Tag Archives: caveman diet

What Does the Paleolithic Diet Look Like?

Vegetables not in season

Vegetables not in season

It’s quite difficult to know exactly what early humans ate 100,000 years ago. Scientists use a variety of methods to investigate, including analysis of patterns of wear on teeth, searches of prehistoric dwellings, and analysis of carbon isotopes in organic matter.

Some of the best-preserved human prehistoric artifacts are found in caves, which protected them from environmental degradation. That’s why the paleo diet is sometimes called the caveman diet.

We have an inkling of what foods were available in specific climates and regions. We have some ideas about tools our ancestors had available to hunt, gather, and process foods. Perhaps most reliably, we have fairly good data on what modern hunter-gatherer groups eat (for those few still in existence) or ate (for those lately extinct or modernized).

The Paleolithic Versus Typical Modern Western Diet

Today we get most of our calories from grains, sugars, domesticated livestock, and dairy products. On the other hand, our pre-agricultural ancestors ate primarily wild game and naturally occurring plant foods. Their carbohydrates would have come from fruits and vegetables rather than cereal grains, diary products, and refined sugars. They ate no junk food, no industrial seed oils, and very few grains and dairy products. Compared to us, they ate more potassium, fiber, protein, and micronutrients, but less sodium and carbohydrate. They ate relatively more omega-3 fatty acids and less omega-6s. Paleo dieters today aim to consume natural whole foods while minimizing simple sugars and refined starches. The paleo community generally is convinced that grains and legumes are harmful, while others disagree. Dairy products are allowed in some versions of paleo, although purists would vote against. Now let’s dig into the details.

Paleo-compliant

Paleo-compliant

The Eaton and Konner Model

S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner in 2010 looked carefully at the diet of pre-industrial hunter-gatherers and proposed a prototypical ancestral diet. Note that actual diet would vary with climate, latitude, altitude, water availability, etc. Eaton and Konner suggest our ancestral diet looked like this:

  • Carbohydrates: 35-40% of daily energy (calories)
  • Protein: 25-30% of daily energy
  • Fat: 20-35% of daily energy
  • Added sugar: 2% of daily energy
  • Fiber: over 70 g/day
  • EPA and DHA*: 0.7-6 g/day
  • Cholesterol: 500+ mg/day
  • Vitamin C: 500 mg/day
  • Vitamin D: 4,000 IU/day (sunlight)
  • Calcium: 1,000-1,500 mg/day
  • Sodium: under 1,000 mg/day
  • Potassium: 7,000 mg/day

*Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (omega-3 fatty acids)

Their conception of a modern Paleolithic food pyramid is a base of high-fiber vegetables and fruits, the next tier up being meat/fish/low-fat dairy (all lean), then a possible tier for whole grain (admittedly very unusual), with a small peak of oils, fats, and refined carbohydrates. Their inclusion of dairy products and whole grains must be a concession to convenience and the reality that those items can be healthful for modern humans. Eaton and Konner note that hunter-gatherer groups had a high degree of dependence on plant foods, while obtaining 35 to 65% of diet (calories rather than weight, I assume) from animal flesh. They found some modern hunter-gatherer cultures deriving as much as 65% of calories from carbohydrate (mostly plants, then). It’s a mistake to assume that the typical Paleolithic diet is necessarily meat-based, as the popular press so often describes it.

Eaton and Konner make a few other distinctions that are worth mentioning now. Game animals have more mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids than supermarket meat. The Paleolithic diet’s ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was about 2:1, in contrast to the modern Western ratio of 10:1 or even higher.

I’d like to share a few more tidbits from their 2010 article:

  • The transition from hunting/gathering to farming (about 10,000 year ago) saw a decrease in body size and robustness, plus evidence of nutritional stress.
  • Levels of muscular and aerobic fitness in ancestral groups are much higher than modern societies, with a concomittant higher level of calorie consumption.
  • Average life expectancies in pre-industrial hunter-gatherer (H-G) groups was only 30-35 years, but much of this low number simply reflects high infant and child death rates.
  • H-G deaths overwhelmingly reflect infectious diseases.
  • H-G groups had a high degree of dependence on plant foods.
  • Fish and shellfish are more important food sources than these authors thought 25 years earlier.
  • H-G diets are higher in fat and protein than they once thought. • Nearly all H-G carbs are from vegetables and fruits, which have more favorable glycemic responses (i.e., a lesser rise in blood sugar) than grains and concentrated sugars.
  • Uncultivated or wild fruits and vegetables have much more fiber than commercial ones (13 versus 4 g fiber per 100 g of food).

