A new study confirms that fad diets -- in this case, the Paleo or “cave man” diet -- aren’t worth their weight in salt. (Don’t you love it when new scientific research confirms what we’ve been saying all along??) While unanticipated adverse effects of following fad diets is not news to us, we’re thankful for yet another reminder that a more balanced eating approach is best.
Here’s what the researchers found: the 44 Paleo followers who participated in the study had higher levels of bacteria that produces trimethylamine-n-oxide (TMAO) as compared to the control group (We’ve discussed the correlation between TMAO and heart disease before. TMAO is the compound linked to red meat.) Elevated TMAO levels are associated with an increase in the risk of heart disease - and not by a little, by a LOT.
If you’re not familiar with the Paleo diet, the idea is that it mimics what our ancestors ate -- and by ancestors, we’re talking cave people who lived up to 2.5 million years ago. The argument goes that those ancestors were hunter-gatherers, the emphasis being on hunter, and that this dietary approach is what humans are genetically meant to follow. So lots of meat and fish, and some berries, nuts and vegetables. And, by definition, few farmed foods - the diet specifically shunning all grains.
The researchers suspect that both the high amount of meat and the lack of grain fiber in a Paleo diet is what contributes to the change in gut bacteria and that's why this diet may be dangerous to cardiovascular health.
The researchers also found lower levels of “good” bacteria among the Paleo eaters, which could mean bad news for other chronic diseases. Their conclusion? A variety of fiber components, including whole grains may be required to maintain optimal health, and cardiovascular health, specifically. In addition, the lead researcher pointed out that whole grains "are a fantastic source of resistant starch and many other fermentable fibers that are vital to the health of your gut microbiome."
Honestly, when it comes to dietary patterns, it feels like we keep trying to somehow uncover some big secret to achieving weight loss and better health – when there is no big secret.
As it often does, this leads me right back to Michael Pollan’s philosophy, which I consider to be the ultimate anti-fad diet creed: Eat [real] food. Not too much. Mostly plants. It’s hard to summarize the prescription for a healthy diet more succinctly. At Step One, we like to think we’ve made that prescription easier to put into practice, with products that feature only real plant-based ingredients in pre-portioned servings -- no fads included.