- On the Paleo Diet and Diabetes
- What is Paleo?
- Benefits of the Paleo Diet?
- The Paleo Diet and Diabetes
- Research On the Paleo Diet Says…
- Best and Worst Paleo Foods for Diabetes
- Low-Carb Paleo
- A “Paleobetic” Experience
- What is a Paleo diet?
- Why would someone eat a Paleo diet?
- How does a paleo diet work?
- Benefits of a paleo diet
- Paleo diet side effects
- Can The Paleo Diet Help Diabetics?
- The Paleo Diet
- Why Switch to The Paleo Diet?
- Diabetes: The Basics
- Diabetes and the Modern Lifestyle
- Diabetes and Paleo: The Big Picture
- Summing it Up
- Diabetes expert warns Paleo Diet is dangerous and increases weight gain
- 5 Dangers of Doing Whole30
- The Paleo Diet for Diabetes
- What is the Paleo Diet?
- Can a Paleo Diet Benefit People with Diabetes?
- Getting Started with a Paleo Diet
- Preventing and Reversing Diabetes with the Paleo Diet
- 1. The Paleo diet is lower in simple carbohydrates
- 2. The Paleo diet is higher in fiber
- 3. The Paleo diet is higher in good healthy fats
- 4. The Paleo diet is higher in nutrients
- 5. Most people lose weight on the Paleo diet
- Related posts:
On the Paleo Diet and Diabetes
The Paleo Diet, otherwise known as the “Caveman Diet,” is hugely popular at the moment. And lots of folks want to know how it plays with diabetes…
The DiabetesMine Team took a deep dive into what this eating plan entails, and what nutrition experts and research have to say about it.
What is Paleo?
The basic idea of the Paleo Diet is returning to our dietary roots. That is, the name is short for “Paleolithic” referring to the Stone Age, when humans had a very simple diet of whole, unprocessed foods. The theory here is that if we go back to eating that way, we’ll all be healthier and toxin-free.
This diet is super-trendy at the moment as almost a modern “cure-all,” but the premise is based on scientific evidence about what early humans ate.
Established by health scholar Loren Cordrain, Paleo assumes that humans were genetically and evolutionarily designed to eat foods that were available during the Paleolithic era, versus the agriculturally-based diet that was only developed in the last 10,000 years — and even more so the processed and chemically-based diet of the last hundred years.
The diet consists of lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. What’s missing are all processed foods, grains, dairy, and legumes, along with simple sugars and artificial sweeteners. Because, you know… cavemen didn’t eat that stuff.
According experts, the Paleo Diet is high in protein, fiber and healthy fats; high in potassium salt intake and low in sodium salt (healthier option); and provides dietary acid and alkaline balance as well as high intake of vitamins, minerals, plant phytochemicals and antioxidants. It’s also quite low-carb — a plus for those of us with diabetes, to be sure!
But for many people, it is difficult to make a long-term commitment to swear off ALL cereal, pasta, bread and rice, dairy foods, beans and peanuts, potatoes and processed foods.
Still, the Paleo Diet has a huge following, has inspired something called the Ancestral Health Movement, and now even has its own annual conference in Austin, TX: Paleo f(x), billed as “the world’s premier wellness event, covering health, nutrition, fitness, sustainability, and everything in between.“
Benefits of the Paleo Diet?
Paleo followers believe that eliminating certain foods in their diet will reduce inflammation in the body, and folks will enjoy health benefits like weight loss, reduced bloating, clearer skin, and more energy.
You may wonder why the Paleo Diet cuts out whole grains, dairy and legumes, when we’ve been told for decades that stuff is good for us?
The answer is that some health experts attribute the rise in heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other diseases to our 10,000-year-old “diet of agriculture.” The fact is that most Americans consume far more carbohydrates than we really need on a daily basis, and our waistlines prove it. Many experts now believe that carbohydrates, especially processed foods but even grains, stimulate the appetite because the brain doesn’t respond to the nutrients the same way it does to meats and vegetables. Think about it: how many of you can eat one tortilla chip after another without stopping? How many of you can say the same thing about chicken breast?
“Legumes and whole grains contain some of the highest concentrations of anti-nutrients in any foods,” Paleo founder Cordrain writes. “These compounds frequently increase intestinal permeability and cause a condition known as “leaky gut,” a necessary first step in almost all autoimmune diseases. Further, a leaky gut likely underlies chronic, low-grade inflammation, which underlies not only autoimmune diseases, but also heart disease and cancer.”
However, there is also plenty of research showing that whole grains and legumes are good for you, but that simply overdoing it on the anti-nutrients will cause problems for your gut.
Some experts simply point out that grains have fewer benefits compared to fruit and veggies, therefore due to the potentially unsavory consequences, they think we should stick to a non-grain diet. In addition, many people also report seeing health improvements when going gluten-free.
Dairy is probably the most hotly debated area of the Paleo movement. The reason: dairy can actually be really good for you. But it can also be bad for you. Dairy that comes from hormone and antibiotic-infused cows living in incredibly close quarters should probably be avoided. High-fat, and even raw (if you can find it), dairy is recommended because it has a good mixture of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
In addition, the dangers of saturated fat and cholesterol, which originally scared many people away from the ultra-low-carb Atkins diet, are now believed to have been overstated. Newer research indicates that dietary saturated fat and cholesterol does not raise the body’s cholesterol. The foods that replaced them, like margarine, may have actually caused more disease than the foods the health authorities originally blamed. So enjoy those eggs!
While the health benefits of Paleo eating have been greatly hyped, many experts doubt whether it is any better than a Mediterranean, Ketogenic or Vegan diet that also focus on whole foods but are less restrictive.
The Paleo Diet and Diabetes
So is the Paleo Diet ideally suited to diabetes?
There’s actually a heated scientific debate going on about that right now, according to Dr. Steve Parker, an Arizona hospitalist and author of “Paleobetic Diet.”
He points out the lack of hard scientific data on what is the best way of eating for people with diabetes (see Research section, below).
“When I started exploring the Paleolithic diet as an approach to diabetes several years ago, my first concern was whether it provided adequate basic nutrition. I.e., enough vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, fiber, protein, etc. I convinced myself it is indeed adequate,” Dr. Parker says.
On the question of whether he specifically recommends Paleo for PWDs (people with diabetes), he says: “As your readers are aware, each case of diabetes is unique… Whether type 1 or 2, PWDs have variable degrees of insulin resistance and sensitivity, which will affect food choices. The individual PWD may have to experiment with different diets to see which is best for (them), based on overall sense of well-being, glycemic control, other medical conditions present, age, cost, food preferences, etc.”
We posed the same question to a number of experts, and the consensus seemed to be that Paleo eating is basically “diabetes-neutral,” meaning it’s not inherently better or worse for people with diabetes than most other diets.
“Since the Paleo Diet completely eliminates the typical foods of indulgence — desserts, pizza, French fries, sweetened beverages, etc. — people who strictly follow the plan often have improved blood glucose levels, more healthful cholesterol levels, reduced triglyceride, more energy, better sleep and other improvements. They may even drop a few pounds. However, these gains are very likely the result of eating less (or no) highly processed, nutrient-poor and high-calorie foods and not so much the result of the specific Paleo plan,” says Jill Weisenberger, a Virginia-based registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator (CDE) and certified health and wellness coach.
