If you’re one of the many people who’ve tried the paleo diet as a way to improve your health, you may wonder what eating all this protein does to your heart. Now, thanks to a new study, we have a better idea.
The research, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that people on the paleo diet have twice the amount of a key blood biomarker linked closely to heart disease. Specifically, the study measured the amount of trimethylamine-n-oxide (TMAO) — an organic compound produced in the gut associated with an increased risk of heart disease — in participants’ blood.
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If you’re not familiar with the paleo diet, it basically involves eating only foods that were available in the times of cavemen (cavepeople?), like meat, vegetables, nuts and a limited amount of fruit, while excluding grains, legumes, dairy, salt, refined sugar and processed oils. If it sounds a lot like the keto diet, you’re not wrong: both involve significantly limiting carbs.
Dr. Angela Genoni, the lead researcher in the study, stressed the importance of understanding the health implications of the popular eating plan before making radical changes to your diet.
“Many Paleo diet proponents claim the diet is beneficial to gut health, but this research suggests that when it comes to the production of TMAO in the gut, the Paleo diet could be having an adverse impact in terms of heart health,” she said in a statement. “We also found that populations of beneficial bacterial species were lower in the Paleolithic groups, associated with the reduced carbohydrate intake, which may have consequences for other chronic diseases over the long term.”
So what causes this increase in TMAO levels? According to Genoni, it’s the lack of whole grains in the paleo diet. “We found the lack of whole grains were associated with TMAO levels, which may provide a link between the reduced risks of cardiovascular disease we see in populations with high intakes of whole grains,” she explained.
Not only that, but the researchers also noted that there were higher higher concentrations of the bacteria that produces TMAO in the paleo group.
“The paleo diet excludes all grains and we know that whole grains are a fantastic source of resistant starch and many other fermentable fibres that are vital to the health of your gut microbiome,” Genoni said. “Because TMAO is produced in the gut, a lack of whole grains might change the populations of bacteria enough to enable higher production of this compound.”
Another potential cause for concern is that people on the paleo diet consumed twice the recommended level of saturated fats, which isn’t ideal. And gut bacteria aside, there is a link between saturated fats and heart disease, so that’s something you should also keep in mind before going paleo.
The bottom line? As always, before starting any diet, it’s best to check with your doctor to make sure it’s a good fit for you.