Shed Pounds Without the Math: How a Low-Carb Paleo Diet Triumphs Over Traditional Calorie Counting

Critics of the paleo diet often object that too many people following the diet consume harmfully large amounts of meat. However, medical research actually shows that cutting carbs and eating more protein and fat speeds weight loss and improves health. If you still believe that eating the saturated fat in meat can drag your health down while a low-fat diet filled with whole-grains can improve your body, you’re on the wrong side of the history of dietary research.

And, no, I’m not arguing that you should indulge in fast-food burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken or other processed meat that contains a long list of questionable additives. But I am urging anyone concerned about their health and weight to try a diet with plenty of organic meat, fruits, and vegetables that goes easy on carbohydrates, whether the carbs are from soft drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (which gets a deserved bad reputation) or whole wheat bread (which receives unearned nutritional praise.)

Low carb benefits

You don’t have to take my word for it. A 12-month study at Tulane clearly demonstrates that a low-carb diet produces significant health benefits including weight loss. And, according to this study, its benefits significantly out-weigh the effects of a low-fat diet.

Using a group of 150 people, including both men and women, the Tulane researchers compared the effects of a low-carb diet and a low-fat diet. Nobody in the study was asked to count calories.

At the end of the year, the people eating the low-carb diet had, on average, lost about eight more pounds than the group that ate low-fat meals. They also lost more body fat and put on more muscle even though nobody in the study had been instructed to do any exercise.

While the low-fat group did lose weight, they lost more pounds of muscle than pounds of fat.

As Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, told The New York Times: “They (the low-fat group) actually lost lean muscle mass, which is a bad thing. Your balance of lean mass versus fat mass is much more important than weight. And that’s a very important finding that shows why the low-carb, high-fat group did so metabolically well.”

The low-carb eaters were instructed to dine on foods that were high in fat and protein, and urged to choose foods like nuts, fish, olive oil, and avocados that are rich in unsaturated fats. But they were not restricted from eating red meat or cheese that is high in saturated fats.

Most of the foods they ate are part of the paleo diet: That includes eggs, salmon, steak, chicken, and pork. (Although they also ate dairy foods, a food group that many paleo dieters avoid.)

The people eating the low-fat diet consumed plenty of cereals and grains in their diet. While no one in the study counted calories, the low-fat people were instructed to consume less than 30 percent of their daily calories as fat. (The low-carb people ate more than 40 percent of their calories as fat.)

For your heart and weight

“This study shows if you are overweight and have cardiovascular disease risk factors and haven’t had success on other diets, certainly a low-carbohydrate diet is worth a try,” says researcher Lydia Bazzano.

“It shows that in a free-living setting, cutting your carbs helps you lose weight without focusing on calories. And that’s really important because someone can change what they eat more easily than trying to cut down on their calories,” says Mozaffarian.

At the conclusion of the study, the low-carb group of people also enjoyed reductions in inflammation in their bodies, a sign of their reduced risk for heart disease and other illness. Their triglycerides, blood fats linked to heart disease, similarly dropped. And their HDL (good) cholesterol went up significantly.

Food satisfaction

One of the most rewarding aspects of the paleo diet, aside from its health benefits, consists of the satisfying meals you can still eat when you follow the diet. The basic elements of the diet entail not eating grains like corn or wheat, forgoing dairy foods, skipping foods made from soy, eliminating processed meats like hot dogs, not drinking sweetened drinks, and generally doing without processed foods.

But you can still fill yourself on meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and dark chocolate.

The best way to understand how this diet can help you: Try it for yourself.