Just when my blood pressure was coming down, the Daily Mail had to oblige with the following bit of news: ‘The Paleo diet “is dangerous and increases weight gain”, diabetes expert claims.’
The subject of the article is a study on mice. Published in Nutrition and Diabetes, a Nature journal, it aims to measure the effect of a low-carb diet on multiple cardiovascular parameters as well as beta-cell mass. (The beta-cells of the pancreas produce insulin.)
The results were interesting. Increased obesity, higher fasting blood sugar and impaired glucose metabolism were observed — all markers of impending diabetes. No improvement in beta-cell mass was noted. They were, however, in stark contrast to results obtained in human studies. Given this, the conclusions reached in both the paper and the press release were extremely disingenuous.
To quote the lead author, Professor Sof Andrikopoulos: ‘Low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets are becoming more popular, but there is no scientific evidence that these diets work.’ I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry at this statement. Evidence for these diets being effective can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.
What about diabetic patients? After all, this study was looking specifically at diabetes. Studies showing the benefits of a low-carb diet as opposed to a low-fat diet for diabetic patients are here, here, and here.
There are about 17 more papers if anyone is interested.
Animal experiments are invaluable as a means of establishing new hypotheses or testing drugs. But, given that considerable human data exists, why did such a study ever get the press that it has?
The good professor also claimed: ‘We are told to eat zero carbs and lots of fat on the Paleo diet.’ This shows ignorance. Not even Dr Atkins himself claimed that we should eat ‘zero carbs’. Copious amounts of fruit and vegetables are what the Paleo diet calls for, hardly a ‘low-carbohydrate’ manner of eating.
Publication in a high-impact or prestigious journal is no longer a guarantee that the peer-review process has weeded out the wheat from the chaff (my apologies to the gluten-free community).
The saving grace is the professor’s advice to eat a Mediterranean diet. The only problem is that said diet is a low processed carb, higher-fat diet — something apparently for which there is ‘no scientific evidence’.
The low-fat paradigm has been dying a slow death, pushed under by a growing weight of evidence. It needs better defenders than this.