I was starting to think if I can find very hard quality meats and produce, it’s not worth the effort ! I finally decided to eat ANY fruits and vegetables and fruits, organic or not ! As far as legumes, dairy, prepared foods…..all things in moderation !! We’re giving people the impression that if they eat toast with their eggs in the morning, they’ll become ill !!! This is a very drastic lifestyle chage for most people ! A drastic change overnight won’t work…like all they fad diets ! They work for a while, then people go back to what they were doing ! If we can get people to REPLACE the offending foods people are eating, a little at a time, Paleo WILL become a popular lifestyle ! Just like anything else on this planet, extremists slow growth !!

  24. Most of this seems more about attitude than nutrition really. Still, I have my own attitude too so I’ll add some thoughts.

    1. To my knowledge, and not meaning to disrespect all those great trainers out there whose personal experience serves as their authority, there doesn’t seem to be any terribly strong scientific rationale for extreme strictness in macronutrient compliance. That’s a principle that for me isn’t limited to “Paleo” approaches either. There is probably more variation between people’s response to nutrients than there is variation between average responses to different regimens. If you’re eating mostly lean meats and vegetables and minimizing high glycemic grains and sugars, you’re probably doing 70-90% of what makes a difference in most studies that show an improvement in health from dietary change. All sorts of different variations from that seem to help some people and hurt others depending on their individuality, their training program, and so on.

    2. If it can be justified at all, the attitude fostering strictness would probably be best justified in terms of compliance for its own sake. Many people can’t stick with something if you give them too much freedom. Some people need strict rules because of the way they make decisions. The temptation to then apply the same rules to other people is hard to avoid. Especially if you consider yourself a “trainer” so your self-image depends on seeing yourself as an expert in all things related to the human body and its care.

    3. The evolutionary stories people tell to justify strict adherence to particular variations are truly mostly just that, stories. It isn’t particularly easy for evolutionary biologists to test theories about specific adaptations (evolutionary psychology is still “controversial” today among evolutionary biologists in spite of what is now a fairly solid research base. Outside a narrow range of obvious and well known cases, specific adaptation hypotheses are pretty much out of the range of what most non-biologists can make reasonable educated guesses about. Guessing at how Fred Flintstone might “really” have spent his day is pretty much a complete waste of time in my opinion. The general evolutionary rationale for “paleo” diets is probably roughly true, but the details people discern by making up different versions of what people ate in the pleistocene are for the most part probably useless (that is they are no better than wild guesses) for distinguishing how an individual will respond to a particular diet.

    kind regards,


  25. I am a little more restrictive than PALEO in that I don’t eat nuts. I don’t eat seed either… although I do use flax seed oil. I also do not touch ANY fruit. I know fruit isn’t really allowed but I really don’t touch ANY of it. Wild Meats & Fish & Veggies & Oils are it for me, and I LOVE IT!

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