Americans favor the Paleo diet, but the reason might surprise you.

By Julia Malacoff
March 09, 2017
Westend61/Getty Images

Diet and exercise trends tend to come and go, but sometimes, they stick around for a *long* time-despite bad reviews, warning signs, and minimal science to back it up. This is exactly what Green Chef, an organic meal delivery service, found out when they surveyed people across the country to find out how Americans are eating and what diet changes they plan to make this year. They dubbed their results the 2017 Dietary Fluidity Report, and some of what they found is pretty illuminating.

Despite the fact that the Paleo diet was ranked number 36 out of 38 in this year's U.S. News & World Report diet rankings, it still seems to be incredibly popular. According to the survey, when asked which diet they were most likely to try in the coming year, more Americans chose Paleo than any other option. (For a full rundown on the eating style, scope the beginner's guide to the Paleo diet.) What's even more fascinating is what was behind that motivation-57 percent of people said they wanted to change their diet to get healthier, as opposed to just 10 percent who said their incentive was to slim down. Pretty amazing, right? Looks like the self-love, body-positive movement is working.

It's a bit unexpected, though, that people are so keen to adopt Paleo to get healthier when the nutrition drawbacks are pretty clear. "I'm a little confused about why diets like Paleo have such staying power, even when they tend to fare poorly in terms of overall health and weight loss," says Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist. "If you're following a true Paleo diet, consisting of lean meat and lots of fruits and veggies, then you're on the right track, but lots of people just eat all the meat and fat they want." It's also easy to miss out on important nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which is bad news for your gut microbiome and cells. "It's also bad for exercise performance and recovery, as well as mental wellness," says Talbott.

To those who say that Paleo is too restrictive, Talbott acknowledges that it does exclude some food groups that are generally considered part of a healthy eating style. "Most healthy diets around the world and throughout time have very similar attributes: lots of fruits and veggies, lots of nuts and legumes, moderate grain intake from whole grains, and moderate protein from lean meats and dairy," he says. While Paleo does prohibit some of these components-like legumes, grains, and dairy-it is still possible to get all the nutrients you need, as long as you keep in mind that you should prioritize eating fruits and vegetables, and mix it up with protein sources other than meat, like fish and poultry. After all, plenty of people cut out dairy and grains because of intolerances and are able to eat very well-balanced diets.

At the end of the day, choosing the best diet for you is more about finding a sustainable way to hit those nutritional needs we mentioned above-whether or not you decide to follow a specific diet. (That's probably why the anti-diet is becoming so popular.)