Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Do You Paleo?

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Recently I overheard a conversation of two people talking about lunch.  One said,

Paleolithic Diet

“Did you do paleo?” when asked what he had to eat.  He replied he had.  The Paleolithic Diet is the diet of the moment.   There has been relatively no controlled clinical studies on our new obsession with eating – returning to our genetic roots.

Before the advent of agriculture, our ancestors were consuming fruit, vegetables, nuts, lean meat and fish.  After the Agricultural Revolution about 10,000 years ago, our diets changed considerably to include cereals, dairy products, refined fat and sugar.  The premise of the Paleo Diet is that we are not genetically tuned to eat these foods, since we have not consumed these foods long enough to adapt to them (based on evolution).

The population of Kitava, Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea has been studied extensively by Staffan Lindeberg at the Department of Medicine, Lund Unversity in Sweden.  This population of hunter-gatherers has not had access to the foods of the Neolithic Age – i.e. a more agrarian diet.  In addition they have a low incidence of heart disease and diabetes.

In a clinical trial, Lindeberg gave 14 people a typical Paleolithic diet for 3 months (lean, meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, root vegetables, and nuts)  and 15 people a Mediterranean diet (whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruit, vegetables and refined fats.)  After the study, all the people had increased blood sugar after being given a glucose tolerance test, since most of them had diabetes type 2 and had been diagnosed with coronary heart disease

The most surprising outcome was that the blood sugar rise was significantly lower in the Paleo group (-26%).  In the other group, it barely changed (-7%).  After 12 weeks, the Paleo group had normal blood glucose.

These findings translate to the fact that the Paleo group had improved glucose tolerance after controlling for weight or waist circumference.  In addition, the Paleo group had a small decrease in waist size.  This suggests that they had handled carbohydrates better than the non-Paleo group.

The Paleo group consumed far less grains and dairy products and a higher intake of fruit. It may be prudent to recommend this type of diet to people with type 2 diabetes; on the other hand,  there are studies that suggest that whole grains control blood glucose effectively.  These results with diabetics is important due to the recent push for people to consume more whole grains. Stay tuned. Hopefully there will be more studies of merit.


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