Why you should stop thinking caveman when you hear paleo diet


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Why you should stop thinking caveman when you hear of the paleo diet

You’ve probably noticed that in the last few years the paleo diet has gained momentum. Paleo cookbooks have become New York Times Bestsellers and personal stories attest to the “leaky gut” healing properties of the diet. Particularly for those with autoimmune diseases or wacky immune systems. Myself included.

For those in the know, the paleo diet is simply a real food, anti-inflammatory diet. A diet that favors whole, nutrient-dense foods while eliminating processed, refined and gut-irritating foods.

All good things, right?

Yet every time I mention that I follow a paleo-based diet, I invariably receive the same response…

“How can you eat that much red meat?!”

A question I receive at least a few times a week.

The perception from the general population is that little ol’ me eats a big, 16 ounce chunk of steak for breakfast, another for lunch and yet another for dinner. You’d think I got lost in an old Flinstone’s episode (without having to power the car with my feet!).

And let’s be honest. It’s hard to fault this mental image when a paleo diet is also known as a primal or ancestral diet. I imagine the thought process goes something like this: ancestral = caveman = carnivore = juicy burgers, steaks, and bacon, oh yeah!

Truth be told, I love all of those items. And yes, I do think that bacon makes everything taste better (who doesn’t?). But big juicy steaks are not my every meal sustenance. And when I do eat them, they’re usually not taking center stage.

What does take center stage on my plate?


This may come as a surprise…but I eat as many vegetables as a vegetarian or vegan would. Vegetables usually cover one half to two-thirds of my plate at each meal. The vast majority of it. The rest is then filled up with fruit, nuts, healthy fats and yes, protein.

When it comes to protein, I’ll eat an assortment of fish, eggs, chicken, turkey, bison and beef. This protein, depending on the type, is also grass-fed, humanely-raised, wild-caught, organic and free-range with no added hormones, growth factors or antibiotics. Protein as mother nature intended.

And that’s what the paleo diet is about. Food as close to it’s natural source as possible. With lots of green, colorful, nutrient-dense veggies playing the starring role.

So even though the perception is paleo = red meat, the reality is paleo = real food.

As I was writing this post, it got me thinking…how do my own recipes shape up? How many fit this perception of a red meat, steak-loving caveman? Particularly as I post recipes of the foods that I eat most often.

The result? Out of 26 recipes that I’ve posted in the last two months, only one is red meat. One! My Pineapple Burger Bowl with Sweet Fig Mayonnaise. And the burger is on a bed of greens with figs and avocado. Most of my other recipes are salad or vegetable-based, like my love for anything with zucchini noodles – “zoodles.”

Suffice it to say, I think the paleo diet is in need of a major rebrand. Something I would have done in my former corporate career. Because the current name and marketing don’t do the real food lifestyle any favors. And I do see the paleo way as a lifestyle, not a diet…another word I cringe at.

This is not something I’m adhering to for a quick fix. It’s a way of life. Eating healthy, living healthy and nourishing my body with real food.

The same real food that helped to heal my “leaky gut” and completely tame four autoimmune diseases in less than a year. 

So next time you hear the word paleo and that Flinstone-like caveman image pops into your head, you’d be better off thinking “gatherer” versus “hunter.” Because really, Fred and Wilma noshed on a big bowl of leafy greens before their steak!

What mental image did or do you have of the paleo diet? I’d love to hear!

About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

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  1. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your site all because I was looking for a “chicken salad recipe” then I started looking at more of your recipes and subscribed because I saw there’s a lot of healthy options. I have issues with my stomach after I had a gastric sleeve done and I think this is going to be a good start to “restarting” a healthy lifestyle! Looking forward to seeing more recipes and ideas and can’t wait to try more recipes!

  2. Love this article! I am new to eating anti-inflammatory and was hearing a mixed message. A lot of what I read says red meat is inflammatory but seeing videos and posts about red meat. I like your approach of moderation. Lots of fruit and veg and a bit of meat. thank you for the great site.

  3. I totally agree with Laura. Your blog is amazing. Thank you for this huge amount of how-tos, recommendations and foremost recipes. To your question:  My understanding of Paleo is “eating naturally, mindfully and as environmentally friendly as possible – back to the roots”. That being said, it’s quite versatile. Meat-eaters likewise as vegans can eat Paleo. Vegans (I am following a vegan diet) who eat lots of natural produce, keep attention to the right preparation (soaking, sprouting, etc.) are more Paleo-ish than those who name theirselves Paleo, eating mostly meat – even those who say they pay attention to organic most of the time – and lots of Paleo-store-brought so called “Paleo-products”.

  4. I just found your blog and YouTube channel and I’m loving it! Thanks for offering such great content with great perspective! I just can’t stop reading and watching your videos :)

  5. I cannot agree with you more! My 12 year old son was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease. After a ton of research, we (me, my son and my 15 year old daughter) all went on the AIP to heal his leaky gut. We did it as a family to support him and because I don’t believe that you can make one family member go “on a diet” while the rest of us are sitting around eating pasta and marinara sauce. Plus, it’s a lifestyle that we needed to embrace for all of our sake’s. He’s doing much better now, and I continue to strive to feed all of us a whole foods diet. It’s been kind of tough trying to educate my ex-husband though, about how we eat and why. I wouldn’t even let my kids go to his house until he got Sarah Ballantyne’s book, “The Paleo Approach” and Mickey Trescott’s AIP cookbook. He recently made a comment to me about paleo being a “meat based” diet and I told him that it’s really not a “meat based” diet, its actually more vegetable based, and it’s about eating whole, real, unprocessed foods, not the crap that most people in this country think is food. I admit, I’ve tried to shame him into going paleo (to support his children) but he’s not convinced. There’s a reason we’re not married anymore. ;) I do agree that paleo needs a rebrand away from its “caveman diet” identity. I am so loving reading your blog!

    1. That’s fabulous Sharon – I’m so thrilled to hear that your son is improving on a whole foods diet! And bravo to you for adopting healthier habits for the whole family. It can definitely be tough to educate others, especially if they haven’t had a “health event” that’s made them dig deep into their own wellness. But you keep doing what you’re doing!! I don’t personally use the word paleo anymore to describe the way I eat, partly because of misperception (and I’m not overly fond of dietary dogma), but also because my own wellness has improved to the point that I’ve been able to enjoy some legumes and other whole foods (which aren’t necessarily paleo, but still healthy) and I think it’s important that we all find what works best for each of us individually. It’s also far easier to tell people that I just focus on whole, real, unprocessed food (as you mentioned!). And sometimes, just making things easier on ourselves makes a world of difference for our overall wellbeing. ;) Big hugs to you and your family and thanks so much for reading! xo