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What Do We Really Know About the Paleo Diet?

Jess Sorci, MNT

The paleolithic diet (PD) attempts to mimic the diet of our paleolithic ancestors.1 Supporters of the diet claim that the diet resembles that of our early ancestors, therefore benefiting our genetic makeup, reducing diet and lifestyle related diseases.1 The PD consists of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, tubers, nuts and seeds. It is worth noting that the PD of today is very different than the diet of our ancestors. Yes, it surrounds many of the same principals and eliminates processed foods, grains, and sugars, but it is very unlikely that today’s modern paleo diet meets the dietary measures of our early ancestors.

When looking at the research, the PD shows health benefits in the short-term. Studies looking at the PD have shown improvements in weight loss, immune function, blood pressure, triglyceride and lipid profiles, blood sugar and insulin levels, digestive disorders, cardiometabolic syndrome, and liver function.1,2,3 However, research looking at long-term benefits of the PD are limited. To date, the longest study looking at the PD consisted of 24 months and was considerably small. Although the short-term benefits of the PD are promising we need to see larger group studies for long periods of time before we can make an argument on its long-term effects.

With this knowledge, it is obvious that the PD does improve health in the short-term and can be implemented to improve patient’s health. However, it is still imperative to consider individualized approaches and acknowledge that the benefits we do see with the PD are coming from the removal of overly processed foods and not so much from consuming the diet of our ancestors. There is high plausibility that the PD improves health outcomes in the long-term, but greater research is required to determine these long-term effects whether positive or negative.

1. Hayder, D., Al-. (2015). Paleolithic hunter-gatherers' dietary patterns: Implications and consequences. African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, 15, 9935+.

2. McEwen, B. (2018). The impact of diet on cardiometabolic syndrome. Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, 24(2), 72-77.

3. Mellberg, C., Sandberg, S., Ryberg, M., Eriksson, M., Brage, S., Larsson, C., . . . Lindahl, B. (2014). Long-term effects of a palaeolithic-type diet in obese postmenopausal women: A 2-year randomized trial. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 68(3), 350-357. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.290.

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