Tag Archives: Paleo

Paleo Diet for Diabetics

New Study of Paleo Diets for Diabetics

What is a “Paleo Diet”?

The “paleolithic” or “caveman” diet is a variation of a low carb diet wrapped in a philosophical framework that asserts evolution has dictated that humans should eat a certain way. Adherents typically stress naturally raised, organic food sources with an emphasis on avoiding cereal grains, sugar and other refined products. In addition, paleo adherents tend to stress exercise as part of the life sytle. The weight loss and other macro health benefits coincide with a standard low carb diet (although, they will claim other, non-documented health benefits from avoiding pesticides, hormones and other chemicals found in non-organic food products).

I am not a paleo diet adherent, favoring a standard low carb way of eating. But I’m sympathetic to my cousins in the movement.

UCSF Study

With a hat tip to Dr. Steve Parker, originator of the Low Carb Mediterranean Diet (reviewed here), the University of California at San Francisco is studying the effects of a paleo diet regimen for diabetics:

The initial research findings are striking. Without losing weight, participants in a preliminary study improved blood sugar control, blood pressure control and blood vessel elasticity. They lowered levels of blood fats such as cholesterol. And most amazingly, participants achieved these results in less than three weeks — simply by switching to a Paleolithic diet.

These effects are commonly reported among all variations of the low carb diet, with the paleo version being just the latest. I’m sure Dr. Parker is seeing the same kind of results in his patients that adopt the Low Carb Mediterranean Diet, as other doctors have found with any low carb diet regimen. The plan I follow, Protein Power by Drs Mary Dan and Michael Eades, has many followers with the same results.

Links to the press release for the study are at Dr. Parker’s blog.

A Rose by Any Other Name

Red Chateau Rose by Kikuo Teranishi, <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">Creative Commons</a>Gary Taubes has noted that all diets succeed, inasmuch as they do, through carbohydrate restriction. Even reduced calorie diets, the most difficult of all diets to maintain, reduce carbohydrate intake along with other macro-nutrients. You can easily draw the conclusion that the lower average weight loss of low fat and other calorie restricted diets when compared to any of the low carb diets is due to the greater carbohydrate intake they allow; however, nearly any diet plan will restrict carbohydrates below the level of the Standard American Diet (SAD).

The paleo diet is simply another variation of the same low carb diet that has been around for decades, with a new emphasis on providing a philosophical framework for rationalizing the diet to self and others. The arguments in the paleo community center around the same issues as the low carb diet community at large. What are the biological effects of eating grains, starches and refined sugar products? How does the reduction of carbs affect hormones, lipid levels, and blood sugar?

The Advantages of Paleo

I don’t want to be dismissive of the paleo movement. It appeals to many people because of the wider range of beneficial influence, extending beyond just diet to other lifestyle topics as well, including the amount and type of exercise needed, the necessity for adequate sleep, and the well documented benefits of having an active and vibrant support community. People who have hesitated to adopt a standard low carb diet may feel more comfortable with its emphasis on the total lifestyle and modern, updated philosophical framework. I say, go for it.

Why This Study?

Because the benefits of carbohydrate restriction are well known and well studied for diabetics, it may have been easier to get funding for the “new” paleo diet. I am only speculating on this point, but it seems a reasonable speculation to me.

More on Paleo Diets

Mark’s Daily Apple, by Mark Sisson

Modern Paleo: The Blog created by Diana Hsieh, Ph.D

Paleo Diabetic by Dr. Steve Parker



Key Lime Yogurt Pie – Low Carb?

For some reason, this recipe for Key Lime Yogurt Pie has been tweeted and retweeted frequently using both the #lowcarb and #paleo hash tag. But is it low carb or paleo?

The recipe doesn’t provide nutritional information. But we can see it isn’t in any sense “paleo”. The list of ingredients includes items that are certainly not in line with a traditional paleo diet, even if you do include dairy. Ingredients such as fat-free cream cheese, Smart Balance Buttery Spread and reduced fat whipped topping are in no way paleo. These are heavily processed “frankenfoods”. Let’s take a look at the chemical soup in the ingredients:

Fat free cream cheese
Market leader Philadelphia Fat Free Cream Cheese ingredients:
Protein Concentrated Skim Milk, Cultured Skim Milk, Skim Milk, contains Less than 2% of Sodium Tripolyphosphate (Ingredients Not in Regular Cream Cheese) Sugar (Ingredients Not in Regular Cream Cheese)Xanthan Gum, Pasteurized Milk and Cream (Trivial Source of Fat) Salt, Artificial Color (Ingredients Not in Regular Cream Cheese) Carrageenan, Potassium Sorbate (Ingredients Not in Regular Cream Cheese)Calcium Propionate (Ingredients Not in Regular Cream Cheese) as Preservatives, Cheese Culture, Sodium Phosphate (Ingredients in Regular Cream Cheese)Artificial Flavor (Ingredients in Regular Cream Cheese)Carob Bean Gum, Vitamin A Palmitate.

