Traditional nutritionists often insist that Paleo-inspired dietary plans are dangerous to a person’s health. The article “Nutritionists warn of dangers in Paleo eating” quotes the chief executive of the Australian Dietitian Association, Claire Hewat, who states “any diet that excludes whole food groups should raise suspicions.” The numerous dietitians quoted in the article explain that there is plenty of science to support whole grains and legumes as healthy and relatively few studies that show the benefits of Paleo eating.
While the article criticizes Paleo eating, the author appears not to understand the principles of Paleo diets or the research that has been done comparing how Paleo diets impact blood lipids, blood pressure, or other biologic markers that scientists and physicians associate with risk of disease. Let me review some of the challenges in doing nutrition research and what studies examining Paleo diets have shown.
Does RDA matter?
Dietitians agree that nutrient density — that is, the amount of vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content per calorie consumed — is key to improving health outcomes. Many believe that the best way to get maximal nutrient density is to follow governmental dietary guidelines and dismiss other dietary approaches that have not been studied in large clinical trials.
Unfortunately, governmental guidelines have not been shown, through large randomized clinical trials, to be effective. These types of trials are enormously expensive. Some epidemiological studies have shown that consuming more vegetables and whole grains and less sugar and white flour, as in the Mediterranean diet, is associated with lower risk of developing heart disease, which is why so many are reluctant to remove grains from their diet.
Before we label Paleo diets as dangerous, we must look at the data. A randomized cross-over study by Jonsson showed that eating a Paleo diet conferred better control of blood sugar, lower hemoglobin A1c, better lipids, and lower blood pressure than eating the American Diabetes Association Diet. A study by Boers examined the effect of a Paleo diet on obese people with metabolic syndrome. Participants were randomly assigned to follow the governmental dietary plan or a Paleo diet for two weeks, and then had their blood biomarkers assessed. The Paleo group had larger improvements in their lipids and blood pressure than the governmental dietary group, suggesting the Paleo diet was more effective at restoring healthier blood lipids and blood pressures for those with metabolic syndrome. Another study by Jonsson showed that the Paleo diet was more satiating, or filling, per calorie than the Mediterranean diet.
I have developed a structured Paleo diet that maximizes the 36 vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fats recognized in articles on the macronutrient and micronutrient requirements for the brain and noted in a study by Bowman to be associated with superior cognition and brain size in older adults. Using Paleo principles, my diet provides the nutrients science shows brain cells need and provides 2 to 5 times the nutrient content of the standard American diet.
The diet is described in detail in my book, The Wahls Protocol. Furthermore, we are conducting clinical trials to test the effect of the protocol on progressive multiple sclerosis. I use this diet to treat people with complex chronic health problems, many with a combination of neurological, psychiatric, and autoimmune problems, quite successfully.
Paleo diets have not damaged the health of the patients in our clinic or our trials. Quite the opposite. Those who have implemented the protocol have seen their pain diminish to zero, mood improve, weight melt away without hunger, and both blood sugar and blood pressure normalize. They are able to reduce and then stop medication after medication, including immune-suppressing drugs. To learn more about my work and how diet and lifestyle changes could stabilize and even regress your chronic health diseases, impacting your brain and your body, visit www.terrywahls.com.