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5 Ways a Paleo Diet Can Help You Lose Weight

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By Ryan Raman

The paleo diet is one of the most popular diets around.

It consists of whole, unprocessed foods and emulates how hunter-gatherers ate.


Advocates of the diet believe it can reduce the risk of modern health issues, pointing out that hunter-gathers did not face the same diseases that people today do, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

In fact, many studies show that following a paleo diet can lead to significant weight loss and major health improvements (1, 2, 3).

What Is the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet promotes eating whole, unprocessed animal and plant foods like meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts.

It avoids processed foods, sugar, dairy and grains, although some alternative versions of the paleo diet do allow options like dairy and rice.

Unlike most diets, a paleo diet does not involve counting calories. Instead, it restricts the above food groups, all of which are major sources of calories in the modern diet.

Research shows that diets that emphasize whole foods are better for weight loss and overall health. They are more filling, have fewer calories and reduce the intake of processed foods, which are linked to many diseases (4, 5, 6).

Summary: The paleo diet imitates a hunter-gatherer diet and aims to reduce the risk of modern diseases. It promotes eating whole, unprocessed foods and restricts foods like grains, sugar, dairy and processed foods.

Several Studies Show It Helps You Lose Weight

Plenty of evidence suggests that a paleo diet is effective for weight loss (2, 3, 21, 22, 23).

In one study, 14 healthy medical students were told to follow a paleo diet for three weeks.

During the study, they lost an average of 5.1 pounds (2.3 kgs) and reduced their waist circumference by 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) (3).

Interestingly, some studies comparing the paleo diet and traditional low-fat diets have found that the paleo diet is more effective for weight loss, even with similar calorie intakes.

In one study, 70 obese women aged 60 and over followed either a paleo diet or a low-fat, high-fiber diet for 24 months. Women on the paleo diet lost 2.5 times more weight after six months and two times more weight after 12 months.

By the two-year mark, both groups had regained some weight, but the paleo group had still lost 1.6 times more weight overall (21).

Another study observed 13 individuals with type 2 diabetes who followed a paleo diet and then a diabetes diet (low-fat and moderate-to-higher carb) over two consecutive three-month periods.

On average, those on the paleo diet lost 6.6 pounds (3 kgs) and 1.6 inches (4 cm) more from their waistlines than those on the diabetes diet (22).

Unfortunately, most research on the paleo diet is fairly new. Thus, there are very few published studies on its long-term effects.

It's also worth noting that very few studies on the paleo diet compare its effects on weight loss to other diets' effects on weight loss. While studies suggest that the paleo diet is superior, comparing it to more diets would strengthen this argument.

Summary: Many studies find that the paleo diet can help you lose weight and is more effective for weight loss than traditional, low-fat diets.

It Improves Several Other Aspects of Health

In addition to its effects on weight loss, the paleo diet has been linked to many other health benefits.

May Reduce Belly Fat

Belly fat is extremely unhealthy and increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and many other health conditions (24).

Studies have shown that the paleo diet is effective at reducing belly fat.

In one study, 10 healthy women followed a paleo diet for five weeks. On average, they experienced a 3-inch (8-cm) reduction in waist circumference, which is an indicator of belly fat, and around a 10-pound (4.6-kg) weight loss overall (23).

May Increase Insulin Sensitivity and Reduce Blood Sugar

Insulin sensitivity refers to how easily your cells respond to insulin.

Increasing your insulin sensitivity is a good thing, as it makes your body more efficient at removing sugar from your blood.

Studies have found that the paleo diet increases insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar (25, 26).

In a two-week study, 24 obese people with type 2 diabetes followed either a paleo diet or a diet with moderate salt, low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes.

At the end of the study, both groups experienced increased insulin sensitivity, but the effects were stronger in the paleo group. Notably, only in the paleo group did those who were most insulin resistant experience increased insulin sensitivity (25).

May Reduce Heart Disease Risk Factors

A paleo diet is quite similar to diets recommended to promote heart health.

It's low in salt and encourages lean sources of protein, healthy fats and fresh fruits and vegetables.

That's why it's no coincidence that studies have shown that a paleo diet may reduce risk factors linked to heart disease, including:

  • Blood pressure: An analysis of four studies with 159 individuals found that a paleo diet reduced systolic blood pressure by 3.64 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.48 mmHg, on average (1).
  • Triglycerides: Several studies have found that eating a paleo diet could reduce total blood triglycerides by up to 44 percent (26, 27).
  • LDL cholesterol: Several studies have found that eating a paleo diet could reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol by up to 36 percent (24, 26, 27).

May Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural process that helps the body heal and fight infections.

However, chronic inflammation is harmful and can increase the risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes (28).

The paleo diet emphasizes certain foods that can help reduce chronic inflammation.

It promotes eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which are great sources of antioxidants. Antioxidants help bind and neutralize free radicals in the body that damage cells during chronic inflammation.

The paleo diet also recommends fish as a source of protein. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce chronic inflammation by suppressing hormones that promote chronic inflammation, including TNF-α, IL-1 and IL-6 (29).

Summary: A paleo diet may provide you with many health benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity and reduced belly fat, heart disease risk factors and inflammation.

Tips to Maximize Weight Loss on a Paleo Diet

If you'd like to try a paleo diet, here are a few tips to help you lose weight:

  • Eat more veggies: They are low in calories and contain fiber, helping you stay full for longer.
  • Eat a variety of fruits: Fruit is nutritious and incredibly filling. Aim to eat 2–5 pieces per day.
  • Prepare in advance: Prevent temptation by preparing a few meals in advance to help you through busy days.
  • Get plenty of sleep: A good night's sleep can help you burn fat by keeping your fat-burning hormones regular.
  • Stay active: Regular exercise helps burn extra calories to increase weight loss.

Summary: A few tips to help you lose weight on a paleo diet include eating more veggies, prepping ahead and staying active.

The Bottom Line

It's well known that following a paleo diet can help you lose weight.

It's high in protein, low in carbs, may reduce appetite and eliminates highly processed foods and added sugar.

If you don't like counting calories, evidence suggests the paleo diet could be a great option.

However, it's important to note that the paleo diet may not be for everyone.

For example, those who struggle with food restriction may find it difficult adapting to the choices on the paleo diet.

5 Ways a Paleo Diet Can Help You Lose Weight:

1. High in Protein

Protein is the most important nutrient for weight loss.

It can increase your metabolism, reduce your appetite and control several hormones that regulate your weight (7, 8, 9).

Paleo diets encourage eating protein-rich foods like lean meats, fish and eggs.

In fact, the average paleo diet provides between 25–35 percent calories from protein.

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The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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