Paleolithic Diet

People with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have problems gaining and maintaining weight due to swallowing difficulties and digestive symptoms associated with the disease, resulting in malnutrition and energy deprivation.

A neurologist and trained dietitian can help develop individual meal plans to suit the specific needs of patients to overcome these problems. The Paleolithic diet is one of the modified meals plans available and may be useful in alleviating ALS symptoms and improving functional abilities.

What is a Paleolithic diet?

The Paleolithic diet is based on the eating habits of humans from the Paleolithic era who lived approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. The diet is based on the idea that the human body is not genetically designed to tolerate modern-age food. It is intended for people who either want to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. The plan can be tailored based on geography, food availability, and people’s specific goals.

The diet consists of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, wild-game or grass-fed lean meat, fruit and plant-based oils such as olive oil or walnut oil, and fish such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel. It does not include food that would not have been available before farming such as grains, dairy, legumes, and processed meat. Refined sugar, potatoes, salt, and other processed foods are also not included in the diet. Exercise and drinking plenty of water are also essential elements of the diet.

Several studies have compared the Paleolithic diet and other available meal plans to assess their benefits. The diet has been proven to help individuals feel full and better manage their appetite. It has also helped improve glucose tolerance and lower the risk of heart disease by controlling blood pressure.

The whole grains and legumes omitted from this diet are a rich source of natural fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. Dairy products, such as milk, supply calcium and also serve as a good source of protein. Lean meat and fish can serve as a protein source in this diet, but several nutrient-rich food items are not included. Therefore, ALS patients should consult their doctor and dietitians about the use of nutritional supplements to compensate for the missing nutrients.

Paleolithic diet in clinical trials

Researchers at the University of Iowa are planning a study (NCT03659422) to evaluate the safety of a modified Paleolithic diet in ALS patients. In this 12-week study, the team will assess whether patients can adapt to the Paleolithic diet plan, and maintain a lean muscle mass. The study will also monitor the impact of the diet on ALS functional abilities and the patients’ quality of life. The study aims to enroll 10 ALS patients, ages 18 to 80, and is expected to start in July 2019.


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