Demystifying The Paleo Diet Part 2: What You Shouldn’t Eat

The dreaded What Not to Eat list. If we eat these foods, will we get a horrible disease and keel over? That depends. If we are young and/or relatively healthy, chances are we can indulge in these foods and not notice too much effect. However, if we continue to eat them frequently over time or already have some sort of illness or condition, these foods can have a severe negative impact on our health.

Remember, this Paleo Series is about optimal health, not about just getting by. Some of these foods may be acceptable to eat in moderation if certain steps are taken in preparation or with supplementation. I’ll cover more on that in the next post, but for now, it’s just best to avoid these foods:

  • Heavily Processed Foods
  • Wheat and Grains
  • Soy, Beans, and Legumes
  • Industrial and Polyunsaturated Fats and Oils
  • Most Dairy Products (especially reduced fat, non-organic, and heavily processed)
  • Processed Meat, Feed-Lot Meat and Eggs (from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), Most Farmed Fish
  • Genetically Modified, Pesticide Treated, and Naturally High Glycemic Fruits and Vegetables
  • Sugars, Sweets, and Sweetened Beverages
  • Most Alcoholic Beverages

The Major Players

The Insulin Response (High Glycemic Foods)

Sugars, starches, and carbohydrates are converted into glucose. Many of the “What not to eat” items have a high glycemic index (they are converted into high levels of glucose in the body) and a high glycemic load (they are quickly converted into glucose).

While some glucose is absolutely essential, it doesn’t take much to become toxic to the body. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas in response to glucose to “remove” it from the bloodstream.

Insulin is also referred to as the “master hormone” because it plays a role in almost every metabolic function. But balance is the name of the game with insulin and unfortunately many of our modern foods stimulate the production of WAY too much.

When we constantly overproduce insulin, all kinds of bad things can go wrong. First of all, insulin is a fat storing hormone. There are plenty of other factors that contribute to weight gain (and loss), but chronic insulin response from high glycemic foods are BY FAR the most significant to most people.

Along with weight gain, the blood sugar / insulin roller coaster is the biggest contributor to all degenerative disease including: insulin resistance, thyroid conditions, free- radical damage (cancer precursor), heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and abnormal cholesterol levels.


Lectins – First, they are hard to digest. Second, they bind to the intestines and damage and kill the intestinal lining and villi. This causes decreased absorption of nutrients and minerals. It also causes inflammation and alters the gut flora for the worst.

Altered gut flora and inflammation open the door for conditions like GERD, ulcers, IBS, and all kinds of different digestive disorders.

Gluten (technically a type of lectin) – Celiacs (people who are completely intolerant of gluten) make up at least 1 percent of the population. Around 30% actually test positive for gluten allergies. I would maintain that everyone has at least a mild sensitivity (causing low grade inflammation and digestive disturbance).

Even if you “feel fine” eating gluten (I thought I did), I challenge to remove it from your diet for a few weeks and see if you don’t notice a huge difference in the way you feel.

Phytates (and Phytic Acid) – Phytates are indigestible and significantly decrease the absorptions of nutrients and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Phytates are present in most plant foods but are particularly high in many of the foods listed below. If you are worried about bone loss and osteoporosis, make sure you avoid these.

Chemicals, Poisons, and Other Nefarious Characters from the Food and Agriculture Industries

Each of these items can have all kinds of really negative health implications (things like inflammation, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to name a few). Getting into each is well beyond the scope of this post. But one thing is common; our bodies don’t know how to properly use these mostly unnatural substances. It’s best to avoid them all.

  • Preservatives, Nitrates, Food Additives, MSG, Artificial Flavors and Colors, Pesticide and Herbicide Residues, Chemical Ripeners (to induce ripening of fruits and vegetables), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Artificial Sweeteners, BPA (in food packaging), Antibiotics, Hormones, etc.

