The Paleo Diet: How Effective is it for Maintaining Weight Loss

While there have been many diets that have caught the attention of mainstream none have been more publicly recognized than that of the Paleolithic diet, simply known as going paleo. While such a diet seems to encompass many restrictions and limitations to what can and cannot be consumed, every limitation comes at the benefit of leading a sustainably healthier lifestyle. Focusing primarily on consuming whole, unprocessed foods while also engaging in frequent exercise, this diet has resulted in achieving and maintaining weight loss success for many. According to Loren Cordain, PhD, professor emeritus at Colorado State University, staying healthy on the paleo diet can be sustained long term with regular continued exercise and sticking to a strict diet of foods that can be hunted and gathered. A paleo diet typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds thus limiting foods that became common many years ago when farming emerged changing how food was processed and manufactured. 

Food You Should Eat

Following a paleo diet typically includes whole food items that in the past could be obtained only by hunting and gathering. This generally means that foods readily available during the Paleolithic era are allowed on this diet plan. 

  • Fruits and berries: Apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, etc.
  • Non starchy vegetables: Broccoli, peppers, carrots, bok choy, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, pecans, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
  • Lean meats: Beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, and pork (particularly grass-fed animals
  • and wild game)
  • Eggs: preferably free-range, pastured or omega-3 enriched 
  • Fish and seafood: Salmon, trout, mackerel, albacore tuna, shrimp, shellfish, etc.  (especially those wild caught and rich in omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Oils from fruits and nuts: Olive oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil, avocado oil, etc. 

Food You Should Avoid

Focusing on consuming foods that were readily available during the era of hunting and gathering excludes foods that became popular through farming. Such foods include legumes, grains and dairy products. 

  • Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, cheese, etc. Though some versions of the diet allow full-fat dairy products such as butter and cheese, on a whole avoid most dairy products, especially those low in fat. 
  • Grains: Includes any bread, pasta, wheat, spelt, rye, barley, oats, etc. 
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, peanuts, peas, etc. 
  • Refined sugar/ high fructose corn syrup: table sugar, soft drinks, fruit juice, etc.
  • Highly processed and/or prepackaged foods: Any food item that comes pre packed and has many additives ought to be avoided

What Does the Science say?

As a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, dating back approximately 2.5 million years ago, we can see how the diets of our ancestors compare to our modern diet trends. Many scientists have come to understand that real, whole, unprocessed foods are significantly higher in nutrient content than foods produced through our modern industrial and agricultural systems. This stark difference in nutritional content and value seems to be the important contributor to weight loss success and overall health improvements while on this diet. 

As reviewed by Dr. Catherine Shaffer, Ph.D, clinical evidence supports that a diet rich in lean meats, wholesome vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds can significantly improve health. Additionally, a 2015 meta-analysis and review by Manheimer et al comparing individuals on a control US based diet to individuals on a paleo-style diet showed that a paleo style diet resulted in improved symptoms of certain metabolic syndromes. Similarly other studies and case reports on individual effects of the paleo diet show health improvements when a paleo-style diet is adopted and maintained providing evidence that as long as people adhere to the restrictions of the diet and include regular exercise in their lifestyle they will see the benefits of the diet plan. 

While there are many scientific studies that support the validity of the paleo diet for sustained health and weight loss, ancestrally cultivated diets such as the paleo diet are often criticized in research conducted by the food industry. Such studies are often overly complicated by confounding factors such as inaccurate data obtained from self-report surveys. With individuals involved reporting their own data rather than it being collected in a controlled setting, evidence is spotty in this way and is not reliable to validate claims made by the food industry.

Is the Diet Effective

 All in all the Paleo diet seems to be an appropriate choice for those trying to maintain weight loss and lead generally healthier lifestyles. While some may be skeptical to follow a diet plan based on foods previously available to our ancestors, it is easier to understand that unprocessed food has better quality macro nutrients than the macro nutrients found in processed foods. This means that when it comes to adopting the use of only whole foods, the paleo diet is a great way to stay healthy and lose weight.

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