A pinboard by
Tim Squirrell

I'm a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh, working on an ethnographic research project on a community centred around the Paleolithic diet and lifestyle. I also teach undergraduate Sociology and Social Policy.

In my spare time I spend a lot of my evenings and weekends at debating competitions, arguing in various seminar rooms around the continent. I also enjoy picking up heavy things and putting them down again.


Paleo is a nutritional regime and lifestyle based around evolutionary principles.

The Paleo diet is a nutritional regime and lifestyle based around the idea that humans primarily evolved during the period before the invention of agriculture, and therefore the human body is best adapted to consume the kinds of foods that were present then.

Paleo practitioners present the view that "neolithic" foods, such as grains and legumes, are responsible for many of the diseases and conditions with which humans are afflicted today, arguing that the presence of "antinutrient lectins" and various biomarkers on the surfaces of grains have a tendency to compromise the lining of the gut, causing chemicals to move into the blood that should not be there. This in turn supposedly promotes inflammation, leading to a large number of different conditions including Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Crohn's Disease, dementia of various kinds, many different cancers, and so on.

In addition, many of the foods that are cultivated in agriculture are rich in highly energy-dense carbohydrates. Scientists who support paleo posit that the ever-increasing rate of diabetes amongst Western populations can be explained by the increasing consumption of carbohydrates, particularly sugar and other highly refined carbohydrates.

The Paleo diet is employed by large numbers of people today for various reasons. For some, it's a fad diet that might help them to lose weight. For others, it's a way of reducing inflammation in their body, either to prevent future disease or control auto-immune disorders that they already have. For still others, it's a set of guidelines that help them to stay mindful of the things that they are eating, preventing them from consuming the sorts of energy-dense foods that tend to promote weight gain and obesity.

Paleo has a large amount of scientific research examining its viability as a diet, and is hotly contested. Key questions include whether any benefits gained are from calorie restriction, cutting out of "dirty" foods, or from paleo specifically. In addition, there are significant disputes over which foods can and can't be considered "in" the paleo diet, characterised by controversies over whether foods were present or available in their current form in the Paleolithic Era.

If you're looking for an alternative to calorie counting and crash diets, this might be for you.


Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet.

Abstract: The contemporary American diet figures centrally in the pathogenesis of numerous chronic diseases-'diseases of civilization'. We investigated in humans whether a diet similar to that consumed by our preagricultural hunter-gatherer ancestors (that is, a paleolithic type diet) confers health benefits.We performed an outpatient, metabolically controlled study, in nine nonobese sedentary healthy volunteers, ensuring no weight loss by daily weight. We compared the findings when the participants consumed their usual diet with those when they consumed a paleolithic type diet. The participants consumed their usual diet for 3 days, three ramp-up diets of increasing potassium and fiber for 7 days, then a paleolithic type diet comprising lean meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts, and excluding nonpaleolithic type foods, such as cereal grains, dairy or legumes, for 10 days. Outcomes included arterial blood pressure (BP); 24-h urine sodium and potassium excretion; plasma glucose and insulin areas under the curve (AUC) during a 2 h oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT); insulin sensitivity; plasma lipid concentrations; and brachial artery reactivity in response to ischemia.Compared with the baseline (usual) diet, we observed (a) significant reductions in BP associated with improved arterial distensibility (-3.1+/-2.9, P=0.01 and +0.19+/-0.23, P=0.05);(b) significant reduction in plasma insulin vs time AUC, during the OGTT (P=0.006); and (c) large significant reductions in total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides (-0.8+/-0.6 (P=0.007), -0.7+/-0.5 (P=0.003) and -0.3+/-0.3 (P=0.01) mmol/l respectively). In all these measured variables, either eight or all nine participants had identical directional responses when switched to paleolithic type diet, that is, near consistently improved status of circulatory, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism/physiology.Even short-term consumption of a paleolithic type diet improves BP and glucose tolerance, decreases insulin secretion, increases insulin sensitivity and improves lipid profiles without weight loss in healthy sedentary humans.

Pub.: 12 Feb '09, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Favourable effects of consuming a Palaeolithic-type diet on characteristics of the metabolic syndrome: a randomized controlled pilot-study.

