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Weekly Review: Paleo Diet v. Vegan

So in my quest to find the perfect diet (which I have definitely not achieved by any means), I’ve come across two diets that have gotten a lot of attention; vegan diet and the paleo diet. Both diets claim to be the most natural, healthy diet possible; able to reduce your chronic diseases and allow you to live a healthier, happier life. They both claim to be scientifically sound, only including foods that we were designed or evolved to eat. And yet, the paleo diet consists mostly of meat, while the vegan diet includes no animal products at all. How can both of these diets claim to be so healthy but not include some of the same major food groups?

In case you’re not familiar with these diets, let me give you a little background.

Vegan: This diet does not permit any animal products. That means no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no butter. A vegan eats mainly fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains.

Paleo: This is a newer fad based on what the human diet supposedly consisted of during the Paleolithic Era, approximately 10,000 years ago. The diet relies heavily of meat, vegetables and starchy plants. Most variations eat some legumes, but not many. Grains are not encouraged and dairy is not allowed in the diet.

Whenever I’m stumped about the best possible diet or exercise, I turn to my favorite source of knowledge… pubmed.com. It’s a great search engine specifically for scientific, peer-reviewed journal articles. If you ever read a crazy health or scientific claim and want to check out the truth for yourself, pubmed is a great place to start. So, what is the real science behind these diets? Have they actually been tested?

Vegan: The science behind this diet became mainstream with the publication of The China Study by Dr. Campbell. This was an enormous epidemiological study of the population in China that showed increases in chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes associated with increases in animal products. Basically, the people who ate the most meat and dairy were the most sick. In the literature, I also found that a plant-based diet was associated with improvements in blood glucose (improved diabetes), and reduction in heart disease and inflammation. I had a difficult time finding any research to suggest that a vegan diet harmed people’s health, however I do want to make the caveat that all subjects in these studies were supervised by a nutritionist or physician. Vegans do need to be careful to eat enough calcium, vitamin D, iron and B12.

Paleo: The research for the paleo diet is a little thinner, mostly because this diet hasn’t been developed for very long, and some people can’t seem to agree on exactly what the diet should consist of. There is a nice review article I found that summarizes the research, if you’re interested. In a few randomized controlled trials, the paleo diet did seem to reduce the symptoms of diabetes, and in some studies had a positive effect on BMI.  In another study, the paleo diet reduced inflammation and markers of cardiovascular disease as well. However, most of these studies had a small number of participants and were short term. There may be risks associated with having such a high protein diet and a diet high in saturated fat, so consult your doctor before starting this one.

So who wins? Well, I like to take the best of both worlds. Both diets emphasize a heavy intake of vegetables and fruits, and both diets exclude processed foods and refined sugars. As far as the meat v. grain debate, I still choose to eat both in moderation and choose lower saturated fat options if at all possible.

What do you think? Have you tried either of these diets?

-Sara

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18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Wade on February 21, 2012 at 9:59 am

    I’ve been vegan for years, I feel great, I’m in good shape and constantly getting better; but, I can say, if you’re doing it for weight loss or fitness it probably won’t work out. At least, in terms of ‘strictness’. It’s difficult to justify avoiding leather, sugar that was refined through bones, lard, and gelatin if you’re not doing it out of an ethical motivation. Vegetarianism, or something resembling it, is much easier. I haven’t done anything with Paleo, but several of my friends have had very good experiences with it and it was not such a difficult transition. Good post!

    Reply

    • Hi Wade,
      Thanks for stopping by! I agree that paleo diet is definitely easier to pull off, but I do wish more research had been published about the long term effects. Are eithical reasons what motivate you to be a vegan?

      Reply

  2. Posted by Miss. Zoe on February 21, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I was raised on a vegan diet at home by my mother but have always ate meat at my fathers house and when I was “out” . I have been a vegan for only 1 month and have already lost a bit of weight but I can’t tell you how much better I feel. I have more energy, I don’t get that “mid day drag”, I definitely recommend vegan, although I’m a bit biased, being that I already thoroughly enjoy vegan meals. Its not a totally rough transition for me. I chose vegan for a few reasons, mostly because I want to know what I’m eating, meats are pumped of who knows what. I have a few vegan recipes on my site if your interested!

    Reply

  3. Nice article! I follow a more Paleo “ish” template and have found it to be great. I did a little vegetarian and vegan trial a couple years back and it was ok. I agree, both diets promote lots of fruits and vegetables and shun processed food. To me, that’s what counts most. I personally feel better on limited grains, more meat and higher saturated fat consumption. But we all need to find what works best for us. Keep up the good work!

    Reply

  4. Great post. I had never heard of the Paleo-diet, but it sounds more palatable than the Vegan. I am a big fan of meat and I don’t really want to give it up. I do believe in eating a more organic diet.

