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As the fascination with a low-fat diet fades into history, along with VHS tapes and New Kids on the Block, three diets are getting more attention – the Mediterranean diet, Low-Carb and Paleo. Of the three styles of eating, the Mediterranean diet has received the most research attention. Observations are only the first step of the scientific method—a good place to start, but never the place to end.
With the Mediterranean diet, a large part of the problem lies in the fact that there is no clear definition of what makes up the diet. Part of the popularity comes from the health and longevity of people living near the Mediterranean.
Often overlooked is the fact that in some areas of the Mediterranean, foods are cooked in lard, butter and sheep’s tail fat.
To further complicate things, the entire lifestyle of those in the Mediterranean is significantly different than those living in modern day America.
Research on a more standardized Mediterranean diet has shown that it lowers body weight and improves lipid and glucose levels compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD). For the average person, the food choices in a Low-Carb diet seem more obvious than in a Mediterranean diet. Since starch is significantly limited, gluten-containing grains are significantly reduced or even eliminated from the diet. Reducing carbohydrates helps maintain healthier blood sugar levels, which also reduces insulin secretion and triglyceride formation. To look more at the Low-Carb research, be sure to check out my blog post What Do 18 Studies Say About Low-Carb Diets? The 18 studies I’ve included are randomized, controlled trials.
Although the Paleo diet is based on eating the way humans did tens to hundreds of thousands of years ago, it’s just recently become popular. Root-based starches are pretty filling, so even those who follow a Paleo diet without counting carbs will probably eat a lot less carbohydrates than the SAD diet and perhaps even the Mediterranean diet. The bulk of the Paleo diet is made up of non-starchy vegetables, animal proteins, nuts, seeds and animal fats. If I were asked which style of eating is best, I’d first think of what I’d recommend to my friends or family, who I care most about. Based on the hundreds of research articles and books I’ve read, I personally lean toward a combination of Low-Carb and Paleo. The Paleo diet helps to clearly eliminate problematic foods such as grains, vegetable oils, sugar and most, if not all dairy. In my tenacious pursuit of optimal health, I’m always looking for nutrition, exercise and lifestyle choices that provide the greatest benefits.
About Tom NikkolaTom Nikkola has dedicated his entire career to the health and fitness industry and has far-reaching experience in supplementation, nutrition, metabolism and weight management.
I’ve been on a low-carb diet for over a year now, mostly to eliminate hypoglycemia (which it did), and for the first 6 months, would have swore it was the only way to go.
I have read that going too low on carbs can mess up your thyroid, but I am hesitant to add more carbs, as when I do, then that’s usually when I get hypoglycemic. Visit the Start Here and Primal Blueprint 101 pages to learn more about the Primal lifestyle. Subscribe to my weekly newsletter to receive an eBook called Primal Blueprint Fitness and more - all for free.
Thanks for visiting!This is another special guest post from our favorite study-dismantler, Denise Minger. Such a delicious felony doesn’t reflect a life of crime so much as a life of fat – the edible kind. If something seems fishy about this study, it’s not just the lutfisk: as usual, there’s more going on (or in this case, less going on) than the alarmist media would suggest. First and foremost, this study has nothing to do with low carbers, or even heart disease: it’s an observational study of Swedes Not Further Specified (SNFS). Although it’s possible that saturated-fat-loving, low-carbing Swedes singlehandedly raised the nation’s average cholesterol in 2008, this seems iffy for a few reasons. If that graph convinces anyone that the Low Carb High Fat movement is spiking triglycerides, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell ‘em, too: the evidence is pretty consistent that low carbing makes triglycerides sink. Even when it comes to foods directly associated with high cholesterol, Sweden’s low-carb movement still can’t shoulder all the blame.
Although this study doesn’t reveal anything very useful about what food does to us (particularly where fat is concerned), fear not: the diet-disease data for northern Sweden is a many splendored thing, and other studies have mined it with much more fruitful results. In 2010, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a paper looking directly at dairy fat and myocardial infarction among some of the same northern Swedes used in last week’s study.

