What does the scientific evidence say about the paleo diet?

The promotion of certain diets as a means of improving overall health is very common. In recent years, a food model called the Paleolithic regime – also known as the Paleo Diet, for short – has taken the health and wellness world by storm.

Despite the popularity of the paleo diet, many researchers and health professionals argue that it is not necessarily the best diet for improving overall health. In fact, some believe it can be harmful.

In this article on Honest Nutrition, we dig a little deeper into the research on the paleo diet to discover its potential health benefits. We also discuss the risks that can arise while following a paleo diet.

A paleo diet, also known as the Stone Age diet or the caveman diet, is a diet that aims to reflect how hunter-gatherers ate thousands of years ago. years.

People who follow a paleo diet eat large amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, but limit legumes, dairy products, and grains.

Foods and beverages that a person on a paleo diet frequently consumes include:

  • meat, with an emphasis on meat from wild game or grass-fed animals
  • fish
  • eggs
  • the water
  • herbal tea
  • fruit
  • herbs and spices
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • healthy oils, like walnut or olive oil

Foods that a person on a paleo diet will often avoid include:

  • dairy products
  • refined sugar
  • salt
  • legumes, which include beans, peanuts, and peas
  • artificial ingredients
  • processed foods
  • soft drink
  • grains, including rice, wheat, and oats
  • potatoes

One of the most common misconceptions about the Paleo diet is that our ancestors mainly survived on a meat-based diet.

As we learn more about the Paleolithic Age, we find that those who lived there ate a plant-based diet, with only one guess. 3% of their diet derived from food of animal origin.

Supporters of the Paleo diet believe that the shift from a hunter-gatherer style diet to an agricultural diet has increased the global prevalence of chronic diseases, including heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

They believe that the human body is not genetically equipped to consume the modern foods that agricultural practices have introduced. As a result, they believe that our overall health will improve by following a diet similar to that of our ancestors.

The claimed benefits of a paleo diet include:

  • improved cholesterol
  • reduced blood pressure
  • improved blood sugar control
  • reduced waist circumference and weight loss
  • improved satiety
  • improved gut health
  • reduction in all-cause mortality

Switching from a western diet high in processed foods high in sodium to a paleo diet will result in the inclusion of more fresh fruits and vegetables, which can undoubtedly be beneficial for overall health.

Many people also report improvements in inflammation, focus, and sleep. They also report weight loss, which is likely due to increased consumption of whole foods while removing major food groups.

While the paleo diet has the potential to be healthy, is it necessary to restrict grains, legumes, and dairy to see the health benefits?

Let’s discuss how the paleo diet compares scientifically.

Several breakthroughs in science and research have allowed us to further explore the potential benefits of the paleo diet to determine whether it should become a diet that medical professionals regularly recommend.

A 2015 review reviewed four randomized controlled trials with 159 participants who exhibited one or more of the five components of metabolic syndrome.

Researchers found that Paleolithic nutrition resulted in greater short-term improvements in the following areas compared to the control diet:

  • waist size
  • triglyceride levels
  • arterial pressure
  • high density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol levels
  • fasting blood sugar

A study published in the Nutrition Journal evaluated several randomized controlled trials to establish a relationship between the Paleolithic diet and chronic disease prevention and control and anthropometric measures.

The study found an average weight loss of 3.52 kilograms as well as a decrease in waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) in those who ate a Paleolithic diet compared to those who ate other commonly recommended diets.

The researchers behind this study suggest that following a paleo diet may reduce the risk of chronic diseases, as excess body weight is one of the main risk factors for their development.

Is The Paleo Diet Better Than Other Diets?

A study published in the Nutrition Journal aimed to study the associations of the Paleolithic diet and the Mediterranean diet with all-cause and specific mortality.

The study found that those who followed a Paleo or Mediterranean diet had reduced all-cause mortality, lower oxidative stress, and mortality from heart disease and cancer.

A meta-analysis of 2020 reviewed four studies to compare the Paleo diet with the Mediterranean diet, the diabetes diet, and another diet recommended by the Dutch Board of Health. Researchers looked at the effects of these diets on glucose and insulin homeostasis in people with impaired glucose metabolism.

They found that those who followed the paleo diet did not experience significant improvements in fasting blood sugar, insulin levels, or HbA1c levels compared to those who followed the other types of diet. The study authors conclude that the paleo diet is not superior to other nutritious diets in people with impaired glucose metabolism.

In addition, a study published in the journal Nutrition in January 2020 reviewed the effectiveness of different diets, including the paleo diet and intermittent fasting.

Its authors found that to date, there is no specific diet that can effectively support weight loss in all individuals. They concluded that the best diet for weight loss is a negative energy balance while focusing on food quality.

Removing certain food groups can improve certain health markers and lead to weight loss, but it can also lead to nutrient deficiencies and increase the risk of long-term health consequences.

For example, a paleo diet restricts dairy products, which are rich in calcium and vitamin D, two nutrients essential for bone health. A deficiency in these nutrients can lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures.

This diet also removes beans and legumes. Beans are a great source of minerals, fiber, and plant protein. They can also help lower cholesterol and promote satiety, the feeling of being full after a meal.

Plus, many people who follow a paleo diet claim that it promotes gut health, but new research says otherwise.

Some studies suggest that those who follow a paleo diet have a different gut microbiota and higher levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a compound linked to cardiovascular disease.

This research supports current dietary recommendations to include foods high in fiber and whole grains to maintain cardiovascular function and gut health.

Those who take a modern approach to the paleo diet often use it as an excuse for overeating meat. Eating more than the recommended servings of meat, especially red meat, on a daily basis can lead to chronic disease.

Excessive protein intake from any animal source increases the body’s production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). High levels of IGF-1 and high intake of dietary protein can lead to increased risk cancer, diabetes and overall mortality.

The paleo diet is also generally very high in saturated fat. According to American Cardiovascular Association (AHA), a person should limit their intake of saturated fat to no more than 13 grams per day to avoid high cholesterol and heart disease. Eating too much red meat can also damage the kidneys.

A person should aim to eat a maximum of 12 to 18 ounces (about 350 to 500 grams) of red meat each week. People with heart problems should limit their consumption of red meat to less than this amount.

According to an article in Australian family doctor, the paleo diet is overestimated and under-studied. The author calls for longer-term studies to continue to assess the benefits and risks of this diet.

However, the paleo diet model can be difficult to fully adhere to in the long term, making it difficult to formulate more conclusive recommendations.

Unless a person has a health problem that requires them to restrict a specific food group, there is no scientific evidence to show that the paleo diet is superior to other well-known diets, such as the Mediterranean diet.

Diets high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains allow for more variety, are more sustainable, and are scientifically proven to provide health benefits.

It is possible to get all the necessary nutrients from the foods allowed in the Paleo diet, but it can be difficult. For example, people will need to focus on getting calcium from non-dairy sources, such as dark green leafy vegetables.

Anyone who plans to change their diet should consult a doctor or dietitian first.

About Margie Peters

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