Why Paleo Should Be Ranked #1 of All Weight Loss Diets | Chris Kresser

Why Paleo Should Be Ranked #1 of All Weight Loss Diets

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Here's why the Paleo diet should get the top spot in the ranks

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!)

148 Comments

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  1. Is there a meal replacement shake on the market that follows the specific carbohydrate diet plan? Any suggestions? thanks

  2. Hey Chris,

    My name is Isabella McGreevy and I have chosen to focus my research project on the paleo diet, in particular the nutritional aspects of the diet. I would very much appreciate if you knew of any experts willing to discuss certain questions regarding the diet that I have not yet been able to find thorough answers to. The questions I intend to ask will be similar to the one shown below:

    Large amounts of red meat can lead to heart disease, so why is it encouraged in paleo?

    I would be really appreciative if I could contact you through email as I have not yet been successful in finding a primary source for my project. I live in Adelaide, South Australia and am a full-time school student and Research Project is a compulsory SACE Stage 2 subject.
    I greatly appreciate your consideration and hope to hear from you soon,

    Isabella McGreevy

  3. If you go strict Paleo for 30 days and don’t feel the best you have in many years you just aren’t following the plan correctly. That means eating organic as well. Conventional food products just aren’t trustworthy.

  4. The authors of the report clearly do not have a clue what the Paleo lifestyle is all about. That pretty much takes away the legitimacy of their entire list in my opinion.

  5. There is no diet that anywhere works better than a basic plant based, whole grain, non dairy , non meat based food plan to achieve a stronger ,longer, disease free life. In my view, everyone needs to base their food choices on Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s “Eat to Live” food plan. It may save your life!!

    • There is no evidence that anywhere supports this non-science-based opinion. What is particularly sad is that the “heroes” of the plant-based diet have resorted to the worst kind of cherry-picking and manipulation of data to foist their agenda on the public. See the extensive debunking of such classic hoaxes as the 7 Countries Study and the China Study. And be sure to thank Ancel Keys, who arrogantly steamrolled many of his colleagues to promote the low-fat craze that has made obesity and Type 2 diabetes into a national health crisis.

    • I know many people who didn’t benefit from this type of diet and got quite sick – eventually. Including me.

      IMO, this type of diet seems healthy but it is simply a ticking time bomb way of eating. It will catch up to people later on down the road and the results won’t be good.

      • Edited: This type of diet that I referred to is the plant-based whole grain diet. I’m doing Paleo and I never felt better!

        • I totally agree! I started vegan/vegetarian 3 plus years ago. At first I felt good and lost weight effortlessly but eventually I began to gain weight and wasn’t sure why since I was eating so healthy. I was bloated and felt fat, I felt spacey at work and my work outs exhausted me. I also had digestive issues and was in the bathroom a lot. I went paleo now and lost 15 pounds. I am at a healthy weight and I feel amazing. My digestion is amazing and I skip out of bed every morning excited for the day 🙂

      • Hi Susan,
        People I have known that did not do well on the paleo diet simply eliminated grains and dairy, and still included mostly processed foods in their daily meals, such as “gluten free” junk food and highly-processed meats, as well as a ton of food made to taste/look like grain-based carb-laden junk food, instead of making healthy lifestyle changes with healing foods, which, to me, is what the paleo diet is about.

  6. Wow, very informative article. I know there is no such thing as the “perfect” diet out there, but I am going to try this Paleo diet. Currently I am looking to loose body fat and gain some muscle so I am gonna give it a shot with these Paleo recipes http://bit.ly/1A3C2YE

    I heard great reviews on those recipes!

  7. U.S. News and Reports ranks colleges based on diversity, not academics. They seem to have a twisted set of priorities.

  8. It’s all a personal thing really. What works for each individual person and their body is what matters. Everyone is different

    • That’s a big part of the Paleo diet is to discover what foods you tolerate. I consume quality dairy because it has no negative effects for me.