The Diet-Heart Hypothesis is the idea that dietary total and saturated fat, and cholesterol, cause or contribute to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), leading to heart attacks and strokes. Konner and Eaton still believe (in 2010 at least) the theory is valid for fats, but not cholesterol. The latest evidence, however, is that even total and saturated fat are minimally or unrelated to atherosclerosis. They also believe total fat, due to its caloric load, is an important contributor to obesity and type 2 diabetes. I agree that may be true, especially if you eat a lot of carbohydrates with fat. To further imitate the Paleolithic lifestyle, Eaton and Konner also recommend high activity levels, including resistance exercise, flexibility, and aerobics, burning over 1,000 calories daily exclusive of resting metabolism. (Reference: Konner, Melvin and Eaton, S. Boyd. Paleolithic Nutrition: Twenty-Five Years Later. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 25 (2010): 594-602. doi: 10.1177/0884533610385702) But let’s not put all our eggs in the Eaton and Konner basket.

That exposed skin makes vitamin D

That exposed skin makes vitamin D

The Kuipers Model

A 2010 scientific article by Kuipers et al suggests that the East African Paleolithic diet derived, on average, 25-29% of calories from protein, 30-39% from fat, and 39-40% from carbohydrate. That qualifies as mildly low-carb, and similar to Eaton and Konner’s macronutrient breakdown. Modern Western percentages for protein, fat, and carb are 15%, 33%, and 50%, respectively. Kuipers et al suggest that the evolution of our large brains in East Africa may have been possible by utilization of aquatic resources such as fish, lobster, crab, shrimp, sea urchins, squid, octopus, and amphibians. Rather than savannah, this was a land-water ecosytem. Diets here would have been rich in the omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) we find in fish oil. Kuipers believes roots and tubers were also part of the Paleolithic diet. (Reference: Kuipers, R., et al (L. Cordain and S. Eaton are co-authors) (2010). Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet British Journal of Nutrition, 1-22 DOI: 10.1017/S0007114510002679)

The Cordain Model

Loren Cordain and associates in 2000 suggested that Paleolithic diets derived about a third—22 to 40%—of calories from carbohydrate, based on modern hunter-gatherer societies. The lower carb consumption compared to Western diets left more room for moderate to high amounts of protein and fat. Dr. Cordain is a co-author with Eaton and Konner on many paleo diet scientific articles, so they don’t have many differences. (Reference: Cordain, L., et al. Plant-animal subsistance ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71 (2000): 682-692.)

Dr. Cordain (Ph.D.) is probably the preeminent scientist who advocates the Paleolithic diet. He’s made a few modifications in his model diet over the years. From his website in 2014, the following are the seven pillars of his conception of the modern paleo diet compared to the typical Western diet. The paleo diet is:

  • higher in protein (25-30% of calories versus 15%)
  • lower in carbohydrates and glycemic index via nonstarchy fresh fruits and vegetables
  • higher in fiber
  • moderate to high fat content, especially monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (particularly omega-3 fatty acids)
  • higher in potassium and lower in sodium
  • higher dietary alkaline load relative to acid load (vegetables and fruit counteract the acid in meat and fish)
  • higher in many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant phytochemicals

(Reference: http://thepaleodiet.com/the-paleo-diet-premise/)

Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids

Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids

Carbohydrate Content of the Paleo Diet

Since dietary carbohydrates are major contributors to blood sugar, the carbohydrates in the Paleolithic diet are important. It appears that the average paleo diet derived a little over a third of calories from carbohydrate: that qualifies as low-carb since the average Western diet provides half of calories as carbohydrate. The carbohydrates eaten by Paleolithic man were accompanied by lots of fiber, over four times as much as the average American diet (70+ grams versus 15 grams). The sources of carbohydrate were fruits, vegetables, and roots or tubers, with minimal and seasonal contribution from honey. Fiber is important since high consumption is linked in modern times to lower rates of type 2 diabetes, and fiber also slows and limits the rise in blood sugar after meals. Furthermore, the original Paleolithic carbohydrate sources generally would have been much less calorically dense than modern carbohydrates sources. For instance, one Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tart has the same amount of calories (200) as four cups of fresh strawberry halves, but the Pop-Tart has less than one gram of fiber compared to 12 gm in the raw berries.

