Paleo diet reverses diabetes
Paleo (Stone-Age) Diet Reverses Diabetes
A Paleolithic (also known as stone-age) diet is intended to contain the same kind of foods we evolved to eat, before agriculture and modern food processing came along. It makes sense to eat this way, because our genetics haven’t changed very much from the time when we were hunter-gatherers. Therefore, the argument goes that our health would benefit from eating only the foods available during the stone-age. A growing number of people, including doctors and researchers, think that the modern diet is a big contributor to the diabetes and obesity epidemics.
But is there actually any evidence for the benefits of a Paleo diet in diabetes?
Let’s look at the science.
Paleo diet beats Mediterranean diet
In a study from Sweden published in 2007,1 a Paleo diet was pitched against a Mediterranean diet to determine which is better for improving blood sugar, heart disease markers, body weight, and so on.
Twenty-nine heart-disease patients, most with type 2 diabetes, were randomly assigned to eat 1 of the 2 diets for 12 weeks.
- The Paleo diet was based on lean meat, fish, fruit, leafy and cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), root vegetables including restricted amounts of potatoes, as well as eggs and nuts.
The following were not allowed: dairy, cereals, rice, beans, sugar, bakery products, soft drinks or beer.
Only moderate amounts were allowed of potatoes (max 2 medium-sized per day), eggs (max 1 per day), nuts (preferentially walnuts) and rapeseed (canola) or olive oil (max 1 tablespoon of oil per day). Otherwise they could eat as much as they wanted.
- The Mediterranean-like diet was based on whole grain cereals, low-fat dairy, potatoes, legumes (e.g. beans, lentils, peas, peanuts), vegetables, fruit, oily fish and omega-3 rich monounsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil, flaxseed oil, rapeseed/canola oil, walnuts, avocados). They, too, could eat as much as they wanted.
Both groups lost similar amounts of weight, but waist circumference decreased and carbohydrate tolerance improved more in the Paleo group.
At the beginning of the study, 12 of 14 participants in the Paleo group had high blood sugar (most had type 2 diabetes). After 12 weeks, ALL had normal blood sugar. In fact, most had normal blood sugar after just 6 weeks.
By contrast, 13 of 15 participants in the Mediterranean group had high blood sugar at baseline. After 12 weeks, 7 of 15 still had high blood sugar.
The researchers commented:
“…[the study] suggests that avoiding Western foods is more important than counting calories, fat, carbohydrate or protein. The study adds to the notion that healthy diets based on whole-grain cereals and low-fat dairy products are only the second best choice in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.” 1
The Paleo group ate more fruits, vegetables and nuts and drastically reduced grains, dairy, oils and margarines, which led to a reduced carbohydrate intake and spontaneously reduced calorie intake.
Moreover, the Paleo group experienced more satiety than the Mediterranean group. In other words, the Paleo diet suppressed hunger/appetite to a greater extent.2 The researchers theorized that this may have been thanks to avoiding so called lectins in whole grains, which may interfere with appetite regulation and enhance appetite.2
In summary, the Paleo diet was superior for reducing waist circumference, and reversing type 2 and prediabetes, with more satiety.
Paleo beats “standard diabetes diet”
A subsequent study was carried out by the same team of researchers, this time they included only type 2 diabetics: 3 women and 10 men.3
They were all instructed to eat a Paleo diet and a “standard diabetes diet” for 3 months each. Here are the characteristics of the diets:
|“Standard diabetes diet” advice||Paleo diet advice|
|More vegetables, root vegetables and fiber
More whole-grain foods & high-carbohydrate foods
More fruits & berries
Less total fat with higher proportion of unsaturated fat
Limit salt intake
Eat varied, evenly distributed, meals
Eat lean meat, fish, fruit, eggs, nuts, leafy & cruciferous vegetables
Don’t eat dairy (milk products), grains, beans, refined fats, sugar, candy, soft drinks, beer or extra salt
Limited amounts of:
No other restrictions
As you can see, this second study was more or less a replication of the first one.
The Paleo diet, compared to the Mediterranean diet, led to:
- Lower HbA1c, blood pressure and blood fats (triglycerides)
- Greater weight loss and larger reduction of waist circumference
- A tendency towards lower fasting blood sugar
- Higher ‘good’ HDL cholesterol
In fact, their weight was 6.5 pounds (3 kg) lower after the Paleo diet vs. the standard diabetes diet. This occurred without being instructed to lose weight. The participants spontaneously restricted their calorie intake on the Paleo diet, probably because they cut out a lot of bakery products, sugary drinks, grains, and so on, that promote a higher calorie intake. In other words, the body naturally gravitates towards a lower body weight when going back to the foods we were meant to eat, while “modern” foods are easier to overeat.
Analysis showed that the Paleo diet led to lower carbohydrate intake and glycemic load, as well, which I think is excellent for diabetics.
These studies show that a well-formulated Paleo diet reverses type 2 and prediabetes, promotes weight loss, lowers blood pressure, enhances blood sugar control, and improves blood fats. The comparison diets, i.e. Mediterranean diet and “standard diabetes diet”, are also formulated to be healthy according to most diabetes organizations. However, the Paleo diet still outperformed them.
Is the Paleo diet perfect? Let’s be realistic: I don’t think there’s any “perfect diet”.
But Paleo is a great starting point, and it makes sense to build a diet around what we evolved to eat. Most of us are simply not adapted to eat large amounts of legumes, dairy, grains and rice, not to mention refined sugar, candy, cake, junk foods, refined snacks, and so on.
Working together with the body’s chemistry makes it much easier to lose weight, because satiety is higher. Weight loss is an important benefit of the Paleo diet, and it certainly helps for type 2, prediabetes and other chronic diseases.
Most of all, a Paleo diet is actually realistic. Lots of people are now choosing to eat like this, and enjoy the health benefits.
Recommended Paleo diet resources
There are many ways to construct a Paleo diet. Most of what you need to know is stated above. However, I have included some extra resources below to help you formulate a healthy, delicious, and varied Paleo diet. Having more recipes and meal plans makes it much easier to follow through, and reap the benefits.
Here are some resources I whole-heartedly recommend:
Your Guide To Paleo — A comprehensive guide that answers all your questions about getting started with the Paleo diet.
- Lindeberg S, Jonsson T, Granfeldt Y, et al. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia. Sep 2007;50(9):1795-1807.
- Jonsson T, Granfeldt Y, Erlanson-Albertsson C, Ahren B, Lindeberg S. A paleolithic diet is more satiating per calorie than a mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart disease. Nutr Metab (Lond).7:85.
- Jonsson T, Granfeldt Y, Ahren B, et al. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2009;8:35.