Abstract: The main goal of this randomized controlled single-blinded pilot study was to study whether, independent of weight loss, a Palaeolithic-type diet alters characteristics of the metabolic syndrome. Next we searched for outcome variables that might become favourably influenced by a Paleolithic-type diet and may provide new insights in the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying the metabolic syndrome. In addition, more information on feasibility and designing an innovative dietary research program on the basis of a Palaeolithic-type diet was obtained.Thirty-four subjects, with at least two characteristics of the metabolic syndrome, were randomized to a two weeks Palaeolithic-type diet (n = 18) or an isoenergetic healthy reference diet, based on the guidelines of the Dutch Health Council (n = 14). Thirty-two subjects completed the study. Measures were taken to keep bodyweight stable. As primary outcomes oral glucose tolerance and characteristics of the metabolic syndrome (abdominal circumference, blood pressure, glucose, lipids) were measured. Secondary outcomes were intestinal permeability, inflammation and salivary cortisol. Data were collected at baseline and after the intervention.Subjects were 53.5 (SD9.7) year old men (n = 9) and women (n = 25) with mean BMI of 31.8 (SD5.7) kg/m2. The Palaeolithic-type diet resulted in lower systolic blood pressure (-9.1 mmHg; P = 0.015), diastolic blood pressure (-5.2 mmHg; P = 0.038), total cholesterol (-0.52 mmol/l; P = 0.037), triglycerides (-0.89 mmol/l; P = 0.001) and higher HDL-cholesterol (+0.15 mmol/l; P = 0.013), compared to reference. The number of characteristics of the metabolic syndrome decreased with 1.07 (P = 0.010) upon the Palaeolithic-type diet, compared to reference. Despite efforts to keep bodyweight stable, it decreased in the Palaeolithic group compared to reference (-1.32 kg; P = 0.012). However, favourable effects remained after post-hoc adjustments for this unintended weight loss. No changes were observed for intestinal permeability, inflammation and salivary cortisol.We conclude that consuming a Palaeolithic-type diet for two weeks improved several cardiovascular risk factors compared to a healthy reference diet in subjects with the metabolic syndrome.Nederlands Trial Register NTR3002.

Pub.: 12 Oct '14, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Subjective satiety and other experiences of a Paleolithic diet compared to a diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Abstract: We found marked improvement of glycemic control and several cardiovascular risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes given advice to follow a Paleolithic diet, as compared to a diabetes diet. We now report findings on subjective ratings of satiety at meal times and participants' other experiences of the two diets from the same study.In a randomized cross-over study, 13 patients with type 2 diabetes (3 women and 10 men), were instructed to eat a Paleolithic diet based on lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs and nuts, and a diabetes diet designed in accordance with dietary guidelines, during two consecutive 3-month periods. In parallel with a four-day weighed food record, the participants recorded their subjective rating of satiety. Satiety quotients were calculated as the intra-meal quotient of change in satiety during a meal and consumed energy or weight of food and drink for that specific meal. All participants answered the same three open-ended questions in a survey following each diet: "What thoughts do you have about this diet?", "Describe your positive and negative experiences with this diet" and "How do you think this diet has affected your health?".The participants were equally satiated on both diets. The Paleolithic diet resulted in greater satiety quotients for energy per meal (p = 0.004), energy density per meal (p = 0.01) and glycemic load per meal (p = 0.02). The distribution of positive and negative comments from the survey did not differ between the two diets, and the comments were mostly positive. Among comments relating to recurring topics, there was no difference in distribution between the two diets for comments relating to tastelessness, but there was a trend towards more comments on the Paleolithic diet being satiating and improving blood sugar values, and significantly more comments on weight loss and difficulty adhering to the Paleolithic diet.A Paleolithic diet is more satiating per calorie than a diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes. The Paleolithic diet was seen as instrumental in weight loss, albeit it was difficult to adhere to.

Pub.: 31 Jul '13, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity.

