In Dr. Lindeberg's paleolithic diet trial, subjects began with ischemic heart disease, and glucose intolerance or type II diabetes. By the end of the 12-week study, on average their glucose control was approaching normal and every subject had normal fasting glucose. Glucose control and fasting glucose in subjects following the "Mediterranean diet" did not change significantly. He didn't report changes in cardiovascular risk factors.
Why was the paleolithic diet so effective at restoring glucose control, while the Mediterranean diet was not? I believe the reason is that the Mediterranean diet did not eliminate the foods that were causing the problem to begin with: processed grains, particularly wheat. The paleolithic diet was lower in carbohydrate than the Mediterranean diet (40% vs 52%), although not exceptionally so. The absolute difference was larger since the paleolithic dieters were eating fewer calories overall (134 g vs 231 g). When they analyzed the data, they found that "the effect of the paleolithic diet on glucose tolerance was independent of carbohydrate intake". In other words, paleolithic dieters saw an improvement in glucose tolerance even if they ate as much carbohydrate as the average for the Mediterranean group.
This study population is not representative of the general public. These are people who suffered from an extreme version of the "disease of civilization". But they are examples of a process that I believe applies to nearly all of us to some extent. This paper adds to the evidence that the modern diet is behind these diseases.
A quick note about grains. Some of you may have noticed a contradiction in how I bash grains and at the same time praise Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. I'm actually not against grains. I think they can be part of a healthy diet, but they have to be prepared correctly and used in moderation. Healthy non-industrial cultures almost invariably soaked, sprouted or sourdough-fermented their grains. These processes make grains much more nutritious and less irritating to the digestive tract, because they allow the seeds to naturally break down their own toxins such as phytic acid, trypsin inhibitors and lectins.
Gluten grains are a special case. 12% of the US public is though to be gluten sensitive, as judged by anti-gliadin antibodies in the bloodstream. Nearly a third have anti-gliadin antibodies in their feces [update- these two markers may or may not indicate gluten sensitivity. SJG 2011]. Roughly 1% have outright celiac disease, in which the gut lining degenerates in response to gluten. All forms of gluten sensitivity increase the risk of a staggering array of health problems. There's preliminary evidence that gluten may activate the innate immune system in many people even in the absence of antibodies. From an anthropological perspective, wherever wheat flour goes, so does the disease of civilization. Rice doesn't have the same effect. It's possible that properly prepared wheat, such as sourdough, might not cause the same problems, but I'm not taking my chances. I certainly don't recommend quick-rise bread, and that includes whole wheat. Whole wheat seemed to be enough to preserve glucose intolerance in Lindeberg's study...