Evidence for The Paleo Diet, and the Top 3 Myths

It’s no secret that there is an epidemic of chronic disease in the modern world.  Western nations continue to experience sharply rising rates of obesity and diabetes, while cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death (1, 2, 3, 4).  The public is looking for answers and many of them are looking to ancestral or ‘paleo’ diets as a way to improve their health.  However, ancestral diets are often dismissed by professional nutritionists as a ‘fad diet’ – leaving the public to turn to the internet, popular press, or lay nutritionists for advice.  Unfortunately, the guidance they find is often poor or even dangerous. 

This is a shame, considering that a well-designed, individualized ancestral diet can be an incredibly powerful healing tool.  As an example, Dr. Terry Wahls used her version of an ancestral diet to reverse her debilitating Multiple Sclerosis (10, 23).  I use ancestral diets with great success in my private practice, as a part of a broader functional and integrative approach.  Here I will share some of the research behind ancestral diets and will describe how they can be used professionally.

What are Paleo/Ancestral Diets?

For over 200,000 years, humans subsisted on a diet consisting mostly of meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.  Although there was some variation by area, there were obviously no processed foods.  Then, agriculture began around 11,000 years ago.  That is only 366 generations ago, or 0.5% of human history. (6)

The premise behind ancestral diets is that there has not been enough time or genetic pressure for humans to adapt to the foods that came with agriculture.  Examples of these ‘Neolithic’ foods include grains, industrial seed and vegetable oils, soy, processed sugar, and food additives (i.e. dyes, gums, and preservatives).  Dairy and legumes (beans) remain a grey area based on genetics, personal tolerance, and types/preparations of those foods. 

We now consume at least 70% of our energy from foods that were never consumed by our ancestors (14).  The idea behind ancestral diets is to return to eating the foods that our bodies are genetically programmed to expect.

Show Me the Data

The benefits of abandoning these Neolithic foods in favor of ancestral ones are no less than astounding.  Scientific studies have shown that ancestral diets:

  • Improve risk factors for metabolic syndrome.  Ancestral diets lower waist size, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, liver fat, and fasting blood glucose while increasing HDL.  This effect is found for a wide variety of test subjects – healthy controls, obese postmenopausal women, type II diabetics, and cardiovascular disease patients (9, 14, 16, 18)
  • Improve glucose tolerance and decrease waist size more powerfully than a Mediterranean Diet (15)
  •  Lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease – body weight, BMI, waist circumference, blood pressure, plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (a marker of atherosclerosis) and CRP (a marker of inflammation) (12, 14, 24)
  • Improve blood glucose control and lower hemoglobin A1C in type II diabetics (12)

Amazingly, these impressive results were found in relatively short studies – 10 days to 3 months in duration. 

But I Heard that Paleo Diets….

Myth: They are overly-restrictive

Ancestral diets should be used like an elimination diet.  This is where a RD’s ability to provide individualized care is so essential.  The professional’s role is to decide if a trial may benefit the patient, then to design a personalized diet to be followed for a specific period of time.  Finally, they should guide the patient through reintroducing foods in a calculated way.  As an example of this, quality dairy foods are well-tolerated by many people of northern European ancestry.  I will often trial dairy foods of increasing lactose content after 30 days dairy-free.  The end goal is to get the patient to the broadest possible diet while maintaining their health improvements.

Also note that ancestral diets provide increased nutrient density.  The nutrient-rich foods that are added are just as (if not more) important than the foods that are removed.  Some of the original research of ancestral diets found that patients experienced remarkable health improvements just by adding traditional foods, even when they did not remove flour and refined sugar (17).  Keep in mind that to say that ancestral diets are nutrient-deficient is to say that humans went 99.5% of their history without sufficient nutrients.

 Myth: They contain way too much animal protein.

In fact, a well-balanced ancestral diet is composed of mostly plants, with a small to medium serving of high-quality meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs at most meals.  Interestingly, though, hunter-gatherers did consume 65% of their energy from animal sources on average and were relatively free from signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease and diabetes (7, 13).  A well-planned ancestral diet usually does not increase animal protein, but does emphasize quality and nose-to-tail eating.  For example, liver is encouraged as a source of vitamins A and K, iron, copper, zinc, selenium, potassium, folate, and vitamin B-12.  Notably, these nutrients are often lacking in the modern diet (19).

