Paleo diet blamed for death of wife of Tamil actor Bharat Kalyan

What is Paleo diet? Why are doctors warning people to be wary of fad diets, and asking people to treat diets as medical prescriptions?

ByChetana Belagere

Published Nov 03, 2022 | 3:06 PM Updated Nov 03, 2022 | 4:38 PM

Priyadarshini Bharat with family. (Supplied)

TV actor Priyadarshini Bharat recently breathed her last on Monday, 31 October. She was just 43 years old. She had been in a coma for a few weeks, local reports said.

Even as her family — including father-in-law Kalyan Kumar and husband Bharat Kalyan, both actors — and fans mourned her passing, the incident shone a spotlight on a dietary regime she was following.

It is being said that she died due to the side effects of following something called the Paleo diet.

Now, dieticians and nutritionists are warning people against following diets without consulting experts.

Death due to Paleo diet?

According to reports, Priyadarshi, aka Priya, shifted to the Paleo diet with an intention to lose weight.

Family friends of Bharat and Priya said that he was admitted to a hospital a few months ago as her sugar levels shot up due to the changes in her diet.

Priya reportedly went into a coma, and on Monday died of cardiac arrest.

What is a Paleo diet?

Bengaluru-based Clinical Consultant Dietician Dr Rohini Raghu said the Paleo diet or the palaeolithic diet — also known as the Stone Age or caveman diet — is based on the idea that eating like our ancient ancestors would keep us healthier and help us lose weight faster.

Representational pic of what Paleo diet normally consists of

Representational pic of what a Paleo diet normally consists of. (Wikimedia Commons)

She explained: “Our digestive system is not adaptable to this kind of a diet. Vegetarian food, which comes as part of this diet, is still ok, but the non-vegetarian food to be eaten without cooking or semi-cooked is not a good idea.”

As per this diet, one needs to eat foods that existed before farming and agriculture were a thing some 10,000 years ago. So, on the menu would be food that could be hunted, fished, or gathered.

Hence, it would consist of any kind of meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, roots, fruits, and berries. Grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and salt would be off the menu for people on a Paleo diet.

Risks and benefits

While dieticians and nutritional experts say that there is no weight loss guaranteed with this diet, few studies, done in small groups, showed that it could be effective for short-term weight reduction.

However, Bengaluru-based clinical and sports Nutritionist Dr Meghna Mevawala, who is also a functional medicine expert, said, “When you eliminate a certain food source, it may lead to a reduction in some number of calories. However, that is definitely not a well-balanced diet. Diets to promote weight loss should include pulses, dairy, whole grains, and even carbs to some extent.”

South First found that a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed 250 overweight people for a year as they dieted with minimal professional support, allowing them to opt for a Mediterranean food plan, intermittent fasting, or a Paleo plan, including some dairy, legumes, and grains (making it much easier than a traditional Paleo diet).

After one year, the Paleo plan had the lowest retention rate, with just over a third sticking to it.

Representational pic of paleo diet

Representational pic of what Paleo diet where it is believed that eating what our cavemen ate will help in the reduction of weight. (Creative Commons)

However, when it comes to the risks involved, nutritionists claim that cutting out all foods developed in the modern era could lead to nutritional deficiencies.

“Complete elimination of dairy can lead to calcium deficiency. Avoiding starchy food may reduce the amount of fibre one eats. This can lead to problems in the gut, as the gut microbiome thrives off digesting fibre,” explained Hyderabad-based dietician Abhishek RN.

“Also, fatty cuts of meat may be high in saturated fats. Fat is needed for our body to absorb vitamins, but too much of it — especially the saturated ones — could lead to cholesterol, an increased risk of heart disease, and even a risk of bowel cancer,” he added.

‘Be wary of fad diets’

Doctors and nutritionists have warned people to be wary of any fad diets, and also asked people to be careful before believing and following such diets.

Speaking to South First, Dr Edwina Raj, head of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics at the Aster CMI Hospital in Bengaluru, said many popular diets such as Paleo, Atkin’s, keto, VRK diet and South Beach, provide instant results, and that is what makes one get stick to them with confidence.

She said, “Most people feel only medicine needs a prescription, but not diets. But we have now realised diets impact our body, and that self-administered diets could be fatal.”

She added that any restrictive diet that does not involve all five food groups in a day should be practised only under the guidance of a registered dietician and under medical supervision.

Also Read: Progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes can be slowed, reversed

Why is supervision important?

With any restrictive diet, an expert would know the nutrients one would be deficient in, and would be able to provide guidance on healthy weight loss.

A new diet regime should involve a detailed nutrition assessment through which an individual’s existing body composition of muscle fat, functional status, and metabolism is analysed with basic medical tests. and current intake of nutrients.

This would be helpful to know the type of diet and exercise, as well as safe prescription of supplements, if necessary, explained Raj.

Mevawala warned against clickbait articles like “5 things that worked for me to lose weight”, “five things you should never eat”, “Eat this and you will be healthy”, on social media and elsewhere on the internet.

“In general, no diet should be followed blindly, especially if you have metabolic disorders. It’s always a hit-and-miss kind of situation. There is no single prescription that works on one’s body. Most of these diets exclude one or the other groups, like low or zero carbs, high protein, or high fat,” she explained.

“If you have any underlying issue, you might not know about it without guidance, and this can do more harm to the body. It can even turn fatal,” said Mevawala.

She added: “When people go on a low-salt diet, there can sometimes be electrolyte imbalance, which can be fatal. Also, in this case [of Priyadarshini Bharat], the woman might have consumed a lot of fruits. If she was diabetic and the food was not balanced, sudden changes in the diet could cause imbalances in the body that are sometimes irreversible.”

Other stories: Kerala to become first state to officially suggest diet plan 

Exercise and eat in moderation

Meanwhile, Fit India ambassador and fitness expert Wanitha Ashok told South First, “Be it Paleo or any other fad diet, they are not recommended as they are not sustainable, and lead to health complications in the long run.”

She recommended that people always go for a healthy diet that has all six nutrients — complex carbs, lean protein, healthy fat, water, vitamins, and minerals.

Wanitha urged people to stick to the consumption of home-cooked food as much as possible, besides eating on time and going easy on salt and sugar.

She reminded people to eat slowly, chew the food thoroughly, and manage portion sizes.

The mantra for weight loss, according to Wanitha, was a calorie deficit, cardio, total body strength, good-quality sleep, and stress management.