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Diet Smack-Down: Vegan vs. Paleo


Like every other aspect of life, the food world sees fads come and go. Different diets, detoxes, and cleanses. But if you’re looking for something more long-lasting, something to really invest in, you probably want to be reassured that a diet is not just a fad, that it contains real nutritional and health benefits. Two such ways of eating, plant-based and paleo, contain such ideas of permanent lifestyle choice. So, here we take a look at how the two measure up; the good and the bad.


The Basics. A vegan diet is rather simple to explain; no animals, no animal by-products. So no flesh of any kind, no dairy, no eggs, no honey. To many, a vegan lifestyle means no animal products in their cosmetics or clothing, either. Read about veganism in a nutshell here, or maybe about the morals behind it, to understand why many consider it important to exploit animals less.

The Pros. When done correctly, a plant-based diet is undeniably healthyVegetarians report lower rates of obesity, risk of heart disease, and improved longevity. Of course, like everything else, it needs to be done right. But when vegans create well-rounded meals, they tend to be high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Eating meat and animal by-products have many health consequences, read here. While being vegan prevents animal cruelty, it also lowers your carbon footprint. Feeding animals requires a lot of natural resources, as it takes tons of grain to feed animals, which requires energy and water to produce. As eating by-products continues animal dependency and supports the meat industry, many plant-based eaters opt to drop them as well. To discover more benefits of a vegan diet, read this list of 57 different ones.

The Cons. This article contains, firstly, a pretty convincing argument for a meat-free diet, followed by an argument in favor of one, calling for everything in moderation. Many worry that a vegan diet is lacking in protein, iron, and vitamins. Morally, some believe that humans are meant to eat animals, as there exist many carnivores on the planet. Of course, the argument for eating meat is there, although not a very convincing one.


The Basics. The paleo diet (or Palaeolithic) is meant to mimic, using our modern food system, what our pre-agricultural, hunter gatherer ancestors would have eaten. The idea being, of course, that these foods are evolutionarily closer to what we are supposed to be eating. The diet has seven primary characteristics, but, in short, the idea is to not eat foods that are the product of modern agricultural techniques and processing. The main foods in a paleo diet are what could have been found way back in the caveman days; meat, fish, nuts, seeds, regional and leafy greens, making this diet high in protein and vegetables, and low in fat and grain. Not too much sugar, either! Read a beginner’s guide here, to get more into the details and thought process behind this.

The Pros. Some of the main benefits associated with eating paleo are lower diseases, allergies, and other such ails that our Palaeolithic answers did not deal with. Healthy muscles, brain, gut, and cells are listed among the benefits, as well as the ability to loose weight, and then to maintain an ideal physique. Ideally, when following the paleo diet, sugars, processed fats, and white grains are kept out of your diet; there are health issues associated with all of these things, which are simply not part of paleo eating habits.

The Cons. Without making an enormous effort to get the last good, ethical meat out there (assuming such a thing even exists, really), the premise of this diet is rather faulty; modern livestock are eating all the bad, modern grains that you’re trying to avoid in going paleo. So, let’s assume you’re eating the same meat products as everyone else, you aren’t necessarily avoiding a lot of the bad foods and antibiotics that exist in modern agriculture. Not to mention, the environmental impact of a meat-based diet. If you’re getting locally, ethically sourced meat, this diet is going to cost you big bucks. Some even question the science behind a paleo diet; the anthropological jury is still out on what our ancient ancestors would have been eating. There are some that believe that that our ancestors got most of their calories from what could have been gathered, not hunted, bringing us back to a plant-based diet.


While both vegan and paleo diets are great for energy, keeping a stable weight, and getting lots of good nutrients, what it really comes down to, or so it seems, is the question of ethics. Many people choose vegan for health reasons, but overwhelmingly, people choose a plant-based diet for ethical and moral reasons, be it animal rights, or environmental issues. Paleo, on the other hand, is more focused primarily on the impact of the diet on humans. That’s not to say that a plant-based diet isn’t healthy; on the contrary, eating vegan can be very good for you.

More commonalities between the two diets? Dairy products are iffy; humans are the only species to drink milk after infancy, and certainly the only ones to ever drink milk from other species. Both diets are also going to make eating out and travelling a little tricky, but their adherents say that it is totally worth it.

Which one do you choose? It’s up to you, of course, and the debate certainly won’t end any time soon. When taking health into consideration, the diets contain many similar lessons; eat whole foods, good fats and proteins, and cut back on the modern processed stuff. But, if you’re concerned about the bigger picture and helping animals, the planet, and yourself, you can’t deny that a vegan diet is the far superior option.

