Paleo: what’s with prattle about perils for those with diabetes?

Ingredients for a Paleo meal

By Marika Sboros

Paleo eating is not so much a diet as a lifestyle. It fits well in with low-carbohydrate, high-healthy-fat (LCHF) eating regimens and has growing fans globally. They would have been surprised at new Australian research.

It appears to show that Paleo is perilous, will make them fat and increase their diabetes risk.

That’s the conclusion that Australian researchers draw in a study in Nutrition and Diabetes, journal. They warn that people who are diabetic should not go on a Paleo diet because it causes weight gain. That would have worried the  29.1 million Americans with diabetes (CDC statistics, 2012), many of whom are Paleo fans.

Nutrition experts have quickly pointed to terminal flaws in the study. They also pointed out that it actually isn’t about Paleo at all. That raises the question of why the study’s submitting author, Dr Sof Andrikopolos, takes specific aim at Paleo.

Andrikopolos is an associate professor and head of the University of Melbourne Department of Medicine’s Islet Biology and Metabolism Research Group. In a press release, he does not refer to the LCHF diet studied as Paleo. Nor does he do so in the published documents.

Paleo basics

The basis of a Paleo lifestyle is a simple one.  There are varieties 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 cause inflammation and strain guts and natural metabolic processes: In other words, abstain from toxic, pro-inflammatory foods such as gluten-containing grains, legumes and sugar. Also avoid laboratory-concocted “Frankenfoods” found on supermarket shelves.

Andrikopoulos and his team used nine mice predisposed to diabetes and obesity. They fed the mice an 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 that the researchers reached: the diet wasn’t suitable for pre-diabetic people.

Andrikopoulos is quoted in a press release as saying that Paleo diets involve eating “zero carbs and lots of fat”. “Our model tried to mimic that but we didn’t see any improvements in weight or symptoms. In fact, they got worse,”  he says.

Retraction calls

Prof Richard Feinman
Prof Richard Feinman

The study conclusions so incensed Dr Richard Feinman that he wrote to the journal editor demanding retraction.

Feinman is professor of cell biology (biochemistry) at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Centre in Brooklyn, New York. He says that the study’s conclusions are not robust. The 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. These have contradicted the mice data, Feinman says.

“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. It was outside normal scientific protocol.”

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

After all, as Feinman points out,  a vast body of solid research shows the value of dietary carbohydrate restriction.

Proper perspective

Scientists involved in LCHF are open to criticism, he says. 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, agrees. Palanisamy has treated patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions for over 10 years. He says that 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, he says. “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.”

Palanisamy also says that the diet that researchers fed the test animals was not Paleo. Its top four ingredients were cocoa butter, casein (dairy), sucrose (table sugar), and canola oil. None is part of the Paleo diet. Paleo diets do not 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 on the best diet for diabetes and no one-size-fits-all solution. However, the helpful thing about Paleo is that you can customise it, says Walding.

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




    • Hi Vincent, I suggest you look for a medical doctor who understands nutrition and LCHF theory, and has a holistic approach to diabetes treatment. Numbers are small in SA, but growing. Google can help or I can email some suggestions depending on where you live.

    • Hello Vincent I am a type 2 diabetic who follows a paleo lifestyle from oral (twice daily)and injected insulin (4 times daily) to nothing and now normal readings. Have a look at my website You will find the names of three doctors on it, always follow the medical advice from doctors who understand what it is you are wanting to do with the lifestyle.

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