The Healthiest Way to Eat Paleo

There have been about a half dozen studies published on Paleo-type diets, starting around 20 years ago. For example, in what sounds like a reality TV show: ten diabetic Australian Aborigines were dropped off in a remote location to fend for themselves, hunting and gathering foods like figs and crocodiles.

In Modern Meat Not Ahead of the Game, my video on wild game, I showed that kangaroo meat causes a significantly smaller spike of inflammation compared to retail meat like beef. Of course, ideally we’d eat anti-inflammatory foods, but wild game is so low in fat that you can design a game-based diet with under 7 percent of calories from fat. Skinless chicken breast, in comparison, has 14 times more fat than kangaroo meat. So you can eat curried kangaroo with your cantaloupe (as they did in the study) and drop your cholesterol almost as much as eating vegetarian.

So, how did the “contestants” do? Well, nearly anything would have been preferable to the diet they were eating before, which was centered on refined carbs, soda, beer, milk, and cheap fatty meat. They did pretty well, though, showing a significantly better blood sugar response—but it was due to a ton of weight loss because they were starving. Evidently, they couldn’t catch enough kangaroos, so even if they had been running around the desert for seven weeks on 1,200 daily calories of their original junky diet, they may have done just as well. We’ll never know, though, because there was no control group.

Some of the other Paleo studies have the same problem: They’re small and short with no control groups, yet still report favorable results. The findings of one such study are no surprise, given that subjects cut their saturated fat intake in half, presumably because they cut out so much cheese, sausage, or ice cream. In another study, nine people went Paleo for ten days. They halved their saturated fat and salt intake, and, as one might expect, their cholesterol and blood pressure dropped.

The longest Paleo study had been only 3 months in duration, until a 15-month study was conducted—but it was done on pigs. The pigs did better because they gained less weight on the Paleo diet. Why? Because they fed the Paleo group 20 percent fewer calories. The improvement in insulin sensitivity in pigs was not reproduced in a study on people, however. Although, there were some benefits like improved glucose tolerance, thanks to these dietary changes: The Paleo group ate less dairy, cereals, oil, and margarine, and ate more fruits and nuts, with no significant change in meat consumption.

A follow-up study also failed to find improved glucose tolerance in the Paleo group over the control group, but did show other risk factor benefits. And no wonder! Any diet cutting out dairy, doughnuts, oil, sugar, candy, soda, beer, and salt is likely to make people healthier and feel better. In my video Paleo Diet Studies Show Benefits, you can see a day’s worth of food on the Standard American Diet, filled with pizza, soda, burgers, processed foods, and sweets, versus a Paleo diet, which, surprisingly, has lots of foods that actually grew out of the ground.

But the Paleo diet also prohibits beans. Should we really be telling people to stop eating beans? Well, it seems hardly anyone eats them anyway. Only about 1 in 200 middle-aged American women get enough, with more than 96 percent of Americans not even reaching the minimum recommended amount. So telling people to stop isn’t going to change their diet very much. I’m all for condemning the Standard American Diet’s refined carbs, “nonhuman mammalian milk”, and junk foods, but proscribing legumes is a mistake. As I’ve noted before, beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils may be the most important dietary predictor of survival. Beans and whole grains are the dietary cornerstones of the longest living populations on Earth. Plant-based diets in general and legumes in particular are a common thread among longevity blue zones around the world.

The bottom line may be that reaching for a serving of kangaroo may be better than a cheese danish, “but foraging for…[an] apple might prove to be the most therapeutic of all.”


I’ve reported previously on Paleo’s disappointing results in Paleo Diets May Negate Benefits of Exercise.

The underlying philosophy behind “caveman” diets may be flawed in the first place. See:

So, What’s the Natural Human Diet? Watch the video!

The wild game video I mentioned is Modern Meat Not Ahead of the Game. Kangaroo is kind of the Australian version of venison. Note that it also matters how the animals are killed. See Filled Full of Lead and Lead Contamination in Fish and Game.

