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Monday, April 30, 2012
You've probably heard about the Paleolithic or "Paleo" diet that is getting a lot of press recently. This concept has been around since the early 1970's. Simply put this diet attempts to replicate the diet of our hunter gatherer ancestors with the premise being that human genetics have not changed very much since that time so we are ideally suited to adopt this type of diet. It includes vegetables and fruits, meats and nuts and eliminates grains, legumes, processed sugar, dairy products and processed oils. Foods with high glycemic indices such as corn and potatoes are excluded as well. There is some speculation in the literature regarding the long-term viability of such a dietary approach but there are several points that are certainly very beneficial. It is well-known that grains and vegetable oils promote the formation of inflammation in the body. The western-style American diet is much higher in omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3's and as such we are seeing many issues with inflammation in the body. Indeed one of the main factors in heart disease is inflammation in the body and it can be measured clinically by testing C-reactive protein. Of course it plays a role in pain and arthritis as well as various bowel disease. We know that cows raised in feedlots where they are fed grain mixtures, produce many more inflammatory fatty acids than those that are grassfed. It is known that decreasing sugar and refined carbohydrates is a positive step as well. One of the things that is not discussed as much but plays a big role in the success of the paleolithic diet is the fact that it increases fiber through the consumption of fruits and vegetables. In fact people are encouraged to eat as many raw fruits and vegetables as they can. Fiber helps the gut work more effectively and the fiber in fruit decreases the absorption of the fructose found in fruits. The restriction on dairy is somewhat puzzling with all the emphasis on Vitamin D and protein. Further research turned up some information on insulin indices - meaning the extent to which a given food substance stimulates insulin. In a Scandanavian study, milk was shown to have an insulin index comparable to that of white bread. That along with the prevalance of dairy intolerance and extensive use of hormones in dairy may be good reason to use caution with the consumption of dairy products. There are many organic dairy producers around and if you can find an organic farm close to you from which to purchase dairy products then it is even better. The information about insulin indices is relatively new and few papers are available on the subject but it appeared that consumption of fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir did not demonstrate the same effects. One of the most beneficial aspects of the paleolithic diet is that it eliminates processed foods. It is not possible to consume processed foods while adhering to the diet. Processed foods contain high fructose corn syrup and very little fiber. Furthermore, they often contain artificial colours and flavours which are related to all kinds of problems. Like all diets there are some areas of concern but this diet seems to have many elements that could be of benefit and there are clinical trials of the paleolithic diet so soon we will know more about this approach.