Submitted By Christine Albertelli
Edited By Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD
The Paleo diet is famous for its theory that eating as our ancestors did—a diet limited to meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and oils—will lead to weight loss and decreased risk for chronic health problems.1 While there may not be any harm, here’s the evidence about the Paleo diet’s impact on weight loss and overall health.
There has been one study where after following the Paleo diet for three weeks subjects experienced a decrease in weight, body mass index (BMI), and blood pressure.2 However, that study has several weaknesses and was a pilot study, not a clinical trial. Two other studies have found the Paleo diet superior in comparison to Mediterranean diets and typical Western diets for a few reasons, such as weight loss, decreased risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.3,4 However, in the eyes of clinical researchers, all of the studies have weak results and therefore it is impossible to determine if the weight loss and other improvements were associated with the dietary patterns.5
Another way of looking at the Paleo diet is to compare the “eat” and “do not eat” lists to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). Both encourage consumption of lean protein, fruits, and vegetables in combination with limited amounts of processed foods, added sugar, and sodium intake.1,6 That is as far as the similarities go. Where the Paleo is low in carbohydrates and omits foods such as grains, legumes and dairy, the DGA recommends these foods for a healthy eating pattern. Why does Paleo suggest a low-carbohydrate diet to drop pounds and improve health complications? The answer is not clear. Weight control in general is multifactorial as there are a variety of contributing influences. In addition, there is evidence to support that diets emphasizing specific food groups do not influence weight loss.7
Overall, the Paleo diet has a few strong features, encouraging some components of a healthy eating pattern, weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. However, because certain food groups are restricted, it does not set one up for a sustainable healthy eating pattern.8
The Bottom Line: The evidence speaks for itself. There is no magic bullet to weight loss. The DGA offers the following key recommendations that can help you achieve a healthy eating pattern and a healthy weight9.
Consume foods and beverages at an appropriate calorie level. A healthy eating pattern includes:
- Vegetables from all of the subgroups;
- Fruits, especially whole fruits vs juices;
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains;
- Fat-free or low fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and more;
- A variety of protein foods: seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts, seeds and soy products;
- Oils, plant based; including olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sunflower. Nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocados are also rich in healthy oils.
- Limit: saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars and sodium.
Not satisfied? Consider the #1 ranked “best diet” by US News & World Report—DASH diet—for guidance.10 The DASH diet plan emphasizes fruits and vegetables, low fat milk products and whole grains, and is known for its impact on lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, weight loss, and more.
- Cordain L. What to eat on the paleo diet. The Paleo Diet Web Site. http://thepaleodiet.com/what-to-eat-on-the-paleo-diet/#.VwlEwRMrKfU. Accessed April 6, 2016.
- Osterdahl M, Kocturk T, Koochek A, Wandell PE. Effects of a short-term intervention with a Paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2008; (62): 682-685.
- Frassetto LA, Schloetter M, Mietus-Synder M, Morris RC, Sebastian A. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009; (63): 947-955.
- Lindeberg S, Jonsson T, Granfeldt Y, Borgstrand E, Soffman J, Sjostrom K, and Ahren B. A Paleolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia. 2007; 50(9): 1795-807.
- Zuk M. Pondering paleo. Channeling your inner caveperson. Nutrition Action Health Letter. April 2013.
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines Executive Summary. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans Web Site. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/executive-summary/. Accessed April 6, 2016.
- Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, Smith SR, Ryan DH, Anton SD, et al. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein and carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009; 360(9): 859-873.
- Cunningham E. Are diets from Paleolithic times relevant today? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012; (question of the month): 1296.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
- Heller, M. DASH Diet Eating Plan. Dash Diet Web Site. Available at http://dashdiet.org/default.asp. Accessed June 6, 2016.
- Image: “What is the Paleo Diet?” The Primal Palate Web Site. http://www.primalpalate.com/about/the-paleo-diet/. Accessed May 23, 2016.