Blog Nutrition

Paleo Diet for Vegetarians

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.

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Supplements and the Paleo Diet

Because many Paleo dieters are in it for its health benefits, discourse on supplementation comes up often.  And it can be somewhat divisive. Most dieters believe that following a paleo diet without supplements gives you the nutrients your body needs.  But some argue that supplementing can augment the healthfulness of your lifestyle dramatically.

The main argument for the necessity of supplementation is one with agricultural roots.  It is argued that modern farming practices, even on organic farms, strip the soil of essential minerals and vitamins.  Additionally, pollutants in the air and water supply are thought to decrease the quality of the soil used to grow most crops.  It follows, then, that the produce we eat is not nearly as nutrient-dense as the foods our Stone Age ancestors ate.  Proponents of the paleo diet believe that our bodies are designed for Paleolithic foods, not the nutrient-void farmed foods that we have begun eating since the agricultural revolution.

Those who believe in supplementation especially suggest supplementing vitamin D, particularly if you have dark skin or live near the equator.  Vitamin D is absolutely essential for bone health and to prevent rickets in children.  The vitamin is not found in many foods, which makes it a popular supplement for those wishing to increase their health.  Some proponents of vitamin D supplementation believe that the vitamin can ward off or even cure the common cold.  And, the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements argues definitively that vitamin D has a significant positive effect on cell growth and the immune system.

However, a quick trip out into the sunlight at midday usually provides plenty of vitamin D for your body.  According to Ned Kock of the Health Correlator, simply soaking up some rays for as little as 10 minutes each day provides much more than the amount of vitamin D needed daily.  Some even argue that supplementing with vitamin D can cause premature aging and other adverse health effects.

Another argument against supplementation is that often, the nutrients offered in multivitamins or other supplements are poorly absorbed by the body.  According to paleo expert Sebastien Noel, supplements may even be a cause of bowel irritation. Supplementation is even believed to interfere with the body’s absorption of other nutrients and minerals derived from food sources.  Noel articulates this point well:

“Taking supplemental calcium, for example, will reduce your absorption of magnesium. Even more so, if you take calcium while you lack some fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D, A and K2, the calcium probably won’t go to remineralize your bones and teeth and might end up aggravating the calcification of your arteries. This is why so many people have arthritis and osteoporosis despite consuming large amounts of high-calcium dairy.”

To achieve optimal nutrition, opponents of supplementation argue, simply eat the best foods from nature.  Staying away from grains will increase your body’s absorption of vitamin C and other nutrients and most paleo advocates believe saturated fats are healthy for the body.  High quality, nutrient-dense foods like pastured meats, whole, organic vegetables and nuts and seeds provide large amounts of nutrition and often provide adequate nutrients without the need of supplementation.

Whether you decide to use supplements or not, choosing the course of action that works best for your body is important.  Each person’s lifestyle and situation is unique, and while one may need to supplement with Cod Liver Oil or vitamin D, her neighbor may get adequate vitamins from sunshine and diet.  Blood tests can give you an idea of your blood level contents of various nutrients and vitamins and may clue you in to whether or not your body needs supplements.

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Fat on the Paleo Diet


In today’s America, it is commonly thought that fat, especially saturated fats, are bad for health and can increase risk for serious and sometimes fatal diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, food companies that began marketing foods as low fat and low cholesterol to attract a new, low-fat consumer perpetuated the idea that all fat is bad. This new marketing technique led to a standard American diet of increased grains and simple carbohydrates and decreased healthy fats. Enthusiasts of the Paleolithic diet, however, believe that saturated fat, a type of fat often demonized in popular opinion, is actually good for the body and a source of healthy fuel.

Robb Wolf, a leading paleo expert, believes that saturated fat is not as bad as it is made out to be. While legitimate sources, including the Harvard School of Public Health, argue that consuming saturated fat increases risk for cardiovascular disease, Wolf and other paleo diet backers argue that cardiovascular disease is really caused by many other factors. Smoking, consuming trans-fats, nutrient deficiency, consuming too much omega 6 fatty acids, etc. are known factors that increase risk for developing cardiovascular disease, and proponents of the paleo diet claim those factors outweigh saturated fat intake.

