Is it possible to be Paleo and vegan (or even vegetarian) at the same time?
There are people all over the world who recognize the importance of animal welfare and preservation. But, whilst sparing animal life may feel like the right approach, are you sacrificing your own health to save them?
The answer is both YES and NO.
The Paleo lifestyle encourages eliminating all grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, soy and starches, which are often fundamental foods in a Vegetarian diet. And even most processed foods. Protein consumption along with vitamin, and mineral absorption such as B12, iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc are where the two approached differ most. A Paleo diet involves eating meats from a trusted, grass fed source, while most Vegetarian eaters get their protein from soy, nuts, seeds, grains, some dairy (if the diet is not dairy free as well), eggs, legumes, and plants. Does the omission of soy and grains still allow a Vegetarian eater to sustain good health?
Paleo followers do their best to eat in a similar fashion to how ancient man ate in the hunter/gatherer era. This consisted of wild game, tubers, some fruits, and limited vegetables.
The modern Paleo eater faces many challenges such as finding well raised meats and pastured proteins along with organically grown fruits and vegetables along with sourcing the ever-important high quality, naturally occurring fats that ensure the body is functioning optimally.
All Vegetarians and Vegans omit meat from their diet along with dairy, eggs and honey if the choice is to eliminate all animal products. Vegetarian ideology is that no animal should be killed for human existence. Vegetarians and Vegans have every right to advocate for animals as we all should. No animal should be treated unjustly or cruelly. Sadly, most of the grain fed, corporate “farming” slaughter houses are not thinking in terms of health or animal welfare. The dairy and beef industries have huge corporate interests. Similarly, genetically engineered vegetables, grains and legumes crops are not produced with human health in mind. Although Vegetarians and Vegans tend to be vocal confronters when it comes to animal advocacy, it is up to each person to advocate for human health and be aware of the many problems and concerns within the modern, industrialized food supply.
The Vegetarian diet is often lacking in B12 (only available in animal foods), vitamins and minerals. Modern technology has created very effective supplementation to overcome these concerns. Sadly, many choose a life without animal protein with a focus on animal welfare resulting in many health issues including obesity, heart disease, depression, Metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. Eating a Western diet filled with junk food; cookies, cakes, pizza, bread galore, fast food is still a Vegetarian approach. This is when a vegetarian diet might be doing more harm than good.
There are similarities to both diet philosophies and there are many characteristics of a healthy diet that both approaches agree upon:
Eat Lots Of Plants
The deeper the colors, the more variety, the better. This provides a high phytonutrient content protective against most diseases.
Source local, seasonal foods low in pesticides, antibiotics and hormones and probably no or low GMO foods. No chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes, MSG, artificial sweeteners and other man-made chemicals that you would never have in your pantry.
Choose Naturally Occurring Fats.
Omega-3 fats are essential, along with including good quality fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. Eating sufficient fat from naturally occurring sources (both plant and animal) prevents supports nutrient absorption and help prevent vitamin deficiency.
Adequate protein for appetite control and muscle synthesis, especially in the elderly is vital for health and longevity.
Avoid Processed Foods
A diet low in refined sugar, flour and processed carbohydrates of all kinds is optimal.
If animal products are consumed they should be sustainably raised or grass-fed. If you are eating fish you should choose low-mercury and low-toxin containing fish such as sardines, herring and anchovies or other small fish, and avoid tuna, swordfish and Chilean sea bass because of the high mercury load.
There are also many differences when it comes to Paleo and Vegetarian approaches:
Both the paleo and vegan camps shun dairy. While some can tolerate it, for most it contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer and may increase (not decrease) the risk of osteoporosis. Certain Paleo proponents include raw, grass-fed dairy in their diets.
Grains, and gluten specifically gluten can lead to inflammation, autoimmunity, digestive disorders and even obesity. Whether all grains are problematic is still being debated. Even though humans started consuming grains recently in evolutionary history, they can be part of a healthy diet, but not in unlimited amounts.
All grains can increase your blood sugar and flours made from grains are more problematic than refined sugar. Stick with small portions (1/2 cup at a meal) of low-glycemic, ancient grains.