It’s a mystery why our current study tried to glean anything about low-carb diets from such tight-lipped data – especially since it’d be easy enough to actually untangle those low carbers from the rest of the population and follow them, up close and personal, like the stalkers we all secretly yearn to be. I love me some caviar in a tube, coincidentally, I think Abba is the most popular brand in Sweden.
But still Norway is the country famous for its many fjords – the natural habitat for the Norwegian Blue Parrot species made famous in the classical Monty Python scetch. After all it is more like olive oil in its fat composition with about 60 % monounsatureted fat and only about 20 % omega 6. The real problem with canola is it’s almost always hot-pressed at high temperatures, thus automatically making it rancid.
Actually, in Sweden you will find at least one brand of cold pressed Canola oil in every major supermarket.
I knew that Facebook was somehow responsible for my bad cholesterol readings at the beginning of the year! Personally, Vanessa and I lean toward Low-Carb and Paleo over the Mediterranean Diet for reasons I’ll explain below. However, a significant amount of the research has been observational research, or population-based studies.
These studies don’t exist to generate health advice, but to spark hypotheses that can be tested and replicated in a controlled setting so we can figure out what’s really going on. Their diet is often characterized as consisting of more olive oil, legumes, vegetables, fruit, unrefined grains and fish. People are far more active, have less stress, take more breaks during the day and have much stronger relationships than we do. As such, it wipes out a common allergen often found in the diet of those following a Mediterranean diet.
In those studies, participants lost more weight on the Low-Carb diet than on the Mediterranean diet. Within the Paleo diet culture, there is a range of opinions about the amount of carbohydrates people should consume. At its core, you can ask “would this have been available to eat 100,000 years ago?” If the answer is no, you probably wouldn’t eat it when following Paleo. It eliminates a lot of problematic foods, which can lead to a large number of health benefits without even considering the macronutrients.
Any of the three are better than eating the Standard American Diet, so if someone is more likely to follow one way of eating over the others, that’s the one I’d recommend.
In doing so, many of the foods that cause digestive problems and inflammation, which is at the core of virtually every disease process, are wiped out of the diet. A mix of whey, some organic canned coconut milk and nut butter is an easy way to boost your intake without feeling as full as whole food might make you. If you want to lose weight, gain muscle, increase energy levels or just generally look and feel healthier you've come to the right place. There you'll find books, food, and the best supplements on the planet to help you take control of your health for life. Read all of her previous Mark’s Daily Apple articles here, here, here, here and here, and pay her website a visit. For nearly a decade, Sweden has been the unofficial headquarters of the Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) movement, churning out an unprecedented number of lipid lovers.
In a paper published in Nutrition Journal last week (PDF available here), researchers linked the Swedish low-carb boom to rising cholesterol levels, increased heart disease risk, and failure to maintain long-term weight loss. Researchers pulled 25 years’ worth of data from 140,000 folks in the North Sweden Diet Database, averaged everyone’s food intake, averaged everyone’s total cholesterol, and made some pretty graphs. It plummeted between 1986 and 1992, crept back up until 1994, rolled downhill again until 2000, stabilized between 2002 and 2008, and then began yet another upward jog until the study ended.
Although the media apparently didn’t get the memo, the researchers even stated in their paper that “our study design does not allow a causal evaluation of the relationship between the increased fat intake since 2004 and the increased cholesterol values after 2007.” Likewise, the media thinks Sweden’s ever-increasing BMI, despite being an average of the general population, means that low-carb adherents fail to maintain their weight loss. For one, fat intake and blood cholesterol were hardly mirroring each other for the study’s previous 22 years: cholesterol levels continued to drop even when fat intake remained steady (though this could also be confounded by use of statins and ratios of specific fatty acids).
