Monday, June 13, 2011

Paleo in US News Report


Ok I'm a little late to the table on this, but I still wanted to share some of my thoughts.  US News released a report ranking the Best Overall Diets and the good news is that the Paleo diet is included on the list.  The bad news is that it's last...my blink reaction to the list is that I want to see the ranking criteria.  Any study or report that includes the Slim Fast Diet and Medi Fast Diet (which feature consuming fortified supplements instead of eating actual food) on the list of the best diets automatically raises a flag for me. 

The Top 20 Best Diets....according to US News:
1. DASH Diet
2. Mediterranean Diet
2. TLC Diet
2. Weight Watchers Diet
5. Mayo Clinic Diet
5. Volumetric Diet
7. Jenny Craig Diet
8. Ornish Diet
9. Vegetarian Diet
10. Slim Fast Diet
11. Nutrisystem Diet
12. Vegan Diet
13. South Beach Diet
14. Eco Atkins Diet
14. Zone Diet
16. Glycemic-Index Diet
16. Medifast Diet
18. Raw Foods Diet
19. Atkins Diet
20. Paleo Diet

I could write many blog posts on this article but rather than do that, I'll just highlight a few comments based on my gut reaction to their list.  I think any diet or food regime that is only successful if you purchase their product or buy specific food should take a diet off any "best" diet list - which would eliminate 10. Slim Fast Diet, 11. Nutrisystem Diet, and 16. Medifast Diet immediately from my list.  You could also argue that 2. Weight Watchers Diet and 7. Jenny Craig Diet should be stripped here as well because they have specific food and require that you attend meetings in order to be successful - essentially this is just good marketing not a good diet. 


In short I don't agree with Paleo finishing dead last in the rankings.  The write up on the Paleo Diet has some good information that shows some of the benefits of eating Paleo foods, but
I'm not sure that the US News reporter actually looked into the science behind how the Paleo diet or any of these diets work.  Below are my comments based on the article's content, I tried to summarize them by each high level category.

Will you lose weight?
Article says it hasn't been studied, anecdotal evidence is that most people lose weight when they truly commit to a Paleo diet.  But weight isn't actually what we care about, what we care about is did you lose body fat?  That is the more important measure.

Does it have cardiovascular benefits?

Comments here are definately NOT based on science. The link between cholesterol and triglyercides to dietary fat has been disproven, this article is continuing to spread the mis-information that fat makes you fat and that eating healthy naturally occuring fats (read, non-commerically made) is bad for you. 

Can it prevent or control diabetes?
Comments are that it's unknown...they list a study that had positive results.  Common sense tells you that if you are diet helps manage your insulin levels (like the Paleo diet does) and that type 2 diabetes is an issue with not being able to control your insulin that that Paleo diet probably can help.

Are there health risks?

This one really irks me - same comments about missing nutrients and vitamins by excluding foods that are fortified with vitamins and minerals because they are stripped out when they are processed!  As Gary Taubes states, there is no essential carbohydrate - there are essential proteins and fats...you are not missing out on anything when you eat a variety of real foods as recommended in a Paleo diet.

How well does it conform to accepted dietary guidelines?
I'm not a big fan of the accepted dietary guidelines that are politically determined by business; however the reporter lists that you may be defincient in Vitamin D and Calcium. Vitamin D isn't found in most foods, so I'd say that's would be common unless the selected diet includes foods that are fortified with vitamin D (which would be the same thing as supplementing with it). Calcium is misunderstood in America - what's important here is that you get calcium from leafy greens, which you're eating a lot of, and your body doesn't have to excrete as much calcium and magnesium from your bones to maintain the proper PH. Eat your greens and do strength training and some high impact exercise and you're bones will be better than people that eat dairy for bone health.

How easy is it to follow?
I don't really agree with planned regular cheat meals, and I think that you have to break the idea of replacing the foods in a standard american diet with Paleo approved foods - in essence you don't have milk and cookies, instead you have fresh strawberries, choppped walnuts, and some coconut milk. You eat until your full - if you're trying to lean out watch what you're eating and make sure it's balanced between protein, fats, and vegetable & fruit carbs. If you get variety of foods and colors you can't go too wrong. Protein and fat are satiating and keep you feeling full for a long time.

How much does it cost?
This is a common misconception that it costs more to eat Paleo - you are focusing on higher food quality (which isn't mentioned in this article) but you're also not buying all the processed junk anymore. I think nutrient per nutrient the Paleo diet is not costly.


Overall the article could not have looked into the science of how the Paleo diet works - that is what has sold me on the Paleo lifestyle.  The science and then the implementation: how I look, feel, and perform since I've changed my food is enough to keep me in the Paleo lifestyle.  I think that if they looked at how your body responds to food and didn't use conventional wisdom as a scale that the ratings for all of these diets shift and be very different.  Through my training to become a health coach I've been learning about many different dietary theories and what I've taken away from this is that for the diets that work and keep people healthy they are based around a set of core principles and that people are unique and individual and need to tweak how they implement these principles into their lives.  That's what has inspired my Principles of Health blog post series which I plan to continue posting.  So far I've already covered my #1 and #2, stay tuned for more in that series. 

There are many smart people in the Paleo world that have commented on this already - to see some more responses from the Paleo Community check out  Dr Cordains response posted by Robb Wolf, Paleo athlete and coach Nell Stephonson's thoughts,  and Pedro Bastos and Maelan Fontes's response posted by Robb Wolf.

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