Image Source: Tips for Making Grainless Raw Vegan, Paleo, or Vegetarian Sushi

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7 comments on “Diet Smack-Down: Vegan vs. Paleo”

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4 Years Ago

Great article, here is a good video about the paleolithic people & their diet http://youtu.be/BMOjVYgYaG8 I think a good idea is to do the research on our own for example the Paleo diet just like the Adkins is a fad and preys on America's protein addiction. There are no studies that show that eating a protein rich, high fat diet reduces cancer risk, heart disease, cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. There are however countless studies that show that High-Fat, High-Protein Diets are Linked to Type 2 Diabetes, cancer, heart disease & high cholesterol. Dr. Furhman, Dr. Bernard, Dr. T Colin Campbell Dr. Esselstyn, and Douglas Lisle -- all are some great resources, and their books & websites can link you to some great research. A good example of someone on a plant-based diet is Kris Karr she has been living with stage 4 cancer for over 10 years now. Countless people have reversed diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. Many people are in harms way if they go Paleo, there is danger in a high-protein diets, just because a protein rich diet can make you loose weight does not mean it is healthy skinny does not equal healthy. Having a well balanced whole foods diet will make you healthy, eliminating everything but fat and protein is a great way to get your self sick really fast. Any diet change should be taken seriously, good health is all you have.

4 Years Ago

I was vegan for 6 years and still have vegan leanings. There are plenty of people that eat a vegan diet for health reasons, not just ethical. A vegan diet has been touted as THE anti-cancer diet for longer than the Paleo-Diet has been around.

4 Years Ago

a true paleo diet is nearly vegan, as our ancestors ate a plant-dominated diet as we evolved. see Scientific American: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/07/23/human-ancestors-were-nearly-all-vegetarians/?print=true and, as you point out, the animal products available today are about the most un-paleo foods imaginable, given how they are produced. thanks.

14 Nov 2013

Scott- here's the problem a lot of us that used to be vegetarian and are now Paleo have have with the vegetarian crowd. Not all, but a lot of vegetarians, usually vegans, will stretch the truth to make their points. The article talked of pre-human ancestors which were vegetarian. What distinguished early humans was their ability to make tools which they used to get to the calorie rich marrow inside bones which gave them the calories needed to have the luxury of larger brains. If we didn't eat meat, we probably never get advanced brains. Our brains consume 25% of our calories. If we spent our whole days grazing on calorie poor foods, we would not have had the excess energy required to build the larger brain. Secondly, we would have never advanced past the tropics or subtropics. Vegan diets are impossible beyond these areas as there would be little or no food for at least 3 months per year in the Winter and for many areas, Spring and Fall as well. Agree whole heartedly about the poor quality of meat in stores. But Paleo doesn't have to be expensive. Pastured eggs, canned mackerel or canned sardines are very Paleo and relatively cheap. Also, my Paleo plate looks very much like a vegetarian plate just without any grain plus the addition of 20% meat protein which is often from eggs. But the remainder is from veggies, nuts and fruits. Last thought, wild animals never have pleasant deaths. Let's take deer for example. They either die from disease, slowly starve or eaten alive by another animal. Carnivores are nature's way of keeping the grazing animals in check. I think a deer dispatched quickly from a hunter's bullet is better than being eaten alive, dying from disease or slowly starving to death. by choosing not to allow hunting, you are choosing a more painful way for these animals to die. We recently had a deer in our woods that was attacked and eaten alive by a pack of coyotes- it was gruesome. I also grew up in farm country. Most of the farmers I knew growing up treated their animals very well. The animals lived good and protected lives- lives they never would have had if we were all vegans. Factory farms are evil but there are humane ways to raise and consume animals.

4 Years Ago

Great concise write-up of the two sides. If anyone's interested in learning more about Paleo I would suggest this guide : http://solvingnutrition.com/definitive-guide-to-paleo/ I'm in the opinion that for overall health, Paleo is more effective than being vegan for the vast majority of people, but I can also understand wanting to be vegan for moral/ethical reasons.

30 Apr 2015

First I would suggest to watch this lecture on the leading causes of death, which is basically a meta analysis of current research on the topic: https://youtu.be/30gEiweaAVQ?t=12m50s

Specifically in how eggs and other types of animal proteins affect the body.

Also although the idea of eating free range/ grass fed \'super\' meat is a great idea, and completely unsustainable if applied universally to all people. therefore one is either rising the costs of meat for other people (by using more space etc) and therefore is selfish in its origins.

Finally environmental impacts of meat are quite ridiculous when compared with non-meat products (the loss of biomass in the food chain), also methane production etc. Seafood is also under huge pressures and most global fish stocks are dangerous low (watch \'The End of the Line\') and therefore this practice when applied universally is also totally unsustainable.

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