Beans and legumes can provide a source of fiber, protein and minerals, but they do cause digestive problems for some. If struggle with blood sugar concerns, a mostly bean diet can trigger spikes in blood sugar. Again, moderate amounts may be tolerated. Paleo philosophy is concerned with the lectins that create inflammation or phytates that impair mineral absorption.
All meat is not created equal. Conventionally raised feedlot beef has more palmitic and myristic acid that raise cholesterol and increase inflammation. Grass fed and finished beef has more cholesterol neutral stearic acid and contains protective omega-3 fats and vitamins A and D that raise glutathione and other antioxidants.
Eating sustainably raised, clean meat, poultry and lamb and other esoteric meats such as ostrich, bison or venison as part a healthy diet is not likely harmful and is very helpful in reducing triglycerides, raising HDL (or good cholesterol), lowering blood sugar, reducing belly fat, reducing appetite, raising testosterone and increasing muscle mass. In fact, a recent, ground-breaking study has recently concluded that meat consumption is not linked to ill health, death or heart attacks
Grazing animals is healthful and sustainable and could play a role in reclaiming land devasted by modern farming and mono-cropping. On the other hand, conventional meat-rearing practices place undue pressure on the planet – more water use, more climate change and more energy inputs.
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For decades it has been postulated that all cholesterol is bad, eggs contain cholesterol, and must therefore be avoided. Recently, eggs have been exonerated and are not associated with increased risk of heart disease or any impact on cholesterol. They are a great low-cost source of vital nutrients and protein.
If mercury poisoning in fish is of concern to you (and it should be), then choose small, omega-3 fat-rich fish such as sardines or wild salmon. If you are a vegan and don’t want to eat any living creature for moral or religious reasons, then that is understandable. However, it is critical to get omega-3 fats, and not simply ALA (or alpha linolenic acid) found in plants. Vegans and vegetarians tend to be deficient in the pre-formed DHA, which is what the brain requires. You can get adequate amounts from algae. It is often challenging to consume sufficient Omega-3 fats whether Paleo or Vegetarian. Supplements (or a regular sardine diet) are essential.
How Can Vegetarians Be Paleo Without Eating Meat?
It might, at first glance, appear completely impossible to be a Paleo Vegetarian since eating animal fats is the primary food source for those following a Paleo diet. Many people alter and adjust their Paleo diet and this would be no different for the avid Paleo Vegetarian. A healthy lifestyle can be balanced without eating meat. There is still a requirement for essential nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, fats, protein, and carbohydrates to function normally.
Modern-day Paleo Vegetarian options might include:
- All local and seasonal vegetables and fruits
- Pastured eggs (possibly)
- Raw and/or grass-fed dairy (possibly, if tolerated)
- Chia, hemp, and flax seeds
- Avocado, sardines or small fish (if fish is consumed) – omega 3 fatty acids, fats
- Sweet potatoes, non-starchy root vegetables, squashes
- Raw chocolate
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut
- Mushrooms such as shitake, Portobello, maitake, Quorn (fungi- avoid if candida prone), raw spirulina
- Soaked and sprouted beans, buckwheat, nuts and seeds in moderation
- Moderate portions of ancient grains
- Nut butters and milks
Even when following a Paleo diet, supplementation can still be a good idea. Vitamin B12 is often lacking in vegetarian diets along with certain minerals like iron and calcium. Good omega-3 sources may also be lacking in a vegetarian Paleo diet (so, taking fish oil may be an additional consideration). Algal oil (derived from algae) improves blood lipids and increases blood levels of EPA (another long chain omega-3 found in fish oil).
It is perfectly reasonable to modify and adjust to your personal needs and preference.
It IS possible to combine Paleo and Vegetarian principles. The important factor is to modern, hybridized and gluten containing grains, limit phytates and lectins and ensure a balance of vitamins and minerals. For those considering a Vegetarian diet, there are options. It is not necessary to eat meat at every meal simply to call it Paleo. It is way more important to continue an awareness of the quality of food you are consuming. Paying attention to your body and realizing how to fuel it is essential. Educate yourself on what your body needs for optimal health. There is no need to sacrifice your health while sparing animals lives. In fact, helping animals be well is an essential part the sustainability of this planet. Your health counts on it!
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com