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The Caveman Diet: Principles, Benefits, Food List + A Meal Plan

When trying to decide the best diet for weight loss and/or optimizing health, it seems like there is an ever-growing list of options to choose from. 

Although some fad diets come and go quickly out of popularity, the caveman diet has consistently been one of the more common approaches to dietary practices over the last ten years or so. 

But, what is the caveman diet? What are the benefits of a caveman-style diet? What types of things can you find on the caveman diet food list, and what are foods to avoid?

In this article, we will discuss what the caveman diet entails, foods you can and cannot eat, the benefits of a caveman style diet, and some examples of caveman diet recipes or meal plan ideas to get you started.

We will discuss the following: 

  • What Is the Caveman Diet?
  • Principles of the Caveman Diet
  • What Are the Benefits of the Caveman Diet?
  • What Foods Can You Eat on the Caveman Diet?

Let’s get started!

A variety of foods such as poultry, meat, and vegetables.

What Is the Caveman Diet?

The caveman diet, which is a common nickname for the Paleo diet, is a dietary pattern that aims to replicate the eating habits of people during the Paleolithic or Stone Age. 

Because we describe the people living during the Paleolithic era as “cavemen,” the Paleo diet is called the caveman diet.

The principle behind the caveman diet is that following the dietary practices of hunters and gatherers is healthier than abiding by modern eating practices.

This is believed because common modern lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease, obesity, hypertension, cancers, and insulin resistance or diabetes, were virtually unheard of (or at least undocumented) during that Paleo era.

This seems like a sound principle, so it’s not surprising that the caveman diet has become quite popular.

Although the beginnings of the Paleo diet or caveman diet in modern times arose in the 1970s, it wasn’t until Loren Cordain published a book on the Paleo diet in 2002 that this style of eating gained significant traction. 

The caveman diet is particularly popular among CrossFit athletes and has now also trickled down to mainstream culture outside of CrossFit gyms as a healthy approach to eating and potentially losing weight.

A caveman diet, or a typical Paleo diet eating plan, contains only whole, natural, unprocessed foods because all of the highly-processed, manufactured food products that are now quite common in the modern Western diet were not available to cavemen (and cavewomen) during the Paleolithic era.

Paleo diet foods.

Principles of the Caveman Diet

As mentioned, the caveman diet or Paleo diet aims to mimic the eating habits of people during the Paleolithic era.

This means that there is a strong emphasis on meat, fish and seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.

Additionally, because the caveman diet or Paleo diet means to replicate the eating habits of people living in the Paleolithic era, the goal is to eat only grass-fed meat, wild-caught seafood, and free-range eggs.

This is because animals that were consumed thousands of years ago were not subjected to the conventional livestock farming practices seen today, which are not only less humane but can also affect the nutrient quality of the food and can expose consumers to antibiotics, pesticides, and synthetic hormones.

To this end, the caveman diet food list prioritizes organic fruits and vegetables over conventionally-grown produce for similar reasons.

Blueberries in baskets.

Furthermore, caveman diet recipes and caveman diet meal plans exclude all processed and packaged foods that use ingredients or manufacturing processes that were not available thousands of years ago.

In addition to excluding the majority of packaged and processed foods, the caveman diet also eliminates certain food groups that were not readily available at that time.

Thus, a caveman diet food list will exclude things like all grains (including whole grains), legumes, dairy products, vegetable oils, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and many processed foods.

However, there are a few variations of the caveman diet that are a little bit more lax in terms of the allowable caveman diet foods.

For example, some modifications do permit grass-fed butter (dairy) or soaked and sprouted grains and legumes.

Eggs, spinach and tomatoes.

What Are the Benefits of the Caveman Diet?

There are several potential benefits of the caveman style diet, including the following:

There are also potential downsides to this diet. For one, it is highly restrictive because it eliminates many food groups that are often deemed healthy such as whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy products.

This can not only make it difficult to adhere to the caveman diet in the long term due to its restrictive nature but also can potentially cause nutritional deficiencies. 

