It’s hard to do anything these days without hearing something about the miracles of paleo weight loss. Google a recipe for a popular dish, and you are bound to be inundated with results for gluten-free variations and “paleohacks.” Log into Facebook or Pinterest, and you’ll inevitably be met with appetizing photos of grilled meat accompanied by a friend’s paleo diet testimonial. Click on daytime TV, and there’s a sea of shows featuring dieting debates that pit “Caveman Diet” acolytes against their pro-dairy and pro-carbohydrate critics. Paleo diets are publicly praised in interviews by everyone from Hollywood stars like Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Biel to professional athletes such as Grant Hill and Kobe Bryant. However, is there any true value to the paleo diet craze? Or is the paleo diet just another fad diet filled with empty promises and no real long-lasting health benefits?
The World Has a Weight Problem
Obesity rates have skyrocketed across the United States in the past thirty years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, no state had a rate of obesity greater than 15 percent in 1990. By 2010, every state had a rate of obesity over 20 percent and 36 states had rates of obesity greater than 25 percent. Today, more than one in three American adults is obese.
And the United States is not alone in its obesity epidemic. The European Association for the Study of Obesity claims that obesity rates have doubled globally since 1980. Health concerns surrounding overeating now significantly outweigh those of starvation and lack of nutrition.
While everyone is quick to point fingers at a long list of contributors, one popular scapegoat has a perfectly valid excuse — the human genome. Even though scientists do believe that individuals can be more or less genetically predisposed to obesity, the rapid rise in obesity in just one generation can’t be explained by physiological evolution. Instead, the real culprit must be hidden somewhere in the cultural and dietary changes of recent history.
Reasons for Paleo Weight Loss Success
Recognizing that the catalyst for the recent obesity epidemic must be found amongst dietary and cultural changes of the past half-century, the paleo movement looks to earlier times for solutions to contemporary weight issues. In particular, the paleo philosophy looks to the pre-agricultural landscape of the Paleolithic Era and focuses on constructing a pseudo hunter-gatherer diet consisting of mainly of fish, grass-fed meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts. The paleo diet eschews popular agricultural products such as grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salts, sugars, processed oils, and preservatives.
In the 1950s and 60s, most Americans ate food cooked and prepared in a home kitchen. Today, anyone can find more than a day’s supply of calories at the corner convenience store. The dietary prohibitions involved in paleo weight loss take most quick-fix or fast-food meal options off the table. Eating out can be quite problematic as options are limited. Inside the home, boxed meals, frozen pizza, or even hot dogs become a big no-no. Because of the restrictive nature of the diet, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, refined flours, and refined sugars are eliminated from the equation. Unhealthy potato chips might be replaced with kale chips or a handful of cashews. However, most of the paleo diet requires planning and home preparation.
Benefits of Paleo Weight Loss
According to a study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal, people who cook at least five times a week are 47 percent more likely to be alive in 10 years time compared to those who eat primarily processed food. Three quarters of the average American’s sodium intake comes from commercially prepared foods. The paleo diet is also high in fiber, lessens the body’s glycemic load, has a healthy ratio of saturated-to-unsaturated fats, increases vitamin and nutrient consumption, and contains a healthy balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.