Paleo vs Vegan
So you recently set a goal to start eating healthier. But maybe you’ve realized along the way that “healthy” means a lot of things to a lot of different people. AND food marketing efforts have made it super difficult to know what is actually healthy vs. what is simply advertised effectively.
If you’ve plugged along and tried to research as much as you can, you’ve probably come across two GIANTS in the healthy diet world: Paleo Mania and Vegan Haven.
Okay great, so… how do we know which is better? What are the differences? Is there a middle ground?
The debate between these two camps is long-standing for a reason. Think it’s extreme to call it a debate? Go ahead and type “Paleo vs. Vegan” into google (in a new webtab of course). Prepare for information overload!
While there are differences between the two, both camps camps hold two central lessons in common:
1) Do NOT eat processed foods.
2) Eat as close to nature as possible.
So let’s do a little compare and contrast of these two all-natural diets. This is by no means all-inclusive, but it covers the largest contention points:
The Great Meat Debate
Paleos- People who follow the Paleo diet believe that we should be eating as closely as possible to the way our ancestors ate- before the times of processed foods, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. For them, meat (and eggs) are a central component to a healthy, protein-rich diet. Most do agree that staying with the lean meats is key; chicken and fish are best; grass-fed beef is acceptable.
Vegans- Plant-based dietary beliefs are rooted in research called “The China Study” which directly correlates the consumption of meat with a higher risk of obesity and heart disease. Thus, those that follow this diet cut meat out of their lives. Do note, some plant-based enthusiasts choose to incorporate very low doses of chicken and fish for protein purposes.
Whole Grains or No Grains?
Paleos- Grains lead to all things deadly according to the Paleo die-hards. Paleo researchers believe that grains serve the body no nutritional purpose and often lead to elevated insulin levels (grains consist predominately of carbs that, when digested, are converted to sugar). Most Paleos also claim grains make them feel “heavy” and “tired”; this is due to the fact that most of the grains people usually consume are difficult to digest.
Vegans- Vegans believe in a “whole-foods” diet; thus, for them, whole grains (millet, quinoa, barley, rice, whole wheat, oats) are acceptable- in moderation of course.
Paleos- This is a no go for the Paleos. In short, they argue legumes (beans, lentils, soy etc.) contain certain acids and carbohydrates that limit nutritional value and often lead to digestive troubles. Legums also digest to a sugar form and thus can contribute to higher insulin levels.
Vegans- Because Vegans don’t obtain protein via meat, legumes are a critical component to a well-rounded plant-based diet. Beans are also high in fiber and loaded with B vitamins, calcium, and potassium.
Milk, Cheese, Yogurt, Oh My!
Paleos & Vegans- Rest assured you won’t find dairy products on the dinner plants of either all-natural enthusiast group. There are some occasional exceptions to this rule (Paleos sometimes argue for the inclusion of grass-fed butter and milk), but for the most part, dairy is a no go. Why? Dairy is inflammatory. Additionally, lactose (sugar in milk) and casein (protein in milk), are linked to health issues such as Chrons disease, acne, and cancer.
So…… what does this all mean? Is there a middle ground between these two camps?
There absolutely is. As I mentioned before, diet is a very personal topic- depending on genetic predispositions, lifestyle, reactions to certain foods, etc. each of us may eat slightly different, but balanced meals.
Personally, I find myself dab-smack in the middle. A Pegan…. or Valeo, if you will.
So what do I do? I eat a nutritionally-balanced, natural diet consisting of the foods that make me feel healthy and energized. I’m not a huge fan of animal proteins (both for environmental, ethical, and health reasons); however, I’m not so extreme that I refuse to eat pasture-raised, organically fed chicken or fish.
At the same token, I’m also not a huge fan of grains- they tend to leave me feeling a bit sluggish and tired when I eat them in too great of portions; thus, I choose to only consume whole grains and only in small portions.
To conclude, in the grand scheme of things, Paleos and Vegans really don’t fall too far from the same tree. Both groups encourage clean, green, natural eating- they just occasionally disagree on the best ways to accomplish that. But the mainstays don’t change:
Avoid processed foods altogether, especially refined grains. Avoid dairy. Emphasize whole fruits and vegetables as the center of your diet. And exercise.
If you are interested in doing some more research (and finding lots of yummy recipes), I’ve listed a few key resources below. If you try this out and want to share your story, please contact me!
Good luck! xoxo
Forks Over Knives– a book dedicated to the promotion of a plant-based (vegan) diet paired with tons of healthy recipes!
Paleo for Beginners– a beginners guide for those wanting to try out paleo