What is the paleo diet? What can you eat? And can you really get results by following it?

High-carb, low-carb, no carb, vegan, raw food — there are dozens of different diets. But none of these modern diets are quite like the paleo diet. Also called the “Stone Age diet” or “hunter-gatherer diet,” this eating plan is modeled after what humans would have eaten during the Paleolithic era, which took place from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. This diet includes lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts.

Just a few years ago, web searches for the “paleo diet” skyrocketed. An online survey found that 1 percent of the American population follows a paleo diet (that’s between 1 million and 3 million people), reports NPR.

1. Why paleo? What is paleo?

Over the past 100 years there have been increasingly larger amounts of sugars, highly processed foods, additives and chemicals in food. These additions shrink the percentage of hunter-gatherer foods in your diet. However, many people are choosing to make their health a priority by returning to this centuries-old style of eating.

Followers of the paleo diet believe their bodies are better suited to this style of eating rather than today’s diet, which is believed to be a result of modern farming. While farming has established familiar staples like legumes, dairy and grains, many people also believe that farming has outpaced humans’ ability to adapt. This lack of adaptability is believed to be linked to diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Many people are choosing to follow a paleo diet as a means to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

2. What can you eat on paleo?

With the absence of dairy products, you can’t eat yogurt, cheeses, milk items or processed foods that use these ingredients (chips, cookies and other prepackaged and processed snacks). You also can’t consume grains such as oats, wheat and barley.

While the Stone Age diet may seem restricting at first glance, it eliminates a lot of unhealthy foods that can cause health and weight problems. In comparison, the food items that are included in the paleo diet tend to be healthier. Although dietary recommendations vary, these foods are commonly included in most paleo diet plans:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Oils from nuts and fruits, like olive oil or walnut oil
  • Fish, such as mackerel, albacore tuna and salmon
  • Lean meats, including wild game and grass-fed animals

A diet that is truly paleo also emphasizes that you should consume plenty of water and regularly participate in movement to achieve the best results.

3. What are the results you get from paleo?

According to Mayo Clinic, trials suggest the paleo diet can provide health and weight benefits. Some benefits include an improvement in glucose tolerance, improved blood pressure control, appetite management and weight loss. They also state there aren’t any long-term clinical studies on this diet.

There are some potential cons to this style of eating, though. Joy Dubost, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, explains it can be a sensible diet because it helps remove excess sugar and salt, but it also eliminates several food groups that provide essential nutrients. Dairy products contain calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus and grains often provide B vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. She continues to explain that legumes are a good source of protein that don’t add a lot of fat or calories.

Even though there are conflicting opinions about whether the paleo diet is worthwhile, the eating plan seems to be effective at kick-starting weight loss and helping with other health concerns like high blood pressure and glucose intolerance. Just like any other major diet change, you should consult your doctor prior to dramatically altering your eating plan.