Those who follow a paleo diet may want to rethink their food choices, as research shows a link between the popular way of eating and heart disease. This type of diet has been surrounded by controversy in the past, and there have been many studies which fuel the debate over whether the paleo diet is as safe and healthy as proponents claim.
The paleo diet claims to emulate what the ancestors of modern humans used to eat. This type of diet promotes a high intake of meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, but eliminates whole grains, legumes, and dairy.
As the paleo diet has grown in popularity in the past few years, so have the studies to determine how healthy it actually is. For example, one study from 2016 found that the paleo diet may be able to protect against heart attacks and cardiovascular disease by raising blood levels of a protective molecule.
However, another study conducted around the same time made an opposite discovery. These researchers concluded that the Paleo diet could lead to weight gain and raise the risk of cardiovascular problems and diabetes.
With this new study conducted this year and published in the European Journal of Nutrition, there seems to be a new reason to be skeptical of the popular diet. This research conducted by a team from Australia outlines how those who follow the paleo diet may be placing their heart health at risk.
The team lead by led by Angela Genoni, Ph.D., worked with 44 participants who all followed paleo diets. They also looked to 47 participants who ate typical diets that met national dietary recommendations.
Researchers followed both groups over one year during which they collected biological samples from the participants and assessed their diets. They took the information collected and compared results between the paleo cohort and the control group.
To be more accurate in the findings, the researchers split the participants who followed a paleo diet into two groups. This included one group who were strict paleo dieters who ate less than one serving of grains and days a day. The other group was pseudo paleo who ate more than one serving of grains and dairy a day.
What they found was that across all Paleo groups, participants presented heightened blood levels of a compound that specialists associate with a heart disease called trimethylamine N-oxide. The compound, trimethylamine N-oxide forms in the gut and is dependent on a person’s diet and the gut bacteria that populate in the digestive tract, among other factors.
Genoni spoke about the study saying, “Many Paleo diet proponents claim the diet is beneficial to gut health, but this research suggests that, when it comes to the production of [trimethylamine N-oxide] in the gut, the Paleo diet could be having an adverse impact in terms of heart health.”
She added, “We also found that populations of beneficial bacterial species were lower in the Paleolithic groups, associated with the reduced carbohydrate intake, which may have consequences for other chronic diseases over the long term.”
Lack of Whole Grains
The argument from this research is that individuals following paleo diets have such heightened levels of trimethylamine N-oxide because they do not consume whole grains. It has been shown in previous studies that whole grains are a great source of dietary fiber and can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.
“We found the lack of whole grains [was] associated with [trimethylamine N-oxide] levels, which may provide a link [with] the reduced risks of cardiovascular disease we see in populations with high intakes of whole grains,” says Genoni.
“The Paleo diet excludes all grains and we know 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.”
The conclusion of this study was that excluding whole grains from a diet can seriously impact gut health, with implications for heart health as well. The researchers for this study also state the need of further studies into the role of vegetables and saturated fats in regulating key biological mechanisms in the gut.