Smart Balance Buttery Spread
Natural Oil Blend (Palm Fruit, Soybean, Canola Seed, and Olive Oils)Water, contains Less than 2% of Salt, Whey, Vegetable Monoglycerides and Sorbitan Ester of Fatty Acids (Emulsifiers)Soybean Lecithin, Potassium Sorbate, Lactic Acid (to Protect Freshness)Natural and Artificial Flavor, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Vitamin E (DL-a-Tocopheryl Acetate)Beta-Carotene Color.

Reduced Fat Whipped Topping
Cool Whip Lite, the market leader’s ingredients:

Quite a list of ingredients there. I couldn’t find the ingredients for Yoplait’s Light Thick & Creamy Key Lime Pie Yogurt, but did find the nutritional information; judging from the carbs in the mix, I suspect we would see a similar chemical soup base if we had the label in front of us.

OK, so its not paleo, but at least it’s low carb, right?

It is not really low carb, but it is lower than the full-sugar alternative. In comparison to a regular slice of key lime pie that weighs in at 58 grams of carbohydrates, I calculate a slice of this pie at a little less than half the carb count at 23 grams (rounded down in the chart below). For someone following a low carb lifestyle, 23 grams of carbs in one food at the table is still probably too high.

The recipe doesn’t specify brand names for some of the ingredients, so I have used brands that are widely available and market leaders in their category. With that caveat, let’s look at the net grams of carbohydrate content in the carby ingredients:

Ingredient Grams in Pie   Grams per Serving
Fat Free Cream Cheese
Key Lime Pie Yogurt
Cool Whip Lite
Reduced Fat Vanilla Wafers

Alert readers may note I didn’t not include the 5 grams of carbs from the 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in the recipe, but this is close enough for our little review here. And, you can easily substitute liquid sucralose or Splenda for the sugar.

Can we improve on this recipe even more?

Replacing the “frankenfoods” listed above with real food alternatives like fresh whipped cream and regular cream cheese, we can trim the pie’s carbohydrate count down to 97 grams (17 grams per slice). And substituting out the Vanilla Wafers crust with our own Low Carb Pie Crust reduces the carb count by another 24 grams, to 73 grams of carbs for the entire pie. That’s about 12 grams per slice. That comes close to being low carb enough to earn the #lowcarb hash tag.

I may try this recipe with the almond meal Low Carb Pie Crust linked above, and low carb alternatives. If I do, I’ll publish the results here.

Paleo Diets

The British Journal of Nutrition published a paper online entitled “Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet“.

There are a number of assumptions made in developing the expected diet of paleolithic man in East Africa, including things such as the type of plant and animal protein available and the typical diet observed among hunter-gatherer populations alive today. Several models were created, with varying proportions of protein, fat and carbohydrate. All of them were higher in omega 3 fats than the modern western diet.

The authors contend that this type of modeling might be more beneficial than the single nutrient studies being done currently. Noting first that we adapt slowly to changes in environment, including diet, they sum up their findings:

We conclude that compared with Western diets, Paleolithic diets contained consistently higher protein and LCP [long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids], and lower LA [linoleic acid]. These are likely to contribute to the known beneficial effects of Paleolithic-like diets, e.g. through increased satiety/satiation. Disparities between Paleolithic, contemporary and recommended intakes might be important factors underlying the aetiology of common Western diseases. Data on Paleolithic diets and lifestyle, rather than the investigation of single nutrients, might be useful for the rational design of clinical trials.

Science Diet

Science is all the rage in our modern age, taking the place of religion and philosophy in many people’s lives.  But because science has become the one-size-fits-all replacement for intellectual pursuit, the abuse of science has blossomed.  And to be honest, even much of the science we cite in support of our low carb / paleo / primal diets falls far from the ideal of the scientific method.

You might think I’m fretting about questionable statistical methods by qualified researchers, the mass media’s mangling of science stories to imply that fructose causes cancer, or emphasis on the USDA’s Food Pyramid by people who should know better, but that’s not my main concern today.  What bothers me most is the improper use of science to support a particular position or sell a product.  Science is not used for inquiry and discovery, but as a sales method to impart a patina of respectability to otherwise dubious claims.

On Low Carb Daily, our news aggregator for low carb, paleo and primal articles and news, we categorize the articles according to the author’s expertise.  The Medical Blogs category is reserved for degreed medical doctors with current or past practice with actual patients.  Researchers are degreed individuals with doctorates or master’s degrees in a related field, with the idea that they at least understand human biology.  Advocates are those of us who may have a specialty in another field, but are interested in the low carb way of life, and contribute a lot to the community through published books, movies or websites that go beyond personal blogging.  Two categories address the “regular people” that contribute, Personal Sites and Recipe Sites.  We are not attempting to impose a hierarchy of importance, as some of the most useful low carb information is found in the personal experiences of regular people.   But when you read an article making a scientific claim, you want to know more about the background of the person making the claim.  The scientific opinions of doctors and researchers should carry more weight than personal trainers, dietitians and the rest of us mere mortals.

