A seven-week experiment proved to me that a "Paleo" or "Slow Carb" diet works. My bloodwork revealed a considerable improvement across several important biomarkers. Here is the story...
It couldn't have been a very fun March for anyone who shared a meal with me. My colleagues grumbled about the complexity of my lunch orders, my dining companions fretted over restaurant choices. My girlfriend had to hear me explain and extoll my diet so often that I had to find new words to describe it because she would get so triggered at the word "paleo".
But for all the complications, I think it was worth it. I saw a very noticeable improvement in a short period of time, enough to convince me that this way of eating actually does work.
What I Did
My diet was essentially the "Slow Carb" diet as described by Tim Ferriss on his blog and in The Four Hour Body which to me is a modified version of Robb Wolf's Paleo Solution Diet. The "paleo" diet, was introduced to me by good friends across the river in Brooklyn, and popularized in New York by John Durant and Melissa McEwen in this NY Times article. The idea is that our bodies have not evolved as fast as our food has and frankly cannot tolerate a lot of the food common in today's Western diet: way too many grains, bad fats, and so on. The hormonal response and digestive-irritation of these foods leads to obesity and a plethora of inflammation and autoimmune-related diseases from diabetes to cardiovascular diseases to IBS to hormone-dependent cancers. Too much to get into here, but worth reading the book for the real scoop. Instead, Wolf (and his mentor Professor Loren Cordain) focuses on the pre-agriculture diet of our paleolithic, hunter gatherer ancestors: lean meats, fish, healthy oils with the right Omega 3:6 profile, fruits and vegetables and avoid grains and bad fats like the plague.
After reading the Four Hour Body, I realized I could improve up on this slightly via the Slow Carb diet by removing starchy vegetables like potatoes, adding cooked beans and lentils (which do not seem to irritate my digestive tract), and having an entire cheat day (instead of just one cheat meal per week). The legumes help me feel fuller longer and the cheat day has enormous psychological benefits for me.
So essentially here is what I was doing for six weeks:
Diet (except for my one cheat day):
- No grains of any kind
- No dairy
- Wherever possible: organic/kosher/grass-fed meats and healthy oils (e.g., macadamia nut)
- No more than two glasses of wine a day
- No potatoes or starchy tubers
I also included a fish oil supplement (1 tsp of Ascenta Health's NutraSea HP twice daily) and as my initial bloodwork had indicated a Vitamin D deficiency, 1000mg of Vitamin D twice daily.
My workouts were consistent with my pre-experiment period, and consisted of three workouts per week: one P90X strength workout, 1 HIIT cardio workout (typically 20 - 40 minutes of tabatas intervals on a treadmill) and one other random workout class at my gym (sometimes just yoga).
In the spirit of quantified self, I tracked my bloodwork carefully and the results really speak for themselves, as there was a moderate to strong improvement across every health marker I tracked. For each metric, I've shown the my result on Feb 22 and my results roughly seven weeks later on April 11 as well as the % improvement.
Per Robb Wolf: "A measure of several blood lipid fractions that are in part proteins used to shuttle fats and cholesterol around the body."
The form of lipoprotein that considered the "good cholesterol" as they help "scrub" cholesterol from our arteries and veins and transport it back to the liver for processing. Typically lower HDL levels have been linked to CVD.
This is the "bad" cholesterol. It's hard to get into a real discussion here without looking also at the particle size, which is beyond the scope of this post. We'll park that topic for another day.
This is a measurement of circulating blood fats.
Glycated Hemoglobin (Hb1Ac or "A1c")
Per Robb Wolf: "Ths is a measure of how much sugar is sticking to your red blood cells...If your A1c level is above 5, you have big problems brewing. Your likelihood of CVD, cancer, and all the problems associated with elevated insulin levels [like diabetes] is greatly elevated."
This is a measure of systemic inflammation.
My Next Steps
Despite these positive results, there were two disappointments:
The first was that I only lost 1.2% body fat during this period - much less than I expected from this diet. I attribute my poor results due to weaker compliance which I estimate at about 80%. I travel a fair bit and had a few slip-ups due to lack of airport food options and one particularly indulgent weekend back in Montreal. For the next six weeks I'm going to try to plan better around these obstacles, and aim for 90%+ compliance to see how that affects things. I'm also introducing a PAGG supplement stack.
My Vitamin D levels are still below general medical guidelines, due in no small part to the fact that I'm a Canadian software exec living in New York City - and it is (still) winter. To address this I'm going to triple my Vitamin D dosage and switch from pills to liquid D3 as Tim suggests.
But overall I am very pleased with the results. Robb Wolf's book convinced me of the science behind this way of eating, and the Four Hour Body helped me tweak it a bit. I will continue to eat this way along with the modifications above and track all of these biomarkers and my bodyfat closely. I will share results and findings as I go along.