After years of research and clinical experience, I know that Paleo is the ultimate healthy diet. So when the Wall Street Journal asked me to defend it in a debate, I jumped at the chance. Here’s my take on how Paleo keeps you slender and protects you against heart disease…
When you stagger out of bed in the morning, does that first cup of coffee bring you back to life?…
Is a Paleo Diet Healthy?
Written by Dr. Kellyann Petrucci
YES: It Helps Control Weight and Lowers Risk of Cancers
I prescribe a paleo diet for my patients because I’ve found that it is the best diet to foster weight loss and good health.
In contrast to high-carbohydrate diets that have led to skyrocketing rates of diabetes, obesity and inflammatory diseases, a paleo diet can reduce inflammation, reverse diabetes symptoms, lower blood pressure and cut cancer risk by providing a template of foods that are as close to nature as we can get today. Science backs me up.
A study published last October in Lipids in Health and Disease found a paleo diet to be more effective in reversing metabolic syndrome (the first step toward diabetes) and cardiovascular risks in patients with extra belly fat or other risk factors for diabetes than a diet based on standard guidelines. What’s more, the paleo group lost more weight even when the researchers tried to keep their weight stable by adding extra calories.
A study published in Cardiovascular Diabetology in 2009, meanwhile, compared a paleo diet and a standard low-fat diabetic diet on people with Type 2 diabetes. The paleo group ended up with lower HbA1c levels (a long-term measure of blood sugar), lower triglyceride and blood-pressure levels, and higher levels of “good” cholesterol. They also lost more weight and belly fat.
Many doctors believe a Mediterranean diet—emphasizing whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, vegetables, fruits, fish and olive oil—is the best. However, a 2007 study in Diabetologia comparing it to paleo found that in patients with ischemic heart disease, the paleo diet led to better glucose tolerance and a larger drop in abdominal fat.
Because it is low in carbohydrates, a paleo diet may cut your risk of cancer. A 2014 study in Cell suggests a low-carb diet can reduce the risk of colon cancer, and a 2011 study in Cancer Research indicates it may lower the risk of breast cancer. A diet high in carbohydrates, in contrast, increases the risk of colon cancer.
Critics of the paleo diet like to point out that it isn’t low in saturated fats. However, a recent meta-analysis of more than 70 studies found no evidence that saturated fat is bad for your heart or that other kinds of fats are more beneficial. Moreover, the fats in a paleo diet come from natural sources such as coconut oil—not from heavily processed seed oils.
Some nutritionists charge that by eliminating certain food groups such as dairy, a paleo diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies. That criticism is flawed, too. Paleo foods such as salmon, sardines, kale, broccoli and figs are rich in calcium, and you can get the same fiber and nutrients from vegetables, healthy oils, seafood, eggs, meat and fruits as you get from beans, grains and soy. And you’ll get them without overloading your body with gluten (to which many people react badly), insulin-spiking carbs and phytic acid, which impairs your uptake of crucial minerals like calcium and iron.
The great thing about the paleo diet is that it doesn’t require you to give up cultural traditions or foods you love; it simply asks you to adapt them in ways that make you healthier. My family adores my Italian grandmother’s marinara sauce tossed with spaghetti squash strands or zucchini ribbons.
In short, I prescribe a paleo diet for my patients because science shows it is healthier, and that’s why I believe you should follow it, too.
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