Paleo and vegan nutrition plans are two of the most popular diet options today. They are also radically different from one another. Followers of the vegan lifestyle claim superior benefits from eating an exclusively plant-based diet: no cholesterol, abundant fiber, and a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
Paleo adherents claim that eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors makes more sense. That means no grains, no modern vegetable oils, and no refined sugars (occasional fruit is acceptable). If you eat paleo, you must avoid all soy and beans. You are encouraged to eat whole eggs, lots of red meat, whole milk, and some fish — essentially the antithesis of the vegan plan.
What is a health-conscious person to do? Start by learning about the advantages and disadvantages of these two popular diet plans.
Pros and Cons of Veganism
Veganism is a comprehensive eating plan with several advantages:
- You can easily reach fiber goals of 14 grams per 1,000 calories eaten.
- High-fiber food can be filling, so it’s unlikely you’ll eat too many calories throughout the day.
- You’ll ingest lots of phytonutrients if you eat whole foods. Your diet will be cholesterol-free and can be low in fat, especially saturated fat.
- You may decrease the risk of heart disease, colon cancer, and stroke.
However, veganism also has its disadvantages:
- To get enough complete protein with amino acids in balance, veganism may require more planning. Amino acid complementation, where plant-based foods are combined to achieve a balance of amino acids — hummus with pita bread, for example — is a cornerstone of vegan eating plans.
- Vegan diets have little or no Vitamin B-12, and consequently are linked to higher levels of homocysteine, an amino acid found in blood plasma that is a risk factor for heart disease. Vegans should supplement with B-12 to lower homocysteine levels.
- Vegan diets are low in Vitamin D3, a deficiency of which has been linked to systemic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Pros and Cons of Paleo Diet Plans
Paleo eating plans have some clear advantages:
- Paleo plans promote low-carb eating and provide abundant protein, potentially making weight loss easier.
- Paleo diets can be very nutritious, especially when they include adequate fibers from leafy greens and vegetables like broccoli, along with the plan’s emphasis on animal proteins.
- Paleo diets eliminate processed foods and alcohol. Refined sugars and flours, and also alcohol when consumed in excess lead to weight gain and higher risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
However, detractors are quick to point out the paleo diet’s problems:
- Paleo plans can be unnecessarily restrictive, eliminating foods like whole kernel rye and beans, thereby making achieving sufficient fiber and phytonutrients more difficult.
- Scientists are concerned that high meat consumption may increase the risk of cancer and heart disease.
- Detractors also argue that paleo diets are not convenient and require too much planning. Consequently, they may be difficult to adhere to if you do not have time to commit to food preparation.
What Can We Learn From Examining These Diets?
Both vegan and paleo plans have a range of advantages and disadvantages. Examining them teaches us important things to consider when eating healthfully. A good diet has ample protein, but excessive protein provides no additional advantage. You should eat about half a gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight daily unless you are doing resistance training several times per week, in which case you should increase your protein intake. Protein can come from eggs and meats, but also from nuts and beans.
Regardless of what you choose, get lots of fiber; avoid processed foods, especially sugars; eat a broad variety of plant-based foods; and include fermented foods in your daily diet. Do not unnecessarily restrict your food choices. Instead, choose sensibly. This may lead you to conclude that neither paleo nor veganism is best, but you can learn something valuable from each. And it's not all about the food, so always include exercise in your life.
If you are achieving an optimum balance of protein, calories, fiber, and micronutrients, then you are following the right plan for you, one that can include elements of both paleo and vegan plans!
About Health: Vegans and Colon Cancer Risk
Foods For Life: Key Nutrient Sources for Vegetarians and Vegans
AARP: 9 Pros and Cons to Going Vegan
Scientific American: Diet High in Meat Proteins Raises Cancer Risk for Middle-Aged People