Much ado about Paleo: Doctor Fatemeh PhD on the Paleo Diet

A guest post by Doctor Fatemeh Sajadinia, Harley Street Physiotherapist, PhD

Wikipedia has described the Paleolithic diet “as a modern dietary regimen that seeks to mimic the diet of preagricultural hunter-gatherers, one that corresponds to what was available in any of the ecological niches of Paleolithic humans.” In a simple language a Paleo Diet (paleolithic diet) is based on the type of foods our ancestors ate. This diet consists of foods that can be hunted and fished, such as meat and seafood, and can be gathered, such as eggs, insects, fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and spices. Food groups that probably were rarely or never consumed by humans thousands of years ago are excluded from the diet, mainly grains, legumes (e.g. beans and peanuts), dairy products, salt, refined sugar and processed oils, although some advocates consider the use of oils with low omega-6/omega-3 ratios, such as olive oil and canola oil, to be healthy and advisable. This way of eating has many names, including ‘the Stone Age diet,’ ‘the Paleolithic diet,’ ‘the Paleo diet,’ ‘the caveman diet,’ ‘the warrior diet,’ and so on.

There is a vast collection of information about this type of diet both on papers and on line. Most of the articles have compared this diet with a more modern lifestyle diet and have come to some sort of conclusions. From a more scientific point of view there are researches which back up the paleo diet and claim that this diet could benefit some of most problematic health conditions such as Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, allergies and many more.

In a recent study by the department of Clinical Sciences in Lund University/Sweden,13 patients with type 2 diabetes, 3 women and 10 men, were instructed to eat a Paleolithic diet based on lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs and nuts; and a Diabetes diet designed in accordance with dietary guidelines during two consecutive 3-month periods. The result showed that the Paleolithic diet improved glycemic control and several cardiovascular risk factors compared to a Diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes.

There is no doubt that the Paleolithic diet has lower energy density compared to a typical diet consumed by modern humans. This is especially true in vegetarian versions of the diet, but it still holds if substantial amounts of lean meat are included in calculations. For example, most fruits and berries contain 0.4 to 0.8 calories per gram, and even by taking into account the meat/animal intake in the diet, it does not reach the densities of many processed foods commonly consumed by modern humans. For example, most McDonalds sandwiches such as the Big Mac average 2.4 to 2.8 calories/gram, and sweets such as cookies and chocolate bars commonly exceed 4 calories/gram.

There is substantial evidence that people consuming high energy-density diets are prone to overeating and they are at a greater risk of weight gain. On the other side, low caloric density diets tend to provide a greater feeling of fullness at the same energy intake, and they have been shown effective at achieving weight loss in overweight individuals without explicit caloric restrictions. Even some authors who may otherwise appear to be critical of the concept of Paleolithic diet have argued that high energy density of modern diets, as compared to paleo diet, contributes to the rate of diseases of affluence in the industrial world.

But there are a couple of questions which need answering:

  1. Is the low carb Paleolithic diet the one that is recommended for everyone? No. There is not such a diet suitable for everyone. Individuals are different, depends on the type of your body, your lifestyle, your physical activities, your medical history and many other factors, YOU and YOUR DOCTOR decide what’s the best food intake for you.
  2. Is there a less extreme low carb diet for fat loss? Yes, Of course. Again it’s up to YOU, If you prefer, you may use other low carb diets for fat loss or keeping fit.

Alternatively, you could also consider the following formula which seems to work for most of us:

  • Adopt as much fresh diet as possible, fish, vegetables and fruit, and try to avoid processed food, and in particular junk food.
  • Exercise frequently, but with a variety of durations and intensities (including rest periods) rather than doing always the same, ask your fitness instructor to overload your exercise routine frequently,
  • Perform a variety of cardiovascular exercises, such as walking, running, cycling, climbing, swimming…. These exercises involve different groups of muscles in your body and the effects are undeniable…

Finally and most importantly, don’t forget to check your primary health with your GP before taking any diet/food regimen.


Fatemeh Rezaei Sajadinia

PhD, BSc physio, HPC Reg, MCSP
Consultant physiotherapist & Bio-Mec Practitioner

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