    Reply

  5. My husband and I have both been vegan for 13 years. Veganism does not equal health (as evidenced by the soy cheese pizza and fries that we had for dinner last night). We do it for ethical reasons – my husband would have had a hard time giving up real cheese if it wasn’t for a deep seeded reason. It does tend to lend itself to a cleaner diet because you’re just limited, you can’t run into McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. And vegan food does tend to be lower in calories and fat.

    Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman is a diet based on the China Study and is by far the healthiest diet that we’ve found. But it isn’t about veganism – it’s about looking at food differently.

    Love your post – I didn’t know anything about the Paleo diet!

    Reply

    • Thanks for checking out our blog! It makes sense that ethical reasons are a powerful motivator to maintain a began diet. I think that would be the only way I could stick with it.

      Reply

  6. Very interesting! I’ve had the same dilemma between vegan/vegetarian and Paleo.

    For me, a breakthrough came when I started keeping a food journal in which I had two columns: “What I ate” and “How I felt”. It let me track how the food I consumed was impacting me, and I was stunned by how helpful that was. I realized that many foods that I ate almost daily made me feel sluggish, and that I felt 10X better when I avoided them. It happened that it was all Paleo foods that made me feel best, so I’ve stuck with that diet ever since then.

    BTW, if you haven’t read the book The Perfect Health diet, I *highly* recommend it. It’s a fascinating, well researched book.

    Reply

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for checking out our blog!
      I love the idea of keeping a diary of how food makes you feel. I’ve tracked my diet before but just to check my calorie intake. I’ll give it a try!

      Reply

  7. Posted by Lee Ann on May 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Paleo isn’t new. It was first published in the 70’s. There is no science behind it, only speculation of what cavemen ate (a theory based on a theory). There is hard, undeniable evidence for a vegan diet.

    Reply

    • Well, there is some evidence about the dietary habits of paleothic man, and some scientific evidence to support the paleo diet. Here is a nice review article about some of the most current research. However, I agree that the evidence isn’t particularly strong, and I personally think that many of the health benefits may come from just eliminating processed foods from the diet. Veganism does have a larger body of research, but there still are some risks. Nutritional deficiencies can occur, especially in B12, iron and calcium.

      Reply

  8. Posted by Christal on June 4, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for your blog. I appreciate everyones kind responses. I am in the dilemma of figuring out how to lose weight. Vegan, Paleo, Vegitarian all claim theirs is the way. I guess it is just a try and see. Ive been reading different blogs, books on the subject. Im thinking moderation is best.

    Reply

    • I know I’ve struggled with that too. I think if you can do any of these methods about 80% and give yourself a little leeway, you’ll be healthy.

      Reply

  9. Posted by Alice on June 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    I reversed my diabetes 10 years ago on my own following a more paleo type diet but recently I wanted to try out a Vegan diet after reading Cousens book. Within four days of eliminating animal proteins, my fribromyalgia which was almost nonexistent returned with a vengeance. My muscles were twitching all over the place, I was experiencing incredible spasms in my thighs and buttocks, tachycardia, bouts of tremors and internal vibrations. I dragged myself out of bed on the fifth morning and made some bacon and eggs( both organic) and immediately started to feel better.
    I ditched the all beans and veggies and returned to small amounts of organic protein with various raw and lightly steamed low carb organic vegetables throughout the day and felt much better. I believe everyone is different and one man’s medicine is another man’s poison.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Judy on July 9, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I feel best when eating a diet high in fruit and vegies, moderate amount of lean poultry, fish and beef, a moderate amount of grains, limited amount of dairy, no gluten, no processed foods, fats from nuts and olive oil mostly and I do have sugar in my coffee and jam everyday. I think most people have a hard time sticking to a rigid diet and over time break it and go overboard on what they previously restricted. I work as a clinical psychologist with the eating disorder population. If you listen to your body and eat mindfully you will discover what, if any, your food sensitivities are. What I have learned over the past 30 years is for most people a clean well balanced diet that provides a variety of food tends to be the best diet overall.

    Reply

  11. Posted by Gina on September 17, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    I can tell you that consuming meat lowers vibrations on a spiritual level. (research this if necessary). I also would agree that Paleo while an old age philosophy does not have any deep seated research. I have seen many people with great health benefits and weight loss with the Paleo, but hey…there was weight loss with the Adkins also (low-carb…now no carb paelo). I myself have eaten vegan, vegetarian, have not eaten paleo, but have eaten mainstream diets and was born and raised on Macrobiotics. This is has been around since the time of Buddha, Jesus etc. They are enlightened beings. When I am full macrobiotic, I experience across the board wellness. I attract everything I want to in my life, I am free of all sickness (zero colds, fever, headache, runny nose, skin ailments anything!). My intuition is higher and I am more in tune with the universe. I live in synchronicity with the vibrations. People we are made of energy, macrobiotics is scientifically based and provides for an understanding to the natural world, so that we can take health in to our own hands. 🙂 God Bless!

    Reply

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