5 Science-Backed Benefits of Paleo
With so many fad diets making headlines and occupying internet message boards, finding a science-backed solution to organize your health regimen is important. One particular diet has become a standout: the nutrient-dense, whole-food-focused Paleo lifestyle. Based on the hypothetical diets of ancestors of old, the Paleo benefits have long been held up by anecdotal evidence gleaned from interaction with indigenous tribes who have managed to hold onto traditional diets who have eschewed processed foods and refined sugars. While many diets, especially those seeing modern popularity, share the commonality of cutting out junk, the Paleo approach differs in a few ways:
- Veggies vs. Beans: In keeping with the “hunter gatherer” motif, the Paleo diet favors the “rainbow” approach to fruits and vegetables, especially prizing those that would grow wildly. In short, leafy greens, shoots and tubers are a good bet, whereas beans, lentils, soy and other legumes are not.
- Goodbye to Grains: While whole grains are essential to some diets (and bread and carbohydrate-heavy diets are quite common in the West), they will sabotage your Paleo goals. Important to note is the ways in which the Paleo lifestyle takes a broad view of “grains”: corn, pasta, rice, quinoa, wheat, rye, spelt, barley, amaranth and buckwheat are all off the grocery list when going Paleo.
- Trade Dairy for Healthy Fats: Perhaps the most vexingly particular variance of the Paleo diet are the fats allowed and not allowed. Dairy should be cut out entirely. As for fats: avocado, olive, coconut and animal fats are beneficial; fats from soybean, safflower, sunflower, canola, peanut and corn are not.
While the strictures can seem daunting, the health benefits of Paleo are well worth the trade-offs. Multiple scientific studies have showcased a myriad of health benefits, and the boost to vitality and fitness are matched at least evenly with evidence of a decrease in co-morbidities that have plagued people who have trouble staying healthy on traditional diets.
With any diet though, the proof is in the science. Fortunately, for fitness enthusiasts, models, athletes or anyone looking to increase their health and live their very best life, many studies show the Paleo approach to be incredibly effective. Here are five science-backed benefits of the Paleo diet.
1. Weight Loss
Health and a healthy weight are usually item number one when considering a new diet, and old adages about caloric restriction have faded into obscurity. A solid, scientifically proven diet encompasses an understanding of the biological processes that lead to weight loss and weight gain. In the case of Paleo, the weight loss effects have proven to be of the most beneficial types. The blood marker hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) is considered a biomarker signaling diabetes or pre-diabetes, and a decrease associated with weight loss means an overall increase in health.
Additional to a decrease in weight, the Paleo diet has shown healthful benefits in BMI and even waist circumference. Healthy participants were able to lose up to 11 pounds and two inches off of their waist while eating a strictly Paleo diet over a period of 12 weeks.
2. Blood Glucose Levels
One of the surprising Paleo benefits is a long term one: an effect on blood glucose levels. With a bit of a dive into scientific jargon, one discovers that the long-term benefits of the Paleo diet for individuals with diabetes and glucose intolerance have tell-tale signs of universal benefits. A study as early as 2007 in Diabetologia showed that the Paleo diet lended well to individuals with glucose intolerance or type-2 diabetes: over the course of three months, blood sugar levels decreased by 0.4% – which, in layman's terms, means a healthier rate of clearing glucose from the blood, and an overall healthier response in the body’s deflection of complications due to high blood sugar. Some of those complications are pretty serious, such as an increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney disease and vision problems, so that vital improvement is incredibly healthful.
Insufficient blood sugar levels can cause a catabolic effect, which means the body burns muscle for energy (the wrong kind of weight loss). Higher insulin levels cause increased appetite, which can completely sabotage your diet. A breach in the balance of insulin resistance can lead to low energy as well; the balancing effect on blood glucose is one of the health benefits of Paleo bringing homeostasis to the entirety of bodily functions.
Cutting out refined sugars and losing weight is a logical connection, but it surprises some folks to learn the Paleo benefits of the meat and lard-heavy diet: lower cholesterol. This hunter-gatherer lifestyle change has shown tremendous promise in dealing with low blood pressure, with a study in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing that on average, participants saw:
- A 16% decrease in total cholesterol
- A 22% decrease in LDL, or “bad” cholesterol
- A 35% decrease in triglycerides
4. Reduced Inflammation
Many foods that are eliminated on a Paleo diet are associated with high levels of cortisol — a hormone which, when increased unnaturally, causes inflammation, illness and increased weight gain. Sugar, alcohol and processed foods contribute to cortisol levels that are detrimental. Many health benefits of Paleo recorded by athletes is a decrease in fatigue and inflammation when changing up their diet.
5. Improved Complexion
While studies are still preliminary, the highly nutritious and rich-in-trace-mineral foods that encompass the Paleo diet, in addition to the low-carbohydrate profile, show initial benefits to complexion. Conversely, insulin stimulation (more specifically insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1)) increases the production of sebum – a pore clogging oil – which in turn increases acne severity.
As research mounts, all the Paleo benefits are becoming clear winners for individuals at every stage of a journey toward a healthier lifestyle. Of course, as with any dietary change, it's important to keep your ear to the ground for new scientific studies, and consult your doctor with specific questions on your health journey.