Susan Weiner, a registered dietitian nutritionist and CDE in New York who’s also a published author and was named AADE’s 2015 Certified Diabetes Educator of the Year, reminds us that animals and plants have evolved significantly since the days of our ancestors. Therefore, what we are eating now is not the same nutritionally as what our ancestors ate.
“It’s also important to point out that our ancestors simply had shorter life spans than we do, and therefore may not have developed many of the diseases that we have today,” Weiner says. “Additionally, the ‘Paleo’ friendly fruits and vegetables were vastly different than what is agriculturally available today. So it’s not as simple as making a one-on-one comparison to what our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago… our ancestors (cavemen) also did not just live in one place, they ate differently depending on their environments.”
Jill Weisenberger, dietitian, nutritionist and diabetes educator
Certain principles of the Paleo Diet, such as reducing consumption of processed food and limiting salt and sugar intake, can be beneficial to people with diabetes, Weiner says. “However, trying to completely eliminate all processed foods from your diet for the rest of your life is challenging (to say the least), and may put a lot of pressure on a person who has diabetes and other daily concerns around diabetes management.”
Weiner adds that completely cutting out beans, legumes and dairy may be too restrictive for some people who have diabetes and may have other health consequences such as reduced fiber intake. She notes two other drawbacks as well: overly restrictive diets may worsen disordered eating behaviors, and it can also be expensive to purchase organic foods suggested on this diet plan.
Christel Oerum, a longtime type 1 and diabetes advocate who is a certified personal trainer, bikini fitness champion and founder of TheFitBlog, looks at the Paleo Diet through the eyes of a knowledgeable patient and health coach. She says:
“I like many of the underlying ideas of the Paleo Diet, primarily the focus on eating ‘real’ unprocessed foods. I am also a fan of getting enough protein and not being afraid of healthy fats. But from a diabetes perspective, I do find the Paleo Diet’s approach to carbohydrates a little challenging. While it’s not a low-carb diet per se, it does restrict a large number of complex carbs (only sweet potato is allowed) while allowing more high glycemic carbohydrates like honey and dried / fresh fruit. I have nothing against high glycemic carbohydrates in small amounts and at the right time, but including them in high quantities will make good blood sugar management very challenging.”
Research On the Paleo Diet Says…
There are in fact precious few research studies done on effects of the Paleo Diet — just a couple of short-term studies including a relatively small number of people, the experts tell us.
Weisenberger points out a “small but well-designed study” from 2009, in which 13 people with type 2 diabetes ate both a Paleo Diet and a non-Paleo Diet for three months each. On average, they had lower weight, A1C, triglyceride and diastolic blood pressure levels after consuming the Paleo Diet.
“However, this does not suggest to me that the Paleo Diet is superior to other diet plans. That’s because following the Paleo Diet resulted in the consumption of less carbohydrate (on average 71 g less daily), fewer calories (on average ~300 calories less daily) and less saturated fat (on average 8 g less daily), among other differences. These are very big differences. I suspect that if the calorie and carbohydrate contents of the diets were held identical, the results would be more similar. Changes in glucose tolerance did not differ between the two diet periods, by the way.”
Susan Weiner, dietitian, nutritionist and AADE’s 2015 Certified Diabetes Educator of the Year
Weiner highlights a similar UC San Francisco study from 2011 in which two small groups of people with type 2 diabetes ate either a Paleo or Mediterranean diet for several weeks running. Results showed that the Paleo group had improvement in blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
But she also has reservations about reading too much into those results. “The people in the study may not have been food shopping and preparing healthy meals prior to adopting healthier habits (in the study) such as eating less processed foods and more vegetables,” she says. “More research needs to be done to see if this type of eating plan has long lasting effects on blood sugar levels and diabetes.”
Note that in U.S. News and World Report’s 2014 ranking of Best Diets Overall (compiled with the help of top health and nutrition experts), Paleo tied for last in a group of 32 diets, with this comment: “Experts took issue with the diet on every measure. Regardless of the goal — weight loss, heart health, or finding a diet that’s easy to follow — most experts concluded that it would be better for dieters to look elsewhere.” No. 1? The government-developed DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
Best and Worst Paleo Foods for Diabetes
Experts agree that lean meats, vegetables, and nuts are all great choices for PWDs, yet as Oerum notes, the Paleo emphasis on fruit (with all its natural sugar) definitely gives some people pause.
Interestingly, in the 2009 study, the participants assigned to the Paleo Diet who lowered their A1C levels had consumed less carbohydrates overall, but they consumed more fruit — almost twice as much as the control group. “I know many PWDs who fear eating fruit because of its sugar content. This should help allay those worries,” Weisenberger says.
Many Paleo bloggers and their readers readily admit that “eating like a caveman” is more of a general principle, because there was no single caveman diet. It’s kind of like telling someone today to eat like a human. The caveman diet likely ranged from primarily meats to primarily plants, depending on where the cave-folks lived. Plus, many Paleo followers now insert various ingredients to “paleo-ify” certain foods, such as kale chips, spaghetti bolognese made with spaghetti squash, and banana bread made with almond flour. Certainly not something a caveman would have dined on! But all good options for diabetes, actually.
For her part, Weiner says: “I believe in individualized nutrition choices for people with diabetes. Small and sustainable adjustments to your current meal plan is usually most effective to help positively influence your blood sugar levels. Try reducing your intake of processed food and adding in more fresh vegetables and lean protein. It doesn’t matter what you ‘name’ the meal plan that works best for you and your diabetes.”
What does she herself eat? Lots of vegetables, some fruits, nuts, fish, lowfat and nondairy items and all types of plant-based proteins, along with chicken, turkey, beef etc.
Paleobetic author Dr. Parker sums it up this way: “Just as nature has designed each animal species to thrive on certain foods, we humans are healthiest eating particular nature-made foods, not man-made… The Paleo diet is a reasonable one for diabetes. A low-carb version should be even better.”
“Why do I favor carbohydrate restriction?” he writes to us. “For T2D, it allows minimization of diabetic drug usage. The problem with most of our diabetes drugs is that we don’t know the
long-term safety and side effects (metformin and insulin are exceptions). For example, it took us 15-20 years to figure out that metformin can cause vitamin B12 deficiency. Taking three or four high-dose diabetes drugs is an open-ended N=1 experiment with unknown outcome. For T1D, carb restriction allows minimization of insulin dose, which in many folks cuts down their episodes of hypoglycemia.
“Furthermore, many experts think high insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia) cause some of the complications of diabetes and aging, such as vascular disease and high blood pressure. A type 1 PWD who is overweight and using more than 70-80 units of insulin daily is probably insulin resistant and hyperinsulinemic. Why not reduce carbs and insulin dose?”
He adds that if he had diabetes himself, he would follow a diet limited to 30 to 100 grams a day of carbs, definitely on the lower end if he had type 1.
“These carbohydrate ranges are possible with a Bernstein diet, low-carb Mediterranean, low-carb Paleo, and perhaps even vegetarian,” he adds. “I doubt that the popular generic Paleo diet book diets reduce carbs below 100 grams. They usually don’t even provide carb counts, which I think are important. My personal choice at this stage would be low-carb Mediterranean simply because we have good long-term studies demonstrating (that) is healthful.”