The List In Detail

Wheat and Grains

There are absolutely no good reasons to eat grains unless you will actually starve to death otherwise. Granted, there are some tasty foods made with them (pizza and tortilla chips are my favorite), but besides the occasional treat, it’s really not worth it.

First of all, grains are loaded with the above mentioned Anti-Nutrients in really high quantities. Second, what little nutrition that might be present in grain is largely unavailable. Third, they are high glycemic. And finally, they are often combined with other foods you shouldn’t eat to make products that are especially crappy for your health.

  • Wheat, Corn, Rice, Rye, Barley, Bulger, Couscous, Millet, Amaranth, and Oats.
  • Bread, Muffins, Rolls, Danishes, Donuts, Crackers, Pie, Cake, Pretzels, Chips, Tortillas, Popcorn, Rice Cakes, Breakfast Cereals, Granola, Cream of Wheat, Oatmeal, Grits, Pancakes, Waffles, French Toast, Pizza, Corn Meal.

Soy, Beans, and Legumes

While free of gluten, beans and legumes are extremely high in the other anti-nutrients (soy being the worst offender of all). Most Soy and Peanuts are heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides and they contain other naturally occurring toxins as well. To top it off, most Soy is now genetically modified.

As mentioned above, Anti-nutrients play a big role in digestive issues, mal-absorption, and inflammation. Beans and legumes are also high glycemic, further exacerbating their menace.

  • Soy, Tofu, Beans (all kinds), Lentils, Peanuts, Peanut Butter, Peas, and Alfalfa.

Oils and Fats

These bad oils and fats are highly oxidative and inflammatory – a perfect combination for both cancer and heart disease.

  • Margarine (and all fake butters like: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Smart Balance, Promise, etc.), Vegetable Shortening and Crisco, Soybean Oil, Canola Oil, “Vegetable” Oil, Corn Oil, Safflower Oil, Peanut Oil, Grape Seed Oil, Cottonseed Oil and Sunflower Oil.
  • Also be aware of trans-fats, anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, anything deep fried, or any good fats and oils that have gone rancid or overheated.

Most Dairy Products

Unfortunately most dairy products from commercial sources contain at least some hormones, pesticides (from feed), and antibiotics. These can interfere with your hormones, alter the healthy bacteria in your intestines, and contribute to free-radical damage.

Don’t bother with the low or non-fat dairy either. The healthy saturated fat in whole milk, cream, and butter helps stabilize blood sugar and makes you feel full (and they don’t make you fat). Although I haven’t found a direct source on this, rumor has it that farmers feed pigs skim milk to actually fatten them up.

Besides all this shady stuff going on in the dairy industry, many people just have sensitivities to dairy or are lactose intolerant.

  • Low-Fat or Non-Fat Dairy (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.), Processed and Fake Cheese (like American cheese and Velveta), Non-Organic Sources (often contains pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics), Ice Cream, and Frozen Yogurt.


Obviously it’s a good idea to avoid anything with preservatives and additives, but also be aware of meat that comes from animals that eat only grains and spend their lives in cramped feed-lots and coops/houses. The meat from these animals contain an extremely disproportionate amount of Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6’s in excess are extremely inflammatory. These animals are also often treated with hormones, antibiotics, and receive pesticides from their feed.

  • Packaged and Processed Meats, Meats with Added Sweeteners, Preservatives, Nitrates or any Other Additives; Meat (and eggs) that come Commercial Feed-lots, and Grain-fed Meats.
  • Hot Dogs, Many Brands of Sausages and Bacon, Bolagna, Most Deli Meats, Jerky, Pepperoni, Salami, Spam, Cured Ham, and Farm Raised Fish.

Fruits and Vegetables

Genetically modified fruits and vegetables have very similar effects on the body as Anti-nutrients. Many types of fruit have very high glycemic values. Fructose (the type of sugar in fruit) is also converted into triglycerides and fat very efficiently and should probably be avoided for those looking to lose weight or those who are worried about their cholesterol. Vegetables (if you can call them that) like corn and potatoes should also be avoided as they have extremely high glycemic values.

