The Paleo Lifestyle and Diabetes – What is the Verdict?

I was recently asked if the Paleo lifestyle can help with diabetes.  After doing some online research I realized this was not going to be a simple “yes or no” answer.  While some of the basic tenets of the Paleo eating style line up nicely with the guidelines set forth by the American Diabetes Association, there are some nuances that need to be taken into consideration.  In this article I am going to share with you some of the information I discovered about Paleo and Diabetes.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as of 2015 approximately 30.3 million American adults have diabetes (nearly 10% of the US population).  While diabetes can take on many different forms, the basic problem is the body’s inability to use and regulate the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. A couple of markers of the disease are blood glucose levels (BG) and a measure known as glycosylated hemoglobin (A1C) – both of which are typically elevated in a person who suffers from diabetes or a similar condition known as prediabetes.

A common myth is that people with diabetes should eat special “diabetic foods”.  The American Diabetes Association debunks this myth. According to the site the ideal diet for someone with diabetes is one that is “low in saturated and trans fat, moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and fruit”.  If you were to eliminate whole grains and change “moderate in…sugar” to “moderate in unrefined sugars like maple syrup and honey” in this definition you basically have the definition of Paleo.

This sounds great, right?  However, before I mentioned some nuances that need to be taken into consideration.  The first one is whether the Paleo lifestyle would be more effective than other diet plans specifically designed for diabetes patients.  In a small study in 2009, 13 patients with type 2 diabetes ate either a Paleo Diet or a non-Paleo Diet for 3 months each. In the Paleo phase the patients saw a greater reduction in weight, A1C, and blood pressure than in the non-Paleo phase.  However, the non-Paleo diet had substantially higher amounts of carbs, calories, and saturated fats, so the results are to be expected.

Another nuance I found is that if a person adopts the Paleo eating style but does not change the insulin or other medication regimen they are on they may be at risk of blood sugar that is too low.  Patients taking any kind of medication should always consult their physician before making any kind of changes, and this includes dietary changes.  However, a carefully developed plan to change to the Paleo style developed in conjunction with healthcare providers can potentially result in better control of blood glucose levels (BG).  

Finally, according to a blog posted by Allison Nimlos on HealthLine, the author detailed her results of “going Paleo”.  She noted an immediate drop in blood sugar, lower need for insulin, and improved blood sugar control.  However, she also noticed that she had to “bolus” (consume first) approximately half of the protein of the meal in order to prevent a post-meal BG spike.  This is because in a low-carb meal the liver will convert some of the protein into glucose, which is the primary fuel of the brain and central nervous system.

So, as you can see, there is not a simple answer to whether the Paleo lifestyle is the right diet for a person with diabetes.  My personal opinion is that with the right planning and the proper input and monitoring from a healthcare professional the Paleo lifestyle is at least as good as other diets specifically designed for people with diabetes.