Low-fat dairy products are a great source of calcium while legumes and whole grains provide a host of phytonutrients, fiber, B vitamins, and other vitamins and minerals to promote overall health, optimal digestion, and control appetite.

Additionally, while it is possible to lose weight on the Paleo diet, many of the common Paleo diet foods and Paleo diet recipes use high-calorie foods. 

If you are not mindful of your caloric intake and you are trying to lose weight on the Paleo or caveman-style diet, you might find that it is difficult to maintain the caloric deficit necessary for weight loss on such energy-dense foods.

Paleo diet foods.

What Foods Can You Eat on the Caveman Diet?

The caveman diet food list focuses on unprocessed foods that were available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. 

The following foods groups are allowed on the caveman diet:

  • Meat: Beef, venison, pork, veal, lamb, bison, etc. (ideally grass-fed organic meat)
  • Fish and Seafood: Salmon, tilapia, trout, cod, sardines, sea bass, tuna, mackerel, lobster, crab, scallops, shrimp, octopus, mussels, clams, squid, etc. (ideally wild-caught seafood)
  • Poultry: Chicken, turkey, duck, squab, quail, etc. (ideally free-range, organic poultry)
  • Eggs: Chicken eggs, turkey eggs, duck eggs, quail eggs, etc. (ideally cage-free eggs)
  • Vegetables: Spinach, beet greens, kale, collard greens, carrots, Swiss chard, broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc. (organic and in-season veggies, if possible)
  • Fruits: Berries, apples, pears, melons, oranges, peaches, nectarines, bananas, pomegranates, kiwi, plums, grapes, coconut, tomatoes, etc. (ideally organic and in-season fruits)
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, pecans, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, squash seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
  • Healthy Fats and Oils: Olives and olive oil, avocado oil and avocados, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, walnut oil, macadamia nut oil, etc.
  • Herbs and Spices: Basil, parsley, thyme, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, ginger, salt, rosemary, tarragon, cumin, chili powder, etc.
  • Healthy Beverages: Water, herbal tea, green tea, black tea, red wine, coffee
  • Dark Chocolate: As long as it’s 70% cocoa or higher
Pistachios.

As mentioned, the caveman diet eliminates any foods that were not readily available to people during the Paleolithic era.

Here are the foods to avoid:

  • Processed Foods: Canned soups, breakfast cereals, sandwich bread, cookies, jarred sauces, chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, rice cakes, bagels, chips, pretzels, popcorn, frozen dinners, ramen noodles, anything packaged and “low fat,” etc.
  • Dairy Products: Milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, kefir, butter, cream, ice cream, etc. Note that some versions of the Paleo diet do allow for full-fat dairy such as butter, ghee, and certain cheeses. Low-fat and fat-free dairy is never allowed on the caveman diet.
  • Sugar (except for honey and agave): High-fructose corn syrup, juice, white sugar, brown sugar, sweetened foods, pastries, date syrup, etc.
  • Artificial Sweeteners: Splenda, aspartame, saccharine, stevia, sugar alcohols, sucralose, etc.
  • Grains: Whole wheat, oats, quinoa, rice, spelt, couscous, barley, teff, rye, bread, pasta, crackers, oatmeal, tortillas, etc.
  • Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soy, hummus, etc.
  • Vegetable Oils, Margarine, Trans Fat: Soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, etc.
A steak.

Sample Paleo Diet Meal Plan

Here is a sample paleo meal plan for a day:

  • Breakfast: Eggs fried in coconut oil, turkey bacon, sautéed spinach, honeydew melon slices, coffee
  • Lunch: Shredded chicken lettuce wraps with carrots and celery, apple with almond butter
  • Snack: Homemade trail mix with nuts and seeds and some dried apricots
  • Dinner: Herb-crusted steak cooked in coconut oil with pan-roasted sweet potato, asparagus, and pepitas.
  • Snack: Blueberries and pistachios

Interested in trying to decide if the caveman diet or the keto diet is better for you? Check out our guide that looks to compare these diets here.

Keto diet written on a notebook page, a fork and a tape measure.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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