Groundbreaking research finds “Paleo diet” most effective at improving the three markers of chronic diseases. First-Ever Large-Scale Meta-Analysis of Links Between Diet & Disease Finds “The Paleo Diet” Healthier than Mediterranean & DASH diets. It is the healthiest way of eating to improve the three key indicators of chronic illness.
A new research paper, published in a respected nutrition journal has discovered that “The Paleo Diet” is the healthiest way of eating among 11 of the most popular diets.
What is a Paleo diet?
A paleo diet is typically an eating plan based on foods humans might have eaten during the Paleolithic Era. The Paleolithic Era dates from around 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. A modern Paleo diet includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts & seeds.
The study found that The Paleo diet is the most effective way of eating to simultaneously work on the three key parameters of health i.e. to reduce inflammation, improve blood lipid profiles, & control blood sugar.
New Research on Paleo Diet
New research on Paleo diet was published in the respected, peer-reviewed journal Nutrients in december 2022.
It was a meta-analysis led by S. Liang, et. al. & is the first large-scale meta-analysis looking into how popular diets affect the key indicators of chronic illness. There were many claims in the press & on social media, but as Liang’s team pointed out, no one had done the hard work to determine what the science actually had to say regarding these diets.
The researchers initially started with 4,008 studies which they later narrowed down to 68 that met their inclusion & quality standards. They compared many of the most popular diets:
- The Paleo Diet
- DASH diet
- Mediterranean diet
- Plant-based diet
- A typical Western diet
- high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet
- low- and high-Glycemic Index (GI) diets
- low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet (e.g., keto diet)
- dietary guidelines diet (diets based on current government recommendations)
In the conventional studies on disease prevention, subjects would be put on a particular diet and then they were tracked to see if the rates of disease were lower in the diet group. The problem with this sort of study is that it would take decades to finish.
Instead, the present research tends to look at the biomarkers of chronic disease. For example, if your doctor gives you a blood test & finds your cholesterol is high, you will be immediately informed that you’re at risk of heart disease & you need to get your cholesterol down. High cholesterol is a major biomarker of heart disease. If you work on lowering this biomarker with diet, exercise, or medications, your doctor would expect your risk of heart disease to decrease.
Current meta-analysis broke common chronic disease biomarkers into three categories:
- lipid markers, such as cholesterol, are key indicators of heart disease.
- glycemic control markers, such as insulin & resting blood sugar level, are key indicators of metabolic conditions like diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome.
- Inflammation markers, are a major risk factor for the broadest number of non-communicable diseases including heart disease, cancer, & autoimmune diseases.
After statistically integrating the data from all 68 studies, the researchers used a powerful statistical tool to rank the diets called the surface under the cumulative ranking curve or SUCRA. SUCRA is a well-known research tool used among meta-analysis studies. The SUCRA number is a score from 0 to 100% that compares all the treatments included in a study or analysis. Higher SUCRA score indicates that a treatment is more likely to be effective than lower-scored treatments.
When all the biomarkers were merged to give a total ranking, The Paleo Diet topped at 67%, followed by the DASH diet at 62% & the Mediterranean diet at 57%. The Western diet (a diet consisting mainly of processed foods) was at the bottom of the list at 36%.
These science-backed results contradict many popular online diet rankings & common recommendations by dietitians, warranting a re-evaluation of Paleo diet & its place in healthy nutrition.
Focusing on macronutrients alone, like following a low-fat diet or a low-carb diet, is not as effective at improving health.
A focus on specific foods is the common theme of the three top-ranked diets in this study, The Paleo diet, the DASH diet, & the Mediterranean diet. These three diets were shown to be healthiest, which interprets that healthy nutrition is about choosing the right foods which are natural, human-friendly foods that are less processed & not focusing only on their fat or carbohydrate content.
Other important findings of this research:
- Plant-based diets & diets based on current government guidelines (e.g., USDA MyPlate guidelines) are less healthy than higher-ranked diets in the study. Government guidelines scored at 48.5% while plant-based diets scored at 49.3%.
- The Paleo diet is strongly anti-inflammatory. It has the highest SUCRA score of 87% for reducing inflammation markers compared with DASH (71%) & Mediterranean (58.1%). The Mediterranean diet recommends several foods that may support inflammation.
- While The Paleo diet was ranked the healthiest diet in total, it did not rank best for all the specific biomarkers. The Mediterranean diet topped the list for improving lipid profiles (good & bad cholesterol) while The Paleo Diet ranked below a low-carb/high-fat diet (like the keto diet) for glycemic control.
The current research joins seven other previously published meta-analysis studies & more than 500 peer-reviewed studies in supporting the health benefits of The Paleo diet.