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 lifestyle. The weight loss and other macro health benefits coincide with a standard low carb food diet (although, they will claim other, non-documented health benefits from avoiding pesticides, hormones and other chemicals found in non-organic food products). An emphasis is placed on carb restrictions, which has led to an entire industry catering to low carb food and snacks.
With a hat tip to Dr. Steve Parker, originator of the Low Carb Mediterranean Diet, 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.
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
There is no need 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.
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