Tag Archives: paleolithic diet

Dr. Frassetto Discusses Paleo Diet and Diabetes

Not Dr. Frassetto

Dr. Lynda Frassetto is a Professor of Medicine and Nephrology at the University of California San Francisco.  She and her colleagues have completed a study of the Paleolithic diet as a treatment for diabetes (type 2, I think).  As far as I know, details have not yet been published in the medical literature.

Dr. Frassetto spoke at the Ancestral Health Symposium-2012 earlier this year.  You can view the 35-minute video here.

She is convinced that a paleo diet, compared to a Mediterranean-style diet, is better at controlling blood sugars and “reducing insulin” in diabetics (presumably type 2s).  Insulin sensitivity is improved, particularly in those with insulin resistance to start with.  The paleo diet group saw an average drop of fasting glucose by 23 mg/dl (1.3 mmol/l).  One slide you’ll see in the video indicates the paleo diet reduced absolute hemoglobin A1c by 0.3%, compared to 0.2% with the “Mediterranean” diet.  (Let me know if I got the numbers wrong.)

Color me underwhelmed so far.

Questions raised by the video include:

  • what is the UCSF version of the paleo diet?
  • how many participants were in her study?
  • how long did her study last?
  • did she study only type 2 diabetics?
  • what exactly was the control diet?
  • how severe were the cases of diabetes studied?

For answers, we await publication of the formal report.

Steve Parker, M.D.

What Do Mainstream Dietitians Think of the Paleo Diet?

Australian Aborigine in Swamp Darwin

I’m curious to know what mainstream dietitians think about the Paleolithic diet, so I read an article entitled “Are diets from Paleolithic times relevant today?”  This one-page article is in the August, 2012, issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The author is Eleese Cunningham, RD, of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Knowledge Center Team.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the new name of the American Dietetics Association, “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.”

Ms. Cunningham notes that “diet books for modern humans are extremely popular, and the Paleolithic diet, sometimes called the “Caveman Diet” or the “Stone Age Diet,” is one of the latest trends.”  You’d think the author would mention one of the popular paleo diet books, such as Loren Cordain’s, Robb Wolf’s, or Mark Sisson’s.  Think again.  She brings up only another dietitian’s review of Richard Nikoley’s paleo diet book, pointing out his lack of professional health credentials and his advocacy of raw milk consumption.  But milk isn’t even considered a component of most paleo diets.  Ms. Cunningham justifiably points out the infectious risks, however small, linked to raw milk consumption.  (I’ve not read Nikoley’s book, Free the Animal.)

(If you click the link to see the review of Nikoley’s book, scroll to page 30.  Sample: “Based more on science fiction than science fact, Nikoley’s recommendations are misguided and reckless…”)

Ms. Cunningham likes the fact that the paleo diet reduces consumption of salt and added sugars, while promoting fruit and vegetables.  However, she immediately notes thereafter that, “a striking counter to the meat-based Paleolithic diet is the evidence that supports the healthfulness of a vegetarian diet and the benefits it may have in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.  Another review of this approach . . . questions the exclusion of nutrient-rich grains, beans, and low-fat dairy and the potential nutrient shortfalls associated with the Paleolithic diet restrictions.”

This article appears to be in a regular feature of the journal called, “From the Academy: Question of the Month.”  Are diets from Paleolithic times relevant today?  She never answers directly.  I suspect the average dietitian reading this article will conclude that Ms. Cunningham and the Academy are not in favor of the paleo diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Cunningham, Eleese.  Are diets from Paleolithic times relevant today?  Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012 (vol. 112, issue 8): p. 1296.  doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.06.019

Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets.  Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009 (109): 1266-1282.

