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.
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
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.
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.
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.