A “Paleobetic” Experience
The Internet is full of testimonials from folks who have “gone paleo” and report a good experience. One example is T1D Lindsay Swanson, who wrote a guest post at the Joslin Diabetes
Center blog reporting that “living paleo has lessened that relentless burden tremendously through consistency and stability.”
When diabetes advocate and former DiabetesMine team member Allison Nimlos first experimented with the Paleo Diet back in 2013, she experienced some amazing results right off the bat. She reported:
1. My blood sugars started dropping right away. It only took a couple of days before I saw that my blood sugars were lower and steadier throughout the day. After a few more days, I started having a fair share of low blood sugars!
2. My basal insulin is impacted by my diet more than my bolus ratios. When I first started dropping frequently — a 3-4 low blood sugars a day — I thought I need to cut everything. Turns out, I did need to drop my Lantus by 10%, but I didn’t need to do anything to my bolus ratios. (Yet.)
3. I have the best control in recent memory, but it’s not perfect. Like anything that involves tweaking and adjustments, the Paleo Diet is hardly a cure. Now that I’m taking less insulin, there are fewer chances for me to go low, and more chances for me to go high. You can never expect anything — not a diet, not a medication, not an insulin pump — to run the show for you.
4. If you eat low-carb, you have to bolus for protein. This was the biggest shock for me. After querying my friends, I discovered that bolusing for approximately half the protein is what I need to do to prevent a post-meal spike. Gary Scheiner, author and CDE at Integrated Diabetes Services, explained, “Since your Central Nervous System needs glucose to function, if your diet is lacking in carbs, the liver will convert some dietary protein into glucose. So it is usually necessary to bolus for some of your protein whenever you have a meal that is very low in carbs.” For me, a low-carb meal is anything under 30 grams of carbs.
5. My skin and energy levels improved. Not really diabetes-related, but certainly benefits!
Allison ended up straying from the Paleo Diet after just 7 months because she found it too hard to sustain. “But I do appreciate what I learned from my experience… and the exposure to different types of recipes,” she writes. “I’ve learned to appreciate different cuts of meats, the kinds of substitutions you can do with vegetables (try spaghetti squash instead of pasta!) and the magic of spices.”
And she reminds us not to get too hung up on the “history” or “legitimacy” of the “caveman diet.”
“Almost everyone who actually follows the Paleo Diet recognizes that it’s not historically accurate. It’s not meant to duplicate any kind of historical diet that our ancestors ate. What it is trying to do is get us to eat clean, natural and unprocessed healthy foods. There are a variety of reasons why (enthusiasts) advocate a no-grain, no-legume, no-dairy diet — all of which you canread about in the book “It Starts with Food” or by searching the Internet — but in the end they just want people to eat foods that are healthy and won’t cause any digestive harm.”
Excellent point. It seems the core value of the Paleo Diet and others like it is in getting people to become conscious consumers of as much clean, unprocessed food as possible. And that’s a win for diabetes care, without a doubt.
The paleolithic (or paleo) diet is based on the food that is believed to be similar to the daily diet of cave people.
The theory is that the food cavemen and cavewomen survived on is good for health because it was what the human body was meant to eat.
Paleolithic diets are thought to be especially useful for people with diabetes, with possible benefits including weight loss, increased insulin sensitivity and improved heart health
You should speak to your doctor or dietitian if are you considering going paleo to evaluate whether the diet would be suitable for you.
What is a Paleo diet?
A well-formulated paleo diet typically resembles a low-carb diet The focus is on eating fresh foods and removing processed foods including dairy, starches and refined sugar.
A paleo diet will usually be:
- Lower in carbohydrate
- Higher in protein
- Moderate or higher in fat
Paleo diets are categorised into two groups of food: in and out. Pre-agricultural/animal foods such as red meat and fish are i, but Neolithic era foods such as grains and dairy are not. This cuts out a lot of the bad aspects of a Western diet.
Alcohol, dairy and coffee are generally rejected on the diet, but some people may choose to modify their diet to allow these foods on occasion. It depends how strict you wish to be.
A good intake of non-starchy vegetables is recommended when following the diet.
Read more about foods to eat on a paleo diet
Why would someone eat a Paleo diet?
Many people who eat paleolithic diets are looking to return to their roots and eat more healthily
Advocates argue that humans were able to live and thrive on the diet for 40,000 years and that modern lifestyle diseases could be prevented by returning to paleo foods.
People with diabetes can attain several benefits from the paleo diet, improving their health and reducing the risk of developing health complications in later life.
How does a paleo diet work?
How does a paleo diet work? Because most foods and ingredients on the diet are low in carbohydrate, the need for insulin is reduced within the body. This can help to prevent insulin resistance and reduce the risk of developing health problems such as high blood glucose levels and heart disease.
There are no fixed macronutrient ratios on a paleo diet, but paleo diet sources tend to agree that macros should be are around 20% carbs, 30% protein and 50% fat.
There is less need for strict portion control with paleo foods than there is for low-fat diets. However, be mindful not to over-indulge on foods such as fruit, nuts or excessive meat.
Benefits of a paleo diet
Weight loss is the most discernible early benefit of the paleo diet, which derives from eating low-carb, cutting out processed food and eating lots of vegetables.
Reduced body fat and increased muscle mass are other possible benefits of the diet as it is low-carb and relatively high protein.
Additional benefits include greater energy levels, improved heart health and less inflammation.
Read more about the benefits of a paleo diet.
Paleo diet side effects
Because you have to exclude certain food groups on the paleo diet your body can take time to adapt. Some side effects can occur as a result, but these are not the same for everyone; some can experience no side effects at all.
Low-carb flu is a common side effect, which results due to lower carb intake. Initially some people can also experience fatigue and a lack of energy. This tends to disappear within a few days.
Read more about the side effects of a paleo diet.
Can The Paleo Diet Help Diabetics?
November is National Diabetes Month, so now is a great time to reflect upon the 26 million people who already have diabetes, as well as the nearly 80 million with pre-diabetes (those on high alert for developing the condition). If you fall into any of these groups, or know someone who does, take the time to consider what kinds of food choices may lead to better health.
Sometimes, better health means that weight loss is necessary. Obesity increases the risk for diabetes, and losing weight can help keep your blood glucose level on target.
Luckily, it may not be necessary to lose all those excess pounds to improve diabetes outcomes. Losing just 5-10% of your body weight can help lower your blood glucose, total cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. Here, we will outline one eating plan that can help people with diabetes lose weight, among many other possible benefits.
The Paleo Diet
Often, people do not make time to prepare their own meals or even monitor their food intake. This can lead to regular intake of packaged, processed foods. Many experts believe that this trend away from carefully prepared whole foods has contributed to the rise in obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
A growing number of nutrition researchers and doctors now suggest that we try a return to simpler diets, based on grass-fed and free-range animal products, fresh seafood, and whole fruit, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.
The Paleo (Paleolithic) Diet, also known the Hunter-Gatherer Diet, is a healthy-eating plan based on fresh, unprocessed plants and animals. Even though it is modeled after human diets from thousands of years ago, the Paleo Diet consists of easy-to-find foods, such as fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and grass-fed meats. Most versions of the diet do not include grains (like wheat, rye, and barley) or legumes (like beans). Only a few versions include dairy, if it is from grass-fed cows or raw (“unpasteurized”).
Supporters of the Paleo Diet also think that you should avoid all processed fats, such as vegetable oil, soybean oil and margarine. This is because they are not whole foods and have been shown to contribute to heart disease. However, they do approve of several types of oil, including flaxseed, walnut, macadamia, avocado, olive and coconut. Most sugar is also limited.
