Paleo 'real food' diet healthier than following the dietary guidelines?

The motivations for consumers to follow a particular diet vary greatly – weight loss, better mood, skin health or improved energy levels, for example. In some cases the motivation to adhere to a certain diet is grounded in the desire to reduce the risk of developing a specific non-communicable disease (NCD). However, as many marketers have learned the hard way, that's a much smaller driver of food choice than the other examples shown above.

But research on exactly how various dietary patterns affect NCD biomarkers is lacking, according to the authors of a new meta-analysis published in the journal Nutrients earlier this year.

While many studies have been done on food and NCDs, they tend to focus on individual foods or nutrients, which the authors of the study claim risks overlooking important information: “An approach that focuses on individual nutrients, and, to a lesser extent, food groups, fails to account for the synergistic and antagonistic effects of nutrient, phytochemical and antinutrient combinations within meals...dietary patterns provide a more holistic indication of the net effects of dietary intake, in addition to being more relevant, and more easily translatable, to real-world dietary intake.”    

The new study looked at 11 different dietary patterns:

  • Dietary guidelines
  • Mediterranean
  • Paleo
  • Western habitual
  • DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
  • Low-fat
  • Plant-based
  • LCHF (low carb high fat)
  • Low GI/GL (low glycaemic index/load)
  • High GI/GL (high glycaemic index/load)
  • Traditional Mexican

It analysed the diets’ effects on 11 NCD biomarkers:

  • Inflammation (two markers)
  • Glycaemic control (three markers)
  • Lipids and apolipoproteins (six markers)

 

The diets were scored on a scale called SUCRA and assigned scores between 0 and 100, where a higher score indicates a greater chance of the diet achieving a favourable outcome.

While no diet had consistently high scores, the Paleo diet had the highest average SUCRA value with 67.2%. This was followed by the DASH and Mediterranean diets with 62.4% and 57.4% respectively. The "western habitual" diet received the lowest overall average SUCRA with 35.6%. Other low-scoring diets were low-fat (42.9%) and - unsurprisingly - eating according to the increasingly discredited dietary guidelines (48.5%).

Looking specifically at improving lipid profiles, the Mediterranean diet was found to be the best. A low-carb high-fat diet scored the highest for glycaemic control and Paleo for inflammation reduction.

The authors conclude that “our results support the Paleo diet, DASH diet, and Mediterranean diet for improving overall NCD biomarker profile”. And they also warn that “the majority of the confidence of evidence ratings were low, indicating more research is needed including high-quality randomised trials with clinical outcomes.”

Read the full study here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9824098/

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