Earlier in January, US News & World Report issued its annual ranking of the best diets to follow for several different goals and health conditions, including weight loss. As you may know, the Paleo diet was ranked last in the “Best Diet Overall” category of the 32 diets they reviewed. This review may have caused you question the benefits of the Paleo diet, and perhaps you even have concerns about its safety.
But are these rankings reliable? And should you take them seriously?
The #Paleo diet should be the top-ranked diet for weight loss. Here’s why.
The experts reviewing the diets suggested that a Paleo diet is restrictive and difficult to follow. However, these reviewers believe a Paleo diet to be primarily lean meat and vegetables, and nothing else, which is far from accurate.
Most Paleo experts advocate a wide range of foods, including meats (not exclusively lean), fish, nonstarchy vegetables, starchy plants like potatoes and sweet potatoes, nuts and seeds, and even modest amounts of “non-Paleo” foods like full-fat dairy, dark chocolate, and alcohol when they are well tolerated.
Using this approach, my patients have been able to eat delicious, real food as their appetite dictates and watch the pounds fall away.
Why Paleo is Superior to Many Other Diets
So what makes Paleo a superior diet compared to the other diets on the list?
In my experience as a clinician, I’ve watched hundreds of patients transition to a Paleo diet and end up enjoying their diet more than they ever have in the past. One of the primary reasons my patients love Paleo is that they don’t have to eat bland, tasteless food with little to no salt or fat. This is in stark contrast to the DASH and TLC diets – both ranked at the top of the US News list – which restrict the amount of sodium, fat, and cholesterol you’re allowed to eat.
Just looking at a daily menu for one of these top-ranked diets demonstrates how unappetizing most of the food is. There’s no reason to suffer through tasteless food simply to lose weight or gain health benefits, especially since restricting both salt and fat is not necessarily the healthiest dietary strategy for most people. Plus, when your food tastes good, you’re more likely to stick to the diet long term.
Another reason my patients love the Paleo diet is that they don’t have to count calories or macronutrient ratios (i.e., the percentage of fat, carbohydrate, or protein they eat). Unlike the Atkins and South Beach diets, you don’t have to restrict carbohydrates to lose weight on a Paleo diet. And unlike the Ornish and TLC diets, you are encouraged to eat plenty of healthy fats that can help you stay full longer. Not having to count every morsel of food that passes your lips is one of the great benefits of a Paleo diet.
When my patients switch to Paleo, they’re glad they don’t have to remove foods they love like red meat and eggs, which are eliminated on many of the diets on the US News list, including the vegan and Engine 2 Diet. Animal foods are highly nutrient dense; according to this study on the nutrient density of common foods, these are the most concentrated food sources of the vitamins, minerals, and protein the body needs to function properly. Diets that restrict or eliminate meat and eggs and emphasize grains and legumes are ultimately lower in certain easy-to-digest nutrients, potentially leading to deficiencies in the long run.
Your “Healthy” Diet Shouldn’t Kill You!
Speaking of nutrient dense foods, my patients are relieved that they no longer have to starve themselves with powdered shakes and meal replacement bars, the types of foods recommended by diets such as Slim Fast, ranked at #13 on the US News and World Report list.
These highly processed, chemically-laden diets may provide the recommended levels of nutrients (or at least those we’re aware of), but they’re chock full of synthetic ingredients and fillers that not only do not provide the nutrition of a real food diet, but may also lead to negative health outcomes in the future, including cancer and diabetes.
Losing a few pounds isn’t worth the risk of developing a lethal disease in the future!
Paleo – Even Better Than The Mediterranean Diet?
One of the few highly ranked diets that has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of health conditions and promoting weight loss has been the Mediterranean diet. You may be surprised to learn, however, that a traditional Mediterranean diet that promotes longevity and good health is similar to a Paleo diet.
While our American imitation of the Mediterranean diet may be high in grains and legumes and low in fat, the truth is that the most beneficial components of this diet are found in foods that are frequently eaten on a Paleo diet, such as fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, full fat dairy, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
In fact, many of my patients follow a Mediterranean-style Paleo diet. In my book, Your Personal Paleo Code (published in paperback as The Paleo Cure in December 2014), I encourage readers to eat many of the same foods that are found in a traditional Mediterranean diet, without all the grains and legumes that don’t provide the nutrients that help support optimal health and metabolism. (And despite the popular media portrayal, you won’t just be eating huge slabs of raw steak at every meal.)
Further, research has shown that Paleo is more satiating per calorie than a Mediterranean diet, meaning you’ll feel more satisfied on a Paleo diet.
Thousands of Years of Human Experience
Finally, you can feel confident that the Paleo diet is effective because it’s the diet humans have been thriving on for thousands of years. Research studies demonstrate that hunter-gatherer populations eating their traditional diets are free of obesity and other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, and are typically lean and quite fit. And when tested in controlled studies, the Paleo diet has been shown to be more effective than the Mediterranean diet and the recommended Nordic diet for weight loss and metabolic improvements.
While we need more long term studies on the effectiveness of the Paleo diet for weight loss, my experience as a clinician makes me confident that this method of eating is effective and sustainable, as well as enjoyable and environmentally-friendly.
For these reasons, I believe the Paleo diet should be ranked at the top, rather than the bottom, of the list of the best diets for weight loss and overall health. (And I have hundreds of patients who I think would agree with my assessment!)