Paleo Diet and Diabetes: Improved Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Compared to a standard diabetic diet, a Paleolithic diet improves cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetics, according to investigators at Lund University in Sweden.

Researchers compared the effects of a Paleo and a modern diabetic diet in 13 type 2 diabetic adults (10 men) with average hemoglobin A1c’s of 6.6% (under good control, then).  Most were on diabetic pills; none were on insulin.  So this was a small, exploratory, pilot study.  Each of the diabetics followed both diets for three months.

How Did the Diets Differ?

ResearchBlogging.orgCompared to the diabetic diet, the Paleo diet was mainly lower in cereals and dairy products, higher in fruits and vegetables, meat, and eggs.  The Paleo diet was lower in carbohydrates, glycemic load, and glycemic index.  Paleo vegetables were primarily leafy and cruciferous.  Root vegetables were allowed; up to 1 medium potato daily.  The Paleo diet also featured lean meats [why lean?], fish, eggs, and nuts, while forbidding refined fats, sugars, and beans.  Up to one glass of wine daily was allowed.

See the actual report for details of the diabetic diet, which seems to me to be similar to the diabetic diet recommended by most U.S. dietitians.

What Did the Researchers Find?

Compared to the diabetic diet, the Paleo diet yielded lower hemoglobin A1c’s (0.4% lower—absolute difference), lower trigylcerides, lower diastolic blood pressure, lower weight, lower body mass index, lower waist circumference, lower total energy (caloric) intake, and higher HDL cholesterol.  Glucose tolerance was the same for both diets.  Fasting blood sugars tended to decrease more on the Paleo diet, but did not reach statistical significance (p=0.08).

So What?

The greater improvement in multiple cardiovascular risk factors seen here suggests that the Paleo diet has potential to reduce the higher cardiovascular disease rates we see in diabetics.  Larger studies—more participants—are needed for confirmation.  Ultimately, we need data on hard clinical endpoints such as heart attacks, strokes, and death.

These diabetics had their blood sugars under fairly good control at baseline.  I wouldn’t be surprised if diabetics under poor control—hemoglobin A1c of 9%, for example—would see even greater improvements in risk factors as well as glucose levels while eating Paleo.

I see a fair amount of overlap between this version of the Paleo diet and Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution diet and the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Jönsson, T., Granfeldt, Y., Ahrén, B., Branell, U., Pålsson, G., Hansson, A., Söderström, M., & Lindeberg, S. (2009). Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study Cardiovascular Diabetology, 8 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1475-2840-8-35


Filed under coronary heart disease, Glycemic Index and Load, Mediterranean Diet

11 responses to “Paleo Diet and Diabetes: Improved Cardiovascular Risk Factors

  1. The Paleo diet is impressive in a small study…

  2. I think this same group did a comparison of Paleo and my cherished Mediterranean diet in overweight type 2 diabetics a couple years ago. Paleo came out on top, if memory serves me well.

    Gotta find that report!


  3. I follow a Paleo Diet and I love it! I have never felt better. Diabetes and heart disease runs in my family and I truly feel it is preventable depending on the food you eat + exercise. The standard American diet is a guarantee you will end up on medication at some point in your life, and I am doing all I can to prevent that!

  4. Stephanie, I tend to agree with you that paleo-style eating is healthier than the standard American diet.

  5. Laurie Watson

    Dear Dr. Steve,

    Your website is very helpful… could you comment on the following study:
    that seems to explain why a diet high in stearic acid might cause insulin resistance… ie leans toward olive oil vs saturated fat in our diet?
    Thank you so much,


  6. Steve Scellick

    When I started the Paleo my blood sugars dropped right away. Lost weight too and was able to take less meds. I’m 59 and have been a diabetic for 19 years.

  7. Hi, Steve.
    That’s what happens when you cut added sugars and refined starches such as grain products. Not to mention legumes and milk.

  8. delsa degeit

    how do you address the high animal products consumption for
    people with lipid problems with this diet. I am now off Lipitor for 3 months
    because I managed to bring them down to a normal level with lots of grains
    and legumes but has compromised my stomach health along the way. Like the saying.” We can’t win them all.

  9. Hi, delsa.
    A paleo-style diet doesn’t have to be high in animal products. Look through the standard paleo foods and focus on the plant-based ones.

  10. Spot on with this write-up, I really believe this amazing site needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to read through more, thanks for the information!