Abstract: A novel hypothesis of obesity is suggested by consideration of diet-related inflammation and evolutionary medicine. The obese homeostatically guard their elevated weight. In rodent models of high-fat diet-induced obesity, leptin resistance is seen initially at vagal afferents, blunting the actions of satiety mediators, then centrally, with gastrointestinal bacterial-triggered SOCS3 signaling implicated. In humans, dietary fat and fructose elevate systemic lipopolysaccharide, while dietary glucose also strongly activates SOCS3 signaling. Crucially however, in humans, low-carbohydrate diets spontaneously decrease weight in a way that low-fat diets do not. Furthermore, nutrition transition patterns and the health of those still eating diverse ancestral diets with abundant food suggest that neither glycemic index, altered fat, nor carbohydrate intake can be intrinsic causes of obesity, and that human energy homeostasis functions well without Westernized foods containing flours, sugar, and refined fats. Due to being made up of cells, virtually all "ancestral foods" have markedly lower carbohydrate densities than flour- and sugar-containing foods, a property quite independent of glycemic index. Thus the "forgotten organ" of the gastrointestinal microbiota is a prime candidate to be influenced by evolutionarily unprecedented postprandial luminal carbohydrate concentrations. The present hypothesis suggests that in parallel with the bacterial effects of sugars on dental and periodontal health, acellular flours, sugars, and processed foods produce an inflammatory microbiota via the upper gastrointestinal tract, with fat able to effect a "double hit" by increasing systemic absorption of lipopolysaccharide. This model is consistent with a broad spectrum of reported dietary phenomena. A diet of grain-free whole foods with carbohydrate from cellular tubers, leaves, and fruits may produce a gastrointestinal microbiota consistent with our evolutionary condition, potentially explaining the exceptional macronutrient-independent metabolic health of non-Westernized populations, and the apparent efficacy of the modern "Paleolithic" diet on satiety and metabolism.

Pub.: 25 Jul '12, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Paleolithic nutrition for metabolic syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis.

Abstract: Paleolithic nutrition, which has attracted substantial public attention lately because of its putative health benefits, differs radically from dietary patterns currently recommended in guidelines, particularly in terms of its recommendation to exclude grains, dairy, and nutritional products of industry.We evaluated whether a Paleolithic nutritional pattern improves risk factors for chronic disease more than do other dietary interventions.We conducted a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compared the Paleolithic nutritional pattern with any other dietary pattern in participants with one or more of the 5 components of metabolic syndrome. Two reviewers independently extracted study data and assessed risk of bias. Outcome data were extracted from the first measurement time point (≤6 mo). A random-effects model was used to estimate the average intervention effect. The quality of the evidence was rated with the use of the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation approach.Four RCTs that involved 159 participants were included. The 4 control diets were based on distinct national nutrition guidelines but were broadly similar. Paleolithic nutrition resulted in greater short-term improvements than did the control diets (random-effects model) for waist circumference (mean difference: -2.38 cm; 95% CI: -4.73, -0.04 cm), triglycerides (-0.40 mmol/L; 95% CI: -0.76, -0.04 mmol/L), systolic blood pressure (-3.64 mm Hg; 95% CI: -7.36, 0.08 mm Hg), diastolic blood pressure (-2.48 mm Hg; 95% CI: -4.98, 0.02 mm Hg), HDL cholesterol (0.12 mmol/L; 95% CI: -0.03, 0.28 mmol/L), and fasting blood sugar (-0.16 mmol/L; 95% CI: -0.44, 0.11 mmol/L). The quality of the evidence for each of the 5 metabolic components was moderate. The home-delivery (n = 1) and dietary recommendation (n = 3) RCTs showed similar effects with the exception of greater improvements in triglycerides relative to the control with the home delivery. None of the RCTs evaluated an improvement in quality of life.The Paleolithic diet resulted in greater short-term improvements in metabolic syndrome components than did guideline-based control diets. The available data warrant additional evaluations of the health benefits of Paleolithic nutrition. This systematic review was registered at PROSPERO (www.crd.york.ac.uk/PROSPERO) as CRD42014015119.

Pub.: 14 Aug '15, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Strong and persistent effect on liver fat with a Paleolithic diet during a two-year intervention.

Abstract: Our objective was to investigate changes in liver fat and insulin sensitivity during a 2-year diet intervention. An ad libitum Paleolithic diet (PD) was compared with a conventional low-fat diet (LFD).Seventy healthy, obese, postmenopausal women were randomized to either a PD or a conventional LFD. Diet intakes were ad libitum. Liver fat was measured with proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Insulin sensitivity was evaluated with oral glucose tolerance tests and calculated as homeostasis model assessment-insulin resistance (HOMA-IR)/liver insulin resistance (Liver IR) index for hepatic insulin sensitivity and oral glucose insulin sensitivity (OGIS)/Matsuda for peripheral insulin sensitivity. All measurements were performed at 0, 6 and 24 months. Forty-one women completed the examinations for liver fat and were included.Liver fat decreased after 6 months by 64% (95% confidence interval: 54-74%) in the PD group and by 43% (27-59%) in the LFD group (P<0.01 for difference between groups). After 24 months, liver fat decreased 50% (25-75%) in the PD group and 49% (27-71%) in the LFD group. Weight reduction between baseline and 6 months was correlated to liver fat improvement in the LFD group (rs=0.66, P<0.01) but not in the PD group (rs=0.07, P=0.75). Hepatic insulin sensitivity improved during the first 6 months in the PD group (P<0.001 for Liver IR index and HOMA-IR), but deteriorated between 6 and 24 months without association with liver fat changes.A PD with ad libitum intake had a significant and persistent effect on liver fat and differed significantly from a conventional LFD at 6 months. This difference may be due to food quality, for example, a higher content of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids in the PD. Changes in liver fat did not associate with alterations in insulin sensitivity.

