Posts Tagged ‘paleo diet’

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… 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?


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