We live in a culture that loves to rank things according to their greatness (or awfulness). Diets are no exception! So why does Paleo keep getting the shaft from mainstream media, especially at a time when it’s getting widespread publicity from Hollywood? U.S. News recently ranked 34 diets, from great to not-so-great, and Paleo ended up at the bottom of the list. According to their description, diets were ranked high by being easy to follow, having nutritional benefits, and being safe and effective for weight loss purposes, including preventing diabetes and heart disease.
It’s probably not surprising that the DASH diet took the top spot, since it’s endorsed by the government. But why is the US government and media so anti-Paleo even as experts across the country and around the world endorse Paleo as meeting all of these top diet ranking criteria and more?
The Worst Diet?
The report lists Paleo as last on their list, saying their experts “took issue…on every measure.” They scored it a 2 (out of 5), but the only reason they really gave was that following such a complicated regimen in modern times would be “difficult.” The complicated regimen they’re referring to is this: eating lean, pure meats and lots of wild plants. And then they all concluded that dieters would do best to pick a different diet.
It’s as if the media, mainstream nutrition experts, and even the government want to willfully misunderstand what Paleo is. When we say we eat like our ancestors, where we derive the name “Paleo,” we don’t actually mean we are eating the same foods that cavemen did. We’re all aware that many changes have happened in food availability and even climate since the cavemen roamed the earth. Paleo refers to the principle of the diet: we aim to eat foods that are organic, fresh, local (when available), and nutrient-dense, just like our ancestors did. The key difference, of course, is that our ancestors didn’t have a choice, and we do.
Some who criticize Paleo do so by scoffing at this desire for “real” food, as if we are purists, perfectionists, or living in an entirely unrealistic world. As if eating nutrient-dense food is somehow detrimental to our health. It makes little sense that U.S. News or anyone else would think it’s actually healthier to eat processed food, or that it’s safer to consume preservatives and artificial flavors than it is to eat grassfed beef or wild caught fish, as they clearly believe by ranking both the Slim Fast Diet and NutriSystem well above Paleo. Sure, they’re technically easier to follow as they require less cooking, but how can anyone truly say (and believe) that you’re going to be healthier by eating processed foods? We’ve come a long way from our grandparents’ generation, thanks to Monsanto.
But What Does Science Really Say About Paleo?
Perhaps the only thing that will hold true forever is humanity’s love for debate. There will always be Paleo naysayers, and Paleo enthusiasts, and people who are middle of the road. Even if U.S. News continues to rank Paleo at the bottom of the food chain, those who’ve actually lived the lifestyle can attest to the health benefits and that it’s never quite so difficult to follow as critics would have people believe. Paleo is arguably more popular now than ever with celebrity vegans jumping over to Paleo and praising the results, not to mention the slew of New York Times bestselling Paleo books like Practical Paleo, Paleo Cooking from Elana’s Pantry, and The Bulletproof Diet. Clearly, there is no lack of audience for fans and believers of the Paleo lifestyle. But what does actual science say?
Paleo improves glucose tolerance, reduces cardiovascular risk factors, improves blood pressure and other health markers, as well as promotes weight loss. The work and research of Dr. Terry Wahls has shown that an extremely nutrient dense Paleo protocol can reverse multiple sclerosis, as well as other autoimmune and chronic conditions. And certainly more research is in the works, not to mention countless untold success stories as individuals put Paleo to the test in their own personal lives. I didn’t need science to tell me that Paleo was good for me after I regained my quality of life from years of suffering with severe Hashimoto’s disease, Celiac disease, and fibromyalgia. Another Paleo Plan nutritionist, Kinsey, didn’t need science to prove to her that Paleo worked when she reversed her rheumatoid arthritis. The scientific evidence continues to prove what we—and many of you in the Paleo community—already know. Paleo strips away the newfangled ideas of what is good for us (artificial sweeteners, processed foods, a grain-based diet, etc.) and simply takes us back to a mindset that food from the earth and from organically raised animals is the best fuel we could ask for. I continue to wonder why we ever thought the system was broken, but it has been the process of “fixing” the agricultural system and nutritional mindset of the culture that has, in reality, broken the health of many. It’s not a coincidence that obesity was virtually nonexistent before the great American agricultural boom and Monsanto’s “helpful” intervention.
Is Paleo The Last Diet You’ll Ever Want To Follow?
Paleo may be ranked last on this list, but in my opinion, they’re right on one count: for many, it is the last diet they’ll ever follow, because when you find something that works, why would you quit? Paleo may not be appreciated by many in the media, but there are growing numbers of nutrition, medical, and health experts who are seeing the beneficial and healing effects that come from following the Paleo diet.
Perhaps the best (and least talked about) aspect of Paleo is the way that it can be fully customized to the needs of the individual. Some can modify Paleo to be very low carb and high fat for the benefits of nutritional ketosis, while others will have their Paleo food plan much more centered around high intake of vegetables and fruits. Others will choose to be a combination of Paleo and Primal, integrating clean sources of dairy products into their diet. However you eat Paleo, there isn’t a right or wrong way—but there is solid proof that Paleo can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals, regardless of what U.S. News may believe.