Myth: They contain way too much fat and, thus, may increase risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Modern-day hunter gatherers eat fairly high-fat diets, at least as high as is currently consumed by western societies, with rare incidence of cardiovascular disease (7, 8, 13).  The amount of dietary cholesterol that they consume is similar or even higher to that of Americans (8).  It is important to understand, though, that dietary cholesterol has been shown not to have a major effect on serum cholesterol and risk of heart disease (13, 19).  In fact, dietary fat in general has been exonerated as being unhealthful for most individuals when it comes from appropriate sources and is part of an overall healthful diet (11, 22).

Hunter gatherers consumed much more omega-3 and less omega-6 fats, at a ratio of 1:2 instead of the modern ratio of 1:10 (8).  Omega-3 fats reduce inflammation, while excess intake of omega-6 fats (such as found in canola, corn, or vegetable oil) promotes inflammation and, thus, heart disease.  Traditional societies consumed only game animals, which have more mono and polyunsaturated fats and less saturated fat, as well as more omega-3 and less omega-6 fats (13). Hence, grass-fed and free range meat should be consumed if at all possible.

Traditional societies also consumed high amounts of plants, which are cardio protective.  They consumed no refined carbohydrates, which increase risk factors for cardiovascular disease (19).

Myth: They are really low in carbohydrate. 

Ancestral diets are agnostic with regard to carbohydrate, and there is massive variation among ancestral populations with regard to their carbohydrate intake.  Traditional societies remain lean with a large range of carbohydrate intake (6).  However, most ancestral populations consume high amounts of dietary fibre; some groups consume in excess of 100 grams per day (8).  On average, adults in the UK consume 18 grams per day (5).

Thus, an important feature of ancestral diets is that they support a healthy gut microbiota, which is protective against chronic disease (20). The fibre in ancestral carbohydrate sources nourish the microbiome, whereas refined grains/flour and sugar starve the microbiome and promote leptin resistance (20, 21).  Unfortunately, refined carbohydrates make up the vast majority of the carbohydrate consumption of modern societies (21).

Ancestral diet ‘beginners’ often unintentionally eat too few carbohydrates; they aren’t used to eating the amount of fruit and vegetables that is required.  Thus, professionals should ensure that carbohydrate intake is appropriate for that individual (accounting for their activity level, insulin sensitivity, gender, and age).

 Worth a Second Thought

Ancestral diets play an important role in a broader integrative and functional approach to nutrition.  They are, in fact, the original diet.  Overall, people are catching on to the fact that old paradigms do not protect them from chronic disease, and they are looking for health professionals who can help them find an effective approach.  I am happy to share more details and resources with colleagues.  You can contact me via my website: www.RealNutritionRX.com

Warm wishes, 

 

References:

1.     DiabetesInfo Facts and Figures about Diabetes. Available at: http://www.diabetes-info.co.uk/what-is-diabetes/facts-and-figures-about-diabetes.html (Accessed: 11 October 2016).

2.     Macmillan Cancer Support (2016a) Cancer statistics - evidence - Macmillan cancer support - Macmillan cancer support. Available at: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/evidence/cancer-statistics.html (Accessed: 11 October 2016).

3.     NHS Choices (2014) Latest obesity stats for England are alarming. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/02February/Pages/Latest-obesity-stats-for-England-are-alarming-reading.aspx (Accessed: 11 October 2016).

4.     NHS Choices (2016b) Coronary heart disease. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Coronary-heart-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx (Accessed: 11 October 2016).

5.     NHS Choices (2016c) Why is fibre important? Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1141.aspx?categoryid=51 (Accessed: 11 October 2016).

6.     Carrera-Bastos, P. and Fontes (2011a) ‘The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization’, Research Reports in Clinical Cardiology, p. 15. doi: 10.2147/rrcc.s16919.

7.     Cordain, L., Eaton, S.B., Miller, J.B., Mann, N. and Hill, K. (2002) ‘The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: Meat-based, yet non-atherogenic’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 56(s1), pp. S42–S52. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601353.

8.     Eaton, S. (2006) ‘The ancestral human diet: What was it and should it be a paradigm for contemporary nutrition?’, The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society., 65(1), pp. 1–6.

9.     Frassetto, L.A., Schloetter, M., Mietus-Synder, M., Morris, R.C. and Sebastian, A. (2009) ‘Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63(8), pp. 947–955. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.4.

10.   Gnuechtel, A. (2016) Next event. Available at: http://functionalforum.com/september-2016-functional-forum/ (Accessed: 6 October 2016).

11.   Hyman, M. (2016) Eat fat, get thin: Why the fat we eat is the key to sustained weight loss and vibrant health. United States: Little, Brown & Company.