Pub.: 21 Jan '16, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Balance in Adults.

Abstract: Chronic inflammation and oxidative balance are associated with poor diet quality and risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. A diet-inflammation/oxidative balance association may relate to evolutionary discordance.We investigated associations between 2 diet pattern scores, the Paleolithic and the Mediterranean, and circulating concentrations of 2 related biomarkers, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), an acute inflammatory protein, and F2-isoprostane, a reliable marker of in vivo lipid peroxidation.In a pooled cross-sectional study of 30- to 74-y-old men and women in an elective outpatient colonoscopy population (n= 646), we created diet scores from responses on Willett food-frequency questionnaires and measured plasma hsCRP and F2-isoprostane concentrations by ELISA and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, respectively. Both diet scores were calculated and categorized into quintiles, and their associations with biomarker concentrations were estimated with the use of general linear models to calculate and compare adjusted geometric means, and via unconditional ordinal logistic regression.There were statistically significant trends for decreasing geometric mean plasma hsCRP and F2-isoprostane concentrations with increasing quintiles of the Paleolithic and Mediterranean diet scores. The multivariable-adjusted ORs comparing those in the highest with those in the lowest quintiles of the Paleolithic and Mediterranean diet scores were 0.61 (95% CI: 0.36, 1.05;P-trend = 0.06) and 0.71 (95% CI: 0.42, 1.20;P-trend = 0.01), respectively, for a higher hsCRP concentration, and 0.51 (95% CI: 0.27, 0.95;P-trend 0.01) and 0.39 (95% CI: 0.21, 0.73;P-trend = 0.01), respectively, for a higher F2-isoprostane concentration.These findings suggest that diets that are more Paleolithic- or Mediterranean-like may be associated with lower levels of systemic inflammation and oxidative stress in humans.

Pub.: 22 Apr '16, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Effects of a Paleolithic diet with and without supervised exercise on fat mass, insulin sensitivity, and glycemic control: a randomized controlled trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Abstract: Means to reduce future risk for cardiovascular disease in subjects with type 2 diabetes are urgently needed.Thirty-two patients with type 2 diabetes (age 59 ± 8 years) followed a Paleolithic diet for 12 weeks. Participants were randomized to either standard care exercise recommendations (PD) or 1-h supervised exercise sessions (aerobic exercise and resistance training) three times per week (PD-EX).For the within group analyses, fat mass decreased by 5.7 kg (IQR: -6.6, -4.1; p < 0.001) in the PD group and by 6.7 kg (-8.2, -5.3; p < 0.001) in the PD-EX group. Insulin sensitivity (HOMA-IR) improved by 45% in the PD (p < 0.001) and PD-EX (p < 0.001) groups. HbA1c decreased by 0.9% (-1.2, -0.6; p < 0.001) in the PD group and 1.1% (-1.7, -0.7; p < 0.01) in the PD-EX group. Leptin decreased by 62 % (p < 0.001) in the PD group and 42 % (p < 0.001) in the PD-EX group. Maximum oxygen uptake increased by 0.2 L/min (0.0, 0.3) in the PD-EX group, and remained unchanged in the PD group (p < 0.01 for the difference between intervention groups). Male participants decreased lean mass by 2.6 kg (-3.6, -1.3) in the PD group and by 1.2 kg (-1.3, 1.0) in the PD-EX group (p < 0.05 for the difference between intervention groups).A Paleolithic diet improves fat mass and metabolic balance including insulin sensitivity, glycemic control, and leptin in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Supervised exercise training may not enhance the effects on these outcomes, but preserves lean mass in men and increases cardiovascular fitness.

