Paleo Diet: The Pros and Cons of Losing Weight the Paleo Way

The high-protein, low-carb paleo diet can help you lose weight. Find out more about how to try out this eating style.

Paleo-diet-food-option-spread-paleo-diet-weight-loss
by
Chelsea Rae Bourgeois, MS, RD
— Signos
Health writer
Green checkmark surrounded by green circle.

Updated by

Green checkmark surrounded by green circle.

Science-based and reviewed

Published:
July 24, 2024
March 7, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

The paleo diet continues to be one of the most popular eating styles trending today. Proponents of the nutrition regimen believe that our modern way of eating, paired with a sedentary lifestyle, is to blame for the increasing rate of obesity and chronic disease.

The paleo solution? Cut out all modern-day foods and return to the hunter-gatherer ways of our ancestors. The paleo diet focuses on high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods, which can help many health conditions and concerns. It has potential side effects and risks, especially when implemented for weight loss goals.

This article will look at the science behind paleo diet weight loss so you can decide if it’s an appropriate way to meet your nutrition needs.

What is The Paleo Diet, and How Does It Work? 

The paleolithic diet, commonly known as the caveman or paleo diet, is a high-protein, low-carb eating style. It aims to address today’s health concerns by bringing us back to how humans ate during the Paleolithic era.

Paleo supporters believe that our genetic makeup hasn’t changed much since the Stone Age, so our bodies should require and respond similarly to the foods available during that time. Since there are no indicators that our predecessors could grow and cultivate plants, we’re left to believe that they hunted, fished, and gathered wild plants to meet their nutritional needs.

The paleo diet rose to fame around 2014 and appealed to consumers’ growing desire to know where their food came from. Still, years later, there is debate about what foods existed during the Stone Age and how geography affected the variations of available foods. Because of these questions, the actual paleo diet can vary.

Generally, the diet is high in protein, moderate in fat, and low to moderate in high-fiber carbohydrates. In addition, it focuses on restricting high-glycemic index foods, sodium, and refined sugars.

{{mid-cta}}

What Can You Eat on a Paleo Diet?

Paleo foods include a variety of plant-based fat, grass-fed and sustainably caught proteins, and almost all fruits and veggies. Let’s take a look at a few paleo-friendly foods:

Foods to Eat:

Lean Meats

  • Grass-fed meats, including beef, steak, pork, bison, goat, lamb, and veal.
  • Game meat, such as venison, elk, and rabbit.
  • Poultry, such as chicken, turkey, quail, and duck.
  • Sustainably caught seafood, such as salmon, tuna, cod, trout, bass, grouper, shrimp, crawfish, and crab.

Eggs

  • Eggs are a great source of protein, minerals, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Try to buy cage-free eggs for sustainable sourcing.

Fruit

  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Mangos
  • Grapes
  • Oranges
  • Pineapple

Non-Starchy Vegetables

  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Bell Peppers

Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Almond butter (no sugar added)
  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds

Healthy Fats

  • Avocados
  • Avocado oil
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Shredded coconut

Foods to Avoid: 

Dairy Products

  • Cow’s milk
  • Goat’s milk
  • Cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Butter
  • Ice cream
  • Yogurt

Grains

  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Cereal grains
  • Wheat

Legumes

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Tofu
  • Soybeans
  • Peanuts

Starchy Vegetables

  • Regular potatoes
  • Yucca

Sweeteners

  • Artificial sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and acesulfame K.

Processed and highly processed foods

  • Sugary soft drinks
  • Fruit juices
  • Processed cooking oils
  • Candy
  • Alcohol 

Is the Paleo Diet Good for Weight Loss?

While the paleo diet started as a way to return to a more straightforward way of eating, it has since evolved into one of the more popular weight-loss methods. But how practical is it for weight loss in these modern times? We have an abundance of foods available to us that our ancestors did not, so does it makes sense to restrict ourselves to ancient practices?

Research points to a link between the paleo diet and weight loss. A 2019 systematic review examined 1224 articles and determined that the paleo diet may effectively control weight and waist circumference and manage chronic diseases.1

A paleo meal plan also enforces significant lifestyle changes for the average adult, potentially leading to various health benefits supporting weight loss goals.

Happy-man-cooking-a-healthy-meal-paleo-diet-weight-loss

4 Ways the Paleo Diet Promotes Weight Loss

The paleo diet can support your weight loss efforts. Here are a few reasons why:

Protein-Rich

Getting enough protein is essential to losing weight. Researchers have found that high-protein energy restriction diets result in more significant weight loss, fat loss, and preservation of lean muscle tissue compared to lower-protein energy restriction diets.2

Paleo eating plans encourage protein-rich foods like lean meats, eggs, and fish.

