The newest edition of the US News and World Report issue on diet ratings is out. Let’s face it, most overweight people, including many with diabetes, never go to see a dietitian. If their doctor recommends they lose weight, they often look to what’s the next best thing being touted. Armed with the notion that lower carbohydrate is better they may be drawn to the Paleo diet.
Now it was one of the losers in the US News’s “competition”; it received only two out of five stars in each of the categories: short-term weight loss, long-term weight loss, easy to follow, nutrition, safety, for diabetes and for heart health. The experts rating these diets didn’t think much of it.
Let’s take a closer look at the diet, using the sample menu below written on a Paleo aficionado’s website to review its benefits and drawbacks both as a diet for the control of diabetes and as a weight loss diet.
The Paleolithic era started about 2 million years ago and ended about 10,000 years ago. This was before the dawn of agriculture; so a men living during that time were eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, fish and poultry. You won’t find dairy, legumes or grains on the plan. The digestive systems of these pre-historic humans were primed to thrived on this diet, because it’s all they had access to. And the menu looks appealing, doesn’t it? You can imagine your appetite being stimulated by the great array of colors and flavors on your plate.
The menu illustrates some very positive things about the diet for people with diabetes. Processed foods are out. Once you have eliminated processing, your sodium intake is slashed dramatically. That’s a plus; the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people with diabetes limit their sodium intake to 1500mg a day. With all the fruits and vegetables you eat, your consumption of the blood pressure friendly mineral potassium is way up. Most Americans don’t get anywhere near the 4,700mg recommended. You will on Paleo.
Total carb is down, also; it is usually less than 25% of total calories. That means fewer blood glucose spikes. Of course, you have to control how many fruits you eat at a particular time. And the carbs you do eat are low glycemic index and high fiber. People with diabetes may suffer from constipation due to the complication of neuropathy, so your chances of regular bathroom habits certainly may improve on the Paleo diet.
In terms of weight loss, if the calorie level is low enough (as with any diet), you will lose weight. The high fiber and low glycemic index attributes of the diet may also contribute to a lower calorie intake. However, if you eat enough high-fat, high-calorie red meat sources you could actually gain weight.
So what are the caveats? Since grains and dairy are missing, the diet is deficient in calcium and may be deficient in B vitamins. Unless you watch your portions and choose only lean meats it can be very high in fat and saturated fat. High fat meals can lead to insulin resistance, whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, increasing the amount of medication you may need for a meal. Saturated fat has been implicated in the development of heart disease.
Aside from the nutrient issues, it falls short in practicality. This isn’t an easy diet to follow in our society. To make it as nutritionally complete as possible requires both a significant amount of planning and cooking. If you need dinner on the table at six and you don’t want steamed broccoli, strawberries and a piece of plain broiled fish, you have to do some work. It may also be expensive; you get almost all of your protein from meat, a high-ticket item in most grocery stores.
There are certainly better diets out there, but if you are going to follow this one, do yourself a favor, take a calcium supplement and meet with a registered dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator to make sure it is nutritionally complete, isn’t raising your lipids and doesn’t cause you any low blood glucose incidences.
To make an appointment with a Joslin dietitian visit us online or call (617) 732-2440
If you’re interested in finding out what the diet is like, go paleo for a day
Roasted Pepper & Sausage Omelet
1/2 cup sweet potatoes sautéed in coconut oil
4 oz. Cilantro Turkey Burger & 1/2 Avocado
2 cups spinach
1 cup cantaloupe
2 oz. homemade beef jerky
1/2 cup blueberries
4 oz. Chez Lorraine’s Baked Salmon
1 cup Cauliflower Rice
1 1/2 cups steamed broccoli
Carrot Banana Muffin