Melanie Gores a Few Oxen

Australian Aborigine

Dietitian Melanie Thomassian at Dietriffic offers some iconoclastic ideas in her critique of the paleo diet (aka Paleolithic, Old Stone Age, caveman, or hunter-gatherer diet).  Some quotes:

I’ll be the first to admit the diet recommended by most mainstream nutritionists, dietitians, and doctors is pretty terrible, and believe it or not, I do understand why people look elsewhere for their dietary advice.

 

The philosophy and reasoning behind the whole Paleo diet, however, isn’t something I can reconcile myself to.

Melanie addresses legumes, dairy, grains, and the problem of determining prehistoric diets.

-Steve

Classic Australian Aborigine Study on Return to Ancestral Diet and Lifestyle

Did you know kangaroo is edible?

The scientific article I review today is often cited by those who favor a Paleolithic diet for diabetics.  Cordain and Stefanson have written about it, for example.

Background

Urbanized Australian Aboriginal communities have a high prevalence of type 2 diabetes.   Kerin O’Dea writes:

The change from an urban to a traditional lifestyle involves several factors that directly affect insulin sensitivity: increased physical activity, reduced energy intake and weight loss, and changes in the overall dietary composition.  All of these factors improve insulin sensitivity and should, therefore, be of benefit to the insulin-resistant diabetic.

Methods

Ten urban type 2 diabetic and four nondiabetic full-blood Aborigines agreed to revert to their traditional lifestyle as hunter-gatherers in an isolated region of Australia for seven weeks.  Average age was 53.  Half of them were moderate to heavy alcohol drinkers.  Average diabetic weight was 82 kg (180 lb); nondiabetics averaged 77 kg (169 lb).  There were equal numbers of men and omen.  None of the diabetics was on insulin, and only one was on an oral diabetic drug (a sulfonylurea). 

Ayers Rock, Uluru National Park, Australia

The study was carried out at Pantijan, the traditional land of these Aborigines.  It’s a day-and-a-half drive in a four-wheel vehicle from Derby.  At least it was in 1984.

For seven weeks, the participants ate only what they hunted or collected.  Diet composition was dependent on whether they were travelling to the homeland (1.5 weeks), at the coastal location (2 weeks), or inland on the river (3.5 weeks). Protein sources were mainly beef, kangaroo, fish, birds, crocodiles, and turtles.  Carboydrate content ranged from under 5% to 33%.  Protein content varied from 50 to 80%.  Fat was 13 to 40%.  So, very high protein and low-carb.  Carb sources were yams, honey, and figs.  Yams were the predominant carb source.  They also eat yabbies (shrimp or crayfish (“crawdads” in Oklahoma)).  Average energy intake was a very low 1,200 calories a day. 

The author implies this was the traditional Aboriginal diet.

What did they eat back home in the city? 

The main dietary components were flour, sugar, rice, carbonated drinks, alcoholic drinks (beer and port), powdered milk, cheap fatty meat, potatoes, onions, and variable contributions of other fresh fruit and vegetables. 

O’Dea estimates a macronutrient breakdown of 50% carb, 40% fat, and 10% protein (similar to the Standard American Diet, then).

What Did O’Dea Find Out?

Everyone lost weight, a group average of 8 kg (18 lb) over the seven weeks.

Fasting blood sugars fell in the diabetics from 11.6 mmol/l to 6.6 mmol/l (209 to 119 mg/dl).  After-meal blood sugars also fell dramatically.

Fasting insulin levels fell from 23 to 12 mU/l.

Fasting triglycerides fell drastically. 

HDL cholesterol fell significantly, whereas LDL cholesterol tended to rise.

So What?

How often do you see a scientific article with just one author?  Rarely, these days.

The investigator wrote that, “Under the conditions of the study it is difficult to separate out effects of dietary composition, low energy intake, and weight loss.”

O’Dea estimates that experimental activity levels were probably higher than in the urban setting, but not dramatically more so.  (He was with the participants throughout the experiment.)

The main carbohydrate sources in this ancestral diet were yams, honey, and figs.  Modern Australian honey is probably similar to the honey of 100,000 years ago.  But what about yams and figs? 