Low-Carb 

The paleo diet focuses on protein-rich foods that are low in carbohydrates. In addition, proponents of the diet believe we should only eat the foods our ancestors had access to, eliminating foods that must be grown and cultivated.

The body uses carbohydrates as its primary energy source. As the carbs are digested, they break down into glucose and are released into the bloodstream. Extra glucose is stored in the muscles and liver, and some change to fat.

Significantly reduced carbohydrate intake causes the body to burn stored fat for energy, leading to weight loss.

Limits Calorie Intake 

To lose weight, your body must enter a calorie deficit. But weight loss doesn’t always require intricate calorie counting. The paleo diet focuses on fresh, whole foods and restricts certain food groups. Without eating whole grains, dairy, and processed foods, individuals are likely to eat fewer calories overall.

Excludes Added Sugar Consumption 

Eating excess sugar can derail your weight loss goals. Sugary foods are low in nutrients and can contribute to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The paleo diet prohibits added sugar and instead encourages natural sources of sugar from foods like fresh fruits and veggies.

4 Potential Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet 

The paleo diet gets a lot of hype these days as a weight loss diet, but research suggests it might offer other potential health benefits.

May Increase Insulin Sensitivity 

Insulin sensitivity is determined by how easily your cells respond to insulin. The more sensitive your cells are to insulin, the more efficient your body is at removing sugar from your blood.

Research indicates that a diet rich in paleo-friendly foods can increase insulin sensitivity and even lower blood sugar.

May Support Fat Reduction 

Research supports the notion that a paleo diet can help fat loss, specifically belly fat. For example, in a 2013 study, ten women followed a paleo diet for five weeks, losing an average of 10 pounds and three inches from their waist circumference.3

Of course, it’s important to remember that the paleo diet invokes fairly substantial restriction, and anytime you restrict your calories, you’ll likely see weight and fat loss.

May Promote Heart Health 

Many aspects of the paleo diet are similar to heart-healthy diet recommendations. The eating style is low in sodium, encourages lean protein sources, and limits processed foods. A 2015 systematic review found that the paleo diet improves blood pressure, and another study found that paleo restrictions helped reduce total blood triglycerides.4,5

May Reduce Inflammation 

Inflammation is a natural response to fight infections and help the body heal, but chronic inflammation is harmful and can contribute to chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The paleo diet promotes foods that can help reduce inflammation, includding fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants. These antioxidants bind to and neutralize free radicals in the body that can damage cells during chronic inflammation.

Potential Downsides of the Paleo Diet 

Unfortunately, the paleo diet also comes with drawbacks and potentially harmful effects that are important to consider before trying out this eating style.

May Increase Lethargy 

If a paleo diet is too restrictive, meaning it doesn’t provide enough calories or carbohydrates, it could lead to low energy levels. Research also shows that low-carb diets can cause depleted glycogen stores, leading to feelings of tiredness throughout the day.6

May Cause Nutrient Deficiencies 

The paleo diet eliminates several highly-nutritious food groups, including dairy, gluten-containing grains, and legumes, which could put individuals at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies.

For example, legumes are not permitted in the paleo diet even though they are rich in protein, fiber, and various micronutrients like iron, copper, and zinc. Additionally, since dairy products are rich in calcium, avoiding them may affect bone health.

May Increase Dieting Stress

With diet culture looming everywhere, adding severe restrictions under the paleo diet may increase your stress about nutrition. The paleo diet may also present health and safety risks if you have a history of eating disorders.

Lethargic-woman-sleeping-on-armchair-paleo-diet-weight-loss

3 Tips to Master Weight Loss on the Paleo Diet 

If you are excited to try out the paleo diet for yourself, here are some tips to ensure this eating style works for you.

Meal Prep 

Planning can be a game-changer when trying to lose weight. Make sure you set yourself up for success by planning your meals in advance. Navigate temptation and cravings with ready-to-eat meals, especially on busy days.

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is often overlooked in weight loss efforts. Yet, adequate sleep is crucial to our overall health and can significantly affect weight management. Research has shown that disturbed sleep patterns can alter your appetite control and metabolic rate.7 So, no matter your diet plan, get your zzzs!

Keep Moving 

If weight loss is your goal, balanced nutrition is vital, but it’s important to remember that your diet can’t do it alone. Consider adding workouts to your health routine to keep your body moving.

4 Paleo-Friendly Recipes to Try

While the paleo diet puts severe restrictions into place, your meals don’t have to be boring. Consider adding these paleo-friendly recipes to your meal plans for the week.