12.   Jönsson, T., Granfeldt, Y., Ahrén, B., Branell, U.-C., Pålsson, G., Hansson, A., Söderström, M. and Lindeberg, S. (2009) ‘Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: A randomized cross-over pilot study’, Cardiovascular Diabetology, 8(1), p. 35. doi: 10.1186/1475-2840-8-35.

13.   Konner, M. and Eaton, S.B. (2010) ‘Paleolithic nutrition: Twenty-Five years later’, Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 25(6), pp. 594–602. doi: 10.1177/0884533610385702.

14.   Kowalski, L. and Bunko, J. (2012) ‘Evaluation of biological and clinical potential of paleolithic diet’, Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig, 63(1), pp. 9–15.

15.   Lindeberg, S., Jönsson, T., Granfeldt, Y., Borgstrand, E., Soffman, J., Sjöström, K. and Ahrén, B. (2007) ‘A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease’, Diabetologia, 50(9), pp. 1795–1807. doi: 10.1007/s00125-007-0716-y.

16.   Manheimer, E.W., van Zuuren, E.J., Fedorowicz, Z. and Pijl, H. (2015) ‘Paleolithic nutrition for metabolic syndrome: Systematic review and meta-analysis’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 102(4), pp. 922–932. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.113613.

17.   Price, W.A. (1939) Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primative and Modern Diets and Their Effects. PB Hoeber, Incorporated.

18.   Ryberg, M., Sandberg, S., Mellberg, C., Stegle, O., Lindahl, B., Larsson, C., Hauksson, J. and Olsson, T. (2013) ‘A Palaeolithic-type diet causes strong tissue-specific effects on ectopic fat deposition in obese postmenopausal women’, Journal of Internal Medicine, 274(1), pp. 67–76. doi: 10.1111/joim.12048.

19.   Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Part D. Ch 1: Food and nutrient Intakes (2015) Available at: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/06-chapter-1/d1-2.asp (Accessed: 5 June 2016).

20.   Sonnenburg, J. and Sonnenburg, E. (2016) The good gut: Taking control of your weight, your mood, and your long-term health. United States: Penguin Books.

21.   Spreadbury, I. (2012) ‘Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity’, Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy, , p. 175. doi: 10.2147/dmso.s33473.

22.   Teicholz, N. (2014) The big fat surprise: Why butter, meat, and cheese belong in a healthy diet. United States: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

23.   Terry Wahls M.D. (2016) Available at: http://terrywahls.com/ (Accessed: 6 October 2016).

24.   Österdahl, M., Kocturk, T., Koochek, A. and Wändell, P.E. (2007) ‘Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62(5), pp. 682–685. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602790.

The Top 6 Fertility-Boosting Foods

#knockedup hopeful? 

Don't miss my new article were I spill the top 6 fertility-boosting foods, why they're essential for baby making, and exactly how to incorporate them. 

Grab it for FREE by subscribing to Posh Paleo: http://www.poshpaleo.com - get in touch with them and request the February 2017 edition!

Know a friend who might need the details?  Share links below!

A+ Liver Pate

A+ Liver Pate

If you look at the diets of ancestral populations, you will find one commonality – they all prize and consume organ meats or offal.  The reason is simple – this is nature’s multi-vitamin.  Liver is rich in the nutrients that most modern diets lack - vitamins A, D, E, and K, vitamin B-12, folate, iron, and copper.  If there was a true super food, this would it be it, people.  Feeling squeamish?  No worries – pate is the most appetizing and easiest way to get started with liver.  Unfortunately, most grocery stores are short on a clean option.  This recipe lays out a clean, delicious version, so that you can get that A+ rated diet.  Make sure to use a clean (organic and free-range) liver source if possible.  Enjoy!

Read More

Announcing - Fat Loss 40!

Announcing - Fat Loss 40!

Make 2016 the year you finally lose it - for good.  Easily.

Here’s what to expect:

  • Lose 5-15 lbs in 40 days
  • Better sleep
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  • Have the tools to keep losing and feeling better on your own

And here's what you get:

  • A choice of two tracks - get better results with an approach that's best for YOU.
  • Access to members-only 'Fat Loss 40' Facebook group - I'll post tips and challenges, plus answer your burning questions!
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Read More

Candy vs. Your Child - Best Frenemies

candyvschild

This is your child’s brain:

brain

This is your child’s brain on candy:

tantrum

And yet….we do this every year on Halloween.  Actually, we might even do it every day for the week of Halloween when you count all the school parties and fall festivals.  What’s causing this phenomenon, and what counter-attack can you launch?