And, for more on the musical fruit, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

The Benefits of Vinegar Beyond Weight Loss

A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study found that body weight and belly fat were significantly reduced by adding just a single tablespoon of vinegar to one’s daily diet. Is there any benefit to vinegar consumption if you’re not overweight? Well, the subjects’ triglycerides normalized, and, for those taking the larger dose of two tablespoons per day, there was a dip in blood pressure. Those effects may have just been because of the weight loss, though. Other than taste, is there any benefit to normal-weight individuals sprinkling vinegar on their salads? What about vinegar for controlling blood sugar? That’s the topic of my video Can Vinegar Help with Blood Sugar Control?.

If you feed people a half cup of table sugar, as their blood sugars spike, their artery function can become impaired. The higher the blood sugars go, the more the arteries take a hit. There’s a drug, though, that can block sugar absorption. By blunting the blood sugar spike with this drug, you can prevent the arterial dysfunction. This demonstrates that it’s probably good for your heart if you don’t have big blood sugar spikes after meals. In fact, how high your blood sugars spike after a meal is a predictor for cardiovascular mortality. So do people who eat lots of high glycemic foods, like sugary foods and refined grains, tend to have more heart attacks and strokes? Yes. They also appear more likely to get diabetes—but maybe people who eat lots of Frosted Flakes and Wonder Bread have other bad dietary habits as well?

The diets that have been put to the test in randomized controlled trials and proven to prevent diabetes are the ones focusing on cutting down on saturated fat and ramping up the consumption of fiber-rich whole plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, without specific regard to lower or higher glycemic loads. The drug has been put to the test, though, and blunting one’s mealtime blood sugar spikes does seem to reduce the risk of developing diabetes, as well as reduce the risk of heart attacks and high blood pressure. So is there any way to prevent these blood sugar spikes without having to take drugs? Well, one way would be to not sit down to a half cup of sugar!

Yes, the drug can slow the progression of your atherosclerosis. You can see in my video Can Vinegar Help with Blood Sugar Control? how the arteries going to your brain narrow somewhat more slowly with the drug than without it. But wouldn’t it be better to eat a diet that actually reverses heart disease and diabetes? The healthiest diet to prevent the meal-related blood sugar and fat spikes—the oxidation and inflammation—is a diet centered around whole plant foods. But what if you really want a bagel? Instead of spreading drugs on it, spreading on some almond butter may help blunt the blood sugar spike from refined carbs. Another option is to dip your baguette in some balsamic vinegar.

“The consumption of vinegar with meals was used as a home remedy for diabetes before the advent of pharmacologic glucose-lowering therapy”—that is, before drugs came along—but it wasn’t put to the test until 1988. After all, how much money can be made from vinegar? Well, according to The Vinegar Institute, millions of dollars can be made! But a single diabetes drug, like Rezulin, can pull in billions—that is, until it was pulled from the market for killing too many people by shutting down their livers. The drug company still made out like a bandit, though, having to pay out less than a billion to the grieving families for covering up the danger.

There’s no liver failure from schmearing peanut butter on a bagel, though, and it cuts the blood sugar response in half. Similarly, drinking four teaspoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in water gives the same blunting of the spike—with the additional advantage over the peanut butter of lowering insulin levels in the blood. This is something peanut butter apparently can’t do. But putting peanut butter on your bagel is presumably better than having a bagel with lox because fish causes triple the insulin response. Red wine also increases insulin levels, though not as much as fish does, and also shoots up triglycerides. Non-alcoholic red wine, however, doesn’t cause the same problem.

What about vinegar? Not only may a tablespoon a day tend to improve cholesterol and triglycerides over time, vinegar can drop triglycerides within an hour of a meal, as well as decrease blood sugars and the insulin spike, potentially offering the best of all worlds.


Was that bursting with information or what? It’s because of everyone’s kind support that I was able to hire more than a dozen researchers to help me plow through the literature. I’m extremely grateful so many of you were able to see the potential and help NutritionFacts.org become what it is today. Onward and upward!

What’s that about belly fat being reduced? Check out other videos in my series on vinegar:

Did I say reverse diabetes? Reverse heart disease? For examples, see:

Sharing information that can help people prevent and reverse common diseases is my life’s work. Check out the full story in my series of introductory videos.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

 

Best Diet for Diabetic Neuropathy

Neuropathy, or damage to the nerves, is a debilitating disorder, and diabetes is by far the most common cause. Up to 50 percent of people with diabetes will eventually develop neuropathy during the course of their disease. It can be “very painful, and the pain is frequently resistant to conventional treatments.” In fact, currently, there is no effective treatment for diabetic neuropathy. Clinicians rely on steroids, opiates, and antidepressants to try to mediate the suffering.

