Published on Feb 12, 2013
TED Fellow Christina Warinner is an expert on ancient diets. So how much of the diet phad the “Paleo Diet” is based on an actual Paleolithic diet? The answer is not really any of it.
Dr. Christina Warinner has excavated around the world, from the Maya jungles of Belize to the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, and she is pioneering the biomolecular investigation of archaeological dental calculus (tartar) to study long-term trends in human health and diet. She is a 2012 TED Fellow, and her work has been featured in Wired UK, the Observer, CNN.com, Der Freitag, and Sveriges TV. She obtained her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2010, specializing in ancient DNA analysis and paleodietary reconstruction.
The paleo diet is based on emulating the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. It includes whole, unprocessed foods that resemble what they look like in nature.
Our ancestors were genetically the same as modern humans. They thrived eating such foods and were free of diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Several studies suggest that this diet can lead to significant weight loss (without calorie counting) and major improvements in health.
There is no one “right” way to eat for everyone and paleolithic humans thrived on a variety of diets, depending on what was available at the time.
Some ate a low-carb diet high in animal foods, others a high-carb diet with lots of plants.
Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, healthy fats and oils.
Avoid: Processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, grains, most dairy products, legumes, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, margarine and trans fats.
However, it is still very controversial among health professionals and mainstream nutrition organizations.
Some have embraced the diet as healthy and reasonable, while others think it is downright harmful.
1. Lindeberg S, et al. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia, 2007.
Details: 29 men with heart disease and elevated blood sugars or type 2 diabetes, were randomized to either a paleolithic diet (n=14) or a Mediterranean-like diet (n=15). Neither group was calorie restricted.
The main outcomes measured were glucose tolerance, insulin levels, weight and waist circumference. This study went on for 12 weeks.
Glucose Tolerance: The glucose tolerance test measures how quickly glucose is cleared from the blood. It is a marker for insulin resistance and diabetes.
This graph shows the difference between groups. The solid dots are the baseline, the open dots are after 12 weeks on the diet. Paleo group is on the left, control group on the right.
As you can clearly see from the graphs, only the paleo diet group saw a significant improvement in glucose tolerance.
Weight Loss: Both groups lost a significant amount of weight, 5 kg (11 lbs) in the paleo group and 3.8 kg (8.4 lbs) in the control group. However, the difference was not statistically significant between groups.
The paleo diet group had a 5.6 cm (2.2 inches) reduction in waist circumference, compared to 2.9 cm (1.1 inches) in the control group. The difference was statistically significant.
A few important points:
- The 2-hour Area Under the Curve (AUC) for blood glucose went down by 36% in the paleo group, compared to 7% in the control group.
- Every patient in the paleo group ended up having normal blood sugars, compared to 7 of 15 patients in the control group.
- The paleo group ended up eating 451 fewer calories per day (1344 compared to 1795) without intentionally restricting calories or portions.
Conclusion: A paleolithic diet lead to greater improvements in waist circumference and glycemic control, compared to a Mediterranean-like diet.
TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2011
I have experimented with eating a so-called “paleo” diet for at least 14 years. Although I had confidence enough in the concept to invest in self-publishing a book on putting it into practice, over this time I have endured increasing cognitive dissonance because the currently popular concept of paleo diet—animal-based, relatively high in protein and fat and relatively low in carbohydrate—conflicts with empirical nutrition knowledge accumulated over the course of 5 thousand years in both Asian and Western medicine, including a rather large body of clinical and laboratory data accumulated since the 19thcentury, all pointing toward humans being more adapted to a plant-dominated, high-carbohydrate diet supplying significantly less than 30% of energy from fat.