The Paleo Diet can be adjusted for your specific tastes, weight loss goals and blood glucose needs. The Paleo Diet is very strict about the types of foods you can consume, however those foods that abide by the Paleo premise can be consumed in unlimited quantities. On this diet, you and your healthcare team can choose how much carbohydrate, protein and fat is best for you.
Why Switch to The Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet is high in vitamins and minerals, unprocessed, and low in foods that trigger allergic reactions. People with diabetes may benefit from improved blood glucose control, weight loss, and higher energy on this eating plan.
Here are other possible benefits of the Paleo Diet:
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- Better blood glucose control
- Better brain health
- Stronger muscles
- Better digestion
- Increased absorption of vitamins and minerals
- Increased immunity
- Relief from allergies and skin diseases
- Improved energy levels
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Reduced depression and anxiety
- Improved sleep
If you have poor digestion, allergies, high blood glucose, or any other symptoms of nutritional deficiency, think about speaking with your healthcare team about the Paleo Diet. With good planning, this healthy eating plan can be very nutrient-dense, low in allergens, and made specifically to suit your individual needs and tastes. It is a good idea to read more about this subject if you do decide to talk about it with your doctor or healthcare team. Have a look at some of the many books and articles written about the Paleo Diet, the Primal Diet, and “ancestral diets.” These are all slightly different eating plans based on the same basic idea: whole, unprocessed, and low-allergen foods are best.
Jonathan Jarashow, Publisher
Diabetes Digest Family of Magazines
Learn how adopting The Paleo Diet can help diabetics:
Paleolithic Diet is Best Bet for Diabetes and Other Diseases
Cow’s Milk and Type 1 Diabetes
Every minute, three people in the U.S. are diagnosed with diabetes, for a total of 20.9 million people living with the disease (as of 2011, so that number is probably even higher now). That’s up from just 5.6 million in 1980. Currently, about 7% of people in the US have diabetes, but that doesn’t actually tell the whole story. An estimated 86 million more have pre-diabetes (blood sugar high enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be diabetes.
Diabetes is sometimes called a “lifestyle disease,” meaning that it’s caused by lifestyle factors like diet and exercise, rather than a particular germ or gene. It’s often (but not always!) associated with other lifestyle diseases like obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, because the same kinds of lifestyle patterns tend to cause more than one of those problems.
When the Paleo crowd starts talking about diabetes, we typically start from the fact that it’s almost unknown in traditional cultures, even among people in later middle-age. The natural suggestion from there is to eat like people in those cultures – minimal processed and refined foods. But there are a few problems with this:
- All those traditional groups eat differently, so who do you want to imitate, the ultra low-carb and diabetes-free Maasai, or the high-carb and equally diabetes-free Kitavans?
- Diet isn’t the only difference. Lifestyle factors like sleep and exercise also have a huge effect on diabetes: it’s not just food. A diet that works in the context of one lifestyle might not work in another.
- Prevention isn’t the same as cure. People who’ve lived in the modern world their whole lives might need more intensive intervention than people who’ve always been healthy.
For a really comprehensive look at diabetes, we need to get beyond trying to imitate hunter-gatherer groups or cavemen and look at what kinds of diet changes work for humans in the modern world where we all have to live. So here’s closer look. It does get pretty science-heavy, but hopefully at the end you’ll understand what aspects of Paleo make it a good diet for diabetes, and what you might want to play around with to find something that really works for you.
Diabetes: The Basics
Diabetes starts with the hormone insulin. Insulin does all kinds of things, but one of its most basic jobs is to manage blood sugar.
When you eat anything containing carbohydrates, your body breaks the carbohydrates down into simple sugars and releases them into the bloodstream (the process is slightly different for different types of simple sugars, but this is the basic idea). High blood sugar is dangerous in the long term, so insulin is released in response, and the insulin guides the glucose into your muscles, liver, brain, and fat cells.
Storing glucose in fat cells isn’t bad all by itself. That’s how you store energy to use between meals. Otherwise, you’d need to be eating constantly, and that would be incredibly annoying. Storing glucose in fat cells lets you save some of your calories for later, so you can use them at 4 p.m. even if you ate them at noon. Obviously, if you keep storing more glucose than you ever need to use, you’ll gain weight, but the system of storing glucose in fat cells isn’t inherently dangerous.
OK, but what does this have to do with diabetes? Every type of diabetes involves some kind of problem with insulin regulation leading to high blood sugar.
- People with Type 1 Diabetes don’t produce insulin because of an autoimmune disease in the pancreas. When they eat carbohydrates, they have nothing to bring down the dangerously high levels of blood sugar, and they have no way to store that glucose for later.
- People with Type 2 Diabetes produce enough (even too much) insulin, but their body is insulin resistant: it doesn’t listen to the insulin signals, and the extra sugar in their blood doesn’t get stored, so it stays hanging out in the bloodstream, being dangerous.
- Women with gestational diabetes have basically the same problem as people with Type 2, but temporarily and only during pregnancy.
The chronically high blood sugar is what causes the diabetic side effects like numbness/tingling, vision loss, slow wound healing, and even the need to amputate limbs.
All three types do have some basis in genetics, but genes can’t account for the whole story. Genes haven’t changed that much since the 1980s, but rates of diabetes have risen incredibly. To account for that, we have to look at diet and lifestyle.
Diabetes and the Modern Lifestyle
Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease. There are dietary factors in autoimmune disease, but they’re not the same factors that contribute to Type 2. If you want to read about Type 1 Diabetes, you can take a look at this post; everything else about diet and lifestyle below will be focused on Type 2.
People with Type 2 Diabetes have insulin resistance. They make plenty of insulin, but their body doesn’t listen to the insulin signals, so their blood sugar stays dangerously high.
At first, the pancreas responds by making even more insulin, which temporarily forces the muscle, fat, and liver cells to accept the glucose. But it’s basically like a shouting match where the pancreas keeps screaming “take the glucose” louder and louder by producing more insulin and the rest of the body keeps turning up its headphones higher and higher by becoming more insulin resistant. Eventually, the pancreas can’t make enough insulin to force the body into accepting the glucose.
But how do people start getting insulin resistant in the first place? There’s a very oversimplified story that “eating carbs raises insulin, which causes insulin resistance, which causes diabetes,” but plenty of healthy traditional groups eat high-carb diets without getting diabetes. Maybe the carbs in the modern diet are part of the story, but what other parts of our diet or lifestyle make the carbs dangerous to us, when that same amount of carbs is fine for the Kitavans? Here are a few possible answers.
Being Sedentary Contributes to Insulin Resistance.
Muscle tissue is one of the major storage areas for glucose (carbohydrate). Insulin stores glucose as glycogen in the muscles, so it’s right there if you need it for a burst of sudden movement.
Depleting glycogen stores in the muscles makes room for more glucose to show up and fill them again. That glucose has to come from the glucose in your blood, so every time your muscles need to refill their glycogen stores, they do it by reducing blood sugar. Exercise helps keep blood sugar levels down and reduce insulin resistance.
Many people today have completely sedentary lives, so they never deplete the glycogen stores in their muscles. So when insulin comes knocking, trying to put more glucose into the muscles, the muscles resist the insulin signal.
