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  • The Paleo Diet: A Weight Loss Hit Or Myth?

The Paleo Diet: A Weight Loss Hit Or Myth?

by Susan Burke March - December 06, 2013 - with 0 Comments

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The Paleo Diet: A Weight Loss Hit Or Myth?

You’ve probably heard about the paleo diet, but do you know how it’s supposed to work?

Some folks are calling it the FIRST-EVER diet, while others term it the BEST-EVER diet. But what do the experts say about this paleo diet?

Before we go any further, Wikipedia.org tells us, “The paleolithic diet (abbreviated paleo diet or paleodiet), also popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years which ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and grain-based diets. In common usage, the term ‘paleolithic diet’ can also refer to actual ancestral human diets, insofar as these can be reconstructed.”

Hmmm… eat like a caveman? Sure, we’ll get to that – as soon as we learn to walk like an Egyptian!

But I digress. Let’s get back to diets in general.

If you’ve been following my columns here at eDiets, you know by now that ALL DIETS WORK! The secret is that for it to be an effective diet it needs to be an eating plan you can stick with.

There are diets that are shown to be “better” than others. There are also diets that claim to be good, but don’t have the research to back up the claim.

A smorgasbord of weight management questions were addressed at this year’s ObesityWeek 2013, the largest international event focused on the basic science, clinical application, and prevention and treatment of obesity. 

One especially enlightening session was “What and When to Eat: What Works for Obesity Treatment.”

Four areas were covered – macronutrients (i.e. comparing diets such as low carb or low fat); dietary patterns – diets that have been scientifically shown to lower risk for some diseases (e.g. low sodium and hypertension); and timing of eating (does eating late mean weighing more?). The session ended with a dietitian presenting a case study and focused on understanding the motivation of the dieter, rather than the science behind the diet. 

One particular question drew groans from the audience of physicians, dietitians, and other health professionals. The question:  “I have a patient who wants to follow the Paleo diet. What do you think of it?”

First, the macronutrient expert defined it as excluding grains and dairy, and noted that by excluding groups of foods, it fell into the accepted definition of a “fad diet.” But then, the motivational expert stopped the chatter. She said something like, “If a patient is willing to ‘go on a diet,’, then I will meet them there, because it shows that they’ve accepted the need to do something different about their usual diet.”

U.S. News enlisted a panel of nationally recognized experts in diet, nutrition, obesity, food psychology, diabetes, and heart disease to rate 29 of the most popular diets. The diets were scored on a 5-star rating system based on how easy it is to follow, its ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, its nutritional completeness, its safety, and its potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease.

The paleo diet fared poorly, scoring at most only two out of five stars in any particular category.

So why would a dietitian say she’d be willing to work with her patient who’s following this diet? It’s because all diets work, when by “diet” you mean doing something different than your usual eating routine. If your usual diet is full of sugar and fat, and by “going Paleo” you eliminate all grains and dairy, you’re going to be eliminating a lot of sugar and white flour and calories and saturated fat from your diet (that is, if you typically consumed whole-milk dairy).

You may be eating a lot healthier than when you began your diet. While “on” the paleo diet, you eat meat, seafood, and an unlimited amount of fresh fruits and veggies. But please, NO grains? Whole grains are full of fiber, protein and great nutrition. And nonfat dairy, if you choose to include it, is a good source of protein, minerals and vitamins – and that fits well into a weight loss plan.

In researching this article I came across (too many!) studies attesting to the effectiveness of hundreds of different diets. The diet that works BEST is the diet that you can follow and transition into your usual way of eating – so you’re effectively changing from a weight loss diet to a permanent way of eating.

A diet that guides us away from processed foods and toward a diet based on enjoying a variety of different foods, including lean meat, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains is quite highly rated. And that particular diet is best known as the Mediterranean diet. We love the variety, flavors and good nutrition – and know that millions of people follow this diet daily and enjoy their healthy lifestyle.

So, get out of your cave and enjoy the sunny goodness of the Mediterranean region and its abundance of healthy foods!

Susan Burke March is a registered and licensed dietitian, nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. As our eDiets Chief Nutritionist, she promotes the dietary health and wellbeing of consumers worldwide.

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