Many health-conscious Americans have taken a historically-oriented step back in dietary terms in an endeavor to incorporate a less-processed, healthier approach to food in their lives. This way of eating, known as going paleo, is something that followers often take pride in announcing. To return to the way of the hunter-gatherer, as paleo dieters do, is not only a point of pride but also an incredibly planet-friendly way to eat. Those that follow a paleo-based diet can do so in varying shades of dedication, but the most rigid paleo dieters stick to a clear list of approved foods that, according to some, nature intended us to eat. While a tablespoon or two of natural peanut butter listing only peanuts in the ingredients list may seem healthy to you, someone who follows paleo to a T refrains from partaking in not only peanuts but all legumes in general.
With the paleo diet urging against eating foods that are widely considered healthy (it’s hard to believe that black beans could ever be on a diet’s “naughty” list), we’ve decided to explore other diet options that are widely recognized as being healthy. Some of these diets, one could argue, are healthier than the paleo diet. At the end of the day, however, you may find that the differences between all of these diets are more nuanced than profound. It’s hard to prove whether or not something is technically healthier than another, but it’s still important to see dietary options other than paleo. As they say, knowledge is power.
The DASH Diet’s name stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” and it’s easy to see how following this diet’s guidelines can lead to deflating blood pressure levels. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) lists “fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts” as its main approved foods. With a focus on decreasing sodium levels, DASH dieters also stay away from sugary drinks, red meat, and fatty foods. While paleo dieters are limited to specific fruits (mainly berries), DASH dieters are encouraged to enjoy many fruit options. Pulling in the number one spot on both the U.S. News & World Report’s definitive Best Diets Overall and Best Diets for Healthy Eating lists, the DASH diet appears to be paleo’s top competitor.
You’ve heard of the Mediterranean Diet. You may have even enjoyed the benefits of this diet by happenstance while traveling around the countries of the — you guessed it — Mediterranean Sea. While people following a paleo lifestyle have a set list of foods to consume, the Mediterranean Diet’s list varies. Each country around the Mediterranean has a different cuisine, but the general consensus is that some foods are more valued than others while partaking in a Mediterranean lifestyle. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, olive oil, legumes, nuts, herbs, and spices are staples of this diet, granting followers access to some foods prohibited by going paleo.
The National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program came up with a healthy approach to eating that aims to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. This diet, the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet (TLC Diet), strongly warns against the risks of consuming foods high in saturated fat. Fried foods, whole-milk dairy products, and not-so-lean cuts of meat, all notoriously high in saturated fat, are all kept out of the hunter-gatherer approach to eating that is paleo. The reason that the TLC Diet may be healthier than paleo is that it incorporates a specific goal within its guidelines. TLC followers strive to lower cholesterol (more on recent cholesterol approaches here) and create a healthier heart by limiting some paleo-praised foods (lean meats like turkey, chicken) to a maximum of five ounces a day and enjoying some paleo rule-breakers like low- and non-fat dairy products.
OK, so these diets may not be inherently healthier than leading a paleo lifestyle. What they do provide, however, are healthy ways to enjoy foods that a strict paleo regiment forbids. With known benefits behind paleo-banned foods such as milk and peanuts, those who want to lead a lifestyle similar to paleo can look to these other diets for healthy eating guidelines without having to ditch their peanut butter stash.
The accompanying slideshow is provided by special contributor Kristen Castillo.