While the Paleo diet is becoming increasingly popular, the movement has not been without controversy.
In a recent December 2013 US News report, the Paleo diet was ranked dead last on a list of the ‘best diets’.
Other critics respectively report that diets were likely more regionally diverse than we give credit. Others may also critique that a true Paleo diet may look something like an episode from Man vs. Wild where we might find ourselves chewing creepy crawlies and diving into some raw meat.
Most legitimately, critics report the lack of solid evidence from clinical trials that the Paleo diet is actually achieving results long-term – particularly with long-term weight loss.
While there are numerous anecdotal reports of positive outcomes with the Paleo diet for a wide range of health challenges, long-term studies have been lacking.
So is it time to throw out the Paleo diet and go back to the drawing board?
Not so fast.
The Paleo diet consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture-raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts. It also excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils – and that gets stakeholders up in arms.
Because Americans do not eat ample nutrient-dense foods, they are often deficient in nutrients only found in fortified grains and dairy products. A misdirected criticism of the Paleo diet is that you lose access to these fortified products and therefore put yourself at risk for further nutrient deficiency. They fail to consider that you are replacing them with highly nutrient-dense foods that do not require fortification and that our bodies functioned well for thousands of years without regular access to grains or dairy.
The excluded foods often line the inner aisles of our grocery stores, account for many jobs, and even cultural traditions. They taste good, they can be subsidized by our tax money, and are often fortified with extra nutrients that are lost with processing. They keep food cheap, tasty, and convenient – but that does not always equate to “healthy”.
Another legitimate criticism of the diet is cost, with unsubsidized quality meat and vegetables costing consumers more at the grocery store, and bringing up questions on environmental sustainability on a large scale. Those are legitimate questions, but the bigger question is likely the Farm Bill and the true hidden costs of our food subsidies and health costs associated with the Standard American Diet.
We could discuss all ad nauseum and there are still some legitimate questions to be answered, but it is becoming difficult to debate the basic tenets of a Paleo diet. For instance, one of the main criticisms cited by the US News “best diets” report was that the Paleo diet lacked research proving a benefit for weight loss.
A recent study published in January 2014 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a Paleo diet was more beneficial than a diet within the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR) in terms of fat mass, abdominal obesity and triglyceride levels in obese postmenopausal women. The two-year randomized controlled trial studied 70 obese postmenopausal women (average age of 60) who were given either a Paleo diet or the traditional Nordic diet.
While both groups had a significant reduction in total fat mass after 6 months and 24 months, more fat loss was experienced in the Paleo group at the 6 month mark. Both groups also experienced decreases in waist circumference, with the highest decrease being in the Paleo group after 6 months. In addition, the Paleo group had a more pronounced decrease in triglyceride levels at both the 6-month and 24-month marks than the NNR group.
This study shows that a Paleo diet is better than an NNR diet when it comes to fat mass, abdominal obesity, and triglyceride levels in obese postmenopausal women after 6 months.
While this study was published just one month after the US News report was released, I wonder if the US News would have altered its ranking if equipped with this report?