Since the low-fat diet started being recommended to patients at risk of heart disease in the 60s and then to the American public at large in the 70s, it has grown to be the overarching paradigm for conventional nutritional wisdom in the States, and is regarded as synonymous with what most imagine as healthy eating. But starting in the early 2000s and gaining traction in the past five years, the Paleolithic or “Paleo” diet and its advocates are challenging this paradigm. They argue that low-fat diets are responsible for many of America’s dietary woes including diabetes and obesity, and that a diet modeled after that of ancestral Paleolithic humans is the more effective path to nutritional health. Such a diet centers on fish, lean meat, produce, nuts, and oils, while avoiding cereals, dairy, added salt, and refined fat and sugar. What does this have to do with chiropractic care? A lot! Diet plays a huge role in the health of your body.
The emerging popularity of the Paleolithic diet among health enthusiasts and academics alike has instigated heated scholarly debate and numerous studies into the various aspects of the Paleolithic lifestyle in comparison to the low-fat diet now commonly thought of as standard practice for nutritional health. These studies attempt to investigate the long-term effects that adherence to each of these controlled diets has on the body to try and settle the question of which one is healthier and better represents the ideal that we should aim for. So how do Paleo and low-fat diets compare?
Researchers from Sweden’s Umeå University presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston last month the results of a comparative study that observed how each diet affected overweight women over the course of two years of adherence. Here’s what they found:
The study participants, seventy healthy, obese, post-menopausal women, were randomly assigned either a Paleolithic or a low-fat diet. The former consisted of 30% protein, 30% carbohydrates, and 40% fats, with the aforementioned restrictions on cereals, dairy, and refined sugars and fat, in favor of lean proteins, produce, nuts, and oils. The latter consisted of 15% protein, 55% carbohydrates, and 30% fat, with recommendations to increase whole grain intake and consume only low-fat dairy products.
Both groups experienced comparable levels of long-term weight loss, with the women on the Paleolithic diet losing an average 11% of body weight over the course of 24 months and the women on the low-fat diet losing an average 8% in the same time span.
However, at only the six-month mark, the women on the Paleolithic diet had lost more weight than the women on the low-fat diet. This suggests that a Paleolithic diet may deliver more immediate results than does the traditional low-fat diet Americans have been prescribed for weight loss.
The researchers did, however, find a divergence between the two diets after measuring the biomarkers used to track insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas to move sugar from the bloodstream into cells to be used for energy, is not used effectively by the body. Glucose then instead accumulates in the blood stream instead of being absorbed by cells. This induces elevated blood sugar and can lead to type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. The decrease in estrogen that comes with menopause lowers insulin sensitivity (increasing likelihood of insulin resistance), so the women in this study were particularly at risk.
Six months into the study, the metabolic profile for the Paleolithic dietary group demonstrated a decrease in risk for insulin resistance.
“A Paleolithic-type diet reduced specific fatty acids and desaturase activities in the blood, associated with insulin resistance, more distinctly than a control diet did, despite similar weight loss,” said Caroline Blomquist, the researcher who presented the study.
The fatty acids Blomquist refers to are saturated fatty acids, which she said can “induce a low-grade inflammatory state” that lowers sensitivity to insulin and increases risks of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats are found in dairy, fatty meats, and processed foods, which the Paleolithic diet avoids.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids, by contrast, can positively affect the liver, muscles, and specific genes, as well as reduce inflammation. Polyunsaturated fats are found most commonly in fish, nuts, and seed oils, which factor heavily into a Paleolithic diet.
Members of the Paleolithic dietary group reported that their consumption of saturated fatty acids fell 19%, while their polyunsaturated fatty acid consumption increased 71%.
There was also a reduction in activity of delta-9-desaturase, a liver enzyme responsible for insulin resistance and liver fat.
What Does This Mean?
In her presentation, Blomquist made her conclusion clear: “The Paleolithic-type diet may have long-term beneficial effects on obesity-related disorders such as insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease.”
Not only does a Paleolithic diet deliver faster weight loss compared to a low-fat diet, a potentially important point for patients at risk of life-threatening diseases who need to lose weight quickly, but it also provides better a more robust long-term nutritional defense against root causes of diabetes and other obesity- and diet-related conditions.
Of course, this is only one study with a sample group of only seventy individuals. The Paleolithic diet has only recently begun to receive the academic attention and investigation that it warrants, and there’s still much to learn about the potential health effects and sustainability of such a diet.
One thing is for sure though: this study and others like it provide strong evidence in favor of the superiority of this diet over the low-fat ideology that has dominated the discourse around nutritional health in the public consciousness for the past fifty years. Although perhaps not definitive proof of the superiority of the Paleolithic diet, this study at least represents the progress that has been made in taking its principle ideas seriously. Increasingly, modern nutritional study is opening up to the possible efficacy of this diet that challenges the conventional wisdom, and we may be witnessing a paradigm shift in this direction.
Perhaps such a diet is right for you. But such a regimen can be hard to put together when you’re only just beginning to learn about it and the relevant information is scattered and scarce. Your diet should be tailored to you, and you should consult with a medical professional whom you can trust to recommend a solution that’s right for you rather than a one-size-fits-all prescription. If you’re looking for advice and wish to discuss this or other aspects of your health or chiropractic care, we at Back in Shape Chiropractic in Rockford, IL are an appointment or phone call away at (847)-249-2225. Your body and your health are unique to you, and we strive to give you the individual attention you deserve.
Back in Shape Chiropractic
4673 Old Grand Ave
Gurnee, IL 60031