  • Genetically Modified Vegetables and Fruits (GMO), Potatoes, Corn, Dried Fruits, Dates and other High Glycemic Fruits, Canned Fruits and Vegetables, and Fruit Juices.

Sugars, Sweets, and Sweetened Beverages

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory at this point. Sugars and Sweets have very high glycemic values and are often combined with all kinds of harmful chemical additives, grain flours, and bad oils and fats.

  • Sugar (all kinds), Corn Syrup, Fructose, Syrup, Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Lactose, Agave, ALL Artificial Sweeteners, Honey, Evaporated Cane Juice, and Molasses.
  • Candy, Donuts, Candy Bars, Cookies, Most Chocolate (milk chocolate, highly sweetened, and processed chocolate products), Ice Cream, Pie, Cake, Brownies, Energy Bars, Fruit Roll-ups, Ketchup, BBQ Sauce, Many Dressings, Jam and Jelly, Granola Bars, Soda and Cola, Fruit Juices, Popsicles, Etc.

Most Alcoholic Beverages

I was tempted to put alcohol in Part 3: What You Should Eat In Moderation (or Prepared Correctly) because I like to drink it. And while red wine probably will be on that list (it does have some beneficial properties), the truth is that alcohol should be avoided. Take a look at how alcohol is metabolized in my hangover post; it isn’t pretty. Alcohol is definitely inflammatory; plays havoc on many of the body’s systems, and can be addictive.

Any questions or comments about what you shouldn’t eat? Please leave them below!

Photo by manunderstress
Photo by theimpulsivebuy
Photo by awrose

If you liked this article, please share it:

9 Responses to “Demystifying The Paleo Diet Part 2: What You Shouldn’t Eat”

  1. Eric says:

    Well crap. While I have been eating better, and FEELING better, most of what I have been eating is still on the ‘do not’ list. Unfortunately, working as much as I do leaves little to no time to ‘hunt’ down and prepare good meats and veggeis to take to the office, so I’m struggling there. I’ve been eating lots of fruit and veggies, but it’s from the local Fred’s. Some stuff I can get organic, but much of it is not, and I need the variety in order to keep from getting bored with what I’m putting in my mouth.

    And cheese…. oh how I love cheese.

    • Doug says:

      I think the first order of business is Wheat, Sweets, and Soda. Once you got those crossed off the list, you’ll gradually get it dialed in. It took me at least a few months.

      And really in our modern world, it’s pretty hard to be %100. Just try to be as high on the continuum as posible.

  2. Amy says:

    I love how thorough this is! This post demystifies the concept with facts, which I appreciate because I feel like I read a lot of fad diets that are based on opinions and are full of holes. Nice job!

    • Doug says:

      Thanks Amy, that was the idea. A lot of people do get way to wrapped up in the concept and forget what the end goal is – to be healthy.

  3. Tim Murphy says:

    Doug, another awesome post. I like how you took a ton of information and boiled it down to an easy to understand and concise list of what not to eat on the Paleo diet but with enough explanation on the health issues these foods can cause.

  4. Sarah O says:

    Hi Doug. I just nominated you for the Leibster Blogging Award. Check out the nomination here – and congratulations!

  5. Jon says:

    Hi Doug, thanks for some extremely valuable information.
    Sorry if I’m being stupid or not reading it properly but I’ve been using soya milk for a long time and you’re saying no soy. Is that the same thing? So what should I put in my coffee?!

    • Doug says:

      Hi Jon,

      Yeah soya is soy. I used to eat cereal for years with soy milk thinking I was making the healthy choice (plus I don’t tolerate strait milk all that well).

      If you tolerate milk, go ahead and use an organic (from grass-fed cows if you can find it) whole milk, cream, or half and half. If dairy is hard on you go with the almond milk, coconut milk, or even rice milk. Look for the brands with little or no additives and sweeteners.


Leave a Reply