For physically active people in hunter-gatherer societies, a higher-carb diet might be totally fine because their muscles are constantly sucking up more glucose to replace what they use during exercise. For sedentary modern couch potatoes, that same diet might be dangerous, not because the carbs magically became “bad,” but because the lifestyle context changed.
Gut Problems Contribute to Insulin Resistance.
Gut health might also make all the difference in causing or curing diabetes. The gut flora (the friendly bacteria that live in your gut) affect insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance. For example, they’re important for breaking down and synthesizing some nutrients, like choline, that your body needs for proper blood sugar regulation. People with diabetes have different patterns of gut flora than healthy people. Drugs for Type 2 Diabetes, like metformin, work partly by changing the gut flora.
This is particularly true in Type 1 diabetes (since autoimmune diseases are very strongly linked to gut health), but it’s also true for Type 2. In fact, the changes to the gut may even be one reason why Type 2 Diabetes has an autoimmune connection. Gut flora changes could also be one link between Type 2 Diabetes and obesity.
Life in the modern world is full of gut-health threats that our ancestors just didn’t have to face. Antibiotics are one huge example – sure, it’s totally worth it to not die of pneumonia, but penicillin really does a number on the gut flora.
Sleep Deprivation Contributes to Insulin Resistance.
Another factor that makes higher-carb diets dangerous is sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity by affecting important hormones for healthy insulin regulation. For example, sleep deprivation raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol keeps your blood sugar high. If you had to run away from a tiger, that would be really helpful (think of how much energy you have with high blood sugar), but as a chronic, constant state of living, it’s a problem.
Sleep deprivation also damages the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. And it causes gut problems, which then go on to cause insulin resistance of their own.
Inflammation Ties it All Together.
Inflammation is one problem connecting all of the above. If you don’t know what inflammation is, you can read about it here. Inflammation contributes to insulin resistance in its own right, and it’s a huge factor in diabetes and related diseases. Being sedentary, gut problems, and sleep deprivation all cause inflammation. And all kinds of other diet and lifestyle factors also join in:
- Too much Omega-6 fats, and/or not enough Omega-3s. In terms of food, this means too much industrial seed oils, and not enough fish.
- Too much refined sugar.
- Psychological stress (e.g. feeling beat up by a lousy boss all the time).
Diabetes is a Lifestyle Disease, not a Carb Disease.
There are other factors too (e.g. environmental toxins and artificial estrogens, and the question of calorie surplus independent of carbs). There are probably a bunch of factors that we don’t even know about yet. But the point is that diabetes is about more than carbs. And a helpful intervention should also be about the big picture, not just about carbs.
Diabetes and Paleo: The Big Picture
The modern Paleo diet was basically designed to solve exactly that problem. It’s really about treating lifestyle diseases like diabetes and metabolic diseases underlying obesity (which in many ways is a symptom of hormonal problems). When it comes to diabetes, the goal of Paleo is to address all the factors that contribute to insulin resistance. It’s not limited to carbs, and it’s not even limited to diet. Here’s a look at how Paleo address all the problems above.
Carbs and Fat: Which is Good and Which is Bad?
The USDA “Diabetes food pyramid” is based on a high-carb, low-fat diet. That approach gets a lot of scorn in Paleo circles, because it just doesn’t seem to make much sense. To break down carbs and use them for energy, you need healthy insulin function. People with diabetes don’t have healthy insulin function. So a carb-based diet will just keep them stuck in that awful cycle of sugar highs and crashes, right? How does that make sense?
A lot of recent research basically backs that up: low-carb diets can be very effective for Type 2 Diabetes. Some research (like this study) shows that low-carb diets may be particularly effective for people with insulin resistance. But it’s worth noting that “low-carb” in these studies can be up to 40% carbs by calories, which is medium-high carb by Paleo standards (room for a couple of potatoes every day).
These improvements aren’t coming from a straight diet of steak and lettuce. Some people might do very well on that – a very low-carb ketogenic diet can also be great for diabetes. But other people might feel better with more carbs, especially in the context of other anti-diabetic lifestyle factors. This study found that, in teenagers, a low-calorie diet with 40-45% carbs was just as good as a diet with 55-60% carbs if the subjects exercised and took metformin.
What about the fat? The problem with fat is that when eaten together with a lot of refined carbs, fat really is very fattening. And the wrong type of fat is legitimately dangerous: trans fats are inflammatory and do contribute to metabolic problems. But this meta-analysis found that a Mediterranean diet with lots of olive oil was actually better than a lower-fat diet for preventing Type 2 Diabetes. And this study found that in humans, saturated fat doesn’t affect insulin sensitivity.
The upshot: Recent studies suggest that the “common sense” idea of reducing carbs really does pan out. A lower-carb (40% or lower, not necessarily super-low), higher-fat diet may be helpful for most people. If you’re eating Paleo, you’ll probably be there without trying, even if you’re eating starchy vegetables every day. Some people might feel best on a very low-carb diet, but not everyone needs to go there.
This still doesn’t mean that carbs “cause” diabetes. It does mean that for people who are already metabolically sick, reducing carbs can be a therapeutic option to treat the existing problem.
Other Foods and Lifestyle Factors
Very briefly, Paleo is also helpful for diabetes because it reduces or eliminates other foods that contribute to inflammation, like…
- Soybean oil, canola oil, “vegetable oil,” and other industrial seed oils
- Trans fats
- Refined sugar
- Gut irritants (in grains and legumes)
Paleo also emphasizes foods that help with healing from inflammation, healing the gut, and restoring insulin sensitivity, like…
- Probiotic foods (for most people)
- Bone broth
- Vegetables (prebiotic fiber helps feed the gut flora, and vegetables also contain important nutrients for insulin metabolism)
- Protein and healthy fats
Paleo also focuses on lifestyle choices like exercise (even gentle exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity) and the importance of good-quality sleep every night (not optional. Really, not optional.) And of course, Paleo is a good diet for weight loss, particularly losing belly fat. There may be such a thing as “healthy obesity,” but the apple-shaped, beer-belly pattern isn’t it. Belly fat (technically “abdominal obesity”) independently causes inflammation and insulin resistance.
Summing it Up
Paleo isn’t a magical diabetes cure-all, but the latest research into diet and diabetes basically supports a low-moderate-carb, nutrient-rich, fiber-rich Paleo-style diet over the standard Diabetic food pyramid. And the lifestyle focus on sleep and stress is just as important as the diet factors. But even more important than averages out of studies is individual variation – different diets work differently for everyone, so it’s always useful to experiment and find out what works for you, even if it “shouldn’t” work on the average person.
Diabetes expert warns Paleo Diet is dangerous and increases weight gain
The mice involved in the study were fed a special diet. Those on a diet mimicking the Paleo diet gained weight. Credit: The University of Melbourne.
A new study has revealed following a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet for just eight weeks can lead to rapid weight gain and health complications.
The surprise finding, detailed in a paper in Nature journal Nutrition and Diabetes, has prompted University of Melbourne researchers to issue a warning about putting faith in so-called fad diets with little or no scientific evidence.
Lead author, Associate Prof Sof Andrikopoulos says this type of diet, exemplified in many forms of the popular Paleo diet, is not recommended – particularly for people who are already overweight and lead sedentary lifestyles.
