I was shocked when I did the research for this post. There are greater than 200 (I stopped counting there) web discussions regarding Paleo vs. Vegan! There are clear battle lines drawn for the distinctions between these two diets. I am not here to add further mudslinging to this debate. If you are reading this to see further fire, fanning the flames of this discussion, you’ve come to the wrong place. I was inspired to write on this topic for those of you out there that have either tried and given up on one of these two diets (or a close offspring) for compliance reasons or just for those who really want to eat a healthy diet and just can’t get past the restrictive requirements of the Paleo or Vegan diets.
Randy and I have personally followed the Paleo diet. At first, I felt great when I followed it religiously. The problem came over the long term (after 6 months) , it was too restrictive with it’s total exclusion of grains, dairy, legumes. I personally needed more variety. It was definitely NOT my husband’s kind of diet. I would fix some awesome Paleo meals that were both mouth-watering and filling. However, after the meal, Randy helped himself to the carb and dairy of his choice (usually a bowl of cereal and milk or ice cream).
Randy tried to convince me that he needs all those carbs for his “brainpower”, so I feel the need to offer him healthy alternatives. Remember, different strokes for different folks! On the Vegan side, I have talked to some of my clients that were experiencing the same type of burn-out I was on the Paleo side. They were also having a hard time with the narrow boundaries of the Vegan diet. I just want you to think about a “compromise” regarding these two diets. Take the best of both, so you can have dietary guidelines that keep you healthy but at the same time make it easy to comply with and give you the variety of foods that nature’s bounty provides. You will notice I do not discuss weight loss regarding these diets. I really believe that if you follow a healthy lifestyle plan: healthy nutrition, movement and recovery, you will lose weight as a side benefit. Also, if you are suffering from allergies (i.e. gluten), this “compromise” diet will not be for you.
The Paleo and Vegan Diet ingredients
Paleo– All natural animal protein (preferably wild-caught fish, free-range chickens and grass-fed beef), fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and healthy oils. All man-made processed foods are totally off-limits.
Vegan– Grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, healthy oils and other non-animal wholesome products. All man-made processed foods are totally off-limits.
Some animals are carnivorous, others are herbivores. We humans are omnivores: animals that eat both plants and other animals. Therein lies the dilemma. We have such a plethora of food choices. “The curse of the omnivore is that when it comes to figuring out which of those things are safe to eat, he’s pretty much on his own (The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan).”
Now that wasn’t always the case. [private]Case in point: Dr. Weston Price, author of the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, was a dentist in the 1930s that sought out isolated and modernized groups all over the world to study the health effects of food modernization. He ended up studying 13 isolated groups before food modernization and then those same groups after “junk food” was the fare de jour to compare their health, largely based on dental cavities and arch structure, but also overall health. This guy was WAY before his time. These isolated groups only ate what was available in their small regions of the world. Here are some examples:
- Swiss – whole rye bread with summer-made cheese
- Gaelic – fish and oat products (there were no dairy animals on the island)
- Eskimos – caribou, ground nuts, kelp, berries, seal oil and fish
- African Tribes – milk, meat and blood of the “milked” animals
- Indians – limited to “wild animals of the chase”
What was astonishing about all of these isolated groups was that they were exceedingly healthy, robust, and had excellent dental arches with almost no cavities!
This brings me to the next point. The common bond the Paleo and Vegan diet share is: ALL PROCESSED FOODS ARE TOTALLY OFF LIMITS. This is a HUGE shared principle we need to key in on. The consumption of man-made processed foods is at the root of all of the world’s chronic disease problems. Dr. Weston Price also keyed in on this.
Here is a picture of two very different health stories. The left two pictures are examples of the many cavities and deformed dental arches of two boys that consumed the Westernized, modified foods. On the right is an example of a boy and girl that consumed what was only available in their isolated group (in this case, the Gaelic group that ate only fish and oat products). The two on the right have almost no cavities and perfect dental arches. Dr. Price also linked the beginnings of chronic disease with the “modern food” (a/k/a junk food) group:
We need to celebrate this common bond between the Vegan and Paleo group and recognize each group has very positive benefits:
Vegan Diet Pros
– Health Effects of Vegan Diets in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2009) highlighted several positive health benefits of the Vegan diet:
- Lower BMI
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower heart disease risk
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased antioxidant intake
Paleo Diet Pros –
- Healthy BMI and blood pressure.
- Decreased risk of chronic diseases, i.e. diabetes, heart disease and cancer (see
Loren Cordain’s research, author of The Paleo Diet)
- Increased antioxidant intake
- Naturally gluten-free
- Improved energy level
What Vegan lovers can learn from Paleo
Add A Small Amount of Animal Protein. In his book The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner explores centenarians’ secret to a long life: “Beans, whole grains and garden vegetables ar ethe cornerstones of all these longevity diets.” However, animal protein was and is eaten in small amounts in these select groups.
So if you’re prone to avoid it, here’s the solution to your trepidation over eating animal protein: KNOW THE SOURCE and when you can, BUY LOCAL.
Consuming animal protein has the added benefit of getting nutrients that are sparse or non-existent in a pure Vegan diet: Vitamin B-12, end-line Omega-3’s (EPA/DHA….the one’s that we aren’t always effective converting plant based Omega-3’s into), and other essential fatty and amino acids.
What Paleo can learn from Vegans
Add a Small Amount of Grains and Legumes: Pick grains like wheatberry that have a higher protein/carb ratio. Legumes are higher in proteins and fiber too. Wheatberries are a chewy/nutty grain that we love as the “starch” in our meals, packing 6 grams each of protein and fiber into a serving. Legumes like pinto beans have 7 grams of protein and 14 grams of fiber per serving.
By selecting grains with more protein you double the goodness through earlier satiety that comes with protein consumption (see Brain Responses to High Protein Diet).
So what is THE biggest advantage to tiptoeing onto the “dark side” of the other’s turf? Simply giving you a diet that is easier to make a life-long habit of, because you choose from a variety of foods without losing the health benefits of the exclusively Vegan or Paleo approach. Check out this awesome marriage of elements of each extreme: Seared Wild-Caught Sesame-Crusted Ahi Tuna with Ecuadorian Cauliflower Quinoa Soup.
Isn’t that what it’s all about? Adopting an Omnivorous, varied and unprocessed nutrition plan means better health, staying power, and eating foods that you actually look forward to…every day! I don’t know about you, but the evening meal Randy and I share together at night after a long busy day is something we both look forward to. When Randy leaves for work in the morning, the question he always asks when he walks out the door is: What’s for dinner tonight? I personally enjoy the entire cooking process: brainstorming the contents of the meal, assembling all of the ingredients, cooking, presenting the dish and finally consuming it. Dinner is one of those sweet treasures of life. Marrying select aspects of the paleo and vegan diet make it that much sweeter.
What is your favorite omnivorous meal?[/private]