We Can’t or Won’t Re-Create a True Paleolithic Diet

Because of our modification of edible plants and animals, it’s impossible for most of us to accurately recreate the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors. The closest you could come would be to live entirely off the land, catching or hunting wild animals and foraging for wild plants. That’s a heck of a lot of work, and wouldn’t sustain more than a tiny fraction of the planet’s current seven billion souls. If we’re going to construct a modern Paleolithic-style diet, now we’ve got some anchoring numbers.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Unexpected Caveman Foods

Offal includes tongue, heart, liver, kidney, intestine, pancreas, trotters, and ?

Offal includes tongue, heart, liver, kidney, intestine, pancreas, trotters, and ?

Tom Schuler’s blog has a guest post by archeologist John Williams, Ph.D. entitled “How to eat like a cavemen (the real kind).” Dr. Williams reviews some evidence that our Paleolithic ancestors ate:

  • chyme
  • human flesh
  • blood (e.g., Plains Indians drinking warm buffalo blood)
  • yogurt (e.g., from the stomachs of suckling buffalo calves)
  • milk
  • bone and organ grease
  • alcohol (from fermented fruit)

Read the rest. It’s a funny and quick read.

Dr. Guyenet Makes a Case for Beans in the Paleo Diet

As an introduction, he writes…

The canonical Paleolithic diet approach excludes legumes because they were supposedly not part of our ancestral dietary pattern.  I’m going to argue here that there is good evidence of widespread legume consumption by hunter-gatherers and archaic humans, and that beans and lentils are therefore an “ancestral” food that falls within the Paleo diet rubric.  Many species of edible legumes are common around the globe, including in Africa, and the high calorie and protein content of legume seeds would have made them prime targets for exploitation by ancestral humans after the development of cooking.

Richard Wrangham thinks hominins started cooking with fire as long as 1.8 million years ago. There’s no expert consensus yet.

Read the rest.

Free Online Paleo Recipes

Sirloin steak, salad, cantaloupe, 3 raspberries

Sirloin steak, salad, cantaloupe, raspberries (on the Paleobetic Diet)

Or paleo-ish anyway.

Most diabetics eating paleo-style need to know how may grams of digestible carbohydrate they’re eating. Their blood sugars will go too high if they eat too many carbs. “Too many” varies from one person to another. Additional nutrient numbers are just icing on the cake. (Oops! Not a good metaphor for a Stone Age diet website.) Other than this site, I’ve only found three other sites that divulge basic nutritional analysis of their free recipes. Several sites listed are primarily low-carb, so you have to see if the recipe you’re interested in fits your definition of paleo.

Before you go, I just want you to consider financially supporting the owners and writers at the following sites. Many of them have books or services for sale. Some have a Donate button. If they can’t bring home the bacon, the websites go down and the recipes go bye-bye.

Recipes With Nutritional Analysis

Catalyst Athletics

Linda’s Low-Carb Recipes

Hold the Toast (I bet Dana Carpender’s “500 Paleo Recipes” book provides basic nutrient analysis.)

Paleo Diabetic

More Recipes (You can do your own nutritional analysis at places like Fitday.)

The Clothes Make the Girl

NomNom Paleo

The Paleo Diet

Julianne’s Paleo & Zone Nutrition (see drop-down menu under Paleo Links, Recipes, and Meals tab)

Everyday Paleo (see drop-down menu under Food tab)

Paleo Food

Paleo Plan

Stalkerville

Perfect Health Diet

Diabetes Warrior

Whole Life Eating

Nell Stephenson

Paleo Diet Lifestyle

Happy hunting!

Steve Parker, M.D.

