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In January 2011, the American Diabetes Association reported that in the United States alone, nearly 26 million people are living with diabetes and 79 million people have prediabetes. In addition, 1 out of every 3 deaths in the United States has been attributed to cardiovascular disease. Over 149 million people over the age of 20 are overweight or obese, significantly raising the risk of chronic disease and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association all associate the risk of chronic disease, such as diabetes, to a poor diet. The paleo diet, however, can decrease risk of serious illness because it is loaded with nutritious and natural complex carbohydrates, lean meats, and fruits and vegetables.
According to Stephanie Jew, et al., in an article published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2009, diet is the main cause of chronic illness increasing over time:
“Shifts have occurred from [Paleolithic] diets high in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood to processed foods high in sodium and hydrogenated fats and low in fiber. These dietary changes have adversely affected dietary parameters known to be related to health, resulting in an increase in obesity and chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and cancer.”
Jew contends that dietary changes have occurred quickly, faster than the human body can evolve, causing an influx of chronic disease. However, Jew found with intervention studies that a Paleolithic diet may reverse the risk for or the adverse affects of some diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Because it is better suited to the body’s current evolutionary state and requires the dieter to eat a higher volume of fruits and vegetables, the paleo diet is a beneficial alternative to the standard American diet.
The paleo diet is also beneficial for people dealing with unstable blood sugars, due to the exclusion of simple carbohydrates from the diet. Processed breads and pastas often have a high glycemic index, resulting in a rapid spike in blood sugar. Other grains or oats also cause a rise in blood sugar, which can wipe out energy and increase risk for chronic illness. Because the paleo diet does away with processed foods, sugars, and grains, the blood sugar remains fairly stable.
By excluding processed foods and fatty meats, paleo dieters also benefit from a significant reduction in dietary sodium, a significant factor in developing hypertension. With 65 million Americans suffering from hypertension, according to University of Maryland Medical Center’s Dr. Stephen Havas, cutting out high sodium foods is exceptionally good for one’s physical condition. When a study was conducted by DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), those who ate diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat experienced decreases in blood pressure, which results in fewer deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke.
Overall, the paleo diet is more than just a healthy alternative to the standard American diet. With moderate to low intake of lean meats and wild-caught or farmed, organic fish and a high consumption of valuable fruits and vegetables, the paleo diet has been scientifically proven to increase the health of the dieter. Combined with regular exercise, the paleo diet can lead to improved fitness and well-being and a low risk of chronic disease.