These folks had to have been eating twice as many calories, at least, back in their urban environment.  O’Dea didn’t comment on how well the participants tolerated calorie restriction.  Did they complain?  Did they eat to satiety?  They had no access to food other than what they could hunt and gather.  Was food in short supply?  It’s not documented.  You’d think O’Dea would mention these issues if they were a problem. 

This particular ancestral diet was extremely high in protein: 50–80% of calories.  (Eaton and Konner suggest that an average ancestral diet provides only 25–30% of total calories from protein.  A typical modern high-protein diet derives about 30% of calories from protein, compared with 15–18% in the standard American diet.)  Protein helps combat hunger.  But halving caloric intake for seven weeks is extreme.  Don’t believe me?  Just try it.  This degree of caloric restriction by itself would tend to lower blood sugar levels and body weight in most humans, regardless of macronutrient ratios and ethnicity.

I know nothing about Australian Aborigines as an ethnic and genetic group.  Is their diabetes similar to European diabetes?  Pima Indian diabetes?   

O’Dea never called the study diet Paleolithic, because it wasn’t. It was a modern hunter-gatherer diet eaten by rural, isolated Australian Aboriginal communities.

This calorie-restricted, very-high-protein, natural diet was very effective for weight loss and blood sugar control in this tiny, seven-week study on a specific ethnic population.  I bet the caloric restriction was the most effective component of the lifestyle change.  Restriction of refined sugars and starches also helped. 

This ancestral diet was beneficial for a few Australian Aborigines.  Are the lessons widely applicable?  Not yet.  As they say, “further studies are needed.”  You can’t just cite this study to say that paleo diets are healthy for diabetics.

It does jibe with plenty of other research that shows severe calorie restriction leads to weight loss and lower blood sugar levels.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: O’Dea, Kerin.  Marked improvement in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in diabetic Australian Aborigines after temporary reversion to traditional lifestyle.  Diabetes, 33 (1984): 596-603.

Frustration

I just realized I started this blog six months ago with the idea that I’d “…share my investigation into whether the paleo diet and lifestyle are potentially therapeutic for people with diabetes.”

I’m frustrated that I haven’t made more progress.

Only a few clinical studies have looked at use of the paleo diet in diabetics.  And only type 2’s at that.  The Swedes (Steffan Lindeberg/Tommy Jonsson group) and Californians (Team Frassetto) own this field, at this point.

Loren Cordain is at Colorado State University.  Don’t they have a research department?

Are S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner still in academia?

Namesake of the Cabbage Soup Diet

I found an article from 1984 looking at return of diabetic Australian aborigines to their traditional lifestyle.  I’ll report here after I analyze it.

Dr. Jay Wortman has done work with aboriginal peoples of Canada.  They have lots of diabetes, like the Pima in my neck of the woods.  I’ll look for his results.

If the paleo diet is ever going to be more than a fad, we need clinical studies that support it.  Shoot, even the cabbage soup diet has glowing anecdotal reports from individuals, but it hasn’t stood the test of time.

Am I missing any clinical studies?

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: I still expect a flurry of paleo diet studies to be published in the next 5-10 years, involving several types of human participants (diabetics, overweight and obese, heart patients, hypertensives, etc.).  Then again, maybe I’m wrong.

PPS: Instead of “paleo diet,” you may prefer Old Stone Age diet, Stone Age diet, caveman diet, hunter-gatherere diet, Paleolithic diet, or Ancestral diet

Short-Term Effects of a Paleolithic Diet in Healthy Medical Students

Stockholm Palace

Swedish investigators at Karolinska Institutet found diminished weight, body mass index, blood pressure, and waist circumference in 14 healthy medical students eating a paleo diet for three weeks.

Published in 2008, this seems to be one of the seminal scientific studies of the paleo diet in modern Europeans.

