Paleo Passes (My) Test of Time and Taste

Over the course of a few days this week, my husband and I helped our sixth-grader study for his World Cultures semester exam, which I would have surely bombed because, while I love learning about history, I have a heck of a time keeping straight in my brain all of the names, dates, places, and key points about so many competing topics. (Note to Joey: I do hope you did not inherit my test-taking mediocrity, and if you did, then may I suggest you become good friends with extra credit.)

It took some pretty savvy study smarts from the dad in the family to help Joey spit out the goods on civilization and culture, early humans, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Israelites, and Ancient Greece. I did come in handy for one bit of content, though, and I hope that when Joey was faced yesterday with paper and pencil and bunches of multiple choice questions that my 60 days of eating like a caveman triggered everything he needed to know about the Paleolithic people.

What Joey needed to know is that the Paleo folks were hunters and gatherers; they ate only what they could, well, hunt or gather. There was just one real mission during those long-ago days — to search for the next meal in the spirit of survival. Then came the Neolithic Age, characterized by the shift to farming, which made life much easier. Food was more of a sure thing; survival was not so elusive. Ever heard of the Agricultural Revolution? This was it. Farming changed they way people lived. (Joey needed to know this, too.)

Then, a whole bunch of years passed by, and here we are today, in a society that dishes out over-sized plates of fried, fatty, processed foods to a population of overweight and unhealthy adults and childen who just might benefit from heading back to simpler times. Or would they?

U.S. News Health, in consultation with a panel of diet and nutrition experts, scrutinized 29 different diets, my own Paleo plan included. The pros ranked each diet according to how easy it is to follow, its ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, its nutritional completeness, its safety, and its potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease. The goal was to identify the best approaches to eating, and Weight Watchers, the Biggest Loser diet, the TLC diet, and the DASH diet all came out on top across several categories. The diet gurus gave Paleo a few compliments — it’s low in sodium and high in protein, for example — but overall, Paleo didn’t make the cut. Noted flaws were (a) weight loss is not a sure thing, and one small study showed a maybe loss of about 5 pounds over 3 weeks; (b) heart benefits are unknown, and it’s not clear whether Paleo can prevent diabetes; (c) shunning grains and dairy can minimize nutrient intake; (d) the diet can be pricey; and (e) it’s just plain hard to follow due to the total ditching of major food groups.

In a nutshell (nuts are Paleo-approved, by the way, but not peanuts because they are not actually nuts), I am not swayed by this diet round-up. I’m sticking with my primal ways because I feel better overall eating only lean meats, veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds (oh, and eggs, too). I have lost roughly 7 pounds in 2 months (that was not my goal, just a perk), I’m taking a few supplements, I’m not spending too much, I love that my body is clean and free of junk, and I personally don’t find the plan too hard to follow. Granted, I have medical reasons — tummy troubles and the endless pursuit of cancer prevention — to embrace the strictness, and I am the first to admit that this could be a rough road for someone pursuing Paleo just for the fun of it. For me, though, it’s a fit. Simpler times seem to suit me just fine, and I am confident I am healthier due to my hunter-gatherer food choices.

Have you tried any of these 29 diets? Got a favorite?