Anthropologist Debunks the Paleolithic Diet

paleo diet, paleolithic diet, caveman diet

Not Dr. Warinner

Christina Warinner has a new TEDx talk on the paleo diet.  Dr. Warinner has a Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard, so I’ll call her an anthropologist. The written TEDx intro mentions she is a paleontologist, and she mentions “archeologist” in her talk.  Anyway, I’m sure she’s very bright and put much thought into her presentation.  She spoke at my old stomping grounds, the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Click to view video.

Dr. Warinner is probably addressing the smarter half of the general population, who holds the idea, at least superficially, that the paleo diet is meat-based.  (The dumber half of the public isn’t watching TEDx videos.)  Dr. Warinner doesn’t define “meat-based.”  Is half the plate filled with meat, fish, or eggs?  75% of the plate?  Half of total calories?

I’m not familiar with all the popular modern versions of the paleo diet.  Perhaps some are in fact meat-centric, whatever that means.  But the ones I’m more familiar with, like Dr. Cordain’s and mine, prominently feature vegetables, fruits, and nuts.  You could easily fashion a plant-based paleo diet, filling 80 or even 90% of your plate with plants.  (A vegan paleo diet isn’t realistic.  Cultures not eating animals would die out from B12 deficiency.)

I’d swear I heard Dr. Warinner say “we’re not adapted to eat meat.”  Surely she mis-spoke.

She mostly debunks popular misconceptions of the paleo diet.  Most of us deeply familiar with the paleo diet would have little to disagree with her about.

Here are some of Dr. Warinner’s major points:

  • It’s nearly impossible for most of us to eat a true Paleolithic diet.  Selective breeding has altered nearly all our foods to the point of unrecognizability by cavemen.  Examples are bananas, broccoli, carrots, and tomatoes.
  • There is no single paleo diet.  It depends on regional geographic variations in rainfall, latitude, temperature, etc.  Local populations ate what was available, in season, and often migrated seasonally to find food.

Dr. Warinner suggests we all incorporate three concepts from the paleo diet:

  1. Eat a great variety of foods.
  2. For the highest nutrient content, eat fresh food when ripe, in season.
  3. Eat whole foods.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: Miki Ben-Dor, a Ph.D. candidate, had many more objections to Dr. Warinner’s speech.  Paul Jaminet made a few comments about it, too (see middle of his post, after the comments on Marlene Zuk’s PaleoFantasy).  Wendy Schwartz weighs in, too. Angelo Coppola does a good job countering most of Dr. Warriner’s criticisms.

Paleo Diet Advocates Fear Modernity

…according to David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine.

Gee, I hadn’t noticed that fear.  Maybe it’s subconscious.

Dr. Gorski makes some good points along with others I disagree with.  I expect the commentators at SBM will address many of the controversial points.  They’re a smart readership.

One uncommon observation of his is that the “complementary and alternative medicine” believers tend to embrace the paleo diet and lifestyle.  I’ve noticed that also.  To the extent that the CAM folks are often unscientific or anti-scientific, those of us examining the paleo diet from a scientific viewpoint have to be wary of “guilt by association.”

A major point that Dr. Gorski didn’t address is that living hunter-gatherers studied over the last century or two don’t have nearly as much cardiovascular disease and death as modern Western societies.  That’s a common meme in the paleosphere, started by the prominent paleo book authors.  (I’ve not reviewed the original sources.)  I’m talking about lower rates of heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, peripheral arterial disease, and premature death.  Note that the mere presence of atherosclerosis may not correlate with these hard clinical endpoints.

My Critique of the Joslin Critique of the Paleo Diet

paleo diet, Paleolithic diet, hunter-gatherer diet

Huaorani hunter in Ecuador

The Joslin Diabetes Blog yesterday reviewed the paleo diet as applied to both diabetes and the general public.  They weren’t very favorably impressed with it.  But in view of Joslin’s great reputation, we need to give serious consideration to their ideas.  (I don’t know who wrote the review other than “Joslin Communications.”)