But, as I discuss in my video Curing Painful Diabetic Neuropathy, a remarkable study was published 20 years ago on the regression of diabetic neuropathy with a plant-based diet. There are two types of diabetic neuropathy: a “relatively painless type characterized by numbness, tingling and pins-and-needles sensations” and a second form, which “is painful with burning or aching sensations to the point of excruciating, lancinating [or stabbing] pain.” This study concentrated on the painful type of diabetic neuropathy.

Twenty-one diabetics suffering with moderate or worse symptomatic painful neuropathy for up to ten years were placed on a whole food, plant-based diet along with a half-hour walk every day. Years and years of suffering and then complete relief of the pain in 17 out of the 21 patients within days.

Years and years of suffering and then complete relief of the pain in 17 out of the 21 patients within days.

Numbness noticeably improved, too, and the side effects were all good. They lost ten pounds, blood sugars got better, and insulin needs dropped in half. And, in five of the patients, not only was their painful neuropathy apparently cured, so was their diabetes. Their blood sugars were normal, and they were off all medications. Their triglycerides and cholesterol also improved, as did high blood pressure. In fact, it was gone in about half the hypertensives—an 80 percent drop overall in need for high blood pressure medications within three weeks.

Now, this was a live-in program, where patients’ meals were provided. What happened after they were sent home? The 17 folks were followed for years, and the relief from the painful neuropathy continued or improved even further for all except one person. How did they get that kind of compliance? According to the researchers, “Pain and ill health are strong motivating factors.”

Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most painful and frustrating conditions to treat in all of medicine, and 75 percent of patients were cured within days with a natural, nontoxic, and, in fact, beneficial treatment: a diet composed of whole, plant foods.

How could nerve damage be reversed so suddenly? It wasn’t necessarily the improvement in blood sugar control, since it took about ten days for the diet to control the diabetes, whereas the pain was gone in as few as four days. “There are several mechanisms by which the [‘total vegetarian diet’]…works to alleviate the problem of diabetic neuropathy as well as the diabetic condition itself.” The researchers’ most interesting speculation was that it could be the trans fats naturally found in meat, dairy, and refined vegetable oils that could be causing an inflammatory response. They found a significant percentage of the fat found under the skin of those who ate meat or dairy consisted of trans fats, whereas those on a strictly whole food, plant-based diet had none.

The researchers stuck needles in the buttocks of people eating different diets and found that nine months or more on a strict plant-based diet appeared to remove the trans fat from their bodies (or at least their butts). Their pain, however, didn’t take nine months to get better—it got better in days.

More likely, it was due to an improvement in blood flow. “[N]erve biopsies in diabetics with severe progressive neuropathy…have shown small vessel disease within the nerve.” There are blood vessels within our nerves that can get clogged up too. The oxygen levels in the nerves of diabetics were found to be lower than even the levels of de-oxygenated blood. This lack of oxygen within the nerves may arise from blockages within the blood vessels depriving the nerves of oxygen, presumably leading them to cry out in pain.

Within days, though, improvements in blood “rheology,” or the ease of blood flow, on a plant-based diet may play a prominent role in the reversal of diabetic neuropathy. Plant-based diets may also lower the level of IGF-1 inside the eyeballs of diabetics and decrease the risk of retinopathy (diabetic vision loss) as well. But, “the most efficient way to avoid diabetic complications is to eliminate the diabetes, and this is often feasible for those type 2 patients who make an abiding commitment to daily exercise and low-fat, whole-food vegan diet.” 

Why didn’t we learn about this in medical school? The “neglect of this important work by the broader medical community is little short of unconscionable.”


What about reversing diabetic vision loss? See my video Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?.

Did you think trans fats were only in partially hydrogenated junk food? See Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy. Ideally, we’d reduce our intake as low as possible, which I discuss in Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

The best way to prevent diabetic complications is to prevent the diabetes in the first place:

And then to reverse it:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: