The Paleo diet may be hazardous to your health.
Otherwise known as the caveman diet, Paleo followers eat “modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors,” according to the diet’s official website.
In other words, it is a low-carb, high fat diet of meats, seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and oils that promote good health. Paleo followers do not eat dairy, cereal grains, legumes, potatoes, refined sugar, processed foods, refined vegetable oils or salt.
The diet claims to help people optimize their health, minimize their risk of chronic disease and lose weight.
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Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Medicine found the diet may actually do more harm than good.
Diabetes researcher and associate professor Sof Andrikopoulos led a research group involving mice, because of their genetic, biological and behavioral characteristics that closely resemble those of humans. The research took two groups of overweight mice with pre-diabetes symptoms. One group was put on a low-carb, high-fat diet similar to Paleo, and the other remained on a normal diet, according to the university.
“The hypothesis was that the Paleo diet group would gain less weight and we would see improvements in glycemic control,” Andrikopoulos said.
After eight weeks, the results of the study surprised him.
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The Paleo group gained 15 percent of their body weight, their fat mass nearly doubled, their glucose intolerance worsened and their insulin levels rose.
“In humans, this level of weight gain will increase blood pressure and the risk of anxiety and depression and may cause bone issues and arthritis,” Andrikopoulos said. “For someone who is already overweight, this diet would increase blood sugar and insulin levels and could actually pre-dispose that person to diabetes,” he added.
Andrikopoulos’ findings have him cautioning people over so-called fad diets:
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.
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.
Andrikopoulos blames the media and social media for the popularity of fad diets, and warns that celebrities on a diet such as Paleo live differently than the average person:
There is a lot of stigma around being overweight. Every day we’re exposed to stories about a slim celebrity who ate three cabbage leaves a day to lose weight.
What people don’t understand is that looking good is a celebrity’s day job. They have someone to cook their food and another person telling them to exercise. The real world doesn’t work like that. There are no quick fixes.
Celebrity chef Pete Evans does not agree with Andrikopoulos’ findings.
“YOU HAVE TO LAUGH AT WHAT THE SO CALLED "PROFESSIONALS" ARE SPROUTING THIS WEEK, as they keep digging a deeper and deeper hole for themselves!,” Evans posted on Facebook.
“The media and also the health [organizations] are once again clutching at straws. This time it is a study done on Mice … Perhaps this professor might like to work with real scientists who are passionate about getting the TRUTH out there and doing studies on...wait for it....HUMANS,” the post continues.
Evans shared a study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in April 2015 that supports the Paleo diet for people with diabetes.
“Even short-term consumption of a Paleolithic-type diet improved glucose control and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes compared with a conventional diet containing moderate salt intake, low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes,” the study concluded, according to Evans.