Paleo Diet vs. Diabetes Diet

As much as I detest food tribalism, I have to warn my fellow vegans out there that refrain from eating animal products for ethical reasons, I ask you to bite your tongue and please bear with me as I discuss my reasoning for supporting the paleo diet.

Below is a link to a study that was conducted to identify which diet, between the Paleolithic and the Diabetes Diet  is best when one is battling Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM).

*The study also refers to the Diabetes Diet as a Mediterranean Diet, which I am not 100% sure is accurate.

The Study
Subjective satiety and other experiences of a Paleolithic diet compared to a diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes

diabetes def photo

Before going any further and giving everyone’s ADD an opportunity to kick in, I want to state that this is just a review on my part, of the two diets that were studied and not an endorsement for either diet as the sole diet to choose when battling T2DM.  After all, Dr. Gabriel Cousens has already proved another option with what a raw plant-based diet can do for Reversing Diabetes Naturally.  Sorry, more food tribalism.

The Diabetes Diet focused primarily on evenly distributed meals with increased intake of vegetables, root vegetables, dietary fiber, whole-grain bread and other whole-grain cereal products, fruits and berries, decreased intake of total fat with more unsaturated fat, and replacement of high-fat dairy products with low-fat varieties.

My issue with this approach and why this diet, even though rather healthy didn’t stack up well against the Paleo diet was mainly because it includes whole-grain breads and grain cereals which can mean just about anything as I believe even Wonder Bread provides a whole grain option now.  Unless it was a sprouted whole gluten free-grain bread (opposed to gluten free bread), like the ones found in the frozen section of the grocery store, I would recommend those with T2DM chose root vegetables along with beans, lentils and legumes for sources of complex carbohydrates.

The second issue I have with this approach deals with the substitution of low fat dairy products replacing dairy products that contain their natural amount of fat.  This is where I am in full support of the Paleo diet’s views on dairy, as I am not a fan of dairy and even though raw milk is much better than its pasteurized counterpart, I am still not a big fan.  However, let’s put my opinion of dairy on hold and suppose for a second I did support dairy consumption, the fact that the low fat versions are encouraged over the natural ones baffle me.  The low fat versions are often higher in sugar, which is what we are trying to avoid when it comes to diabetes, and because there is less or no fat, the absorption of calcium is greatly hindered.  Calcium absorption depends upon vitamin C, boron, magnesium and the important fat soluble vitamins like E, K and the most crucial, vitamin D.  Grain cereals and low fat dairy products put the Diabetes Diet behind the 8 Ball when trying to combat T2DM.

The Paleolithic Diet consisted of lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs and nuts.

“The Paleolithic diet had lower values for total energy, energy density, carbohydrates, dietary glycemic load, saturated fatty acids and calcium, and was richer in unsaturated fatty acids, dietary cholesterol and several vitamins. Dietary glycemic index (GI) was slightly lower in the Paleolithic diet compared to the Diabetes Diet.”

This is quite a convincing list of benefits resulting from this diet and rightfully so.  A few notes worth mentioning as I am sure someone will want to argue that the Paleo Diet is lower in calcium and higher in cholesterol.  This may be true, but with regards to calcium it isn’t due to the lack of dairy products as plant based sources (green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds) and fish are all great sources of calcium and offer better absorption, therefore not needing as much. In addition to the high calcium foods listed, bone broths are often used to provide high amounts of absorbable calcium.  With respect to cholesterol, the higher levels are a non issue.  Did you hear that?  That may have been the sound of the vegan community throwing on their bamboo boots and kicking me out of the tribe.  Of course dietary cholesterol is going to be higher in those who follow a heavy animal product diet but cholesterol is not even a top three factor on the list of main causes of heart disease.1  Cholesterol gets a bad wrap in the vegan community as well as in the medical community but in actuality our own body produces ~70% of the cholesterol it needs while relying on the remaining 30% from diet.  When looking at risk factors for heart disease, it is more important to assess a person’s insulin resistance, stress management, inflammatory markers and amount of exercise.


Nate, what about beans, lentils and legumes? Exactly, as this is where I differ from the Paleo diet and just as with including gluten free grains, including sprouted beans, lentils and legumes are a great option for low glycemic index/glycemic load carbohydrates but these protein and fiber packed food need to be prepared properly to limit phytate consumption.  The inclusion of this food group would most likely help to reduce some of the comments in the study regarding how hard it was to adhere to a Paleo diet (3 times harder to follow than the Diabetes Diet reported), especially in social situations and for those outside the study’s cohort who may prefer to follow a plant based plan.

This brings me to some of the things I would have liked the study to have covered.  One being that the cohort was extremely small, comprising of 13 men and women in all. These 13 people were all of Swedish decent and knowing what we know about metabolic typing it would have been great to include hundreds of other people from around the world whose ancestry consumed different diets and had a different staple of foods at their disposal.  The Swedish diet is considered to be a version of the Scandinavian diet consisting mainly of seafood, root vegetables, cheese (full fat), berries and vegetables.  Sweden’s colder climate naturally produces more grains and oats which may in fact be tolerated better by the digestive systems of those who reside in Sweden compared to the state of grain crops and overconsumption of the processed varieties in North America.   Another aspect that can’t be ignored is how each person’s specific genetic profile relates to metabolic typing and not just those who are of 100% Swedish decent but those who may have other backgrounds present in their genetic makeup allowing or disallowing certain foods to react in a positive manner when consumed.

By no means am I bashing this study, as both the Paleolithic and Diabetes/Mediterranean diets are rather healthy, but instead make light of the study because it reinforces the importance of eating a diet based mostly on whole foods.  I would like to take that one step further and recommend those whole foods to be local, seasonal and organic when ever possible.  


1. Kratz M. et al. Dietary cholesterol, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. (2005)


Nathane L. Jackson, cscs
Nathane Jackson Fitness Inc.
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Nathane Jackson is a veteran health and wellness authority, specializing in holistic living.  He has a decade worth of knowledge as a personal trainer and strength & conditioning coach and is dedicated to improving all aspects of health starting at the cellular level by combining holistic nutrition, functional exercise, and restorative practices to help his clients strengthen their mind, body and spirit.




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