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Diabetes expert warns Paleo Diet is dangerous and increases weight gain

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A new study has revealed following a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet for just eight weeks can lead to rapid weight gain and health complications.

The surprise finding, detailed in a paper in Nature journal Nutrition and Diabetes, has prompted University of Melbourne researchers to issue a warning about putting faith in so-called fad diets with little or no scientific evidence.

Lead author, Associate Prof Sof Andrikopoulos says this type of diet, exemplified in many forms of the popular Paleo diet, is not recommended – particularly for people who are already overweight and lead sedentary lifestyles.

He says mass media hype around these diets, particularly driven by celebrity chefs, celebrity weight-loss stories in the tabloid media and reality TV shows, are leading to more people trying fad diets backed by little evidence. In people with pre-diabetes or diabetes, the low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet could be particularly risky, he said.

"Low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets are becoming more popular, but there is no scientific evidence that these diets work. In fact, if you put an inactive individual on this type of diet, the chances are that person will gain weight," Assoc Prof Andrikopoulos, President of the Australian Diabetes Society, said.

"There is a very important public health message here. You need to be very careful with fad diets, always seek professional advice for weight management and always aim for diets backed by evidence."

Researchers at the University of Melbourne's originally sought to test whether high-fat and low-carbohydrate foods would benefit the health of people with pre-diabetes.

They took two groups of overweight mice with pre-diabetes symptoms and put one group on the LCHF diet. The other group ate their normal diet. The mice were switched from a three per cent fat diet to a 60 per cent fat diet. Their carbs were reduced to only 20 per cent.

After eight weeks, the group on the LCHF gained more weight, their glucose intolerance worsened, and their insulin levels rose. The paleo diet group gained 15 per cent of their body weight. Their fat mass doubled from 2 per cent to almost 4 per cent.

"To put that in perspective, for a 100 kilogram person, that's the equivalent of 15 kilograms in two months. That's extreme weight gain," Assoc Prof Andrikopoulos said.

"This level of weight gain will increase blood pressure and increase your risk of anxiety and depression and may cause bone issues and arthritis. For someone who is already overweight, this diet would only further increase blood sugar and insulin levels and could actually pre-dispose them to diabetes.

"We are told to eat zero carbs and lots of fat on the Paleo diet. Our model tried to mimic that, but we didn't see any improvements in weight or symptoms. In fact, they got worse. The bottom line is it's not good to eat too much fat."

Prof Andrikopoulos says the Mediterranean diet is the best for people with pre-diabetes or diabetes.

"It's backed by evidence and is a low-refined sugar diet with healthy oils and fats from fish and extra virgin olive oil, legumes and protein."

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Jane Gardner
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2 Comments
  1. Emil says

    I may have mis-read this, but earlier in the article it stated that “high fat” mice were fed 20% of their diet as carbohydrate. Then, later it said “we are told to eat zero carbohydrates” and that the study “tried to mimic that.” The problem is, if we were to try to compare this to a human diet, 20% of the recommended 2000kcal diet would equate to 100 grams of carbohydrates—nearly five times the amount that a paleo, Atkins or low carb weight loss approach would allow.

    I find it curious that a so-called diabetes expert would fail to note the hormone at the heart of diabetes and its role in fat storage; moreover, the impact carbohydrates have on said hormone and its release seem to be completely ignored.

  2. Anatoly Kalashnikov says

    This article fails on many diff levels:

    a) okay, so what exactly is the mechanism behind the Paleo or Atkins (both LCHF diets) failure? Because two sedentary people can eat exactly the same food and one will develop diabetes while the other won’t.

    b) what kind of study was done? Was anything of this nature done on humans? Because mice cannot serve as accurate representations of human metabolism.

    c) The LCHF fad diets advocate the low-carbohydrate regimen to induce ketosis. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that in some people at least, this works. Any explanations or rebuttal to that?

    d) Mediterranean diets are themselves full of fat, although they’re healthy fats. And they’re somewhat low-carb too. What accounts for the differences with it and Paleo?

    e) Also, isn’t Paleo more towards “raw foods,” or food that has gone as little processing as possible? Its focus isn’t on low-carb (although bread is generally avoided because of the amount of processing it has gone through)

    f) Diabetes is caused by production in insulin production or tolerance. How does ingesting fat exactly trigger that? Because eating fat doesn’t make you fat, although it can lead to cardiovascular problems later. Eating sugar will make you fat. And carbs are nothing but complex sugars. This article does not mention that either.

    And my final twang of suspicion has to do with this site itself. Who the F expects a website called “scienmag.com” to be taken seriously? Can’t you afford some other more legit-sounding domain name instead of trying to approximate ScienceMag’s website?

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