Years ago, when I used to cut calories to keep my weight down, I spent long periods of my life as a miserable, cranky, deprived dieter. But nowadays, as a paleo eater and snacker, I’ve discovered a sweet treat that I can nosh on until I’m satiated and satisfied. And I never gain a pound.
My sweet indulgence is called fruit — with occasional nuts and honey.
You may read that and roll your eyes. With one hand in the cookie jar/bag of chips/candy container, you may cynically dismiss the allure of fruit.
But that’s because you’re on the dark side of the grain divide. If you come over here, where grains like wheat and corn have been banished, your taste buds will enjoy a new freedom to actually taste the hidden taste dimensions of natural food. They won’t be mired in a taste fog of cookies, cakes, bread, overly salted chips and high fructose corn syrup.
Even better: The benefits of staying off grains and eating the large amounts of fruits and vegetables that I eat are expressed in the body way beyond the taste buds.
And if you want sugar, you don’t need the problematic sweet stuff stuffed into a soft drink or a candy bar. The paleo diet can give you another kind of sugar, the kind that keeps you free of diabetes and slender.
I’m not even talking about the sugar in fruit. The kind I’m discussing is actually made by your own body. And it protects you from getting sick.
Research in France shows that sweet fruits and vegetables like cabbage contain what are called fermentable fiber. The presence of that fiber kick-starts a process in your intestines that produces sugar that gets shunted into your bloodstream, where it protects against diabetes, modulates liver function, keeps you from being hungry and helps trim your waistline.
Initially, the fermentable fiber is processed by the probiotic bacteria in the digestive tract to form the compounds propionate and butyrate. These substances lead the intestines to synthesize sugar in the form of glucose and release it into the blood between meals and at night while you are sleeping.
The glucose is sensed by nerves related to the liver and triggers signals sent to the brain. In response, your brain sets off physiological processes that prevent weight gain and protect you against diabetes.
Simultaneously, these nerve impulses put a stop to hunger, increase the calories your body burns while you are resting and tell the liver it doesn’t have to bother producing glucose.
Along with those impressive effects, other scientists have shown fiber in your diet plays a key role in keeping the colon from becoming inflamed and cancer-ridden. (The same researchers have found that niacin, vitamin B3, also keeps colon inflammation under control.)
These studies at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University show that when the beneficial bacteria in the gut digest fiber and produce butyrate (a short chain fatty acid) a cell receptor called Gpr109a is also activated.
Activation of Gpr109a on the surface of cells in the colon signals immune cells populating the digestive tract to decrease inflammation. That decreases the chances of developing painful conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. It also limits the possible development of colorectal cancer.
“To protect your colon, you need this receptor, as well as the fiber and butyrate which activate it,” says researcher Vadivel Ganapathy.
After butyrate activates the Gpr109a receptors on what are called dendritic cells and macrophages in the colon, these immune cells start making anti-inflammatory molecules. At the same time, they communicate with T cells, central players in the immune system, to send similar kind of anti-inflammation messages.
Also helpful: Butyrate prompts the epithelial cells lining the colon to produce cytokines, cells that promote wound-healing and help shut down the intestinal inflammation that complicates ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
The Way You Look Tonight
But even if you never ever want to hear the word butyrate again or be told about the ins and outs of the immune cells in your intestines, you have to be impressed by the obvious health benefits of the paleo diet with its wealth of fruits and vegetables.
And while you may have already forgotten what cytokines are, once you experience the slenderific effects of the paleo diet, you’ll understand how other eating plans pale beside this healthy way of dining.