The Paleo diet seems to be the new diet fad at the moment especially due to its media promotion by celebrity advocates. A lot of people who follow the Paleo diet have good results, not only with weight loss but with overall health. A recent randomized study done by Edith Cowan University’s School of Medical and Health Science found that the Paleo diet was more effective for weight loss than the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) diet. This small study done with 39 healthy women over 4 weeks showed the Paleo group losing an average 2kg more than those following the AGHE diet. In a 2014 randomised controlled study in the Netherlands the two week Paleo diet resulted in lowered blood pressure and an improved plasma lipid profile.
So what is the Paleo diet ?
Well the theory is it is based on foods available in Paleolithic or caveman times such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, meat, and organ meats. It excludes dairy products, sugar, grains, legumes, processed oils, processed foods, coffee and alcohol. There are arguments out there about the foods our ancestors would have consumed especially with regards to wild grains and legumes which some think would have been part of the diet. Broccoli, for example, as well as cauliflower, kale and cabbage did not exist in Paleolithic times, yet forms a major part of the modern Paleo diet. And this diet assumes that our human digestion has remained unchanged over millions of years too. There is concern in the health world about the long-term effects of cutting out whole food groups such as grains and dairy, particularly as this study showed lowered intake of calcium relative to the AGHE diet. And there is limited research as to its long-term effects.
We are an evidence-based practice so most of our dietary advice comes from the Mediterranean style diet as there is a lot of research out there for this diet. This family-friendly diet is recommended as one that can promote health as well as prevent disease. It focuses on mainly plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, with a small amount of meat, dairy and poultry, and fish at least twice a week. Healthy fats such as olive oil replace butter and herbs and spices are used to flavour foods instead of salt. Research has shown that this diet reduces the risk of heart disease, improves cognitive function and lowers the risk of developing dementia.
So would we recommend the Paleo diet over the Mediterranean diet?
We look at the needs, the health and the diet of each client individually. While the Paleo diet may be of benefit to some clients in the short term, particularly with regards to weight loss, little is yet known about the long-term effects. With the over-hype and little research done, we too approach this diet with caution. So when asked ‘what diet should I be on?', our answer is always - a balanced whole foods diet that becomes a ‘lifestyle’ diet. Fresh, preferably organic, fruits, vegetables, low fat meat, fish, good fats and oils and a small amount of good quality carbohydrates such as sweet potato, brown rice and quinoa. Avoiding processed foods, sugar, additives and preservatives is important. Good hydration with mineral or filtered tap water, is essential, as is regular exercise and good sleep.
Boers I, Muskiet FA, Berkelaar E, et al. ‘Favorable effects of consuming a Paleolithic-type diet on characteristics of the metabolic syndrome: A randomized controlled pilot-study’, Lipids Health Dis 2014;13:160.
Genoni, A et al., ‘Cardiovascular, Metabolic Effects and Dietary Composition of Ad-Libitum Paleolithic vs. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating Diets: A 4-Week Randomised Trial’, Nutrients, 2016, 8:314.
Lourida, I., et al., ‘Mediterranean diet, cognitive function and dementia: A systematic review, Epidemiology, 2013; 24:4, p479-489.
Pitt, CE (January–February 2016). "Cutting through the Paleo hype: The evidence for the Paleolithic diet". The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners 45 (1–2): 35–38.
Sofi, F., et al., ‘Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis’, British Medical Journal, 2008; 337:a1344
Steffen, LM., et al., ‘A modified Mediterranean diet score is associated with a lower risk of incident metabolic syndrome over 25 years among young adults: the CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) study, British Journal of Nutrition, 2014, 112:10, pp1654-1661.
Is Paleo the way to go?
By Jeanette Gee