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The Real Effects of the Paleo Diet on Hunger


A study recently published in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, suggests that eating a plant-based diet like our ancestors, also know as the “paleo” diet, might not cause a decrease in hunger as previously thought.

Researchers from the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom wanted to test if the rise in obesity today is due to the evolution of our appetite suppression system not coinciding with our present-day diet. So they collected fecal bacterial samples from three human vegetarian volunteers and three gelada baboons, which are the only modern primate to eat mainly grasses. They then added digested solutions of a high-fiber grass diet or a high-starch potato diet to these samples. 

Human cultures "fed" the potato diet produced more short chain fatty acids (SCFAs)—which cause the body to release appetite-suppressing hormonesthan those "fed" the grass diet. “This evidence argues that the previous view of paleo diets and appetite suppression is flawed and that high-fiber, plant-based diets likely do not lead to increased SCFAs and increased appetite suppression," a press release states. Clearly, this is not what they expected to find, nor would any modern-day Paleo dieter, who banishes potatoes and other starchy vegetables from his or her plate.

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I find two things rather interesting with this study. First is the idea of a paleo diet. Today when most people claim they are eating paleo-like, they report eating lots of meat, not mostly a “plant-based” diet, of which includes grass. Secondly, I'm rather curious as to why the authors of the study would solely rely on plant-based food to curb hunger to begin with. I couldn’t agree more with Timothy Barraclough, a co-author of the study, who states,  “This hints that protein might play a greater role in appetite suppression than the breakdown of starch or fiber. More work will be needed to explore the effects of alternative breakdown products of various foods.”

Hence, my recommendation to my patients for satiety: An ideal meal should consist of a healthy fat (i.e. olive oil, avocado or almonds), high-fiber carbohydrate (i.e. quinoa, barley, oats), lean protein (i.e. fish, skinless poultry, eggs), and plenty of veggies.


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