Their version of the paleo diet:

  • Allowed ad lib: All fresh or frozen fruits, berries and vegetables except legumes, canned tomatoes w/o additives, fresh or frozen unsalted fish and seafood, fresh or frozen unsalted lean meats and minced meat, unsalted nuts (except peanuts – a  legume), fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice (as dressing), flaxseed or rapeseed oil (as dressing), coffee and tea (w/o sugar, milk, honey, or cream), all salt-free spices.
  • Allowed but with major restrictions: dried fruit, salted seafood, fat meat, potatoes (two medium-sized per day), honey, cured meats
  • Prohibited: all milk and dairy products, all grain products (including corn and rice), all legumes, canned food except tomatoes, candy, ice cream, soft drinks, juices, syrups, alcohol, sugar, and salt

What Did They Find After Three Weeks?

  • Average weight dropped from 65.2 kg (144 lb) to 62.9 (139 lb) 
  • Average body mass index fell from 22.2 to 21.4
  • Average waist circumference decreased from 74.3 cm (29.25″) to 72.6 cm (28.58″) 
  • Average systolic blood pressure fell from 110 to 104 mmHg
  • plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 decreased from 5.0 kIE/l to 2.8 kIE/l
  • All of these changes were statistically significant

The researchers looked at a number of other blood tests and didn’t find any significant differences. 

Five men and nine women completed the study.  Of the 20 who originally signed up, one could not fulfill the diet, three became ill (no details), two failed to show up.

So What?

That’s a remarkable weight loss over just three weeks for slender people eating ad lib.

The study authors concluded that these paleo diet-induced changes could reduce risk for cardiovascular disease.  They called for a larger study with a control group.  (If it’s been done, I haven’t found it yet.)

Sounds reasonable.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: You’d think they would have said more about the three participants who got sick, rather than leave us wondering if the diet made them ill.

Reference:  Österdahl, M; Kocturk, T; Koochek, A;Wändell, PE.  Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers.  European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62 (2008): 682-685.

Random Thoughts On Paleo Eating For People With Diabetes

Not really pertinent, but I like buffalo

I was interviewed  yesterday by Amy Stockwell Mercer, author of Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes.  All I knew beforehand was that she was interested in my thoughts on the paleo diet as applied to diabetes.

In preparation, I collected some random thoughts and did a little research.

What’s the paleo diet?

Fresh, minimally processed food.  Meat (lean or not? supermarket vs yuppiefied?), poultry, eggs, fish, leafy greens and other vegetables, nuts, berries, fruit, and probably tubers.

Non-paleo: highly processed, grains, refined sugars, industrial plant/seed oils, legumes, milk, cheese, yogurt, salt, alcohol.

Is the paleo diet deficient in any nutrients?

A quick scan of Loren Cordain’s website found mention of possible calcium and vitamin D deficits.  Paleoistas will get vitamin D via sun exposure and fish (especially cold-water fatty fish).  Obtain calcium from broccoli, kale, sardines, almonds, collards.  (I wonder if the Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium is set too high.)

What About Carbohydrates and Diabetes and the Paleo Diet?

Diabetes is a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism.  In a way, it’s an intolerance of carbohydrates.  In type 1 diabetes, there’s a total or near-total lack of insulin production on an autoimmune basis.  In type 2 diabetes, the body’s insulin just isn’t working adequately; insulin production can be high, normal or low.  In both cases, ingested carbohydrates can’t be processed in a normal healthy way, so they stack up in the bloodstream as high blood sugars.  If not addressed adequately, high blood glucose levels sooner or later will poison body tissues .  Sooner in type 1, later in type 2.  (Yes, this is a gross over-simplification.) 