Paleo and primal diets are becoming more popular, and many new adherents are excited about trying to match modern day diets to what is called “evolutionary eating”.  But there is an almost religious fervor being expressed about it, with some claims that don’t pass the smell test, such as:  grass fed beef is much better than grain fed beef because of the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio.  When you look at the actual amounts of either fatty acid in both types of beef, you see that it really doesn’t matter which one you eat for your body’s overall Omega 3 / Omega 6 ratio, as the difference in total intake is about 30 mg.  While there may be philosophical or ethical reasons to prefer one over the other, emphasizing the minor difference in Omega 3 / Omega 6 ratios is pseudo-science.

Dan, at the blog At Darwin’s Table, is a biologist who understands both science and the on-line community.  He identifies one of the problems with the way lay people approach the idea of evolutionary eating:

Just because an organism possesses a certain trait does not mean that this trait is adaptive. Or was evolved for that purpose. Which brings me to the paleo diet. Too many people make bold statements about what humans are adapted to eat. They do this often by simply making judgments based off what they think or have heard. Although the idea of the paleolithic diet is very much rooted in scientific theory, when people do this it starts to become more of a belief. In other words people will find examples to confirm what they want to believe.

For example, are Inuit adapted to eating lots of fat or did they do it because thats all they had access to? This is just an example and certainly easily investigated by looking at fat metabolism in Inuit people. But until that research is done (if it has been done) people should be careful when saying that some hunter gatherer group is adapted to eat lots of fat. Or worse that humans are adapted to eating lots of fat.

Dan recently had a guest post from JP, a student studying to be a kinesiologist, who expanded on the problem from his perspective:

I’m concerned about the future of evolutionary eating. I was attracted to paleo eating because of its scientific component. The evolution theory is still, after all those years of scientific progress, one of the most popular theories. It’s really hard to scientifically (not religiously) argue against evolution, natural selection and the concept of adaptation. This gave me the strong foundation I needed to build my lifestyle on. Obviously, whenever you build a house, you want to make sure it stands on solid ground. No one wants to have to start back again every couple of years. On top of that, evolutionary eating is based on anthropology – which happens to be my favourite science. Anthropology has a lot to offer in  the nutrition debate.


As evolutionary eating became more popular, people forgot about some of its important parts, or made up new concepts that I would argue are pseudo-science at best. Indeed, more often than not, people reinterpret some data and make it look like it’s optimal.

There is more there in JP’s post, so I encourage you to read the original.

You can find a ton of information on-line.  And a lot of misinformation.  I have become more aware of the abuse of science, but finding the balance between healthy skepticism and outright cynicism is difficult.  I hope  more people with science backgrounds help clarify issues, as Dan and JP have done. And I hope those making claims are a bit more circumspect in their pronouncements (but alas, that may be too much to ask!)

Free Paleo e-Book

Douglas Robb is a personal trainer with a health and fitness blog, Health Habits. Robb is an advocate of a paleo diet for his clients, but he saw a problem with the proliferation of different paleo diets, with some eschewing cooked food, some advocating periods of fasting, modern blood-letting, etc. The normal person researching the lifestyle can find exactly the situation Robb describes:

. . . what started out as a very simple, very healthy way of eating has splintered into a million and one different tribes – some with very restrictive rules and others much more relaxed.

Robb’s solution is a basic, flexible diet he dubs “A Paleo Diet for the 21st Century”. He attempts to incorporate the most important parts of the less and more restrictive paleo plans out there to provide some guidelines that normal, mortal humans can follow. And he gives it away. Register on his site for a free copy and he will email you the link to download the 27 page e-book.

I’m a low carb guy, for very specific medical reasons (metabolic syndrome, primarily). Reducing carbs also helped me lose 50 pounds, eliminated my GERD, and reduced my blood pressure. The paleo lifestyle appeals to me, but the restrictions found in some advocate’s blogs seem to go too far. In my view the value of the paleo approach to what is, essentially, lower carb eating, is this: it provides a philosophical framework for the diet.

Most long term dieters have more than fat around the middle. Like everyone else, they have a brain, which is comprised mainly of water and fat (see, not all fat is bad!) And in that fatty tissue of the brain is the record of every failed diet and broken promise. Addressing the “fat between the ears” is at least as important as the fat around the middle.

Low carb dieters use books like The Protein Power Lifeplan to provide an intellectual framework for the new way of eating. Beyond the important studies and plethora of scientific facts the dieter knows some very simple precepts: keep carbs low and eat enough protein.

But what I’ll call the Paleo Philosophy can provide the same intellectual framework. Looking in the supermarket, you can ask yourself if a caveman would have had access to the food you see. Meat, fruit, and veggies all make the grade, and the majority of them are just fine for most people. Like a dedicated low carber, you would avoid the center aisles, knowing that Grog would not have had access to Twinkies.

And there’s nothing wrong with combining the two approaches if you like; reduce carbs while adopting the basic premise that if it wasn’t a food 10,000 years ago, you shouldn’t eat it. And Robb’s free e-book can help you navigate the maze of paleo approaches to find one that is flexible and suitable for life in the 21st century.