More and more high-profile individuals are achieving measurable results on The Paleo Diet. These public triumphs threaten the antiquated low fat, high carbohydrate diets still officially endorsed by the government and prominent medical institutions. Accordingly, defenders of the low-fat doctrine are increasingly lashing out against the Paleo movement.
Just last month, The Wall Street Journal publicized NBA superstar Lebron James’ Paleo success, encapsulated by a viral photo posted to his Instagram account.1 This prompted NBC’s The Today Show to publish an article by Registered Dietitian Elisa Zied, in which Zied asserts, “There’s little science supporting the weight loss or health benefits of a Paleo diet.”2
According to Zied, the Paleo Diet “falls short on calcium and vitamin D,” and includes proportionally too much protein and fat and not enough carbohydrates. Paleo detractors say surprising things, but Zied’s comments are particularly fantastic. Let’s start with her vitamin D claim.
Many are of the opinion the Paleo Diet is vitamin D deficient with the exclusion of milk, which is typically fortified with vitamin D. This would imply that non-Paleo Diets are vitamin D adequate only due to supplementation. After all, fortified milk is simply a food combined with a supplement. It would therefore be strange to call the Paleo diet vitamin D deficient when vitamin D supplements, if necessary, could always be added to the Paleo Diet.
According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), we should be consuming 600 IU/day of vitamin D with an upper limit of 4,000 IU/day.3 Excluding fortified foods, the foods richest in vitamin D are fish and seafood, which, of course, are Paleo compliant. Just 100g of herring, for example has over 1,600 IU. Mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout, halibut, and shrimp are also particularly good sources.
Others speculate the Paleo Diet also “fall short on calcium” because it excludes dairy. The IOM recommends 1,000 mg/day of calcium for adults with an upper limit of 2,500 mg. The foods highest in calcium are Paleo foods, including leafy green vegetables, herbs, and clams. A standard Paleo Diet, including plenty of leafy greens and seafood provides plenty of calcium.
Fat to Protein Ratio
In her article, Zied references a recent review of 19 studies published in PLoS, which concluded that overweight and obese people lose similar amounts of weight whether on low-carb or low-fat diets.4 But if you look at those 19 studies, one by one, the low-carb, Paleo Diets are clearly favorable. 9 of the 19 studies showed cardiovascular disease risk factors decreased on low-carb diets compared to low-fat diets. 8 of the studies suggest that low-carb and low-fat diets yield similar results, and only 2 studies, both published by the same author, suggest low-fat diets are better. Furthermore, the PLoS study did not include at least 10 additional randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing low-carb and low-fat diets, all of which show low-carb diets to be superior for weight loss and/or the prevention of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
The latest, recently published study, funded by the National Institutes of Health concluded, “The low-carbohydrate diet was more effective for weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor reduction than the low-fat diet. Restricting carbohydrate may be an option for persons seeking to lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.”15 Zied claims little scientific evidence supports the Paleo Diet, but in fact over 60 published studies support core aspects of the diet.
Criticisms to the Paleo Diet are consistently unscientific, which suggests these challenges are perhaps motivated by an interest in protecting the obsolete low-fat model of nutrition.
Christopher James Clark, B.B.A. is an award-winning writer, consultant, and chef with specialized knowledge in nutritional science and healing cuisine. He has a Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan and formerly worked as a revenue management analyst for a Fortune 100 company. For the past decade-plus, he has been designing menus, recipes, and food concepts for restaurants and spas, coaching private clients, teaching cooking workshops worldwide, and managing the kitchen for a renowned Greek yoga resort. Clark is the author of the critically acclaimed, award-winning book, Nutritional Grail.
4. Cameron, W. (July 2014). Low Carbohydrate versus Isoenergetic Balanced Diets for Reducing Weight and Cardiovascular Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PloS One, 9(7). Retrieved September 11, 2014.
5. Guldbrand, H., et al. (August 2012). In type 2 diabetes, randomisation to advice to follow a low-carbohydrate diet transiently improves glycaemic control compared with advice to follow a low-fat diet producing a similar weight loss. Diabetologia, 55(8). Retrieved September 11, 2014.
8. Gardener, C., et al. (March 2007). Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal WomenThe A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 297(9). Retrieved September 11, 2014.
9. Daly, ME., et al. (January 2006). Short-term effects of severe dietary carbohydrate-restriction advice in Type 2 diabetes—a randomized controlled trial. Diabetic Medicine, 23(1). Retrieved September 11, 2014.
10. Volek, J., et al. (2004). Comparison of energy-restricted very low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women. Nutrition Metabolism, 1(13). Retrieved September 11, 2014.
11. Yancy, W. et al. (May 2004). A Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet versus a Low-Fat Diet To Treat Obesity and Hyperlipidemia: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 140(10). Retrieved September 11, 2014.
12. Brehm, B., et al. (July 2013). A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 88(4). Retrieved September 11, 2014.
13. Sondike, S., et al. (March 2003). Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor in overweight adolescents. Journal of Pediatrics, 142(3). Retrieved September 11, 2014.
15. Ibid, Bazzano.