  9. Anecdotal evidence is often a strong indicator for future scientific inquiry…as far as my own personal improvements in general health, the dramatic reversal of serious health issues for my brother (who has halved his insulin shot dosage within 2 wks and now dialling back 1mg per day – remaining within normal blood sugar readings which he NEVER had on the full dose of insulin and on a previuos vegan diet – able to go off from 1 of the two high blood pressure tablets and reduce the other, plus lose 15lbs in

    • (Amendment to above reply..inadvertently posted before I could finish)
      He lost this weight within 6wks where on the vegan it took him a year to lose the equivalent. My daughter is losing approximately a kilo a week, running a successful business with more energy and off from a heavy dose of anti-depressants…both her and my brothers countenance has changed where the look healthier and are experiencing a greater level of emotional and physical energy and health.
      Anecdotal, but undeniable positive results! I am very pro paleo and would like to also recommend for further interesting reading: Grain Brain and Nourishing Traditions.

  10. To those suggesting that a “vegetarian” diet cannot have as high an LDL as a meat based one- you are dead wrong. I have a large clinical practice that includes vegans and while they often have low cholesterols/LDLs, so do many of my meat/fat eaters. Since most people who have heart attacks have normal or even low LDL, it should come as no surprise that I do not stress these numbers with my patients. I do pay attention to the triglyceride and homocysteine levels!

  11. Its funny how the “new” Paleo diet has morphed into what some call a “Standard American Diet”. Maybe this is due to lack of long term repeatable studies. First it was carbs, dairy and nuts/seeds are the cause of all modern disease. Now these all can be part of the diet. Sometimes its “we need to eat what our ancestors ate” then when someone points out the ridiculousness of that its “we are not saying to eat strictly like our ancestors”. I guess if you keep changing your opinion you can never be wrong. Read paragraph 3 & 4, then read “Thousands of Years of Human Experience” near the end, flip flop much?

    Truth is, the general message from nutrition experts to eat a balanced diet has never changed and is still the best way to eat. Any medical resource telling you to eat processed foods, lots of sugar or remove fats from your diet all together is a bad resource, doesn’t mean the whole establishment is bad. The government is not trying to kill you but they do allow freedom of choice, the food industry is responding to the wishes of the masses, which is a get-healthy quick type of mentality. Doesn’t work in the long run and no medical professional worth their designation was trying to sell that.

    However, if you want to go “Paleo” and sound really pretentious at dinner parties, then you will probably live a great life (just like the millions of others on a “Standard American Diet”). But please stop talking about it like its the second coming of Christ. You are not better than everyone else, you don’t have the key to all diseases and you will die just like everyone else….likely of one of these causes http://who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/

    • Nathan, you call people following paleo pretentious but you are extremely quick to judge a large cohort of people that have chosen to eat differently then the established wisdom and their doctor’s advice and found great success.

      To say that nutrition experts’ message has never changed is willful ignorance of the subject. Nutritionists’ obsession with low fat diets in the 80’s to 90’s is undisputed and only recently have eggs, nuts and “good” fats come back into fashion. Low fat dairy is still recommended even though full fat dairy is superior in the majority of studies; wait for this one to turn:

      http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/02/12/275376259/the-full-fat-paradox-whole-milk-may-keep-us-lean

      Higher protein is now recognised as being satiating where as it previously was not so important (all those oatmeal breakfasts with skim milk were not very satisfying!) Soy protein is still considered “good.” Coconut oil is making a strong comeback from “experts”, if only because its not animal sourced so this is Politically Correct. The list is long.

      Your whole post basically states that a “balanced” diet is best and let’s not even try to improve on that. What a defeatist attitude. You sound like you’re happy with your diet and are healthy; don’t begrudge other people from trying to improve their diet and health no matter what paradigm they choose to follow.

    • Interesting… I am not sure what your point is but you are right about the changing ideas with food then you seem to disparage Paleo. Perhaps I am wrong. In any case, Paleo is clearly the most obvious way to go but there is clearly some room for modern variations to what is a diet that we cannot know for sure except, perhaps, the meat part. We evolved on a diet that has left a deep DNA footprint. We should pay attention to that. Most modern fruits and vegetables are nothing like those found 20,000 year ago but it doesn’t mean that they are “bad.” Wheat and dairy do cause issues for many humans and that should come as no surprise. Thus, the closest approach to ancient foods the better- as best as we can do.

  12. Hi Chris- Do you have any statistics on your weight loss clients long-term success (ie, keeping the weight off for more than 1 year, 5 years, etc? Look forward to hearing back. Thanks.

  13. losing weight is ideal for everybody. If you do it dedicatedly. It is not a business, it is a work that you do for yourself.