He says mass media hype around these diets, particularly driven by celebrity chefs, celebrity weight-loss stories in the tabloid media and reality TV shows, are leading to more people trying fad diets backed by little evidence. In people with pre-diabetes or diabetes, the low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet could be particularly risky, he said.
“Low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets are becoming more popular, but there is no scientific evidence that these diets work. In fact, if you put an inactive individual on this type of diet, the chances are that person will gain weight,” Assoc Prof Andrikopoulos, President of the Australian Diabetes Society, said.
“There is a very important public health message here. You need to be very careful with fad diets, always seek professional advice for weight management and always aim for diets backed by evidence.”
Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s originally sought to test whether high-fat and low-carbohydrate foods would benefit the health of people with pre-diabetes.
They took two groups of overweight mice with pre-diabetes symptoms and put one group on the LCHF diet. The other group ate their normal diet. The mice were switched from a three per cent fat diet to a 60 per cent fat diet. Their carbs were reduced to only 20 per cent.
After eight weeks, the group on the LCHF gained more weight, their glucose intolerance worsened, and their insulin levels rose. The paleo diet group gained 15 per cent of their body weight. Their fat mass doubled from 2 per cent to almost 4 per cent.
“To put that in perspective, for a 100 kilogram person, that’s the equivalent of 15 kilograms in two months. That’s extreme weight gain,” Assoc Prof Andrikopoulos said.
“This level of weight gain will increase blood pressure and increase your risk of anxiety and depression and may cause bone issues and arthritis. For someone who is already overweight, this diet would only further increase blood sugar and insulin levels and could actually pre-dispose them to diabetes.
“We are told to eat zero carbs and lots of fat on the Paleo diet. Our model tried to mimic that, but we didn’t see any improvements in weight or symptoms. In fact, they got worse. The bottom line is it’s not good to eat too much fat.”
Prof Andrikopoulos says the Mediterranean diet is the best for people with pre-diabetes or diabetes.
“It’s backed by evidence and is a low-refined sugar diet with healthy oils and fats from fish and extra virgin olive oil, legumes and protein.”
Cholesterol levels improve with weight loss and healthy fat-rich diet Provided by University of Melbourne Citation: Diabetes expert warns Paleo Diet is dangerous and increases weight gain (2016, February 18) retrieved 2 February 2020 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-02-diabetes-expert-paleo-diet-dangerous.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
“Paleo,” or paleolithic diets — named after the ancient era when humans were still hunter-gatherers, before the development of agriculture — have seen a spike in interest in recent years. According to a recent article, “paleo diet” was the most searched-for type of diet on the Internet in 2014. Yet there is still confusion about what such a diet entails (hence the common reference to “paleo diets” in plural, rather than to one single diet), as well as uncertainty about how healthy such a diet is.
Many advocates of paleo diets see them as a good choice for people with diabetes or prediabetes, since they’re low in refined and easily digestible carbohydrates. Yet a recent study, published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, found that an approximation of a paleo diet had negative effects on metabolism in mice.
As described in an article on the study at Medical News Today, two groups of overweight mice with symptoms of prediabetes were followed for eight weeks. The first group was fed a diet designed to resemble a paleo diet, which was 60% fat and 20% carbohydrate. The second group followed its regular diet, which was only 3% fat. At the end of the eight weeks, the high-fat-diet mice had gained an average of 15% of their body weight, and they had higher levels of insulin and other markers of insulin resistance. Their average body-fat percentage also doubled, from about 2% to about 4%.
As the study’s authors point out, the weight gain seen in the high-fat-diet mice is equivalent to someone weighing 200 pounds gaining 30 pounds in less than two months. Such weight gain raises a person’s risk of developing prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and other disorders. The main lesson, they write, is that eating too much fat is unhealthy.
Yet this study has been attacked by a number of critics, for several different reasons. Perhaps its most obvious shortcoming is that it was conducted using laboratory mice, not humans. As one nutrition researcher writes in a letter to Nutrition & Diabetes, not only are ordinary mice not necessarily good stand-ins for humans, but the mice in this study — called New Zealand Obese mice — were bred to gain weight easily, especially in response to dietary fat. Moreover, the researcher writes, the mice in this study showed a response — worse blood glucose control despite lower carbohydrate in their diet — that is the opposite of the response humans have shown in several studies. For this reason among others, he writes, the study should be retracted by the journal.
Another criticism, raised by a prominent paleo-diet blogger, is that the feed the mice in the study were given to approximate a paleo diet was actually a terrible stand-in for the diet. As he notes, the mice’s feed contained very few whole foods, relying instead mostly on processed ingredients like casein (a protein found in milk), sucrose (table sugar), cellulose, and a number of vitamin and mineral supplements. Moreover, the only source of digestible carbohydrate in the mice’s diet was sugar, which is frowned upon in paleo diets. Their diet also contained canola oil, which also isn’t considered paleo-friendly by many of the diet’s advocates.
What’s your take on this latest study — do you think its findings in overweight mice hold any useful lessons for humans? Is it irresponsible for scientists to proclaim, after conducting a mouse-based study, that a certain diet is potentially harmful for humans? Have you tried — or are you interested in trying — following a paleo diet? If you’ve tried it, did you notice any positive or negative effects on your weight or blood glucose control? Leave a comment below!
5 Dangers of Doing Whole30
It’s not surprising that the Whole30 diet has a diehard following. Since 2009, the 30-day elimination diet—which cuts out alcohol, sugar, legumes, grains, dairy, and all processed foods—has helped followers lose weight, up their energy levels, and identify the problem foods that make them feel meh. But like any ultra restrictive diet, Whole30 falls short on multiple fronts.
“While I like the fact that the diet focuses on whole, minimally processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, it eliminates many healthful foods like grains, soy, beans, and lentils,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, nutritionist and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. From banning certain superfoods to unnecessarily upping protein intake, Whole30 isn’t without flaws. Here, Palmer explains the top five dangers of doing Whole30, plus what the meal plan gets right.
RELATED: I Just Finished Whole30 and Lived to Tell the Tale—Here’s How I Made It Through
It might mess with digestion
“The science on the health benefits of soy foods and pulses like beans, lentils, dried peas is overwhelming,” says Palmer. “They’re packed with high-quality nutrients, such as protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.” What’s more, legumes are basically your gut’s best friend. Rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, beans are critical for a healthy gut microbiome, as they help feed the good bacteria in your intestines.
So why does Whole30 ban beans? The theory goes that beans contain “anti-nutrients” like phytates, compounds found in plants that can potentially block the body’s absorption of important minerals like magnesium, iron, and calcium. In reality, the health benefits associated with beans far outweigh this potential interaction, and phytates are largely destroyed by food prep methods like sprouting and soaking.
“This is one of my key issues with Whole30,” says Palmer. “There is no science to support eliminating these foods.”
RELATED: 10 Bean Recipes Packed With Protein and Fiber
It could actually induce food sensitivities
Once dieters complete Whole30, they enter a “reintroduction” phase during which they add the foods they’ve avoided for a month back into their diet one by one. The point of this phase is to help people pinpoint the food groups that aren’t serving them. For example, if someone eats a bowl of yogurt post-Whole30 and suddenly gets super bloated, it may be a signal that dairy doesn’t sit well with them.
