Food Fight of the Decade: Paleo versus Vegan

By on September 13, 2014 under Foodies, Nutrition

If you have been following the nutritional gurus in the media and on social media sites, you may have noticed the ongoing battle between the “Vegans” and “Paleos”. Vegans believe animal products and fats cause chronic disease and that a diet high in veggies, fruits and grains is best. Paleos like their veggies too, but think that grass-fed and wild meats are important for health, and they believe grains, starches and sugars are the real health-killers. Results of medical studies can be used to support either side as the evidence is inconsistent and mostly based on anecdotal and retrospective studies which group carbs, fats and protein in categories without consideration of whether the food is whole or processed. We will not know the answer until we have a head to head study between Paleo and Vegan diets that are both made up of clean, unprocessed foods. It is very likely that processed foods, and “food-like substances” that are not found in nature, are the real culprit to our epidemic of chronic disease.

What is obvious to me is that these two ways of eating have more in common than their differences. Both can be part of a healthy diet. Paleos and Vegans would likely agree with Michael Pollan, author and food activist, when he said simply, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” Here is a good comparison that shows the difference between Paleo and Vegan:

Paleo-vs-Vegan-300x224

Every day in my practice, I am asked what I think is the healthiest diet.  I think we are all biochemically unique and there is no one right diet that works well for everyone. It is important to listen to your body and also watch biochemical markers to see what type of diet improves the markers that indicate your risk of disease. Both the Paleo and Vegan diets can work well, and there are positive aspects to both, such as avoiding sugar and eliminating or limiting dairy, not counting calories, and rather simply eating REAL food. It’s important in the vegan diet to get adequate protein, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids and to avoid too much sugar or gluten. On the Paleo diet, it is important to avoid factory-farmed meats and only eat clean, sustainable fish. Any meat from an unhealthy animal (one that is fed foods unnatural to it, shot full of hormones and antibiotics, and forced into crowded, cruel and stressful conditions) is not healthy food.

The diet that I recommend is what I call the Eat Real Food Diet:

  • Eat lots of colorful fresh vegetables (such as kale, spinach, broccoli, artichokes, avocado, asparagus, cauliflower, sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, and onions) and colorful fruits (such as blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, apples, and cherries). To reduce pesticide exposure, buy organic for the Dirty Dozen.
  • If you eat legumes, eat a variety of types such as kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, adzuki and lima beans. If you buy canned beans, make sure the cans are BPA-free to reduce exposure to this dangerous chemical.
  • If you eat fish, make sure it is clean and sustainable seafood such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, bay scallops, clams, mussels. Refer to the EDF Seafood Selector to make the healthiest seafood choices.
  • If you eat meat, make sure it is organic, free-range poultry/pork and grass-fed beef that is raised humanely.
  • If you eat grains, choose whole grains such as quinoa, millet, barley, oatmeal, cracked or sprouted wheat and wild rice. If you have unexplained health problems, talk to your doctor about testing for celiac and gluten intolerance to see if you should avoid gluten-containing grains.
  • Eat nuts and seeds every day such as walnuts, pecans, almonds, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds.
  • Fats should come from healthy sources such as fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, olive and coconut oil, and grass-fed butter or ghee. Do not eat highly processed oils such as canola or “vegetable oil”. Do not eat fried foods.
  • If you eat dairy, choose plain Greek yogurt, small amounts of soft or aged cheese such as feta, goat cheese, and parmesan. Use coconut, rice or almond milk instead of cow’s milk.
  • Eat lots of fresh herbs and spices which are loaded with antioxidants.
  • Drink lots of water, green tea, and organic coffee in moderation.
  • Limit sweeteners and choose raw honey, Stevia, or raw cane sugar.
  • Eat minimally processed desserts in moderation such as small amount of dark chocolate, sorbet or gelato.

To read more about Paleo vs Vegan, visit the following sites:

Experience Life: Paleo vs Vegan

Advice from a Vegan Cardiologist

I can’t agree more with what my mentor and functional medicine expert, Dr. Mark Hyman says about nutrition:

“Reaching an optimal diet can be achieved in several ways. Some indigenous cultures like the Pima Indians ate a diet that was 80 percent plant-based. On the other hand, Inuits eat a diet that is 80 percent animal fat. Both are fine. If everybody is fighting with each other about what kind of foods we should be eating, we are missing the bigger picture of how industrialized foods are destroying our health.”