It seems like every few months, there is another website, TV lifestyle show or magazine article touting the hottest new diet of the season.
Whether it’s the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet or the Keto diet, it can be overwhelming to sift through all of them to determine what they involve, if they can actually help with weight loss, and whether or not they can easily be followed.
Now take a moment to imagine how bewildering it must be for your patients to try to sort through all of that information by themselves. This is why it’s imperative that you also keep abreast of major diet trends, so you can not only answer any questions that your patients might have about various diet plans but also help customize which ones are best suited to their needs.
One of the most popular of these diet plans is the Paleo diet. What is the Paleo diet, what does the research say, and should you be recommending it to your patients?
Eating like our ancestors
The entire premise of the Paleo diet is to get back to eating as closely as possible the diet of our cave-dwelling Paleolithic, hunter-gather predecessors—in essence, eschewing processed food in favor of fresh, organic foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Although there can be some variants, the basic guidelines include focusing on eating:
- Lean meat
- Fresh vegetables and fruits
- Nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices
- Healthy fats and oils
At the same time, the Paleo diet says to avoid:
- Processed foods
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Soft drinks
- Grains (including breads and pasta)
- Most dairy (except eggs)
- Vegetable oils, margarine and trans fats
Focus on water, and green tea and coffee without added sweeteners or dairy, as your preferred beverages.
What does the research say?
Several studies have examined the potential benefits of the Paleo diet. A 2007 study compared the Paleo diet to the Mediterranean diet (which is similar, although the latter allows for grains and legumes) for two groups of men with either heart disease and elevated blood sugar levels, or heart disease and type 2 diabetes.1
The two groups followed either a Paleo or a Mediterranean diet for 12 weeks. While both groups of subjects did lose weight (measured by waist circumference) and had better glucose control at the end of the study, those following a Paleo diet lost more weight and had better glucose control than those on the Mediterranean diet (26 percent versus 7 percent).1
A 2013 study examined the effect of a five-week Paleo diet on liver fat and muscle fat in a group of 10 women with a BMI over 27.2 At the end of the trial, the women lost an average of almost 50 percent of their liver fat, but there was no significant loss of muscle fat. They also lost almost 10 pounds and three inches of waist circumference.
Those women with the most liver fat showed the greatest amount of reduction.2 This is particularly significant, as excess liver fat can be a marker for metabolic disease.
There’s no question that getting your patients to eliminate sugar, unhealthy fats, and processed foods from their diets in favor of fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats is a good thing. But is it something that your patients can sustain as a lifestyle change? This is where you may have to work with them to modify or customize the Paleo diet to their needs, medical condition, and goals. With careful planning and coordination between you and your patients, they could see some great benefits from eating like their forebears.
- Lindeberg S, Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, et al. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia. 2007;50(9):1795-1807.
- Ryberg M, Sandberg S, Mellberg C, et al. A Palaeolithic-type diet causes strong tissue-specific effects on ectopic fat deposition in obese postmenopausal women. Journal of Internal Medicine. 2013;274(1):67-76.