The paleo diet works really well by itself about 80% of the time. I don’t care what your goals are- to loose weight, have better cognition, reverse or manage diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, or an autoimmune disease. Paleo can and does help people achieve those goals all the time. But what is paleo, and why is it so effective? Is it just the next big fad diet?
“Paleo”, or the paleolithic diet, is a diet that has gained tremendous attention in the last 5-10 years. The basic premise of paleo is that we should be eating like our ancestors did 10,000+ years ago because we simply haven’t evolved quickly enough to be able to digest and cope with today’s food. Evolution is a slow process, and the food which we eat has changed significantly faster than we could have ever hoped to have changed. The paleo diet consists of meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and fats and oils and excludes all grains and legumes. This stands in stark contrast to the USDA food pyramid that says that whole grains should be the foundation of a healthy diet. So why does a diet that is so radically different than the USDA’s recommendations so effective?
1. Insulin is the hormone that is single-handedly bringing America and our healthcare system to it’s knees. This hormone is secreted by the pancreas upon the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar, and functions to get sugar (glucose) out of your blood and into your cells. If the cells of the body are exposed to high levels of insulin (from a high sugar and carb diet), they will eventually stop listening to the signals- in the medical world this is called insulin resistance. This obviously has huge implications in type 2 diabetes, but what about other diseases?
Alzheimer’s disease is now being called “type 3 diabetes”. Cancer cells have been shown time and time again to need sugar to survive, and can be preferentially starved using a ketogenic diet. High cholesterol is the result of high sugar in the blood stream- NOT a high cholesterol diet. Importantly, Insulin stimulates the storage of fat in the adipocytes (fat cells) and stops the cells from using their current fat stores. This is why Atkins worked so well- decreasing insulin allows the body to use the fat it already has and stops it from storing more fat! Atkins wasn’t a quack- he knew his basic physiology. Think of Paleo as Atkins version 2.0- same basic principals as far as hormones are concerned, but a much, much healthier diet that is maintainable in the long-run.
2. Food sensitivities are a much, much bigger issue than most people realize and have a huge impact on one’s overall health. The most common food sensitivities that I see clinically are to gluten, soy, corn, dairy* and eggs**, followed by a number of different grains. Paleo eliminates three or four of the worst food allergens (dairy is considered part of the “primal” diet), which has a tremendous impact on many people’s health. Even people who say that they were unresponsive to a gluten-free diet often feel drastically different on a paleo diet. This is most likely because they had other food sensitivities in addition to gluten, or that the broad inflammatory effects of the foods played some role in their health.
3. Processed food is bad for you and nobody should be eating it. We all know that is true, but most of us still don’t take heed to this advice. It’s nearly impossible to eat a paleo diet and eat anything processed. Perhaps paleo owes a large part of it’s fame to the fact that it’s a great way to get people to stop eating junk.
Paleo works pretty stinkin’ well, but occasionally people need a little something more. Anemia, thyroid problems, hormone imbalances, intestinal dysbiosis, neurological imbalance, lack of anti-oxidants, and toxicity are all possible things that may require a little more TLC from a trained professional. This is where I come in as a doctor- my background in functional medicine makes me well suited to help with many of these problems, or if nothing else, get you to someone who can help. Sometimes all you need is a proper diagnosis and individualized plan or a little nudge in the right direction to set you up for stupendous success!
If you or somebody you know is interested in working with a functional medicine doctor please call my office at (919) 238-4094 and see if we are the right fit for you. Infinity Holistic Healthcare is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, part of the Raleigh-Durham “triangle” area.