Paleo Diet Benefits: Is It Worth the Switch?

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paleo dietThe latest research reveals some intriguing facts - dining on caveman cuisine can be a way to lower your cholesterol and your blood pressure, improve your blood sugar control, and help you feel fuller and less hungry despite consuming fewer calories. Recent studies out of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine and Lund University in Sweden have uncovered these and more Paleo diet benefits.  This small but growing body of research certainly begs a question for each of us – is it worth it for me to switch to a Paleo type diet?

What Is the Paleo Diet?

Also referred to as the caveman, Stone Age, and hunter–gatherer diet, the Paleo diet consists of foods that are assumed to have been available to humans before agriculture was established. The focus is on fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, while all grains and dairy are excluded. Paleolithic diets are assumed to have included wild animals and uncultivated plants. Lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, roots, eggs, and nuts were commonly consumed. But no grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils were available before humans began to cultivate plants (primarily cereal grains) and domesticate animals.

Study shows Paleo diet Reduces Weight and Waist Size While Improving Blood Sugar and Satiety

Paleo diet experts include Dr. Staffan Lindeberg, MD, PhD, of the University of Lund’s Department of Medicine. His interest in the evolutionary aspects of healthy eating prompted Dr. Lindeberg and his research group to publish the first randomized controlled trials of Paleo diets in humans. In one of their recent studies, the Lund University researchers found that, calorie-for-calorie, the Paleo diet improves satiety more than a Mediterranean-like diet.[1] In this study, 29 men with too much belly fat, heart disease, and either pre-diabetes or diabetes were assigned to either 12 weeks of a Paleolithic diet or a Mediterranean-like diet. The Paleolithic diet was based on lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs and nuts while the Mediterranean-like diet was based on whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, fruit and vegetables. The main differences between the diets were less grains and dairy and more fruit and nuts in the Paleo group. Both groups were allowed to eat as much as they wanted of the allowed foods.

After 12 weeks, the two groups lost a similar amount of weight (an average of 11 pounds in the Paleo group and eight pounds in the Mediterranean group). However, the Paleo group lost more inches around the waist and experienced greater improvements in blood sugar control. Those in the Paleo group also ended up consuming fewer calories per day, despite being allowed to eat as much as they wanted within the guidelines of the diet. They were just as satiated as the Mediterranean group, but since they consumed fewer calories per day, the researchers concluded that the Paleo diet improves satiety more per calorie than a Mediterranean-like diet.

Paleo Diet Also Improves Cholesterol, Triglycerides, and Blood Pressure

In addition to improving satiety and blood sugar metabolism, Paleo diets may also improve cardiovascular health. UCSF researchers conducted a study showing that just 10 days of a Paleo diet lowered LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, reduced blood pressure, and improved blood sugar metabolism in people who were sedentary and overweight, but not obese, and otherwise healthy.[2] Subjects ate a normal diet for three days, ramped up to a Paleolithic diet over a week, and then stuck to it for another 10 days. The Paleo-type diet included meat, fish, poultry, eggs, fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, canola oil, mayonnaise and honey, but excluded dairy products, legumes, cereals, grains, and potatoes. All food was provided and portions were adjusted to purposely keep the subjects’ weights steady so that the researchers could be absolutely sure the health benefits were the result of the diet itself and not weight loss.

The results were striking. The subjects’ “bad” cholesterol—low-density lipoprotein (LDL)—was roughly 22 percent lower, a reduction is similar to what you would expect from six months of treatment with a cholesterol-lowering statin drug. Triglycerides and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) levels were lower in all subjects. In addition, all subjects experienced significant reductions in blood pressure, even though they didn’t have hypertension to begin with. These results were not surprising to the researchers since the Paleo diet was low in sodium and high in potassium, and this combination is well-known to lower blood pressure. The subjects also experienced significant improvements in blood sugar metabolism and insulin levels, both of which are related to the risk for diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

Because of these excellent results, the UCSF researchers are now conducting an even larger study to evaluate the effects of a Paleo diet compared to an American Diabetic Association diet on Type 2 diabetic patients.[3] They hypothesize that the Paleo diet will improve blood sugar control with less need for diabetes medicines and will also benefit cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood vessel health.

Is the Paleo Diet for you? Is it Worth the Switch?

If you are struggling with your weight or looking for natural, drug-free ways to improve your heart health, cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar, these impressive benefits may indeed make it worth the switch to a diet similar to the Paleo diet. Make sure to select lean, grass-fed meats, which have less total and saturated fats and more heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Get going, fire up the grill, dig in and enjoy this diet rich in antioxidants and healthy fats!

References:

Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010; 7: 85.; Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug;63(8):947-55.; ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00548782.

Kathleen Jade, ND is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in the Seattle area where she conducts natural health research and writes for Natural Health Advisory Institute.  Contact Dr. Kathleen by commenting on one of her blogs. She has written a recently released e-Book Fatigue Causes and Relief: Natural Remedies for Excessive Tiredness and Chronic Fatigue.

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