Your Kid and Sugar – Best Frenemies

Candy is primarily a concentrated source of sugar – glucose and fructose.  Once it enters your child’s mouth, a primal instinct takes over.  The brain releases a feel-good neurotransmitter called serotonin.  Serotonin makes people feel great – happy and calm (yes, I said that – about kids and candy).  Serotonin is tightly linked to mood.  In fact, a deficit of serotonin is a known cause of depression.  

Anyway, back to your kid.  Life is good – now that their neurons are swimming in feel-good chemicals your kid is super happy.  Until they’re not.  Next thing you know, they’re screaming and throwing a fit – they don’t like the color of their shoes, you won’t let them eat all the candy right now, they want to rip off their costume, whatever. 

What happened?  We were having so much fun trick or treating! 

Well, the unfortunate follow-on to the serotonin high is that it comes back down.  Did I mention that this is a primal response?  We are wired to seek energy-rich foods.  Back when food was scarce, this really helped out our species.  When serotonin goes away, our brain looks for a way to get it boosted again – with more energy-rich foods – like candy.  It looks like this:

MORE CANDY!

MORE CANDY!

Meanwhile, your child’s pancreas.  It noticed that glucose from candy got absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a large increase in your child’s blood sugar – and fueling their tantrums.   The pancreas responds by releasing insulin.  Insulin facilitates the absorption of blood sugar into the body’s cells.  If you’re in luck, your child may then transform from werewolf back into human child.  Unfortunately, the more common result is that your child now feels….like trash – tired, lethargic, and “over it” with this “trick or treating”.  You can carry them home now.

SO TIRED now.

SO TIRED now.

Kids Will Be Kids….

None of this means that your kid shouldn’t be allowed to eat Halloween candy.  Let me just note, though, that the habit of seeking serotonin-boosting foods is pretty addictive.  One of the leading causes of obesity is believed to be the brain’s addiction to the serotonin that comes from energy-dense foods.  Halloween is a special occasion, but you may not want to allow the “roller-coaster of candy emotions” to be a regular occurrence for your kids. 

In fact, high added sugar intake has been linked to the following effects in children (a):

  • Increased LDL cholesterol
  • Increased triglyceriedes
  • Increased diastolic blood pressure
  • Dental carries/cavities
  • Increased fasting blood sugar and insulin levels

Fortunately, there is hope.  A recent study found that when obese children reduced added sugars from 27% to less than 10% of calories, they experienced remarkable reductions in all of these health markers – in only 10 days (a). 

So, don’t feel like you need to keep your kids candy-free on Halloween – but it’s probably not a good idea to let them feast on their stash until Thanksgiving.  Good luck Trick or Treating!

Primal Green Pumpkin Soup

greenpumpkinsoup

This is a really special recipe to me.  This was a soup my Hungarian grandma used to make, and my mom makes it every fall.  I now continue the tradition of picking a green pumpkin every fall and making this soup.  The only problem is that the original recipe calls for white flour.  I change recipes around and tweak them all the time, but doing that with this recipe made me feel weird - like I'm betraying my family or something.  Yes, we're really into food.  

Really, though, my family's tradition is to enjoy food, and to love people through it.  Tweaking this recipe so that it serves my family continues in that tradition.  I was also glad to find that the "re-do" still has the same amazing flavor as the original recipe.   I hope that you enjoy this treasure from my family.  

Primal Green Pumpkin Soup

Hands-On time: 30 minutes / Total time: 30 minutes / Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups diced green pumpkin with skin
  • 1 large (or 2 medium) white onions, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp butter (grass-fed if possible)
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1 Tbsp arrowroot powder
  • 2 tsp paprika (plus additional for garnish)
  • 1 pint unsweetened heavy whipping cream (organic if possible)
  • 1 tsp dried dill (or may use fresh)
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely ground salt

Instructions:

  1. Place diced pumpkin in a pot with just enough water to cover.  Cook (simmer) until soft throughout when pierced with a fork.  Once cooked, remove from burner and let cool (don't drain).
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on medium heat.  Add the butter and brown onions until slightly burned. 
  3. Add almond meal and arrowroot powder to onions and cook 2-3 minutes, until thickened but not burned. 
  4. Decrease heat to low and slowly whisk cream into onion mixture.  Continue whisking until cream mixture is quite thick and warm.
  5. Whisk cream mixture into the pumpkin and water combination.  Add the paprika, salt, and dill. 
  6. Heat on medium-high until slightly boiling/simmering.  Stir frequently for around 10 minutes while the soup gently simmers.  Taste and adjust seasonings for your preference.
  7. Serve sprinkled with paprika or dill.  We recommend enjoying this soup with your favorite sausage and sauerkraut.  Enjoy!