Are you still on track with your New Year’s Resolutions? No perfect diet exists for everyone, every type of diet has its strengths and weaknesses depending on the person, their needs and their nutrition strategy.
Last weekend, I was sitting on a taxi-way in the small Cessna 172 I fly with my co-pilot friend Doug. We were waiting for the ground crew to fix the plane’s flat tire. In conversation with Jordan (one of the ground crew), we stumbled upon the topic of the Paleo Diet. Jordan has adopted the Paleo Diet as part of his life and he offered some of his experience. Jordan explains, “I find I am not as hungry after I eat, therefore I don’t eat as much. I think it can be looked at like this, you want top performance, then you need top fuel, and top fuel costs more but will burn better and last longer.” I like that food/fuel analogy as I use it often in my nutrition presentations. But what do I think of the Caveman Diet?
The Paleo Diet (known as the Caveman Diet) consists of foods that were eaten during the paleolithic era, about 2.5 million years ago. It is based on the idea that our genes and physiology have adapted to be best nourished by the food that surrounded us as we evolved. Hence the name, the “Caveman Diet.”
Typical Foods and Guidelines for the Paleo Diet
- It includes grass-fed animals, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, root vegetables, eggs and nuts. It encourages high intake of fat and animal protein, and discourages calorie counting and portion control.
- The Paleo Diet is high in healthy monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 fats, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and lower glycemic index foods.
- Guidelines suggest individuals to do what feels natural, and to eat when they are hungry. The Paleo Diet discourages any foods that have been introduced into the human diet through the agricultural revolution, such as grains, and legumes. Other foods that are not considered “natural” and not included in the Paleo Diet are refined fat, dairy, processed foods, plus excess sugar and salt.
Concerns about the Paleo Diet
- Calcium deficiency may be an issue as dairy is to be avoided.
- There may be many lifestyle issues as well.
- It is very expensive to maintain this diet, since it requires grass-fed animal meats.
- Eating out may be difficult, as well as finding grocery stores that supply appropriate food.
- There is no vegetarian or vegan option either, as there is a high consumption of animal products.
- Since the Paleo Diet is extremely different from the Western diet, many individuals find changes difficult to adhere to.
What do the studies report?
Overall, there is unclear information about long-term Paleo Diet adherence and there is a significant lack of large sample, long-term studies.
There have been some studies done concerning the Paleo Diet, however, sample sizes have been small, only short-term effects have been examined, and populations have been specific which may affect generalizability.
Researchers conducted a randomized cross-over study where they fed 13 patients with Type 2 Diabetes a Paleo Diet and a diabetes specific diet for two consecutive 3-month periods (1). The results from the Paleo Diet included improved HbA1c (a measurement of blood glucose over a period of time) levels, triglyceride levels, diastolic blood pressure, weight, waist circumference, BMI and higher mean values of HDL-C (the good cholesterol).
Another study found that a Paleo Diet improved glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in patients with ischaemic heart disease (2). This study was conducted over 12 weeks with 29 patients randomized into either of the two diets. What I find interesting is three individuals who belonged to the Paleo Diet group were not willing to continue with the study and dropped out before it was complete.
I believe more research is needed to gain insight about the pros and cons of the Paleo Diet. I found Jordan’s information about his experience with the Paleo diet very helpful. And I am pleased to report the plane’s tire was replaced and we made it back to the flight centre without incident.
1. Jonson T et al. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factores in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovasular Diabetology. 2009;8(35):1-14.
2. Lindeberg S et al. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia. 2007; 50:1795-1807.