Paleo VS the Microbiome Diet

By Raphael Kellman, M.D., Kellman Center for Functional and Integrative Medicine NYC

Paleo has been a trendy buzz word for the last few years sparking websites, books and a whole movement of meat based snack products like meat “candy bars” and snack sticks.  Many patients come in following the diet but not seeing the magical health benefits promised by the leaders of that community.   The latest research may give some indications as to why that is. 

First off the basic principle for following the diet is flawed.  According to paleo experts, humans have not evolved quickly enough to be able to handle foods that came into being with the invention of agriculture. So by this reasoning, modern foods like grains, beans, legumes, potato and dairy should be avoided at all costs. 

Research has shown however that intestinal bacteria actually play a big role in helping us to process the foods we eat.  Not only do they have the ability to break down these foods, the types of bacteria in the intestine can change-almost immediately to adjust to the types of food that are eaten.  Their ability to adapt means we don’t have to and what’s more, their DNA actually changes as well in response to foods.

Next, they say eating all of that meat is not only similar to what our ancestors did, it’s healthy!   Unfortunately recent data shows the opposite is true.  According to research released last month, high levels of red meat consumption have been linked to cancer and processed meats have been labeled carcinogenic.   So a diet of cured, smoked and dried meats is not going to help your health. 

Furthermore, those changes in the bacteria I was speaking about can happen from high meat consumption as well.  In these cases, bacterial populations have been shown to shift to bile-loving species which can cause inflammation. Some species are even linked to appendicitis.

So, to recap-the paleo diet focuses on heavy meat consumption which is linked to cancer.  It removes all grains, beans and legumes from the diet inspite of the fact that there are many health benefits to these foods and the friendly gut bacteria thrive on them.  It removes dairy as an entire group from all people’s diet regardless of your ability to tolerate it or not, and it does nothing to address the health of the intestine.

The Microbiome Diet on the other hand, has no adverse effects.  There is no downside to eating good food to nourish the intestinal bacterial we have come to affectionately call the gut microbiome.  High fiber plant foods encourage the colonization and proliferation of friendly gut bacteria, clean house in the colon and spark the production of compounds like butyrate which is a short chain fatty acid known to be produced by bacteria and used by the intestine for energy.

Good health begins in the intestine so the best way to lay the foundation is by eating a plant based diet that is high fiber and includes protein in smaller proportions throughout the day.  Microbiome superfoods like garlic, onion, jicama, radish and Jerusalem artichoke are packed with nutrition for you and prebiotic compounds the bacteria will love. Additionally use of fermented foods not only confer large amounts of healthy bacteria, they are also full of prebiotic fibers to ensure the bacterial move in and stay a while.

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