Yesterday, U.S. News & World Report released its annual best and worst diet rankings, naming the DASH diet best overall and touting the benefits of others such as the Mayo Clinic diet, Weight Watchers and the Mediterranean diet. One regimen that didn’t get much love, however? The paleo diet, a recently popular phenomenon that involves adopting the dietary habits of our pre-agricultural revolution ancestors. U.S. News‘ panel of experts not only named it worst overall diet but also ranked it low in terms of weight-loss potential, heart healthiness, easiness to follow and more.
What makes the paleo diet so bad? That’s up for debate. If you ask many of the diet’s loyal followers, it’s the best thing since sliced bread — literally: the paleo plan calls for giving up grains, whole or refined, along with dairy, legumes (beans) and processed foods. Some have compared it to the once dominant Atkins diet, with its emphasis on protein and cutting carbs. But paleo differs from Atkins and other ‘low-carb’ diets in significant ways, as Paleoista author Nell Stephenson explained when we chatted this morning.
People think the paleo diet is like Atkins, says Stephenson. “But it’s actually very balanced — about 30% (of calories) from healthy, natural fats, and then another 30% from lean protein like grass fed meats, wild poultry, fish.”
The diet’s high fat and protein potential are one of the things the U.S. News report criticizes. ”At about 39 percent of daily calories from fat, a sample Paleo menu exceeds the government’s 35 percent cap by a bit,” it states. And while “the government recommends 10 to 35 percent of daily calories come from protein; the Paleo diet clocks in around 38 percent.”
Obviously, you could eat less protein and fat on a paleo diet by ratcheting up the fruit and vegetable content in lieu of so much meat, eggs or seafood. Stephenson also points that fat in a proper paleo diet comes from things like olive oil, avocados and salmon — all high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, the “good kinds” — as opposed to the cheese, milk and fried food fat that permeates many American diets. And unlike Atkins, paleo diet gurus advocate only eating high-quality meat and seafood (lean, organic, grass-fed, etc.), not the bacon and burger free-for-all many imagine.