The Real Deal on Fat Loss Diets – Part 1: The Paleo Diet
Looking for the right diet to produce the best fat loss? One that you can actually stick to, right? We’ve taken aim at some of the most popular diets to give you the skinny on getting lean!
Here we look at the Paleo Diet. We give you the 411 on what the Paelo Diet is, how it’s unique and why people follow it.
The Fat Loss Challenge
When looking to strip away excess fat with a specific dietary approach the challenge we face is two-fold. First, finding an approach to nutrition which actually works for our individual body type, and second, applying these principles in a consistent, and often obsessive, fashion is a difficult prospect to say the least. However, conquering these two challenges is without a doubt the best way to strip away unwanted adipose to reveal the kind of six-pack that we’ve been striving for.
While standard bodybuilding-style approaches have removed the guesswork for many with their emphasis on quality carbohydrates, combined with a respectable complement of protein and healthy fats, there still exists much confusion concerning how we can encourage further progress.
Must we continue pursuing fat loss through the traditional 40/35/25 (carbs/proteins/fats) dictate, with food selection, meal scheduling, and caloric modifications employed in line with our personal preferences, metabolic/genetic differences, specific training goals, and training stage? Or might we be wise to adopt one of three alternatives, each offering a plethora of supposed benefits, but also controversial for reasons soon to be explored. Carb cycling, the Paleo diet, and the ketogenic diet – could one of these be just what you were looking for?
The Paleolithic Diet
Also known as the Stone Age, Caveman, or Primal diet, the Paleolithic (or Paleo) eating plan, first popularized in the mid-1970s, is a modern dietary regimen modeled on the supposed eating habits of Paleolithic man, and the range of foods that were eaten some 750,000 years ago. Proponents of the paleo diet speak of the nutrient-rich foods they regularly enjoy and the health benefits they say ensue.
Consisting of grass-fed beef, fish, eggs, vegetables, fungi, fruit, roots, nuts, plant-based oils such as olive, walnut and coconut, and seeds – but excluding grains, dairy products, legumes, potatoes, and refined sugars and certain oils, the strict paleo diet provides around 25% carbohydrates, 38% proteins and 39% fats per day.
The Paleo Theory
Devout paleo followers argue that because human genetics have barely changed since the beginning of the agricultural revolution (around 12,000 years ago), we are all genetically better-suited to eating a diet common to Paleolithic times, since it got us that far to begin with. Paleo followers believe that our modern digestive systems are not designed to process the starchy carbs, refined sugars, legumes, grains and dairy products that have been introduced over the past 12 millennia.
Considering the fact that battled-hardened, ultra-strong, cross-fitters swear by it, combined with its modern-day resurgence and mass adoption, the paleo diet has been positioned as a proven dietary option for the fitness minded. Though for general health and well-being it may have some merit (it is in essence a clean diet without preservatives, additives, or chemicals), is the paleo diet also an effective means to enhance fat loss while maintaining lean body mass?
Reviews of the paleo diet vary widely, with many experts maintaining a healthy skepticism as to its purported advantages. In 2011 the paleo diet was ranked by the US News and World Report (involving a panel of 22 nutritional experts) as the worst of 20 diets, all reviewed on the basis of health, weight loss and manageability. In 2012 this panel again assessed the paleo diet to be inferior to all other diets reviewed (29 in total), with the exception of the Ducan diet with which it tied for the lowest ranking. The paleo diet also tied for last place in 2013 and 2014 (out of 29 and 32 diets respectively). In all of these assessments, the strict low carb (23%) version of the Paleo diet was reviewed.
While all diets have their pros and cons, the Paleo plan may not be right for fat loss and fitness aspirants for several reasons.
- Its lack of calcium-rich dairy products may lead to brittle bones (calcium is also needed for muscle response and nerve function), though paleo-endorsed leafy greens like kale and spinach are excellent non-acidic calcium sources;
- Its lower carbohydrate emphasis may promote low energy and a decreased metabolic rate;
- Zero grains may mean an absence of the fiber which cleanses the system and increases satiety to help prevent high-calorie binging;
- Moderate intake of legumes (and whole grains) have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels while decreasing BMI, cutting them from our diet may promote, rather than reduce, the risk of disease and unwanted weight gain.
Aside from all of the above, consider:
- The exorbitant expense of purchasing the foods needed to subsist via Paleo eating (nuts and meat are expensive!);
- The complexity of combining the right foods in the right quantities to achieve a healthy micro and macro-nutrient balance;
- The tendency amongst paleo eaters to gorge on potentially disastrous foods (when eaten in excess), such as nuts (fat) and fruit (sugar) due to their limited food selection;
- The inconvenience of finding suitable alternatives to forbidden nutrient-rich foods.
All of these factors combine to tell us that this may not be our favorite choice. While eating like a caveman may provide certain health benefits – due in part to its preservative and refined-sugar free tenets, and its hearty inclusion of vegetables and essential fatty acid rich foods – a strict paleo approach may negate our ability to maintain/gain lean body mass, become stronger, and lose inches from our waistline.
Based on the points above along with its low carb focus and the restriction of key nutrients (dairy products, legumes, tubers and grains), the paleo diet, if followed in its purest form, may in actuality limit our fitness progress. And remember – this is all based on the premise that we should be eating like our paleolithic ancestors – which may in itself be flawed. Consider the fact that many of the foods that paleo enthusiasts limit have been a staple part of our diet for many, many, thousands of years now, and the modern epidemic of diet and lifestyle-related disease has only reached its current manifestation over the last 50 – 75 years.
After taking all of this into consideration there appears to be no need to restrict the broad spectrum of taboo foods outlined in the paleo diet, many of which have proven to be healthy additions to a balanced diet, and more specifically, many which have proven to be essential in a effective fat loss diet.
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