Breakfast

Sweet Potato Sausage Frittata

Are you looking for a savory but easy-to-make paleo-friendly breakfast? Consider adding a sweet potato sausage frittata to your weekly menu! All you need is garlic, onion, cubed sweet potato, coconut milk, breakfast sausage, spinach, and eggs.

To make the dish, sautée the garlic and diced onion in a cast iron skillet until the onion is translucent. Then add your sweet potatoes and let them cook for about five minutes. While those are cooking, whisk together the coconut milk and eggs.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooked, add your spinach and cooked breakfast sausage. Then pour your egg mixture evenly over the contents of the skillet and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25-30 minutes.

Lunch

Paleo Meatballs with Zoodles

Zucchini noodles and meatballs are a paleo-friendly alternative to traditional spaghetti and meatballs. To start, cook your meatballs and add them to a delicious marinara sauce. Then, while cooking over medium heat, take a julienne peeler to fresh zucchinis and peel away. When you’re done, add that pile of zoodles to your marinara sauce and let them cook to your liking before you enjoy a delicious lunch!

Snack

Cacao Protein Shake

Since the paleo diet has grown in popularity, we’re seeing an increase in the availability of paleo-friendly dietary supplements. So, if you need an easy snack, try making this refreshing protein smoothie! 

First, gather your ingredients: a frozen banana, ½ cup of cashew milk, a large handful of spinach, two tablespoons of cacao powder, and a scoop of protein powder (optional). Then, simply blend to your desired consistency and enjoy. 

Dinner

Beef Stir Fry with Veggies

Beef stir fry is a popular dinner recipe for many different eating styles, including whole 30 and keto diets. To make your beef stir fry paleo-friendly, season grass-fed beef to your liking and cook in a pan coated with avocado oil. While the meat is cooking, mix up your sauce. Consider a mix of vinegar, coconut aminos, sesame oil, beef bone broth, and tapioca flour. 

Once the meat is cooked, add your vegetable blend. Consider veggies like snow peas, red bell pepper, and carrots. Let the veggies cook down, and then add your sauce. You can eat the dish as is or serve it over cauliflower rice. 

Learn More About Healthy Nutrition with Signos’ Expert Advice.

Curious how Signos can improve health? Continuous glucose monitoring can help you maximize your weight loss efforts by giving you real-time data that shows how your body responds to nutrition. 

Learn more about balanced nutrition and healthy eating habits at the Signos blog, or take a quick quiz to see how Signos can support your health goals. And if you have questions about your individualized nutrition needs, consider meeting with your registered dietitian!

Get more information about weight loss, glucose monitors, and living a healthier life
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
  • Item 1
  • Item 2
  • item 3
Get more information about weight loss, glucose monitors, and living a healthier life
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Topics discussed in this article:

References

  1. de Menezes EVA, Sampaio HAC, Carioca AAF, et al. Influence of Paleolithic diet on anthropometric markers in chronic diseases: systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr J. 2019;18(1):41. Published 2019 Jul 23. doi:10.1186/s12937-019-0457-z
  2. Leidy HJ, Clifton PM, Astrup A, et al. The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(6):1320S-1329S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.084038
  3. Ryberg M, Sandberg S, Mellberg C, et al. A Palaeolithic-type diet causes strong tissue-specific effects on ectopic fat deposition in obese postmenopausal women. J Intern Med. 2013;274(1):67-76. doi:10.1111/joim.12048
  4. Manheimer, E. W., Fedorowicz, Z., & Pijl, H. (2015). Paleolithic nutrition for metabolic syndrome: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 102(4), 922-932. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.113613
  5. Pastore RL, Brooks JT, Carbone JW. Paleolithic nutrition improves plasma lipid concentrations of hypercholesterolemic adults to a greater extent than traditional heart-healthy dietary recommendations. Nutr Res. 2015;35(6):474-479. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2015.05.002
  6. Winwood-Smith HS, Franklin CE, White CR. Low-carbohydrate diet induces metabolic depression: a possible mechanism to conserve glycogen. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2017;313(4):R347-R356. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00067.2017
  7. Papatriantafyllou, E., Efthymiou, D., Zoumbaneas, E., Popescu, C. A., & Vassilopoulou, E. (2022). Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Nutrients, 14(8). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14081549

About the author

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois is a registered dietitian nutritionist with several years of experience working in the clinical setting. Once a track and field athlete on a competitive stage, she now finds joy in combining her passions as a health writer to help people embrace their wellness through nutrition and fitness.

View Author Bio

Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

Interested in learning more about metabolic health and weight management?

Try Signos.