As a doctor, it is my job to educate people about the most nutrient-dense foods that can actually help prevent, treat, and even reverse chronic disease. After all, food is medicine. I have become aware that the food we eat can become complicated, confusing, and contentious.
According to some studies, vegan diets help lower cholesterol, reverse diabetes, and of course, weight loss. Well so do Paleo diets. These two topics can easily heat up a conversation especially since each camp firmly believes in their diet and they have the tendency to cherry-pick studies that back up their point of view. I tried to read up on studies about vegan and Paleo diets. In the end, it just added to my confusion.
As an eater, what should I do?
Since it’s hard to choose between Paleo and vegan, why not just combine the two? Why not become a Vegan or Paleo-Vegan, a combination of both diets strong points while focusing on real, whole, fresh, sustainably raised food.
The Common Ground
There is very little that Paleo and vegan camps seem to agree on, but despite that, both diets share some principles. I listed some of their similarities below:
1. Both diets are very low in glycemic load which means that they are low in sugar, flour, and refined carbohydrates of all kinds.
2. Both diets are high in fruits and vegetables. It’s better if the fruits and vegetables have deeper colors and have more variety because this provides a high phytonutrient content that protects against most diseases.
3. Low or no GMO foods, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones.
4.Zero “Franken Chemicals” or additives, preservatives, dyes, MSG, and artificial sweeteners. You wouldn’t keep these in your pantry, would you?
5. The more good-quality fats, the better. Good-quality fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados are highly recommended.
6. Sufficient amount of protein to aid in appetite control and muscle synthesis.
7. The majority of your diet should be composed of organic, local, and fresh foods.
8. Paleo and vegan diets avoid dairy. For Dr. Amy Shah, dairy is inflammatory and that is the number one reason why it should be ditched. Sure for some it’s tolerable, but most of it contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It can also increase (read: not decrease) the risk of osteoporosis.
And the Differences Are?
While Paleo and vegans agree on some things, they disagree on a lot of things. Here they are:
For millions of Americans, gluten is responsible for inflammation, autoimmunity, digestive orders, and even obesity. We recently started consuming grains in our evolutionary history and it’s true that it can be part of a healthy diet, but only in controlled amounts.
While beans are a known source of fiber, protein, and minerals, it creates digestive problems for some people. Beans in excessive amounts can trigger spikes in the blood sugar of a diabetic. A serving of one cup per day should be enough for most people. Some people in the Paleo camp, however, are worried because beans contain lectins that cause inflammation and phytates that impairs the body’s mineral absorption.
Not all meat are created equal. A healthy diet can actually consist of sustainably raised, clean meat, poultry and lamb. On the flipside, eating meat puts pressure on the planet: more water use, climate change, and energy inputs. The solution: eat meat as a side-dish or condiment, and make sure that you only consume the grass-fed and sustainably raised.
Contrary to popular belief, eggs don’t have any impact on cholesterol and are not responsible for any increase in the risk of heart disease. They are actually low-cost, good sources of vital nutrients and protein.
If you want to minimize mercury content, omega-3 fat-rich fishes such as sardines and wild salmon are your friend. Vegans do not just need omega-3 fats, and nope, the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plants will not suffice. What you need is performed DHA (look for an algae-derived DHA supplement), this is what the major part of your brain is made from. All of us are in need of vitamin D3 but for vegans, vitamin B12 is also important.
How to become a Vegan
When you become a Vegan, you no longer need to stress over the amount of food that you eat. This is because then you focus on WHAT food you eat, your body naturally takes over, and its natural appetite control systems start working. As a result, you begin to eat less.
The aftermath of the Vegan’s eating style:
1. They eat low-glycemic food
Vegans focus on eating more protein and fats, including nuts (not peanuts), seeds (flax, chia, hemp, sesame, pumpkin), coconut, avocados, sardines and olive oil.
2. The right fats
They avoid vegetable oils and soybean oil because these already comprise about 10% of our calories. Instead, the focus is on omega-3 fats, nuts, coconut, avocados, and saturated fat from grass-fed or sustainably raised animals.
3. More green
Your plate and your diet should be 75% plant.
4. Nuts and seeds are important
Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of protein, minerals, and good fats. They also help lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
5. No to dairy
Dairy is essential for the growth of calves into cows but it is something that humans can do without. As a substitute, try organic goat or sheep products once in a while.
6. No to gluten
A safer substitute is Einkorn. If your body has no issues with gluten, you are lucky. You can eat it as an occasional treat.
7. You can eat gluten-free whole grains but only in limited amounts
Remember that they can still trigger autoimmunity and spikes in blood sugar.
8. Eat beans are okay but in controlled amounts
You can eat lentils but not starchy beans.
9. Meat or animal products should be eaten as condiments
It is not necessary to make animal products the main course.
10. Sugar should be an occasional treat
Like whole grains and beans, use it in controlled amounts.
I have been researching nutrition for the past thirty years. After analyzing thousands of scientific papers and treating most of my patients with food, my vote goes to neither vegan nor Paleo. Go for Vegan!