As the paleo diet grows in popularity, we will see more and more clinical use of the diet as a treatment for disease. Any diet that claims to be superior for health will ultimately have to put its money where its mouth is and prove it. Sure, paleo eating may make good sense, but when it comes to clinical applications, we want to know if it’s really healthier. As in, so much healthier that it can be used to treat disease.


In a recent study in the Nutrition Journal, researchers agreed that the paleo diet needed a closer look, but not quite in the way you might think. Metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes can often be treated effectively by improving the diet. The researchers in this particular study acknowledged that because of improved carbohydrate quality and reduced intake, the paleo diet was good at glycemic control and the reduction of risk factors for disease. In this study, researchers wanted to know whether or not the diet could control hunger in diabetics and how easy it was to stick with. After all, dietary adherence is at least as important as the diet itself. You could have designed the perfect diet, but if everyone on the diet bails and eats donuts and pizza every day, the diet is no good.


The researchers in this study compared a traditional diet recommendation with a paleo diet recommendation for patients with diabetes. The major difference between the diets was the inclusion of grains and dairy in the diabetes diet, with a focus on healthier options within those categories. As far as nutrients go, the biggest difference was in the amount of protein, which accounted for 5% more of the calorie intake for the paleo eaters. The traditional diabetes diet also was slightly higher in fiber.


One major factor of sticking with a diet is satiety. Satiety is how well a meal curbs your hunger in both degree and length. The more a meal satisfies you, the higher its satiety. The researchers measured this by subjective questionnaire. The participants indicated where they were at before and after a meal, on a scale of very hungry to very full. All their food was weighed and measured so they always had a point of comparison.


While there was no difference in total satiety between the diets, the paleo diet was more satiating per calorie. That means the paleo eaters ate fewer calories per meal on average, but were just as satisfied as those on the traditional diabetes diet. In follow up questionnaires, people in the paleo group were also more likely to report weight loss, and there was a trend toward reports of higher control over blood sugar.


On the other hand, a significant number of the paleo participants reported difficulty sticking with the paleo diet. Although the diet controlled hunger better, some participants believed it was bland, monotonous, or too expensive. Keep in mind this isn’t actual adherence, just the report of difficulty adhering to the diet. It is possible that improved blood sugar and weight would keep adherence high anyway.


So ultimately, paleo eating is good for health and fills you up, but might be difficult to stick with. In my experience, this seems to be true. Perfect adherence to paleo eating is rare, but it’s worth the benefits to stick with it.



1. Tommy Jönsson, et. al., “Subjective satiety and other experiences of a Paleolithic diet compared to a diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes,” Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:105.


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