Gluten-rich Neolithic food

If you’re intolerant of lactose or gluten, you avoid those.  If you’re intolerant of carbohydrates, you could avoid eating them, or take drugs to help you overcome your intolerance.  Type 1 diabetics must take insulin.  Insulin’s more optional for type 2’s.  We have 11 classes of drugs to treat type 2 diabetes; we don’t know the potential adverse effects of most of these drugs.  Already, three diabetes drugs have been taken off the U.S. market or severely restricted due to unacceptable toxicity: phenformin, troglitazone, and rosiglitazone. 

Humans need two “essential fatty acids” and nine “essential” amino acids derived from proteins.  “Essential” means we can’t be healthy and live long without them.   Our bodies can’t synthesize them.  On the other hand, there are no essential carbohydrates.  Our bodies can make all the carbohydrate (mainly glucose) we need.

Since there are no essential carbohydrates, and we know little about the long-term adverse side effects of many of the diabetes drugs, I favor carbohydrate restriction for people with carbohydrate intolerance.  (To be clear, insulin is safe, indeed life-saving, for those with type 1 diabetes.)

That being said, let’s think about the Standard American Diet (SAD) eaten by an adult.  It provides an average of 2673 calories a day (not accounting for wastage of calories in restaurants; 2250 cals/day is probably a more accurate figure for actual consumption).  Added sugars provide 459 of those calories, or 17% of the total.  Grains provide 625 calories, or 23% of the total.  Most of those sugars and grains are in processed, commercial foods.  So added sugars and grains provide 40% of the total calories in the SAD.  Remember, we need good insulin action to process these carbs, which is a problem for diabetics.  (Figures are from an April 5, 2011, infographic at Civil Eats.)

Anyone going from the SAD to pure Paleo eating will be drastically reducing intake of added sugars and grains, our current major sources of carbohydrate.  Question is, what will they replace those calories with? 

That’s why I gave a thumbnail sketch of the paleo diet above. Take a gander and you’ll see lots of low-carb and no-carb options, along with some carb options. For folks with carbohydrate intolerance, I’d favor lower-carb veggies and judicious amounts of fruits, berries, and higher-carb veggies and

Will these cause bladder cancer? Pancreatitis?

tubers.  “Judicious” depends on the individual, considering factors such as degree of residual insulin production, insulin sensitivity, the need to lose excess weight, and desire to avoid diabetes drugs.

Compared to the standard “diabetic diet” (what’s that?) and the Standard American Diet, switching to paleo should lower the glycemic index and glycemic load of the diet.  theoretically, that should help with blood sugar control.

A well-designed low-carb paleo diet would likely have at least twice as much fiber as the typical American diet, which would also tend to limit high blood sugar excursions.

In general, I favor a carbohydrate-restricted paleo diet for those with diabetes who have already decided to “go paleo.”  I’m not endorsing any paleo diet for anyone with diabetes at this point—I’m still doing my research.  But if you’re going to do it, I’d keep it lower-carb.  It has a lot of potential.

Are There Any Immediate Dangers for a Person With Diabetes Switching to the Paleo Diet?

It depends on three things: 1) current diet, and 2) current drug therapy, and 3) the particular version of paleo diet followed. 

Remember, the Standard American Diet provides 40% of total calories as added sugars and grains (nearly all highly refined).  Switching from SAD to a low-carb paleo diet will cut carb intake  and glycemic load substantially, raising the risk of hypoglycemia if the person is taking certain drugs.

Drugs with potential to cause hypoglycemia include insulin, sulfonylureas, meglitinides, pramlintide, and perhaps thiazolidinediones.

Who knows about carb content of the standard “diabetic diet”?  Contrary to popular belief, there is no monolithic “diabetic diet.”  There is no ADA diet (American Diabetes Association).  My impression, however, is that the ADA favors relatively high carbohydrate consumption, perhaps 45-60% of total calories.  Switching to low-carb paleo could definitely cause hypoglycemia in those taking the aforementioned drugs.

One way to avoid diet-induced hypoglycemia is to reduce the diabetic drug dose.

A type 2 overweight diabetic eating a Standard American Diet—and I know there are many out there—would tend to see lower glucose levels by switching to probably any of the popular paleo diets.  Be ready for hypoglycemia if you take those drugs.

Paleo diets are not necessarily low-carb.  Konner and Eaton estimate that ancestral hunter-gatherers obtained 35 to 40% of total calories from carbohydrates.  I’ve seen other estimates as low as 22%.  Reality likely falls between 22 and 65%.  When pressed for a brief answer as to how many carbohydrate calories are in the paleo diet, I say “about a third of the total.”  By comparison, the typical U.S. diet provides 50% of calories from carbohydrate.

Someone could end up with a high-carb paleo diet easily, by emphasizing tubers (e.g., potatoes), higher-carb vegetables, fruits, berries, and nuts (especially cashews). Compared with the SAD, this could cause higher or lower blood sugars, or no net change.

A diabetic on a Bernstein-style diet or Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet (both very-low-carb) but switching to paleo or low-carb paleo (50-150 g?) would see elevated blood sugars.  Perhaps very high glucoses.

Any person with diabetes making a change in diet should do it in consultation with a personal physician or other qualified healthcare professional familiar with their case.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Fun Facts!

  • A typical carbonated soda contain the equivalent of 10 tsp (50 ml) of sugar.
  • The typical U.S. adult eats 30 tsp  (150 ml) daily of added sweeteners and sugars.
  • U.S total grain product consumption was at record lows in the 1970s, at 138 pounds per person.  By 2000, grain consumption was up by 45%, to 200 pounds per person.
  • Total caloric sweetener consumption (by dry weight) was 110 pounds per person in the  1950s.  By 2000, it was up 39% to 150 pounds.
  • Between 1970 and 2003, consumption of added fats and oils rose by 63%, from 53 to 85 pounds.  [How tasty would that be without starches and sugars?  Not very.]
  • In 2008, “added fat” calories in the U.S. adult diet were 641 (24% of total calories).

Fun Facts provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

(The paleo diet is also referred to as the Paleolithic, Old Stone Age, Stone Age, Ancestral, Hunter-Gatherer, or Caveman diet.)

Can Diabetes Be Prevented?

Not Paula Deen

Paula Deen’s recent announcement of her type 2 diabetes got me to thinking about diabetes prevention again.  If you’re at high risk of developing diabetes you can reduce your risk of full-blown type 2 diabetes by 58% with intensive lifestyle modification.  Here’s how it was done in a 2002 study:

The goals for the participants assigned to the intensive lifestyle intervention were to achieve and maintain a weight reduction of at least 7 percent of initial body weight through a healthy low-calorie, low-fat diet and to engage in physical activity of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes per week. A 16-lesson curriculum covering diet, exercise, and behavior modification was designed to help the participants achieve these goals. The curriculum, taught by case managers on a one-to-one basis during the first 24 weeks after enrollment, was flexible, culturally sensitive, and individualized. Subsequent individual sessions (usually monthly) and group sessions with the case managers were designed to reinforce the behavioral changes.

Although the Diabetes Prevention Program encouraged a low-fat diet, another study from 2008 showed that a low-fat diet did nothing to prevent diabetes in postmenopausal women

I don’t know Paula Deen.  I’ve never watched one of her cooking shows.  She looks overweight and I’d be surprised if she’s had a good exercise routine over the last decade.  I’m sorry she’s part of the diabetes epidemic we have in the U.S.  I wish her well.  Amy Tenderich posted the transcript of her brief interview with Paula, who calculates her sweet tea habit gave her one-and-a-half cups of sugar daily.  Not quite a paleo diet.

  • Nearly 27% of American adults age 65 or older have diabetes (overwhelmingly type 2)
  • Half of Americans 65 and older have prediabetes
  • 11% of U.S. adults (nearly 26 million) have diabetes (overwhelmingly type 2)
  • 35% of adults (79 million) have prediabetes, and most of those affected don’t know it

I think excessive consumption of concentrated sugars and refined carbohydrates contribute to the diabetes epidemic.  To the extent that paleo diets (aka Old Stone Age or caveman diets) restrict concentrated sugars and refined carbohydrates, they are likely to prevent type 2 diabetes. 