The catch? Once you cut foods out of your diet for an extended period of time, it’s possible you’ll react to them when they’re reintroduced, whether you previously had a sensitivity to them or not. “There is some evidence to show that when you shift your diet, your gut microbiota composition and enzymes shift too,” says Palmer. For example, if you cut out dairy, you may drive down the amount of enzymes you have to digest it. “Our bodies are wonderfully adaptive, but sometimes this has consequences.”
RELATED: 6 Hearty Whole30 Recipes That Are Anything but Boring
It could make cravings even worse
Ever told yourself you can’t eat dessert and then all you can think about is…dessert? The Whole30 diet is basically a month-long exercise in this very thought pattern, so don’t be surprised if you start wanting all the sweets (or gluten or dairy or wine) while following the strict plan.
Why that’s bad: “When you overly restrict the diet, it can set up unhealthy eating behaviors and attitudes,” says Palmer. “If you feel deprived, the diet encourages you to have a strong desire for ‘forbidden’ foods.” Not only is it no fun to yearn for off-limits eats for an entire month, but it also means you may be more likely to go overboard on them once the program is over. Womp womp.
RELATED: 7 Dangers of Going Keto
It could heighten your risk of chronic diseases
Unlike plant-based protein sources such as beans, soy, and even whole grains, animal proteins like red and processed meats have been linked to a whole host of chronic diseases. “Numerous studies have documented health risks associated with high meat diets, such as increased risk of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease,” says Palmer. Since the majority of Americans already consume about two times more protein than they need on a daily basis, Whole30’s recommendation to swap black beans for bacon is at best unnecessary and at worst dangerous.
RELATED: The Best Diets of 2019—and Why the Keto Diet Ranked So Low
It’s not sustainable
Whole30 isn’t meant to last forever. Head to the program’s website and you’ll even see the tagline, “It’s only 30 days.” On the one hand, this one-month focus makes sense: No one should have to ditch grains, legumes, and dairy forever. But Palmer says the 30-day program is problematic as it fails to impart sustainable healthy habits.
“A diet needs to be a way of eating that you can maintain for your whole life,” she says. “It should set you up for a healthful, more vibrant life, not just for a period of time of weight loss.”
Since it’s pretty much impossible to go through life without ever having bread, pizza, or cookies again, most long-term Whole30-ers end up abandoning the meal plan. Instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach, Palmer recommends simply applying the core principle of Whole30 to your lifestyle whether you’ve tried the elimination diet or not: Eat more whole, unprocessed foods.
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Emphasizing daily consumptions of fibrous vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds is consistent with public health nutrition recommendations. Adding fish (when affordable, and when sustainable) can also be a good choice. Think twice about meat unless, of course, you’re obtaining it through bow hunting in the wild like our Paleo ancestors.
If you’re going to cheat: The diet would be just as healthy, but potentially more rewarding, if you include modest amounts of dairy (a good source of needed calcium) as well as a variety of whole grains and legumes.
Conclusion: The paleo diet is a potentially healthy diet based on a valid premise about the harms associated with modern, processed foods. But overindulgence in fatty meats (especially processed meats) can immediately turn this potentially promising diet into a health disaster.
This is the second post in a series called A Skeptical Look at Popular Diets. The series will review the eight currently most prominent diets in America. The next blog post will discuss vegetarian or plant-based diets.
Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, is a professor of medicine at Stanford. He practices primary care internal medicine and studies strategies for preventing chronic disease. Stanford professor and nutrition scientist Christopher Gardner, PhD, examines the impact of diet on health and disease. Min Joo Kim provided research assistance.
Photo by moreharmony
The Paleo Diet, or Caveman diet, recommends a nutritional plan based on presumed eating patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors in Paleolithic period between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. The diet typically includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, meat, and organ meat, while excluding foods such as dairy products, grains, sugar, legumes, processed oils, salt, and alcohol or coffee. Sounds inherently healthy, right?
The lifespan of the average Caveman was about 30 years old. Most likely suffered from numerous severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Imagine having a goiter the size of a baseball all your life from not getting enough iodine, provided to us today through iodized salt. That’s only one of many examples…
Fortification and enrichment technologies have enabled us to get the nutrients we need without even thinking about it. If you don’t compensate for the nutrients present in food groups like grains and dairy then you end up falling short of a nutritionally balanced diet, which has proven long-term health consequences. An 8-ounce glass of milk contains approximately 300 mg of calcium that your body easily absorbs. It’s almost practically impossible to get enough calcium in your diet without dairy (or a dairy substitute) unless you’re taking a dietary supplement. Calcium from veges just doesn’t cut it in the long run, and lack of this essential nutrient has been known to cause osteoporosis later in life.
Everyone needs carbs to be healthy! You might think they’re evil… and your likely right, since most of us don’t consume foods like white bread and sugar in moderation. The bottom line is that grains, particularly whole grains, provide a ton of vitamins and minerals to the diet. Completely cutting out carbs and/or grains completely will make you cranky and weak. Do yourself a favor and focus on consuming whole grain products!
The biggest mistake you can make on the Paleo Diet is eating all the “Paleo-Approved” treats like cookies with almond flour and honey. Even though a Paleo cookie has different ingredients its likely to still be high in calories, fat and sugar.
Humans have evolved over the last 10,000 years from a metabolism standpoint. Our national Dietary Guidelines for Americans are based on rigorous scientific research. If you’re on the Paleo Diet or thinking about starting, visit www.choosemyplate.gov and choose a healthy modern dietary pattern that’s suitable for you.
The Paleo Diet for Diabetes
Medically Reviewed by Elizabeth Gomez MSN, FNP-BC
Photo by Adobe Stock
What is the Paleo Diet?
Paleo stands for “Paleolithic,” a prehistoric era spanning over 2.5 million years. During these times, people were hunters and gatherers. This means that they ate meat, fish, and seasonal plants, such as foraged berries, vegetables, roots, and nuts. They did not eat processed foods, like refined sugars, any grains, or dairy.
Image credit: iStockPhoto
From an evolutionary perspective, many people believe that this is the kind of diet that we are adapted to eat. The health benefits of eating nutrient-dense, less processed food are well-established. The current dietary guidelines emphasize the benefits of focusing on nutrient-dense vs. processed foods.
Can a Paleo Diet Benefit People with Diabetes?
Because it focuses on nutrient-dense foods, avoiding processed ingredients, sugar, and grains, a Paleo diet is likely to be lower in carbohydrate content than a more traditional western diet. Minimizing the number of carbohydrates, while consuming more foods that are lower on the glycemic index, such as non-starchy vegetables, may help more effectively manage blood glucose levels. In fact, some researchers suggest that limiting carbohydrate intake should be the main tool for managing type 2 diabetes and an important supportive treatment to insulin therapy for type 1 diabetes.
Several studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of the Paleo diet on type 2 diabetes management, demonstrating the potential health benefits of the diet. Specifically, research studies indicate that adhering to a Paleo diet is effective in lowering BMI and A1C levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
At least one study showed that a Paleo diet resulted in lower average triglycerides and blood pressure in type 2 diabetics in comparison to those following a more traditional diet. Research also suggests that eating Paleo, even for a short period, can result in improved insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles. Interestingly, when compared to a Mediterranean diet, following a Paleo diet resulted in significantly improved glucose tolerance in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Little research has been conducted to specifically evaluate the effects of the Paleo diet on type 1 diabetes management. However, it has been shown that reducing carbohydrate intake results in markedly fewer hypoglycemic episodes, and lower A1C and triglyceride levels in patients with type 1 diabetes. Furthermore, one study demonstrated the effectiveness of a Paleo-ketogenic diet in increasing insulin production in a newly-diagnosed type 1 diabetic, whereby adhering to the diet significantly delayed the need for insulin therapy.