  14. Walked into a cafe in Tahoe today and requested that my sandwich meat be wrapped in lettuce not in a bun. The owner overheard my order and proceeded to negatively comment to her cohort that she couldn’t believe all these “paleo-people” are ordering the way they are. I was dumbfounded that the proprietor would comment within earshot; I was faminished enough not to care and still patronized her business. Anti-paleo-lady, boo!

    • Whether or not one believes in the Paleo diet that doesn’t sound like a very smart thing to do from the business side of things. If its trending then a wise business person would make an effort to address that market, not make fun of it. Just makes good business sense.

  15. We get frustrated when people make negative remarks about paleo…as they have probably not even tried it.

    We all know that everyone’s paleo is different but the reason we all follow the lifestyle is because we feel good and see so many diverse benefits.

    We look back and can’t keep count of the number of diets we have tried… because they were diets that didn’t work, that we were never satisfied by and that didn’t nourish our bodies.

    We have lived paleo since 2012 and haven’t looked back. Never felt better physically and mentally. Our energy isn’t wasted on feeling guilty about food choices…we now use the energy to blog about paleo and promote it! We lost weight, our skin cleared, our moods are more level, we are more aware of our being!

    Going paleo. Best. Decision. Ever.

    Emma + Carla

    • “We get frustrated when people make negative remarks about paleo…as they have probably not even tried it.”

      I tried it – my lipid profile became very problematical on it.

      You know what happens when you make assumptions don’t you?

        • Blood test – 3/12
          Lipids (VAP Test)
          Total Cholesterol – 324
          HDL Cholesterol – 84
          Cholesterol/HDL Ratio – 3.9
          LDL Cholesterol (Calculated) – 230
          Lipids (VAP Test)
          Total Cholesterol – 324
          HDL Cholesterol – 84
          Cholesterol/HDL Ratio – 3.9
          LDL Cholesterol (Calculated) – 230
          Iranian LDL Cholesterol Calculation – 186
          Triglycerides – 54
          VLDL Chlosterol (Calculated) – 11
          Triglycerides/HDL ratio – .64
          Pattern size – A – large and bouyant

          Sub Class infomation
          HDL-2 (Large, Bouyant; most protective) – 31 Ref range >10 mg/dL

          HDL-3 (Small, dense; least protective) – 54 Ref range >30 mg/dL

          VLDL-3 (Small Remnant) – 10 Ref range <10 mg/dL

          GlycoHgb (A1C) – 5.2 Ref range 5.0-6.0% mg/dL
          Estimated Average Glucose – 102.5 mg/dL
          Fasting Glucose – 79 Ref range 65-99 mg/dL

          Berkeley Heart Lab test results – 10/12
          TC – 274 mg/dL
          LDL-C (Calculated) 199 mg/dL
          HDL-C 76 mg/dL
          Triglycerides 41 mg/dL
          Ap- B 104 mg/dL Reference Range <115 mg/dL
          LP(a) <2 mg/dL Reference Range 0-30 mg/dL

          Lipid SubClass Detail
          Berkeley Lab analyzes LDL for 7 sub classes from large buoyant to small dense

          LDL I, IIa and IIb are considered large buoyant – As a % these 3 totalled 82.5% – LDL I=51.1%, LDL IIa=16.2% and LDL IIb=15.2%
          LDL IIIa+b, LDL IVa and LDL IVb are considered small dense with IVb being the smallest. As a % these totalled 17.5% – LDL IIIa=11.2%, LDL IIIb=3.8%, LDL IVa=1.8% and LDL IVb=0.7%
          LDL IIIa+b=15% Reference Range=13.6-43%
          LDL IVb=0.7% Reference Range=1.7-9.8%
          LDL IIIa=B = 17.9 mg/dL Reference Range=12.0-32.1 mg/dL
          LDL IVb=1.0 mg/dL Reference Range=1.5-11.2 mg/dL

          HDL is analyzed for 5 subclasses

          HDL2b=34%, HDH2a=24%, HDL3a=20%, HDL3b=14% and HDL3c=8%
          HDL2b Reference Range 7-30%

          HA1C – 5.6
          Fasting Glucose – 100mg/dL Ref Range 65-99 mg/dL
          Estimated Average Glucose – 114.5 mg/dL

