Popular enthusiasts of the modern Paleolithic diet expect to consume up to 55 percent of their daily protein from animal sources. Given that constraint, for people who are trying to stay away from most or all animal products, the Paleo diet does not seem to be a realistic option. However, other than meat and limited quantities of eggs, the paleo dieter consumes a rather vegetarian friendly diet of nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. No dairy is allowed on the diet. Therefore, it is possible to follow a vegetarian diet that is rooted in paleo principles.
A vegetarian or vegan paleo diet is also not considered truly Paleolithic, for the simple fact that our ancient ancestors regularly consumed meat. Most paleo diet enthusiasts claim that a vegetarian version of the paleo diet would not sustain life, as it would lack in protein and other nutrients needed to stay alive. Without sources of nutrition such as beans, legumes, and whole grains, vegans and vegetarians attempting to follow a paleo diet may become malnourished over time.
The main argument against vegetarian paleo diets is that they lack a significant source of protein. Without eating any meat and limiting egg intake (if eating eggs at all), one must rely on nuts and greens to provide adequate protein. This means eating a lot of nuts and greens. One cup of broccoli packs in about 4 grams of protein. A vegetarian hoping to obtain protein from greens would have to eat between 10 to 20 cups of broccoli a day to even come close to the daily protein needs.
Still, supporters of vegan and vegetarian paleo diets believe that obtaining protein from plant-based sources is not only possible, but also quite simple. Consuming foods such as spinach, broccoli, sunflower seeds, nuts, and eggs can provide the necessary protein for daily living. Some vegetarians may further alter the diet to provide adequate nutrition. According to Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete, a vegetarian following the paleo diet would have to “cheat” by adding hemp seeds and grain-like seeds such as quinoa to their salads or smoothies. These foods are high in protein and good fats but low in carbohydrates. Another “cheat” that could help a vegetarian on the paleo diet is adding legumes and sprouted beans to the diet, foods often dismissed by paleo devotees because they are hard to digest.
Paleo dieters that believe meat is important for optimal health and nutrition may frown upon altering the diet to better suit vegans or vegetarians. However, while altering the diet may make it less Stone Age Paleolithic and more modern paleo, vegetarians and paleo dieters can at least agree on the political plane of various food movements.
Interestingly, like vegetarians, fans of the Paleolithic movement are often concerned with animal welfare and do not support industrial factory farming techniques. Though they believe that animals should be eaten, paleo carnivores disagree with modern farming techniques, including the rampant use of antibiotics and growth hormones in animals. Animals raised and slaughtered in factory farms produce significantly less nutritious meat than that of pastured animals, and pasture-raised animals are not pumped full of toxins and antibiotics that ultimately transfer to the eater.
The bottom line is that, with some planning and a little grace from the paleo diehards, a paleo diet can also be vegan/vegetarian friendly.