Could the Paleo Diet Be a “Metabolic Syndrome Diet”?

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

If you have metabolic syndrome, you might want to eat like a caveman. According to new research, your symptoms are more likely to improve if you adopt a Paleolithic-type diet (Paleo diet, for short), than if you follow a diet based on national dietary guidelines.

What Is a Paleo Diet?

The so-called Paleo diet is dramatically different from mainstream dietary guidelines. Inspired by our Stone-age predecessors, the Paleo diet consists of foods you could gather or hunt: fruits, berries, vegetables, roots, lean meats, eggs, seafood, mushrooms, nuts, seeds and other healthy fats. It simulates a 2 million-year-old pre-agriculture and animal husbandry menu, and excludes agricultural products like grains and dairy, as well as processed food and sugars, and alcohol.

Compare this simple Paleo-type diet to the typical Western diet, which is overloaded with unnatural, processed carbohydrates like bread, crackers, pasta, and sugar. Eating these foods in excess – most of which never existed until the last 100 years or so – can lead to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and eventually heart disease.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a widespread pre-diabetic condition that occurs primarily because of poor dietary choices (including eating too many processed carbohydrates) and lack of physical activity. It is characterized by weight gain and a waist circumference of more than 34 inches for women and 39 inches for men, and above-normal blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar.

Benefits of a Paleo Diet

Recent research published in a 2015 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that a Paleo diet may be helpful for people with metabolic syndrome. Through a meta-analysis of four previous studies comparing the results of a Paleo diet on metabolic syndrome against diets based on standard dietary guidelines, Bahrainian and Dutch researchers found that “the Paleolithic diet resulted in greater short-term improvements on metabolic syndrome components than did guideline-based control diets.”

The benefits of The Paleo diet – which included improved waist circumference, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and fasting blood sugar levels  – were superior over the short-term –  that is, within six months – in each of these categories compared to 4 other, broadly similar diets that were based on conventional dietary guidelines.

My Take: The Paleo Diet Could be a Good “Metabolic Syndrome Diet”

The Paleo diet offers a more natural alternative to our overly processed Western diet, and this study gives evidence that it can counteract metabolic syndrome. Another plus here is that such a diet (or any diet that minimizes refined carbohydrates) will promote weight loss. A Paleo diet may be hard for many people to follow, though, because it requires more food preparation time.

My primary reservation with a diet like this is to take it easy with the meat, particularly red meat. I don’t recommend eating meat daily and one reason is a higher risk of cancer. Two or three times a week is OK, but try to make it grass-fed meat and substitute with fish or chicken.


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