There has been much publicity surrounding the Harvard School of Public Health’s recently-published study linking consumption of red meat and type 2 diabetes. You can read more about the study here, and our critique of the the potentially flawed method of reaching the findings here.
Photo by Tranкov
The story prompted strong reactions amongst acquaintances of mine, and I can only assume many other human beings across the world have reacted in similar ways. One close friend – a long-time type 2 diabetic – told me proudly that he’d be ditching the bacon at breakfast-time, and enjoying an extra bowl of cornflakes. Another – a recent convert to paleo-based eating – told me that she’s thinking of returning to a vegetarian, or even vegan, diet.
It seems for some newbies considering paleo, diabetes has become a considerable concern.
But could it be that this study has us all barking up the wrong tree? In fact, could reactions like these actually make our health situation far worse in the long run?
The fact is, there are numerous studies which indicate that a number of health issues can be positively influenced by the paleo diet, diabetes being one of them. I’ll explore others in future articles.
One particular study, published in 2009 in the journal Cardiovascular Diabetology, saw thirteen men and women with type 2 diabetes eat (during separate three-month periods) two different diets. One diet was a typical ‘diabetes diet’, rich in complex carbohydrates. The other was a paleo diet based on the foodstuffs resembling those that humans ate prior to the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry: whole, unprocessed meat, fish and fowl; vegetables and fruits; eggs and nuts. You can read the abstract of the study here.
The result? According to the study’s findings:
Over a 3-month study period, a Paleolithic diet improved glycemic control and several cardiovascular risk factors compared to a Diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Typical changes amongst study participants included:
- A 3kg (6.5 lbs) reduction in weight
- A reduction in triglyceride levels (high levels are linked to increased risk of heard disease)
- Reduced diastolic blood pressure
- A 4 cm reduction in waist circumference
- Lower levels of HbA1c (a measure of blood sugar control over the preceding 3 months)
- Increased levels of HDL cholesterol (the kind associated with reduced risk of heart disease)
In other words, when it comes to diabetes, the paleo diet compares favourably to standard advice for diabetics, because it seems to lead to significant improvements in markers for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
But why? Our best clue comes in examining exactly what it was that the study participants actually ate, and how that compares with their standard fare. Daily consumption of macronutrients in the study’s diabetic diet and paleo diet were, respectively:
- Protein: 90g and 94g
- Fat: 72g and 68g
- Carbohydrate: 196g and 125g
So, when on the paleo diet, the study subjects consumed just a little more protein and a little less fat, but the major difference was they consumed considerably less carbohydrate. It’s also a safe bet that they weren’t gorging themselves on nutritionally inferior and questionably produced processed junk meats. After all, hot dogs weren’t avaiable in the paleolithic era.
These figures also help us to see past a common misconception amongst many critics of a diet rich in animal foods; namely that when people ‘go paleo’, they start eating vastly greater amounts of protein and fat. This study is indicative of what actually happens: the main difference is that they eat less carbohydrate, and the considerable health benefits of that simple change are very cleary indicated by the findings of the study.
It’s a stark reminder of how important it is to continue to challenge the conventional wisdom of the diet dictocrats and to ensure that accurate information on the effects of food on health is made available to the masses. You can do your bit by sharing this article with others, and passing up the processed breakfast cereal in favour of some good-quality paleo food!
Brian Cormack Carr is a professional life and career coach and advocate of a real foods diet.
His home on the web is www.cormackcarr.com where you will find more articles, a free newsletter, and information about Brian’s online career-creation programme www.vitalvocation.com. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @cormackcarr