Avoiding overweight, obesity, and physical inactivity may be even more important. 

The Mediterranean diet has also been linked to lower rates of diabetes (and here).  Preliminary studies suggest the Paleo diet may also be preventative (and here).

Greatly reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by eating right, keeping your weight reasonable, and exercising.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group.  Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes with Lifestyle Intervention or MetforminNew England Journal of Medicine, 346 (2002): 393-403.

UCSF Investigating Paleolithic Diet for Diabetics

A May, 2010, press release from University of California San Francisco outlines the university’s research into use of the Paleolithic diet (aka Stone Age or caveman diet) for people with type 2 diabetes.  From the press release:

The initial research findings are striking. Without losing weight, participants in a preliminary study improved blood sugar control, blood pressure control and blood vessel elasticity. They lowered levels of blood fats such as cholesterol. And most amazingly, participants achieved these results in less than three weeks — simply by switching to a Paleolithic diet.

The lead researchers are nephrologist Lynda Frassetto and endocrinologist Umesh Masharani.  Frassetto and team had previously looked at metabolic improvements linked to the paleo diet.

We await publication of their current findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Paleo Diet Is More Satiating Than Mediterranean-Style in Small Study

Swedish researchers reported in 2010 that a Paleolithic diet was more satiating than a Mediterranean-style diet, when compared on a calorie-for-calorie basis in heart patients.  Both groups of study subjects reported equal degrees of satiety, but the paleo dieters ended up eating 24% fewer calories over the 12-week study.

The main differences in the diets were that the paleo dieters had much lower consumption of cereals (grains) and dairy products, and more fruit and nuts.  The paleos derived 40% of total calories from carbohydrate compared to 52% among the Mediterraneans.

Even though it wasn’t a weight-loss study, both groups lost weight.  The paleo dieters lost a bit more than the Mediterraneans: 5 kg vs 3.8 kg (11 lb vs 8.4 lb).  That’s fantastic weight loss for people not even trying.  Average starting weight of these 29 ischemic heart patients was 93 kg (205 lb).  Each intervention group had only 13 or 14 patients (I’ll let you figure out what happened to to the other two patients).

I blogged about this study population before.  Participants supposedly had diabetes or prediabetes, although certainly very mild cases (average hemoglobin A1c of 4.7% and none were taking diabetic drugs)

As I slogged through the research report, I had to keep reminding myself that this is a very small, pilot study.  So I’ll not bore you with all the details.

Bottom Line

This study suggests that the paleo diet may be particularly helpful for weight loss in heart patients.  No one knows how results would compare a year or two after starting the diet.  The typical weight-loss pattern is to start gaining the weight back at six months, with return to baseline at one or two years out.

Greek investigators found a link between the Mediterranean diet and better clinical outcomes in known ischemic heart disease patients.  On the other hand, researchers at the Heart Institute of Spokane found the Mediterranean diet equivalent to a low-fat diet in heart patients, again in terms of clinical outcomes.  U.S. investigators in 2007 found a positive link between the Mediterranean diet and lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer

We don’t yet have these kinds of studies looking at the potential benefits of the paleo diet.  I’m talking about hard clinical endpoints such as heart attacks, heart failure, cardiac deaths, and overall deaths.  The paleo diet definitely shows some promise.

I also note the Swedish investigators didn’t point out that weight loss in overweight heart patients may be detrimental.  This is the “obesity paradox,” called “reverse epidemiology” at Wikipedia.  That’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

Keep your eye on the paleo diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Jonsson, Tommy, et al.  A paleolithic diet is more satiating per calorie than a mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart diseaseNutrition and Metabolism, 2010, 7:85.