Each year, 22 experts from U.S. News & World Report rank various nutritional plans to help discerning consumers make informed decisions. Followers of the Paleo diet are likely to go prehistoric on this year's report which ranks it last out of 32 possible contenders for "Best Diets".
To be top-rated, the various eating plans are evaluated for nutrition and safety, short- and long-term weight loss, protection of heart health and against diabetes and ease of compliance. Accordingly, some diets are rated better than others for specific purposes, for example best weight-loss diets, best diabetes diets, best commercial diets and easiest diets to follow.
Sorry Paleo dieters.
I think the U.S. News & World Report is right on the money. The Paleo diet is seriously flawed. I have a problem with the very foundation from which it builds its primary principles - that is, the presumed dietary practices of an era that happened between 2.6 million and 10,000 years ago. Really? Statements such as "fat, not carbohydrate, is the preferred fuel for human metabolism and has been for all human evolution" are unfounded and contradict human biochemistry.
For example, the carbohydrate glucose (blood sugar) is virtually the sole fuel for the human brain. Starve yourself of complex carbohydrate and see what happens to your concentration and energy. If I sided with the Paleo proponents, I would have to believe there was a lot of hallucinogenic Neanderthals roaming the earth.
So if not Paleo, what?
The take-home messages are these:
• Nutritional completeness is the key factor. Any diet that short changes fruit, vegetables or wholegrains is suspect. The U.S. News & World Report's experts said the Paleo diet was too restrictive for most people to follow long term and that it limited some essential nutrients. That's because the regime excludes dairy, grains and legumes. "It's one of the few diets that experts considered somewhat unsafe" the report says.
• Giving credit where credit's due, the Paleo diet on the surface sounds like a good idea by consuming very lean, pure meats and lots of wild plants. However encompassing such a regime in modern times would take a lot of discipline, as well as take the enjoyment out of eating.
• The Paleo diet glycemic index argument is misleading when talking about bread and link to grains. Remember, the type of bread you eat and level of refinement of the ingredients has an impact on the GI of the bread. The fact is, wholegrains rather than processed grains can prevent big rises and drops in glucose and insulin. So there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water and eliminate grains altogether.
• If you want to lose weight, avoid processed foods made with sugar and fat. What we crave is the combination of the two in such treats as chocolate, ice cream and chips. These are nothing more than empty calories.
• My favourite, the Mediterranean diet is more or less how I eat. The report says it "may include weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention and control". That's why it made it to the top three in the report.
If all you Paleo dieters are smarting at being last on the U.S. News & World Report Best Diets list, spare a thought for followers of the Cookie diet. They didn't even make it on to the list.
Peter Rana is the founder of BodyTech, bodytech.co.nz