Try­ing a new diet? Trust your gut in­stinct

Herald on Sunday - - WE SALUTE YOU - Niki Bez­zant [email protected]­zant What’s your view? let­[email protected]

The paleo diet seems to have fallen out of fash­ion these days, in favour of the more ex­treme “keto” — short for ke­to­genic — diet. Some of those who started as paleo peo­ple eat­ing meat, veg­eta­bles and sweet potato are now avoid­ing the sweet potato, load­ing up on fat and test­ing their pee ev­ery day.

Whether keto is ul­ti­mately healthy is a con­ver­sa­tion for an­other day. But what keto and paleo di­eters alike may want to con­tem­plate is that com­mon phe­nom­e­non: un­in­tended con­se­quences.

In the early days of the paleo diet, ex­perts sounded a note of cau­tion, not just be­cause the diet seemed to em­pha­sise un­healthy amounts of meat, but also be­cause of what it elim­i­nated: grains, legumes and dairy. The spec­u­la­tion then was that cut­ting these things out might cause changes — not nec­es­sar­ily pos­i­tive — to the gut flora, which could cause con­se­quences which were at that time not re­searched or known.

Now it seems we might be get­ting an inkling of what those con­se­quences are. Re­searchers at

Perth’s Edith Cowan Univer­sity have just com­pleted the first study of the paleo diet’s im­pact on gut bac­te­ria, and the out­come was not good for fans of the cave­man way.

The re­searchers com­pared 44 peo­ple on the paleo diet with 47 fol­low­ing a tra­di­tional Aus­tralian diet. They mea­sured the amount of trimethy­lamine-n-ox­ide in the par­tic­i­pants’ blood.

High lev­els of TMAO, an or­ganic com­pound pro­duced in the gut, are as­so­ci­ated with an in­creased risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

They found more than twice the amount of TMAO in the paleo peo­ple com­pared to the reg­u­lar eaters. They sug­gest that ex­clud­ing whole grains — which con­tain re­sis­tant starch and other fer­mentable fi­bres known to be good for gut bac­te­ria — might change the bac­te­ria pop­u­la­tion in a way that en­ables higher pro­duc­tion of TMAO. Po­ten­tially larger amounts of meat also cre­ates pre­cur­sor com­pounds to TMAO. The re­search is yet to be pub­lished, so no doubt there’s more to learn here. But what it points to is the idea that when we re­strict what we eat, it might have ef­fects be­yond what we in­tend. Go­ing on any diet — paleo and keto in­cluded — may well cause weight loss, and may also im­prove some health mark­ers such as blood pres­sure, choles­terol lev­els and blood sugar. They can be healthy ways to eat, es­pe­cially if peo­ple are shift­ing from a high-pro­cessed­food diet.

But we don’t al­ways know what the long-term ef­fects are of cut­ting out whole food groups. And we might not know that for a while. Will the young women avoid­ing dairy now, for ex­am­ple, have bone-den­sity prob­lems when they’re in their 60s? Will the keto eaters’ kid­neys pack up? Will paleo peo­ple be drop­ping like flies from heart dis­ease or bowel can­cer?

What we do know about any kind of ex­treme diet is that they are hard to stick to long term. And that can lead to harm­ful yo-yo weight loss and re­gain, which is bad for body and mind. It’s un­sexy, but mod­er­a­tion — for a life­time — has its ben­e­fits.

Niki Bez­zant is ed­i­tor-at­large for Healthy Food Guide www.healthy food.co.nz

Photo / 123RF

We don't know what the long-term ef­fects are of cut­ting out whole food groups.

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