How can you get a roomful of health experts agitated? Walk around and casually mention “I think the Paleo diet is the best” or “veganism is the answer to the world’s health and environmental concerns” and see what happens. Few topics other than the current presidential campaign can create the same buzz in a short time. Everyone has an opinion, just read the new headline, or has a new diet trend. Since 1985 and the introduction of the Paleolithic Diet by Dr. Boyd Eaton, this primal eating pattern has grown to be the darling of many journalists, athletes and health advocates. Generally the Paleo diet recommends that one consume lean meats, produce, fish, nuts and seeds and ample “healthy fats” while avoiding processed foods, dairy, sugars, grains, and legumes. The appeal of the Paleo diet is puzzling as it is one of the least scientifically supported eating patterns for health and ranks near the bottom of diets for heart health by an often quoted health source. Indeed, Dr. Eaton recently spoke on the subject and headlines for recommending plant based nutrition over the Paleo diet due to pressing environmental concerns from relying on animal food production.
This week the Paleo diet was given extraordinary headlines with claims that it could “save you from a heart attack” and “dramatically cut blockages in your arteries.”. So can we celebrate the end of heart disease with a bison limb in hand? I believe that is premature. Indeed, the research sparking celebration was presented at a meeting and has not been published in any form. It appears that researches in Houston fed 8 healthy volunteers a Western diet rich in processed foods, saturated fats and sugars for 8 weeks and then substituted a Paleo diet devoid of processed foods for 8 weeks. The measurement was a marker of immune response called IL-10, one that has no routine role in cardiac assessment or care.
Compared to the standard Amercian diet (SAD), the cleaner Paleo diet increased the marker IL-10 by 35% in 8 weeks, suggesting lower levels of inflammation. One of the researchers commented that “The study’s findings add to the possibility that short-term dietary changes from a traditional Western pattern of eating to foods promoted in the Paleo diet may improve health– or, at the very least, the diet does not have negative health implications.”
Wow. It is long way from a headline claiming that you can save yourself form a heart attack to the reality that the diet may simply not be harmful. Yet the apparent lust to eat meat and relate it to our primal heritage, despite overwhelming science on the risks of such dietary patterns to the environment and human health , creates competition for headlines for research that is small, unpublished, and without consideration of actual cardiac or environmental health measures. This stands in contrast to plant based dietary patterns which not only have been shown to reverse atherosclerotic plaques in humans and lower cardiac event rates, but are also approved by Medicare for reimbursement with dozens of centers across the United States.
So while the buzz words Paleo and vegan might agitate a room of nutrition experts into a heated discussion, at least for now, there is little to say to support the Paleo diet and heart health. Almost everything is better than the SAD. Indeed, recent words of caution about the Paleo diet as a treatment for diabetes have just been contributed to the medical literature for the same reasons. Paleo diets cannot be claimed as a means of saving heart attacks or unblocking arteries. That is obvious media spin seeking headlines for sales. What we have to do is to make plant based nutrition, the dietary pattern with enormous data for prevention and reversal of heart disease and diabetes, sexy like the Paleo diet. Any ideas? Rename it the SED (sexual enhancing diet)?
Originally posted on HuffingtonPost.com