In conclusion, although additional research will yield a more comprehensive understanding, it appears that a Paleo diet can be beneficial for those trying to optimize their blood glucose levels and other metabolic parameters.
Getting Started with a Paleo Diet
Whether you want to eat Paleo strictly or just incorporate more hunter/gatherer type meals, the first thing to do is to reduce the amount of processed food and items that contain added sugar. Items like soda, donuts, and chips do not have a place in the Paleo pantry.
Reducing or eliminating products with grains, like bread, tortillas, croissants, and muffins in the next logical step in adopting a more Paleo-type diet. Any grains, including rice and quinoa, are also not Paleo items. Shifting the focus from eating grains to vegetables, nuts, and fruit to obtain essential nutrients is key.
Finally, eliminating dairy items, like milk and cheese round out the list of items that are not Paleo-friendly.
Some examples of nutrient-dense Paleo foods include non-starchy vegetables like zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, avocados, and bell peppers. Berries and nuts are also great choices, as they are high in nutrients and fiber, and low in carbohydrate and low-glycemic options. Meats, fish, and eggs are all great sources of protein, and coconut and olive oils are some Paleo-friendly choices for cooking.
Image credit: AdobeStock
Since following the Paleo diet involves cutting out grains and dairy, it is important to take care to consume enough fiber and calcium. Eating plenty of high-fiber veggies, nut, seeds, and berries should allow for sufficient fiber intake in the absence of grains. Eating enough vegetables that are rich in calcium, such as kale, spinach, and broccoli will help meet that nutritional need.
There are variations of the Paleo diet – some people choose to keep it very low-carb, or even ketogenic, and do not consume starchy vegetables or fruit at all. Others choose to include the starchy vegetables and fruit in their diet.
The apples and bananas of today are very different in composition than those of the Paleolithic period. In more recent history, fruit has been selectively bred and manipulated. As a result, today’s fruit are much larger and higher in sugar content than their predecessors.
Whether you are strictly following the diet, or just making an effort to incorporate more whole, unprocessed foods, it’s vital to keep an eye on the carbohydrate count. Paying close attention to blood glucose trends and making adjustments to your medications as necessary in response to changes in the diet is also very important.
Featured image credit: AdobeStock
Read more about paleo diet.
In 2015, it was estimated that over 415 million adults around the world have diabetes. By 2040, this figure will have risen to 642 million adults, that means every 1 in 10 adults will have this completely preventable and manageable disease (1). In addition almost 1 in 3 adults in America have pre-diabetes (insulin resistance) (2).
The scariest of the statistics available to us is the fact that North America and the Caribbean region has the highest incidence of Type 2 Diabetes, directly as a result of an increasingly poor diet, increased sugar intake and decreased physical activity (3).
But why are we getting so sick?
There are many factors to blame for the rapid increase in pre-diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes,but Type 2 Diabetes is primarily a lifestyle related disease and our modern lifestyles are to blame. The facts are that we as humans are moving a lot less, we are eating food which is poor in nutrients and highly processed, and we are consuming too much of it (4).
It seems only logical then, that if we are getting fatter and sicker from our processed, adulterated food, something needs to change?
The principles of the Paleo lifestyle underline the return to a time when our food more closely resembled its natural state. For this reason All Paleo appropriate food is food which we would have eaten before the rise of agriculture and mass crop planting. We also would not have kept animals and therefore dairy would not have been consumed.
Our ancestors did not have to worry about lifestyle related diseases as processed food did not exist and we had to move a lot more to survive. We hunted and gathered our food for survival.
This is where the Paleo lifestyle comes in.
Preventing and Reversing Diabetes with the Paleo Diet
Let’s look at the dietary factors which may help to, not only prevent the onset of diabetes, but reverse insulin resistance and control blood sugar levels in those who have already been diagnosed:
1. The Paleo diet is lower in simple carbohydrates
The only carbohydrates appropriate on the Paleo diet are those which were available to us in the Paleolithic era. This certainly means no highly processed breads, chocolates, grains or foods high in sugar.
The habit of snacking on a quick piece of toast or a grabbing a muffin or cookies no longer stands and all in all, following a Paleo diet leads to a lower intake of carbohydrates and cutting out sugar in its most refined form. People start to reach for fruits which are lower in sugar and higher in nutrients, such as berries. They are also prompted to read labels and make better educated choices
Did you know: Almost all foods available to us contain a certain amount of carbohydrate. Even avocados and nuts contain carbohydrates. For this reason it is a myth that the Paleo diet is a no carb or even carb free diet.
2. The Paleo diet is higher in fiber
When a new Paleo follower has a look at their plate it seems almost empty without the pasta or mashed potato which would have been there. In order to feel fuller and more satisfied, the Paleo diet encourages non-starchy vegetables, salads and leafy greens to fill the space. The end result is a lot more fiber. Increased fiber with each meal means slower digestion of the meal and therefore a slow release of glucose into the blood stream. In response the body produces less insulin and over time insulin resistance decreases (5)
Add more fiber to your diet with these delicious Paleo salads
3. The Paleo diet is higher in good healthy fats
One of the main principles of the Paleo way is a much higher intake of healthy dietary fats than a conventional diet. Eating beautiful healthy fats such as nut butter or avocados and upping your intake of anti-inflammatory oils such as olive oil or coconut oil leads to a feeling of satiety.
The beauty of increasing your calories from fat and decreasing your calories from simple carbohydrates is that your body does not produce insulin in response to fat. Instead the body is left to utilise excess glucose in the blood stream instead of raising the blood sugar levels further (6)
We’ve put together 32 Paleo nut butter recipes to help you get in more of the good stuff
4. The Paleo diet is higher in nutrients
Unfortunately for many people out there they simply don’t know how good they could possibly feel. As much as most Americans are far from starving, there is a different kind of hunger lurking, a hidden micronutrient hunger.
When your diet is mainly full of processed convenience food you body struggles to receive adequate levels of vitamins and minerals. This hidden, less obvious hunger leads to cravings for junk food as the body is continually starving.
When you start concentrating on choosing fresh, quality ingredients instead of eating processed junk food on the run, your body starts to change. Not only are you healing your body through increasing your intake of necessary nutrients, but you are also preventing future lifestyle diseases.
For more information see: 5 Nutrient dense ingredients to add to your Paleo recipes
5. Most people lose weight on the Paleo diet
One of the biggest benefits of following the Paleo diet is the effortless sustainable weight loss without going hungry. Any weight loss, even a 5% weight loss can be beneficial when you are diabetic or insulin resistant (7). Not only will you feel better, but behind the scenes your body will thank you. Even a small amount of weight loss begins to decrease insulin resistance and heal the body. If you are already diabetic, weight loss improves blood sugar level readings and decreases your risk of other risk factors associated with diabetes such as high blood pressure or cardiac disease (8, 9)
Aside from a massive change in diet, the Paleo lifestyle is meant to be an all encompassing change into a healthier and more active lifestyle. Concentrate on changing one habit at a time to improve your health and delay, if not prevent the onset of diabetes, for you and your family .
Read more about Paleo and diabetes here