Following the Paleo Diet with Diabetes

Following the Paleolithic, or Paleo, diet is no more difficult than following a traditional diabetes diet, unless you consider the absence of some food options a difficulty.

A strict Paleo diet excludes dairy products, grains, legumes, processed oils and refined sugar – foods that were unavailable to humans prior to domestication of animals and crop cultivation. Advocates of the Paleo diet believe that humans have not yet genetically evolved to properly process the foods introduced to our bodies with the advent of agriculture.

The Paleo diet includes the foods our hunter-gatherer predecessors consumed: fish, lean meat, fruits, vegetables, roots, eggs, nuts and healthy oils (e.g., olive, flaxseed, coconut).

Paleo and Diabetes

Research about the effects of the Paleo diet on those with type 2 diabetes includes generally small, short-term studies. However, the diabetic study participants generally reduced their A1Cs, diastolic blood pressure, body mass index, weight and waist circumference. The evidence suggests that hunter-gatherer foods improve glucose tolerance, lower insulin secretion and raise insulin sensitivity.

Investigators suspect the weight loss associated with the Paleo diet indicates meals high in protein, fruits and veggies are more satiating than a typical diabetes diet, so fewer calories are consumed.

What people on the Paleo diet must watch out for are deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D in the absence of dairy products, and ingesting increased environmental toxins from eating more fish.

Most significant for diabetics is that a diet based on protein and fat instead of carbohydrates does not cause large, rapid spikes in glucose that lead to insulin resistance. The absence or reduction of dietary grains also eliminates exposure to gluten and lectins – substances that can trigger intestinal problems and systemic inflammation.

The Paleo diet emphasizes cooking with grass-fed meats and organically grown produce as well, reducing our exposure to processed foods with unhealthy additives and other toxins.

Paleo Variations and Adjustments

Though proponents of the Paleo diet recommend sticking to its guidelines, people with diabetes may need or want to tweak the diet to suit individual needs. You will still get most of the diet's benefits, but be sure to consider the costs of any changes you make. For instance, some Paleo dieters use artificial sweeteners that do not affect blood sugar levels but may cause sugar cravings or gradually harm the pancreas.

People with diabetes may also choose to limit their intake of sugar-laden fruits, decide to eat some dairy products from grass-fed cows, eat a limited amount of organic whole grains, or avoid eggs if they do not digest well. If your protein intake has been restricted for medical reasons, adjustments will have to be made for that.

Expectations

Every body is unique, and mapping out a diabetes-Paleo meal plan with your doctor or dietician’s help would be ideal, especially with type 1 or severe type 2 diabetes. However, by switching to the Paleo diet gradually while diligently testing glucose levels, it is a change experienced diabetics can manage.

Some people with diabetes report that being on the Paleo diet eliminates their diabetes symptoms, but it is more realistic to hope it will help control symptoms, prevent or slow the onset of complications, and maybe lower insulin dependence.

The Paleo diet also has its share of detractors. You might consider reading what they have to say (and consulting with your doctor) before trying this diet.

Sources: Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology; Paleo Leap
Photo credit: Katherine Lim / flickr creative commons

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