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While Coca-Cola plugs sugar calories, experts preach Paleo low-carb diets

Got soda?
Got soda?
Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Coca-Cola is hoping to woo dieters with a wacky new advertisement. In it, happy exercisers show how much "fun" they're having burning off the 140 calories in a can of Coke, reported the Atlantic on Friday.

But even as food companies package up 100-calorie bags of cookies and carefully labeled cans of soda, experts are saying that advising dieters to count calories in order to lose weight is an exercise in futility. Dr. David Ludwig, a professor at Harvard Medical School, revealed the results of his own research: "Very few people can lose weight over the long term with low-calorie diets."

So what does he advise for those who want to win at weight loss? Steer clear of refined carbohydrates and follow a Paleo-style low carb diet of unprocessed foods.

"Eating too much refined carbohydrate has, by this theory, raised insulin levels and programmed our fat cells to suck in and store too many calories," said Ludwig. In contrast, Paleo diets emphasize avoidance of processed products and sugar, both of which dominate in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Eat unprocessed food, avoid sugar and you'll be healthier while slimming down, agree Ludwig and other experts.

And even though they might not concur on precisely what foods to avoid, what they all agree corresponds to Michael Pollan's advice. Author of "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto," he steers clear of complicated calculations and pompous pronouncements. "“Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food," he sums up.

An increasing number of nutrition gurus are highlighting low carb high fat (LCHF) ketogenic diets and Paleo plans as the way to go for health and weight loss.

"My research associates have published papers demonstrating not only that a Paleo diet provides all the nutrients for health, but that the Paleo diet is, calorie for calorie, the most nutritious way one can eat," Robb Wolf, author of "The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet," told me in an exclusive interview.

He feels that the Paleo diet success "is merely shining a light on the systemic failure of our current systems." The use of food as medicine has not dented the traditional medical world, says Robb. As a result, most healthcare experts have failed " miserably at preventing chronic, degenerative disease. I’m proud of the work I and many other people have done in this area, but I’m also appalled that this is at all a controversial topic."

And Robb concurs that to say counting calories works better than a low-carb Paleo plan of unprocessed, sugar-free, grain-free foods is absurd. "A cupcake is apparently equal to an apple. Can that possibly be correct? I certainly do not think so," he states.

In a recent survey conducted by Everyday Health and MedPage Today, 900 medical professionals cast their votes for the best diets. The survey included doctors, registered dietitians, nurse practitioners and clinicians. Among the best: Low carb diets.

High on the list of approved plans, the South Beach Diet is detailed in books, such as "The South Beach Diet Supercharged: Faster Weight Loss and Better Health for Life." The survey noted that it emphasizes a heart-healthy approach to weight loss while controlling hunger. The company reports that you can lose eight to 13 pounds in the first two weeks and emphasizes unprocessed foods in their natural state.

The third most popular diet in the survey, the DASH diet, also focuses on avoiding processed foods while boosting weight loss. It's also documented in a book: "The Dash Diet Weight Loss Solution: 2 Weeks to Drop Pounds, Boost Metabolism, and Get Healthy."

Celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz recently featured the DASH diet on his talk show. He noted that health experts from US News & World Report repeatedly rank it as number one because of its “nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health.”

Before you ask the Magic 8-Ball to tell you which diet to follow, we recommend focusing on plans that avoid counting calories and emphasize unprocessed Paleo-style food groups of protein, healthy fats and vegetables. And take a moment to pity the calorie, as Dr. William Lagakos suggests in his detailed examination of why calorie-counting fails, and what does work, in "The poor, misunderstood calorie: calories proper."