These are the main criticisms:

  • diets omitting grains and dairy are deficient in calcium and possibly B vitamins
  • you could eat too much total and saturated fat, leading to insulin resistance (whether type 1 or 2 diabetes) and heart disease
  • it’s not very practical, partly because it goes against the grain of modern Western cultures
  • it may be expensive (citing the cost of meat, and I’d mention fresh fruit and vegetables, too)

Their conclusion:

There are certainly better diets out there, but if you are going to follow this one, do yourself a favor, take a calcium supplement and meet with a registered dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator  to make sure it is nutritionally complete, isn’t raising your lipids and doesn’t cause you any low blood glucose incidences.

Expense and Practicality

These take a back seat to the health issues in my view.  Diabetes itself is expensive and impractical.  Expense and practicality are highly variable, idiosyncratic matters to be pondered and decided by the individual.  If there are real health benefits to the paleo diet, many folks will find work-arounds for any expense and impracticality.  If the paleo diet  allows use of fewer drugs and helps avoid medical complications, you save money in health care costs that you can put into food.  Not to mention quality of life issues (but I just did).

Calcium and B Vitamin Deficiencies

This is the first I’ve heard of possible B vitamin deficiencies on the paleo diet.  Perhaps I’m not as well-read as I thought.  I’ll keep my eyes open for confirmation.

The potential calcium deficiency, I’ve heard of before.  I’m still open-minded on it.  I am starting to wonder if we need as much dietary calcium as the experts tell us.  The main question is whether inadequate calcium intake causes osteoporosis, the bone-thinning condition linked to broken hips and wrists in old ladies.  This is a major problem for Western societies.  Nature hasn’t exerted much selection pressure against osteoporosis because we don’t see most of the fractures until after age 70.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually find that life-long exercise and adequate vitamin D levels are much more important that calcium consumption.

With regards to calcium supplementation, you’ll find several recent scientific references questioning it.  For example, see this, and this, and this, and this, and this.  If you bother to click through and read the articles, you may well conclude there’s no good evidence for calcium supplementation for the general population.  If you’re not going to supplement, would high intake from foods be even more important?  Maybe so, maybe not.  I’m don’t know.

If you check, most of the professional osteoporosis organizations are going to recommend calcium supplements for postmenopausal women, unless dietary calcium intake is fairly high.

If I were a women wanting to avoid osteoporosis, I’d do regular life-long exercise that stressed my bones (weight-bearing and resistance training) and be sure I had adequate vitamin D levels.  And men, you’re not immune to osteoporosis, just less likely to suffer from it.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance from a relatively high-fat diet is theoretically possible.  In reality, it’s not common.  I’ve read plenty of low-carb high-fat diet research reports in people with type 2 diabetes.  Insulin levels and blood glucose levels go down, on average.  That’s not what you’d see with new insulin resistance.  One caveat, however, is that these are nearly all short-term studies, 6-12 weeks long.

If you have diabetes and develop insulin resistance on a high-fat diet, you will see higher blood sugar levels and the need for higher insulin drug doses.  Watch for that if you try the paleo diet.

Are High Total and Saturated Fat Bad?

Regarding relatively high consumption of total and saturated fat as a cause of heart or other vascular disease: I don’t believe that any more.  Click to see why.  If you worry about that issue, choose meats that are leaner (lower in fat) and eat smaller portions.  You could also look at your protein foods—beef, chicken, fish, eggs, offal, etc.—and choose items lower in total and saturated fat.  Consult a dietitian or online resource.  Protein deficiency is rarely, if ever, a problem on paleo diets.

In Conclusion

I think the paleo diet has more healthful potential than realized by the Joslin blogger(s).  I’m sure they’d agree we need more clinical studies of it, involving both type 1 and 2 diabetics.  I appreciate the “heads up” regarding potential vitamin B deficiencies.  My sense is that the Joslin folks are willing to reassess their position based on scientific studies.

I bet some of our paleo-friendly registered dietitians have addressed the potential adverse health issues of the paleo diet.  Try Amy KubalFranziska Spritzler (more low-carb than paleo) or Aglaée Jacob.  I assume the leading paleo diet book authors have done it also.

If you’re worried about adverse blood lipid changes on the paleo diet, get them tested before you start, then after two months of dieting.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: The paleo diet is also referred to as the Stone Age diet, caveman diet, Paleolithic diet, hunter-gatherer diet, and ancestral diet.

