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Just Say No to Paleo (& Other Fad Diets)

Posted by Diane Jamgochian on

Hollywood’s Paleo diet may be enjoying its fifteen minutes of fame, but eating like the Flintstone family can backfire. A recent study from The University of Melbourne found that following the low-carb high-fat “Caveman” diet for 8 weeks may promote rapid weight gain that can lead to health complications like arthritis and raised blood sugar.  The diet is especially risky for those who are already overweight and fairly sedentary.

Paleo, short for Paleolithic, eliminates processed food (i.e. anything from a box, bag, or can) and mimics the way hunter-gatherers ate during pre-agricultural times.  It encourages high intake of fiber and potassium, which are necessary for heart and kidney health. Basic staples of the diet include grass-produced meats, seafood, eggs, fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils like olive, flaxseed, and coconut.  Aside from all things processed, Paleo rule-breakers include dairy, potatoes, salt and refined oils.  When done correctly, said benefits of going Paleo include weight loss and lowered risk of chronic diseases.

Sound appealing?  Before playing copycat to prehistoric cave-dwellers, take note: The study’s lead author, Professor Sof Andrikopoulos, urges people to be wary of fad diets like the Paleo, blaming mass media, such as celebrities and reality tv,  for the hype surrounding them.  The researcher from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Medicine states, “There is no scientific evidence these diets work.  Always seek professional advice for weight management and aim for diets backed by evidence.”

At face value, Paleo seems like a smart way to go, what with all the fruits and veggies and removal of junk food.  But like any diet, there are flaws.  “In theory, it sounds good to eliminate all processed foods but the Paleo diet still includes unhealthy options and omits healthy ones,” states Julianne Gallo, RD.  “For example, meats can be high in saturated fat and dairy is eliminated completely, which is one of the food groups.”

Fad diets are usually built on strict elimination, the common denominator being processed foods.  While most are known to spin a few heads, others that have popped up are downright manic.  The cotton ball diet (yes, you read that correctly) consists of eating juice-soaked cotton balls-and nothing else- to suppress appetite.  It gets worse.  The tapeworm diet, clearly derived from utter desperation, includes ingesting a tapeworm, usually in pill form, which noshes on the food in the intestines to help shed pounds.  Once the desired weight is achieved, a doctor prescribes anti-worm medication.

But why dine baby bird style when you can resort to pure starvation?  The sleeping beauty diet is exactly that, prompting participants to snooze their weight away, perhaps for days on end, with the assistance of sleep sedatives.    But the potential outcome is hardly a fairy-tale ending.  “Sure, you might wake up two pounds lighter, but you might not wake up at all,” notes Christopher Ochner, PhD and director of research development at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.

These diets are a radicalized version of the more common Paleo or gluten-free, but regardless of chosen weight loss method, the real motive is to question why any “diet” is necessary to your lifestyle.  “People will hear about an extreme diet where you eliminate or significantly cut down on certain food groups, but these are often misleading,” Julianne notes.  “They may be meant for a specific population with certain medical conditions where adjusting food intake is necessary.  For the overall healthy individual, the best diet is moderation, balance, and variety.  In addition to some physical activity, the average person should aim for all food groups in each meal, each day.”

While there’s clearly no one-meal-fits all, Julianne provides some insight into what the average healthy individual should consume on a daily basis.  And it may seem like common sense, but unless you’re a bird or stranded in the wilderness, please, please, please don’t consider eating worms.


  •  Steel-cut oatmeal
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt with granola
  • Fruit (berries, banana, apple)
  • Handful of nuts (almonds, cashews)


  • Dark leafy greens salad topped with grilled chicken, oil & vinegar, and a squeeze of lemon or lime
  • Salmon with roasted veggies and whole grains (brown rice, quinoa)


  • Fruit with nut butter (peanut, almond) and cinnamon
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt with granola


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