The Paleo Diet - Fad or The Evolution of Eating?

Each and every year there a new dietary trends that spring up, promising to upgrade your health and accelerate weight loss. Over the past few years, the Paleo diet has gained significant in magazines, blogs and gyms across the country. Is eating like a caveman really the path to better health and weight loss, or is this simply just another trend that will go extinct sometime soon?

The tenets of a strict Paleo emphasize lean meats from grass-fed and wild sources, plenty of vegetables, fruits and healthy fats while eliminating grains and dairy. Many dietary myths and dogma that have been embedded in the publics consciousness – fear of high cholesterol, saturated fats, and high protein intake to name a few – are confronted on a Paleo diet and its momentum into the mainstream seems to lie in the fact that the latest research is highlighting some very compelling findings.

The Paleo diet has been shown to improve metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation and support superior weight loss compared to other diets. Let’s take a look in more detail.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of symptoms - high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excessive body-fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that increase a client’s risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

A recent randomized control trial compared the effects of the Paleo diet on 34 individuals with metabolic syndrome compared to an isoenergetic healthy control diet. The Paleo diet lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, reduced cholesterol and triglycerides and raised good HDL cholesterol to a significantly greater degree than the control diet.(1) Pretty impressive after only a two week intervention!

Diabetes

Currently, two-thirds of the North American population are overweight, one-third of whom are classified as obese. The average sugar consumption per person per year has topped 160 pounds, while only two generations it was a paltry 40 pounds per year. The excessive intake of simple sugars and carbs is primary risk factor for the development of diabetes.

How does the Paleo diet stack up against other diabetes diets? The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently found that the Paleo diet improved blood sugars, insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles significantly more than the standard diet by the American Diabetes Association after two weeks.(2)  In clinical practice, I see time and time again this scenario time and time again and growing body of research is showing the reductions in carbohydrates is a key contributor to this success in diabetic and pre-diabetic patients.

Cardiovascular Disease

If you’re overweight or out of shape than you’re likely at increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Unfortunately, the typical western diet is high in carbohydrates which has been show to dramatically increase your systemic inflammation and risk factors for heart disease.(3)  The misguided fear of animal protein and saturated fats leads many doctors and nutritionists to advise their patients to avoid meat – in an effort to keep cholesterol and saturated fat intake down – and add more grains and cereals in the diet.

The trouble with this approach is that the research shows that increasing carbohydrate intake in overweight populations dramatically increases plasma saturated fat levels putting clients at greater risk of CVD and stroke.(4) Ironically, it’s also become clear in the past few years that increasing dietary saturated fat intake does not lead to any increase in these dangerous plasma saturated fats. Believing that dietary saturated fats are the culprit is a common mistake made be doctors.

Weight Loss

The Paleo diet can be the ideal template for adopting a low-carb diet and when it comes to weight loss the research shows that reducing carbohydrate intake is a powerful tool for not only burning fat but improving many key health parameters as well. A recent meta-analysis in the British Journal of Nutrition of over 1,000 subjects showed that low-carb diets yielded the greatest weight loss, not to mention improvements in blood sugars, blood pressure, triglycerides and good HDL cholesterol.(5)

An ancestral or Paleo approach to eating is not just the latest fad diet, but rather a terrific foundation for building the best diet - for you or your clients – to support better health and body composition. If the rules of the Paleo diet are too strict, start slow and use this ancestral approach to eating as a platform to build your best diet. Nutrient dense foods like lean meats, healthy fats, and plentiful veggies are abundant on a Paleo diet and will help you in your quest for better health.


Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

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References

1)    Boers I, Muskiet F et al. Favourable effects of consuming a Palaeolithic-type diet on characteristics of the metabolic syndrome: a randomized controlled pilot-study. Lipids Health Dis. 2014 Oct 11;13:160. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-13-160.

2)    Masharani U, Sherchan P et al. Metabolic and physiologic effects from consuming a hunter-gatherer (Paleolithic)-type diet in type 2 diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr 2015 Apr 1. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2015.39.

3)    Buyken AE et al. Carbohydrate nutrition and inflammatory disease mortality in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr.2010;92(3):634-43.

4)    Brittanie M. Volk1, Laura J. et al. . Effects of Step-Wise Increases in Dietary Carbohydrate on Circulating Saturated Fatty Acids and Palmitoleic Acid in Adults with Metabolic Syndrome. Plos One November 21, 2014.

5)    Bueno N, de Melo I, et al. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Nutr. 2013 Oct;110(7):1178-87. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513000548.