Low-Carb Research Update

Grain-based high-carb Neolithic food

Grain-based high-carb Neolithic food

The paleo diet averages about 30% of total calories from carbohydrates, with a range of about 22 to 40%.  That 30% average is much lower than the standard 50–60% in the developed world.  Is that lower percentage healthy or not?  It depends on the quality of the carbs and the remainder of the diet.  It most certainly can be healthy.

As much as possible, I base my nutrition and medical recommendations on science-based research published in the medical literature.  In the early 2000s, a flurry of scientific reports demonstrated that very-low-carb eating (as in the style of Dr. Robert Atkins) was safe and effective for short-term weight management and control of diabetes.  Eighty hours of literature review in 2009 allowed me to embrace low-carbohydrate eating as a logical and viable option for many of my patients. The evidence convinced me that the relatively high fat content of many low-carb diets was nothing to worry about long-term.

I’d like to share with you some of the pertinent low-carb research findings of the last few years.

Low-Carb Diets

  • Low-carb diets reduce weight, reduce blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels (a healtlhy move), and raise HDL cholesterol (another good trend).  These improvements should help reduce your risk of heart disease.  (In the journal Obesity Reviews, 2012.)
  • Dietary fat, including saturated fat, is not a cause of vascular disease such as heart attacks and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).  (Multiple research reports.)
  • If you’re overweight and replace two sugary drinks a day with diet soda or water, you’ll lose about four pounds over the next six months.  (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2012.)
  • United States citizens obtain 40% of total calories from grains and added sugars.  Most developed countries are similar.  Dr. Stephan Guyenet notes that U.S. sugar consumption increased steadily “…from 6.3 pounds [2.9 kg] per person per year in 1822 to 107.7 pounds [50 kg] per person in 1999.  Wrap your brain around this: in 1822 we ate the amount of added sugar in one 12-ounce can of soda every five days, while today we eat that much sugar every seven hours.”
  • A very-low-carb diet improves the memory of those with age-related mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment is a precursor to dementia.  (University of Cincinnati, 2012.)
  • High-carbohydrate and sugar-rich diets greatly raise the risk of mild cognitive impairment in the elderly. (Mayo Clinic study published in the Journal of Alzheimers’ Disease, 2012.)
  • Compared to obese low-fat dieters, low-carb dieters lose twice as much fat weight.  (University of Cincinnati, 2011.)
  • Diets low in sugar and refined starches are linked to lower risk of age-related macular degeneration in women.  Macular degeneration is a major cause of blindness.  (University of Wisconsin, 2011.)
  • A ketogenic (very-low-carb) Mediterranean diet cures metabolic syndrome (Journal of Medicinal Food, 2011.)
  • For type 2 diabetics, replacing a daily muffin (high-carb) with two ounces (60 g) of nuts (low-carb) improves blood sugar control and reduces LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol). (Diabetes Care, 2011.)
  • For those afflicted with fatty liver, a low-carb diet beats a low-fat diet for management. (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2011.)
  • For weight loss, the American Diabetes Association has endorsed low-carb (under 130 g/day) and Mediterranean diets, for use up to two years. (Diabetes Care, 2011.)
  • High-carbohydrate eating doubles the risk of heart disease (coronary artery disease) in women.  (Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010.)
  • One criticism of low-carb diets is that they may be high in protein, which in turn may cause bone thinning (osteoporosis).  A 2010 study shows this is not a problem, at least in women.  Men were not studied.  (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.)
  • High-carbohydrate eating increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010.)
  • Obesity in U.S. children tripled from 1980 to 2000, rising to 17% of all children.  A low-carb, high-protein diet is safe and effective for obese adolescents.  (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS:  The paleo diet is also referred to as the caveman diet, Paleolithic diet, hunter-gatherer diet, Stone Age diet, and ancestral diet.

Ideas For A Paleo Diabetic Diet

Sirloin steak, salad, cantaloupe, 3 raspberries

Sirloin steak, salad, cantaloupe, 3 raspberries

I’ve been thinking about a paleo-style diabetic diet for over a year.  Here are some miscellaneous ideas for your consideration.

A paleo diabetic diet will have the following major food groups:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • nuts and seeds
  • proteins (e.g., meat, fish, eggs)
  • condiments

A paleo diabetic diet could (should?) emphasize salads and low-carb colorful vegetables and only (?) low-carb or low-glycemic-index fruits.

Calories

Total calories?  Probably in the range of 1,800 to 3,000 calories daily with an average of 2,000.  Remember that 85% of type 2 diabetics are overweight or obese. Calorie restriction—regardless of macronutrient ratios (% carb, protein, fat)—tends to improve or normalize blood sugar levels.  Weight loss will likely entail some caloric restriction, whether consciously or not.

Type 1 Versus Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 and type 2 diabetics have many pathophysiologic differences.  Could a single paleo diabetic diet serve both populations equally well?  That’s the goal.

Carbohydrates

Diabetics have trouble metabolizing carbohydrates, so a paleo diabetic diet should probably be lower-than-average in digestible carbs.  100 g/day?  30 g/day?  I’m leaning toward 60 g ± 25%, so 45–75 g.  Smaller, less active folks could eat 45 g/day; larger, more active guys eat closer to 75 g.

Is there a role for very-low-carb or ketogenic eating patterns?  For most folks, that’s less than 50 g of digestible carbohydrate daily.  Under 30 g for some.  Use that only for those needing to lose weight?  Start everybody at  very low carb levels then increase carbs as tolerated?  On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for simplicity.  It might be best to avoid very-low-carb (ketogenic) eating entirely.  Anyone not losing the desired amount of fat weight could cut portion sizes, especially carbohydrates.

Fish

I encourage fish consumption twice a week, diabetes or no.  Cold-water fatty fish have more of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids than other fish.

Nuts

I’d encourage 1–2 ounces (28–56 g) of nuts or seeds daily.  Any more than that might crowd out other healthful nutrients.  Nuts are protective of the heart.

Proteins

Protein-rich foods can definitely raise insulin requirements and blood sugar levels, but not in an entirely predictable way, and not to the extent we see with carbohydrates.  Should insulin users dose insulin based on a protein gram sliding scale?  I’m leaning towards simply recommending the same amount of protein at each meal, perhaps 4–8 ounces (113–229 g).

Fruit and Starchy Vegetables

Could a paleo diabetic diet even be “paleo” without fruit?  The problem with classic fruits is that they spike blood sugars too high for many diabetics.  To prevent that, Dr. Richard Bernstein outlaws all classic fruits (and other starchy carbs), even limiting tomatoes and onions to small amounts.  E.g., a wedge of tomato in a salad.  He doesn’t allow carrots either, unless raw (lower glycemic index than when cooked).  A paleo diabetic diet eater may be able to get away with eating lower-carb, lower-GI (glycemic index) fruits such as cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries and other berries.  Some paleo diabetic dieters will tolerate half an apple twice a day.

Different diabetics will have different blood sugar effects when eating starchy vegetables and higher-carb fruits.  Type 1 diabetics will tend to be more predictable than type 2s.  Both may just need to “eat to the meter”: try a serving and see what happens to blood sugar over the next hour or two.

Starchy vegetables—potatoes and carrots, for example—may well have to be limited.  Again, eat to the meter.

Gluten

This is looking to be gluten-free.  How trendy!  It’s a paleo celiac diet.

Use “natural” stevia as a sweetener?  If you read about how the product on your supermarket shelf  is made, it’s not at all natural.

Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A strict focus on omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio will not appeal to many folks, even if it’s important from a health viewpoint.  Reserve this for advanced dieters who have mastered the basics?  Modern Western diets have an omega-6/omega-3 ratio around 10 or 15:1.  Paleolithic diets were closer to 2 or 3:1.  So we have an over-abundance of omega-6 fatty acid or deficiency of omega-3 that may be unhealthy.

Implementation

To get dieters started, I’d design a week of meals based on 2,000 to 2,200 calories.  If still hungry, eat more protein, fat, and low-carb vegetables (and fruits?).

What do you think?

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclaimer:  All matters regarding your health require supervision by a personal physician or other appropriate health professional familiar with your current health status.  Always consult your personal physician before making any dietary or exercise changes.  

PS: See Dr. Bernstein’s “no-no” foods on page 151 of his Diabetes Solution book.

PPS: The paleo diet is also known as the Paleolithic diet, Stone Age diet, caveman diet, hunter-gatherer diet, and ancestral diet.

Two Month Recap of the Parker Paleo Diet Trial

soup, home-made, potato, chicken, paleo diet, meal, Stone Age diet, recipe

Potato chicken soup

I’ve completed my two-month paleo diet trial.  I’m proud to say I’ve been fairly compliant with it, although certainly not 100%.  Perhaps 95%.

My major transgressions have been:

  • three diet sodas
  • a bottle of wine around Thanksgiving holiday
  • two or three pies around Thanksgiving (I couldn’t stand throwing them out)
  • other grain and refined sugar products around Thanksgiving
  • four servings of salad dressing made with industrial seed oils when I had no good alternative
  • a Blizzard (thick milk shake) from Dairy Queen
  • on 10–15 days I’ve exceeded my 2-ounce (60 g) limit on nuts

Results and Overall Impressions of Paleo Eating

It’s fairly easy, even when dining out or away from home.  Nevertheless, it requires some discipline and willpower.

My sense is that my meat, poultry, egg, and nut consumption stayed about the same as my baseline, pre-paleo levels.  I eliminated cheese and didn’t miss it much.  I ate more vegetables and fruit.

paleo diet, paleo meal, recipe, stone age diet, paleo food, hunter-gatherer food

I took my lunch meals to the hospital

My wife says paleo eating is at least a little more expensive than my prior eating habits, mostly related to fresh vegetables and fruit.  Grain products like bread, pasta, and rice are cheaper calories.  On the other hand, we saved money by not buying wine even though I don’t drink expensive wine.

I don’t miss grain products much at all.  I had already cut back on them over the last couple years as part of my experimentation with low-carb eating.  I do enjoy whole grain breads but could live a happy life without them if necessary.

I miss sweet items like cinnamon rolls, other pastries, cake, pie, ice cream, diet soda, and candy bars.  I don’t care for sugary soda pop and fruit juices.

I didn’t do this to lose weight, yet went from 171 lb (77.7 kg) down to 164 lb (74.5 kg).  So an unexpected loss of 7 lb (3.2 kg).  I hovered between 162 and 166 lb for the last few weeks so I don’t think I’ll keep losing weight if I stay with the program.

Do I feel any different eating this way?  No.  I’m blessed with good health, so wasn’t looking for any upgrades.  I have noticed more sweetness in a few foods, such as nuts and carrots.

I take nothing away from those who report more energy, better sleep, improved digestion, increased strength, less joint pain, etc., from paleo-style eating.  Undoubtedly, some of those apparent improvements are placebo effect, some are coincidental, and some are bona fide results of the paleo lifestyle.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: The paleo diet is also called the Paleolithic diet, hunter-gatherer diet, Stone Age diet, caveman diet, or ancestral diet.

Update December 16, 2012:  I wondered if lack of alcohol for the last two months had any effect on my weight loss.  For the last week I ate my usual paleo diet but added 3 fl oz (90 ml) of whiskey daily.  Weight today 163 lb (73.9 kg), so no real change over the short run.  That’s enough whiskey for a while.

Update December 27:  After three days of unrestrained Holiday eating, my weight is up 8 lb to 171 lb (77.7 kg).  Mostly thanks to pie, cookies, and candy.  I’m sure some of that extra weigh is glycogen, water, and intestinal contents, rather than fat.  Back on the paleo diet today, a low-carb version.

Update December 29:  Weight is down 5 lb to 166 lb (75.5 kg).  Amazing.

Pace salsa, paleo diet, Parker paleo diet

The contents of this salsa jar are all paleo-compliant

paleo diet, Parker paleo diet, canned pumpkin

Pure paleo contents unless there’s BPA in the can liner

pumpkin pie, paleo diet, Parker paleo diet

Definitely non-paleo pumpkin pie

wine bottle, red wine, paleo diet, meal,

Wine is not “paleo” by most definitions

paleo diet, paleo food, hunter-gatherer diet, macadamia nuts

L. Cordain likes the low omega-6/omega-3 ratio of macadamia nuts