The paleo diet may actually cause you to gain weight and lose control of your diabetes

It seems like every year there is a new book being published extolling the virtues of the cant miss new diet that is guaranteed to help you lose weight fast. One of the most recent fad diet to be added to the growing list is the paleo diet. It generally involves consuming a diet that is high in fatty foods like meat and nuts but low in carbohydrates from grains like bread. It was originally suggested by the diets creator that a person’s daily calories should be 55% from seafood and meats, and 15% of the calories from each fruits, nuts, and vegetables. While there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence and celebrity endorsements for this diet as a way to lose weight, there is no scientific evidence to back up the claims, which is the case with most fad diets. Now, a recent study in mice has uncovered some troubling data about this high fat, low carb diet.

The study, published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, took groups of mice that were pre-diabetic (but didn’t have full blown diabetes yet) and fed them two different diets. One group of mice was fed the normal diet with 20% of the calories coming from protein, 70% from carbs, and 10% from fat. The other group was fed a diet resembling the paleo diet in composition with 13% of the calories coming from protein, 81% coming from fat, and 6% from carbs. The carbs in the paleo like-diet were in the form of sucrose, a simple sugar that you would find in fruits and veggies. The mice were fed these special diets for 9 weeks and their body weight, food intake, blood glucose, and insulin levels were all measured weekly. By measuring the food intake of each mouse, the researchers were able to control for the fact that each of the animals may not eat the same amount.

When the group looked at their data something startling jumped out at them. The mice on the paleo diet had gained 15% extra weight, equivalent to a 200-pound person gaining 30 pounds in two months. The mice also had worse glucose intolerance (meaning their pre-diabetes was worse) and their insulin levels increased (meaning their body no longer responded to it so they had to produce more). The results were startling and show that fad diets will make claims about weight loss that have no scientific evidence to support them. Anyone with diabetes or pre-diabetes would run a risk of worsening their disease by consuming food conforming to the paleo diet. While the paleo diet doesn’t recommend eating lots of fatty foods like butter, oil and cheese, it does recommend eating lots of meat and nuts, both of which are very high in fat. The best weight loss program is one consisting of healthy eating (low fat food, low sugar, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein) and daily exercise. Fad diets are gimmicks people try to sell to make weight loss easier because people don’t like to exercise, so stop trying to eat like cavemen, stop only having smoothies, and stop fasting or taking expensive fiber pills. Eat healthy and exercise and you will start losing weight and more importantly you will be healthy.

Image credit: Nadine Schaeffer

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3 thoughts on “The paleo diet may actually cause you to gain weight and lose control of your diabetes

  1. Interesting study, a few terms are misused I think. A paleo diet focuses on eating real, unprocessed foods and doesn’t claim to be low carb (you can still eat healthy starches like potatoes, fruit, squash, some even allow rice and ancient grains). It’s really the ketogenic diets that are ultra low carb. I think a lot of people who do practice eating ultra low carb, also have carb refeed days so that it’s more about limiting them on certain days or times of day. I have rarely seen someone eat ultra low carb 100% 24/7 no carbs for life! But I’m sure those people exist. And yes, I would agree with those mice that it can’t be healthy to just cut them out 100%. Unfortunately they didn’t have a carb-cycling mouse. That would be interesting to see too. Thanks for the post 🙂

    • Thank you for your insightful comment. It is true that paleo is not low carb or no carb and it is important to remember that this study was talking about the daily % energy of each nutrient that each mouse was taking in. There is a supplemental table with the paper that details the composition of the food fed to the mice. The Low carb, high fat chow (mimicking the paleo diet) has 106g of carbs per kg of food. The average person eats about 2kg of food per day which means that eating this type of diet they would consume 212 grams of carbs in a day. Most paleo diets recommend 150g per day as a maintenance value and lower if you are trying to lose weight. So in fact, the diet fed to these mice is a decent mimic of a typical paelo diet composition. You are right, it would be interesting to see how a zero carb diet would affect the mice. It is noted in this paper that a previous study showed that mice who were fed a diet with no carbs and then switched to a diet with carbs developed diabetes within two days of the new diet (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21107520?dopt=Abstract&holding=npg).

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