It seems more likely that other factors are lurking behind Sweden’s shifting blood lipid patterns, especially during the past few years. According to the researchers, foods associated with a high fat intake in Sweden were not just the predictable oils and meats, but also pizza, French fries, potato chips, corn chips, cheese-flavored puffed products, and popcorn, as well as “fats used for spreading on bread.” Unless Sweden has a very different definition of “low carb” than the rest of the world, it sounds like their fat intake isn’t coming solely from LCHF-approved fare, but from what most of us affectionately refer to as bona fide junk. According to a supplementary table kindly included with the paper (available as a Word document here), boiled potatoes and coffee made bigger statistical contributions to blood cholesterol than saturated fat did!
But US folks seem to put canola in the same category as sunflower- and corn oil with about 60-70 % omega 6.

Researchers look at groups of people or populations who are identified as mainly eating a certain way, look at their health outcomes and compare them to other groups. It’s possible their health could be maintained by eating a diet of only meat, lard and wine while living the same lifestyle. If I had to choose between the SAD and the Mediterranean Diet, I’d recommend the latter without hesitation. However, becoming overly dogmatic about it can cause one to miss out on some foods and supplements that can further promote health, which wouldn’t have been available earlier in human history. But that doesn’t mean I, nor most of the people I know, would benefit from eating sweet potatoes three times per day. As for the Mediterranean diet, it’s better than a low-fat diet or a SAD, but its lower emphasis on increased protein, and its inclusion of grains and higher-carb foods make it less appealing than the other two styles of eating.
However, I need to gain weight and am finding it hard to do on a low carb, grain free diet.
I do have all of those things (whey protein powder vanilla, almond butter and coconut milk) in my pantry. No diet is perfect and I recommend a high-quality full spectrum multi-vitamin along with fish oil, a probiotic and magnesium. I found that I can cook a low carb version of any food or sweet I desire and that helps tremendously. And while Americans get arrested for things like DUIs and stealing socks from Walmart, Swedes get arrested for the more admirable feat of smuggling butter. In 2011, a whopping 25% of Sweden’s population was trying to eat more fat and curb their carbohydrate intake, with 5% of Swedes identifying as hardcore LCHF adherents. Even more suspiciously, there was a four-to-six-year lag between the rise in fat consumption and the 2008 cholesterol jump – implying that Sweden’s fat-feasting took half a decade to affect blood values.
Other foods associated with high cholesterol included not just high-fat foods, but also low-carb no-gos like sweet buns, crisp bread, white bread, and sweet fruit soups. But even if there’s no legitimate evidence dooming Swedish low carbers to an early grave, it’s possible that the LCHF movement is having some unhappy consequences in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Does that mean these food choices make them healthy, or are they a generally healthier people who happen to eat this way? However, since HDL and LDL cholesterol levels both tend to rise on a Low-Carb diet and drop on the Mediterranean diet, researchers claim the Mediterranean diet lowers heart disease risk more.
While no study can say with 100% certainty that the findings are the final word, this is as close to showing cause and effect as research is able to do.
Most carbohydrates in the Paleo diet come from root vegetables such as potatoes, yams and squash, or from fruit.
Most people I know aren’t that active, which is why I lean toward a lower-carb, higher-protein Paleo plan.
He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Certified Sports Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer. The health climate there is clearly whipping fat-phobia into remission – which, despite the admirable triumph over bad science, could also breed a new species of half-hearted dieters like Low Carb Weekend Warriors, Low Carb As Long as There’s Not a Cookie in Front of Me, and Why Don’t I Just Put Butter on Everything Edible and Buy New Pants When They Get Too Tight. I disagree, since I don’t believe LDL cholesterol is the major culprit in the development of heart disease, but instead inflammation.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list, check out this post from Diane Sanfilippo author of the best-selling book Practical Paleo.
No one seems to know the answer to this as it seems the majority of people are trying to lose weight.
An excellent way to improve your body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates is with exercise, strength training particularly. Folks who jump on the “high fat” bandwagon while still living in high-carb land may indeed find themselves gaining weight and frightening their doctors with ominous lipid panels. I believe that as long as I eat them within “plan”, they are healthier than a piece of bread? Yet another study (PDF), again based on those fat-loving northern Swedes, found dairy fat to be beautifully protective against strokes – especially in women. Whether or not this is happening in Sweden right now remains to be known, but it is a possibility.

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