Pub.: 29 May '16, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in Adults.

Abstract: Background: Poor diet quality is associated with a higher risk of many chronic diseases that are among the leading causes of death in the United States. It has been hypothesized that evolutionary discordance may account for some of the higher incidence and mortality from these diseases.Objective: We investigated associations of 2 diet pattern scores, the Paleolithic and the Mediterranean, with all-cause and cause-specific mortality in the REGARDS (REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) study, a longitudinal cohort of black and white men and women ≥45 y of age.Methods: Participants completed questionnaires, including a Block food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ), at baseline and were contacted every 6 mo to determine their health status. Of the analytic cohort (n = 21,423), a total of 2513 participants died during a median follow-up of 6.25 y. We created diet scores from FFQ responses and assessed their associations with mortality using multivariable Cox proportional hazards regression models adjusting for major risk factors.Results: For those in the highest relative to the lowest quintiles of the Paleolithic and Mediterranean diet scores, the multivariable adjusted HRs for all-cause mortality were, respectively, 0.77 (95% CI: 0.67, 0.89; P-trend < 0.01) and 0.63 (95% CI: 0.54, 0.73; P-trend < 0.01). The corresponding HRs for all-cancer mortality were 0.72 (95% CI: 0.55, 0.95; P-trend = 0.03) and 0.64 (95% CI: 0.48, 0.84; P-trend = 0.01), and for all-cardiovascular disease mortality they were 0.78 (95% CI: 0.61, 1.00; P-trend = 0.06) and HR: 0.68 (95% CI: 0.53, 0.88; P-trend = 0.01).Conclusions: Findings from this biracial prospective study suggest that diets closer to Paleolithic or Mediterranean diet patterns may be inversely associated with all-cause and cause-specific mortality.

Pub.: 10 Feb '17, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Evolution of the human diet: linking our ancestral diet to modern functional foods as a means of chronic disease prevention.

Abstract: The evolution of the human diet over the past 10,000 years from a Paleolithic diet to our current modern pattern of intake has resulted in profound changes in feeding behavior. Shifts have occurred from diets high in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood to processed foods high in sodium and hydrogenated fats and low in fiber. These dietary changes have adversely affected dietary parameters known to be related to health, resulting in an increase in obesity and chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and cancer. Some intervention trials using Paleolithic dietary patterns have shown promising results with favorable changes in CVD and diabetes risk factors. However, such benefits may be offset by disadvantages of the Paleolithic diet, which is low in vitamin D and calcium and high in fish potentially containing environmental toxins. More advantageous would be promotion of foods and food ingredients from our ancestral era that have been shown to possess health benefits in the form of functional foods. Many studies have investigated the health benefits of various functional food ingredients, including omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, fiber, and plant sterols. These bioactive compounds may help to prevent and reduce incidence of chronic diseases, which in turn could lead to health cost savings ranging from $2 to $3 billion per year as estimated by case studies using omega-3 and plant sterols as examples. Thus, public health benefits should result from promotion of the positive components of Paleolithic diets as functional foods.

Pub.: 28 Oct '09, Pinned: 31 Aug '17

Evolutionary health promotion.

Abstract: Health promotion's promise is enormous, but its potential is, as yet, unmatched by accomplishment. Life expectancy increases track more closely with economic prosperity and sanitary engineering than with strictly medical advances. Notable achievements in the past century--the decreased incidences of epidemic infections, dental caries, and stomach cancer--are owed to virologists, dentists, and (probably) refrigeration more than to physicians. Prevention speaks against tobacco abuse with a single voice, but in many other areas contradictory research findings have generated skepticism and even indifference among the general public for whom recommendations are targeted. Health promotion's shortcomings may reflect lack of an overall conceptual framework, a deficiency that might be corrected by adopting evolutionary premises: (1) The human genome was selected in past environments far different from those of the present. (2) Cultural evolution now proceeds too rapidly for genetic accommodation--resulting in dissociation between our genes and our lives. (3) This mismatch between biology and lifestyle fosters development of degenerative diseases. These principles could inform a research agenda and, ultimately, public policy: (1) Better characterize differences between ancient and modern life patterns. (2) Identify which of these affect the development of disease. (3) Integrate epidemiological, mechanistic, and genetic data with evolutionary principles to create an overarching formulation upon which to base persuasive, consistent, and effective recommendations.

Pub.: 31 Jan '02, Pinned: 31 Aug '17