Paleo Diet The “Worst” Way To Eat? Depends On Whom You’re Asking

paleo diet books

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. 

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    • cj

      Well if the government and the big food industries (who are in cahoots with the government) set the standard for what’s healthy, they must be right. They are right about everything else aren’t they?

    • Roger Bird

      I am growing weary of defending the Theory of Evolution. One would think that people would have accepted it by now.

    • Deane Alban

      According to a new book, Perfect Health Diet, one big thing the paleo diet is missing is starchy vegetables. According to ancestral medicine, our pre-grain eating ancestors ate a lot of tubers – potatoes, yams, taro, manioc, etc. I urge anyone looking for the best human diet to follow to read this book. It is meticulously researched. I’ve read hundreds of nutrition books and I’m convinced this one is close to the answer.

      • Amy

        Yams and taro are acceptable. You’re misinformed.

        Starchy root vegetables aren’t completely banned, but are to be eaten in moderation.

      • Gothic90

        Actually, the author of Perfect Health Diet, Paul Jaminez, is also well respected in the paleo community. Paleo has gone from a expert based diet to a community based one, and root vegetables are tolerated unless you are on a low carb plan.

    • Amy

      Of course those institutions called it the worst diet. They are highly funded by government entities and have lobbyists who depend on the government to push a “whole grains” diet.

    • Eileen

      You know why I hate the Paleo diet? Because people on it are worst than evangelicals.

      Actually, I’m a little wary of the whole “caveman” thing, simply because we are not cavemen and don’t live in their world. Do you have electricity? Not a cave. Do you ride a bicycle? Not available to cavemen. Do you take any kind of medicine? Did any of your relatives/friends die in childbirth? Do you eat every day? We don’t live cavemen’s lives; our health is affected by millions of different lifestyle differences that we sometimes have no control over, even if we’re willing to give them up. The earth’s a different place. The diet they ate might not have been the best for their bodies, even at the time – animals eat what’s available, and we’re descendants of animals who came from all over the world and thus had different foods available – and it’s not necessarily the best for our bodies now.

      But mostly, I get annoyed because anyone on this diet feels the need to tell me why I should be on it, too, even if I have made not one comment about food. And that is why it is the worst.

      • nina

        Amen! I’m stealing your first sentence- brilliant.

      • caroline

        Im with you Eileen!!!

      • playeatlive

        First off let me say, I couldn’t care less if you are Paleo or not. If you are, awesome! If you aren’t, whatever, your choice. It doesn’t impact me, so I am not bothered. Eat whatever you want.

        What does bother me are your arguments against eating a Paleo diet.

        No, we do not live in the same world as our Paleolithic ancestors (though sometimes I wish we did), but let me ask you this, do we still have the some bodies as our “caveman” ancestors? YES! We do! The diet they ate must have been right for our bodies, as evidenced by the fact that we are still here. In fact, the way we ate would have been one of the factors influencing our successful evolutionary path, and thus why we should keep following it!

        The Paleo diet is not a fad diet, as some claim, considering it’s the way we’ve been eating for almost all of 250,000 years when anatomically modern humans arrived on the scene (2 million years if you go back to our earliest Homo ancestor). I think it’d be safer to say that the current standard American diet is the fad diet, as it’s only been around since the last century.

        This next bit just bugs the anthropologist that I am, we are not descendants “from animals all over the world.” Humans have a single origin (called monogenesis) and it started in Africa with a little guy named Homo habilis (now Homo gautengensis is possibly the first of the homo species, but there is still debate…).I digress. Anyway, it is from him that we are all descended, and he lived in South and East Africa. All of our evolution up to becoming anatomically modern humans occurred in Africa, and only sometime between 125,000 and 60,000 years ago did modern humans leave Africa. So no, we did not come “from animals all over the world.” Unless you are a proponent of the multiregional hypothesis that Homo sapiens left Africa and then bred with Neanderthals and Homo erectus, creating Homo sapien sapiens (modern humans). But for some reason, I doubt you even know that hypothesis existed…

        One more note, the comment “did any of your relatives/friends die in childbirth?” Many women and babies still die in childbirth today, just as they did millions of years ago. Not all children make it to adulthood. This has not changed. And I find it rather insensitive to say otherwise. Dare you take that away from those families who have suffered such loses? And “do you eat every day?” Once again, many, even in the USA and other 1st world countries, cannot say that they do eat everyday. Nor does everyone have access to electricity, medicine, or bicycles. Please think before you write and try to formulate arguments.

        (Yes, I am broad with my synopsis regarding human history, it’s the only way to make it succinct.)

    • June

      The only person we should be taking food science information from is an RD. Bottom line. This chick is just some paleo enthusiast who wrote a book, and it pisses me off to no end that people are interviewing her and taking her word as gospel. When she has R.D. at the end of her name, I’ll listen to her. Until then she should stop promoting unhealthy crap fad diet.

    • Tina

      I haven’t read anything on research linking animal protein to cancer…seems most Paleo supporters talk about the fact you can lose weight. What’s the point of losing weight if you’re not healthy overall in the long run?