Diabetes could be avoided if people ate a “Stone-age” diet consisting of fruit, nuts, vegetables and lean meat or fish, a study suggests.
Scientists found that patients with poor glucose control improved their ability to handle sugar vastly after switching to prehistoric eating habits.
The “Palaeolithic” diet given to volunteers was similar to what early modern humans were eating when they first migrated from Africa 70,000 years ago.
Humans were huntergatherers then, feeding off the land. Cereals, dairy products, refined fat and sugar — which provide most of the calories of the modern diet — only became staple foods with the advent of farming about 9,000 years ago.
For the study, 14 glucoseintolerant heart patients were asked to copy the diets of their ancient ancestors for 12 weeks, while 15 patients adopted a supposedly healthy Mediterranean diet featuring whole-grain cereals, low-fat dairy products, fruit, vegetables and unsaturated fats. Most of those taking part had symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
All those taking part suffered from boosted blood sugar after consuming carbohydrates, and most had symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
After 12 weeks, Swedish researchers found that the carbohydrate-linked blood sugar rises had fallen by 26 per cent in the stone-age diet group. In contrast, it barely changed for those on the Mediterranean diet, falling by only 7 per cent.
At the end of the study, all the patients in the Palaeolithic group had normal blood glucose.
The reduction or elimination of grains, dairy, and refined sugars in the human diet has been shown to lower the body’s sugar levels. This is thought to lower risk of diabetes as it places less stress on the pancreas to produce insulin, and prevents insulin sensitivity.
Staffan Lindeberg, from Lund University, said: “If you want to prevent or treat diabetes type 2, it may be more efficient to avoid some of our modern foods than to count calories or carbohydrates.”
The improved glucose tolerance associated with the Stone-age diet was found to be unrelated to changes in weight or girth — although consumers of the Palaeolithic diet became slightly slimmer.
Researchers concluded that something more than calorific intake and weight loss was responsible for the improved response to carbohydrates.
In earlier studies, Dr Lindeberg’s team found a remarkable absence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes among members of the Kitava tribe on the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea, who still live a hunter-gatherer existence.
Scientists say that sufferers of other conditions could also benefit from the Palaeolithic diet — such as coeliac disease, a gastrointestinal disorder that causes an intolerance to gluten proteins, and some skin disorders.
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