          LDL-P 1430 nmol/L
          Small LDL-P 132 nmol/L

          Started 10mgs/day Atotvastatin in 7/13
          Blood test 10/13

          TC 126 mg/dL
          LDL 71 mg/dL
          ApoB 64 mg/dL
          HDL 48 mg/dL
          TG 36 mg/dL
          Vitamin D3 – 46 with normal 30-100

          I made some small changes to my diet in addition to the statin

          I still eat 8-12 ounces of raw grass fed ground beef/day, 1-2 raw eggs (including shells in my smoothie, eliminated coconut milk, olive oil and reduced the amount of butter consumed. I also eat fresh/frozen fruit, nuts, seeds, raw cacoa powder, fresh/frozen veggies, etc.

          I also take certain supplements but 200mgs/day of CoQ-10 and 1,000 mgs SloNiacin are essential

          I will be taking a NMR, Fatty Acid Profile, Essential (C12-C22), Serum and a Cardio IQ™ Lipoprotein Fractionation, Ion Mobility on 2/21

          the Cardio IQ™ Lipoprotein Fractionation, Ion Mobility includes

          LDL Phenotype; LDL Phenotype, Risk; LDL Particle Size; LDL Particle Size, Risk; LDL, Total; LDL, Total, Risk; LDL, Very Small; LDL, VS, Total, Risk; LDL, Medium and Small; LDL, M and S, Risk; HDL, Large; HDL, Large, Risk;
          Total Particles HDL (Total, HDL; Total HDL, Risk; Total LDL; Total, LDL, Risk; Total, Non-HDL; Total, Non-HDL, Risk);
          HDL Particle Subfractions (HDL Small; HDL, Small, Risk; HDL Large; HDL, Large, Risk);
          LDL Particle Subfractions (LDL, Very Small-d; LDL, Very Small-d, Risk; LDL, Very Small-c; LDL, Very Small-c, Risk; LDL, Very Small-b; LDL, Very Small-b, Risk; LDL, Very Small-a; LDL, Very Small-a, Risk; LDL, Small; LDL, Small, Risk; LDL, Medium; LDL, Medium, Risk; LDL, Large-b; LDL, Large-b, Risk; LDL, Large-a; LDL, Large-a, Risk);
          IDL Particle Subfractions Small (IDL, Small; IDL, Small, Risk; IDL, Large; IDL, Large, Risk);
          VLDL Particle Subfractions Small (VLDL, Small; VLDL, Small, Risk; VLDL, Medium; VLDL, Medium, Risk; VLDL, Large; VLDL, Large, Risk)

          • @charles grashow

            Thanks for the lab link but I live in France.

            Woah! You kinda threw a bunch of numbers at me here. I did a little sorting and came away with:

            TC = 274 mg/dL —-> 324 mg/dL —> 126 mg/dL
            LDL-C (calc.) = 199 mg/dL —> 230 mg/dL —> 71 mg/dL
            HDL-C = 76 mg/dL —> 84 mg/dL —> 48 mg/dL
            Trigs = 41 mg/dL —> 54 mg/dL —> 36 mg/dL
            ApoB = 104 mg/dL —> ? —> 64 mg/dL
            HbA1C = 5.6% —> 5.2% —> ?

            Please correct me on the values if necessary.

            Everything seemed to have gone up, and then back down – but lower than the 1st reading…maybe except ApoB &/or HbA1c since I seem to be missing 2 values?

            What reason are you taking the statin for?

            I ask because the statin (in some respects) is highly antagonistic in its mechanisms compared to those exerted by the healthy foods you’re eating. Your latest cholesterol values aren’t high at all, maybe even a bit low (depending on who you ask). Maybe it’s worth reconsidering all the potential negative side-effects that statins have been clearly shown to exert and weigh those against your latest lipid readings. You’ve got excellent ratios as far as I can see, very decent HbA1C % – adding a statin in the mix seems to be a large gamble for, at best, a measly reward.

            • EVERYONE that I personally know (including family members) that started taking stations that we pre-diabetic or of normal blood sugar, ALL developed full blown type 2 diabetes or other health issues not otherwise previously diagnosed within 2 years or less!

              • Sorry folks…I hate writing on this tablet, but when travelling it is the most convenient… I meant statins, not stations…the tablet likes to independently modify my words…not unlike some ppl!

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