EVERY now and then a study comes along with such suspect conclusions, you’d think the researchers would be too embarrassed to put their names to it. Not so the Australian scientists behind a study that purports to show the Paleo diet is dangerous for diabetics. And that it  will make them – and you – fat.  Silly stuff!

By Marika Sboros


Ingredients for a Paleo meal

Like all low-carb, high-fat eating regimens, Paleo is not so much a diet as a lifestyle. It’s one that has fans across the globe. They would have been surprised at Australian research apparently showing Paleo is dangerous and will make them fat.

That’s the conclusion Australian researchers draw  in a new study in Nutrition and Diabetes, journal. They warn that diabetics shouldn’t go on Paleo because it causes weight gain.That would have worried the  29.1 million Americans with diabetes (CDC statistics, 2012) who are Paleo fansand others around the world.

Health and medical nutrition experts quickly pointed out terminal flaws in the study. They also pointed out that it actually isn’t about Paleo at all. That raises the question why the study’s submitting author,  Dr Sof Andrikopolos, takes aim at Paleo specifically. In the ensuing press release he doesn’t refer to the  low-carb, high-fat diet diet as Paleo or in the published documents.

That suggests an agenda that is not so hidden for Andrikopolos. He is a senior research fellow, associate professor and head of the University of Melbourne, Department of Medicine’s Islet Biology and Metabolism Research Group.

The basis of the Paleo diet is a simple one.  For optimal health, modern humans should “go back to eating real, whole unprocessed foods that are more healthful than harmful to their bodies”. There are varieties of the Paleo diet, but the basics, according to the NomNom Paleo website are;

  • Eating whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense, nourishing foods – That means  grass-fed and pastured meats and eggs, wild-caught seafood, and vegetables – fruit, nuts, and seeds in moderation.
  • Avoiding foods that  harm by causing inflammation and straining guts and natural metabolic processes – So, abstain from toxic, pro-inflammatory foods such as gluten-containing grains, legumes and sugar,. Also avoid laboratory-concocted Frankenfoods found in the middle aisles of your neighbourhood supermarket.

Andrikopoulos and his team  used nine mice predisposed to diabetes and obesity. They fed the mice a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet consisting of 13% protein, 6% carbohydrates, and 81% fat for eight weeks. The result was that the LCHF mice gained weight rapidly and the conclusion: the diet wasn’t suitable for pre-diabetic people.

Andrikopoulos says you are supposed to eat “zero carbs and lots of fat” on the Paleo diet. “Our model tried to mimic that, but we didn’t see any improvements in weight or symptoms. In fact, they got worse,”  he says.

Prof Richard Feinman

Prof Richard Feinman

The lack of data behind the study conclusions so incensed Dr Richard Feinman that he wrote to the journal editor demanding he retract it.

Feinman is professor of cell biology (biochemistry) at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Centre in Brooklyn, New York. He says the study’s recommendation against  LCHF diets  follows from presumed risk based on experiments with nine mice from a strain bred for susceptibility to metabolic abnormalities. The researchers ignored dozens of studies, listed in their own references, comprising hundreds of human subjects, that contradicted the mice data.

“In addition, Dr Andrikopoulos, the submitting author, participated in a wide-spread media program that was not scientifically accurate. It included ad hominem attacks on all workers in the field and was outside of normal scientific protocol.”

For these reasons, the journal should retract the paper, Feinman said. It should subject the data to “new peer review, sensibly including people with experience with LCHF in humans”.

Sounds about right to me.

After all, as Feinman points out,  a vast body of solid research shows  the value of dietary carbohydrate restriction. No-one is saying LCHF is a one-size-fits-all diet or that the latest research is the final word. Science is after all, a work in progress,

Feinman says scientists involved in LCHF are always open to criticism. However,  a study of nine mice for eight weeks “does not raise questions about this extensive body of knowledge”.

Dr Akil Palanisamy, a US board-certified integrative medicine physician, has treated patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions for over 10 years. He weighed in on the mouse research. He said public statements Andrikopoulos made  misrepresent the Paleo diet.

A Paleo diet designed to eliminate carbs from grains and refined sugars is  beneficial for diabetics because it is lower-glycemic. “That’s my clinical experience with patients as well. Paleo doesn’t have to be low-carb or high-fat, and it contains plenty of carbs from fruits and vegetables.”

The diet the researchers fed the test animals was not Paleo, Palanisamy says. Its top four ingredients were cocoa butter, casein (dairy), sucrose (table sugar), and canola oil. None is part of the Paleo diet.

Paleo diets never recommend high doses of cocoa butter and canola oil is “not a healthy fat”, he says.

Dr Chad Walding, a physical therapist and co-founder of the popular health blog, The Paleo Secret , has years of experience helping clients manage diabetes.

He says there is  conflicting research concerning the best diet for diabetes. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, the great thing about Paleo is that you can customise it, says Walding, a partner at Lexicon Health.

“We have moved beyond considering Paleo as just a diet,” he says. It is a lifestyle that fully incorporates healthy and natural choices for diet, mind, and movement.

“It’s the trifecta of good health,” Walding says.

It is “irresponsible” to scare people away from a holistic option to manage their health just to make headlines. – With PR Newswire