Dr. Loren Cordain, considered to be the father of the modern paleo movement, contends that ancient and modern hunter-gatherers ate significantly more saturated fat than that recommended by today’s nutrition authorities and cases of cardiovascular disease and death by stroke were nonexistent in the Stone Age. To mimic the cardiovascular and other health benefits of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, paleo dieters decrease intake of grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars, and vegetable oils, foods considered to increase chances of long-term and chronic illness.

While saturated fat is not considered bad for health while on a paleo diet, paleo experts encourage dieters to choose free-range and wild meats whenever possible. These meats are considered much healthier and nutrient-dense than factory farmed meats. Saturated fat content in the bodies of free-range and wild animals is much lower than that of factory farmed animals. Free-range animals also provide higher levels of DHA and EPA, fatty acids that most Americans are deficient in. DHA and EPA are essential omega 3 fatty acids, fats that are necessary for survival and adequate brain functioning. Fish oils and walnuts are excellent sources of these types of fatty acids.

Proponents of the paleo diet believe that fat is absolutely essential to proper body function and consider healthy fats necessary fuel for the body. Sources of healthy dietary fats include coconut oil, which is used frequently in paleo circles. Clarified butter and ghee are also generally considered appropriate paleo fats, especially when garnered from organic, grass-fed animals. Animal fats, avocado oil, and olive oil can be used on the paleo diet.

If you are participating in a paleo diet challenge or are making the switch for the long-haul, including healthy fats and some saturated fat in your diet is important for adequate energy upkeep and a healthy, strong body. Forget the amount of fat you are taking in and begin to consider the quality of fat. Choose nutrient-dense oils and lean, wild meats over fatty meats.

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Omega 3 vs Omega 6 Fatty Acids and the Paleo Diet


Much ado has been made about fats in the areas of diet and nutrition.  Recently, trans-fats and saturated fats have come under attack by the medical and nutritional communities, citing research that links these types of fats to serious and often fatal health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.  More recently, other fats, such as polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, have been in the limelight for their ability to decrease bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.  Most notably, the balance between omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids has been researched and investigated by physicians and enthusiasts of the Paleolithic diet.

In recent medical literature, the necessity of omega 3 fatty acids in the form of DHA and EPA has been proven.  Long-chain omega 3 fatty acids are needed for adequate brain function and development.  Not only do omega 3 fatty acids help the body function at the cellular level, they have also been shown to decrease cardiovascular disease and events such as stroke and heart attack while decreasing risk for blood clots and high blood pressure, inflammatory disease, arthritis, diabetes, irritable bowel disease, periodontal disease, asthma, acne, and other chronic illnesses.  The need for dietary DHA in pregnant women increases drastically in the third trimester, when the baby’s brain develops most.

Most Americans, on average, are significantly deprived of needed omega 3’s, but have an abundance of omega 6 fatty acids.  While omega 6 fatty acids are also beneficial and may even help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, proponents of the paleo diet believe that the imbalance between the two poses significant health risks.  According to Loren Cordain, paleo diet expert and researcher, “The current ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids in the U.S. diet is about 10:1 whereas in hunter-gatherer diets it is closer to 2:1.”  This sizeable imbalance is caused by current western diets high in fat, grains, and processed sugars and other foods, and may leave the body in a constant state of inflammation.  In turn, chronic illnesses arise.

Most of the dietary omega 6 fatty acids that Americans ingest come from seeds, nuts, and oil.  Most dietary omega 6 is in the form of processed foods, such as fast food, cookies, crackers, sweets, and other snack foods, according to Dr. Andrew Weil.  These omega 6 fatty acids actually create hormones in the body that increase inflammation, while omega 3 fatty acids create hormones that decrease inflammation.  The optimal diet will yield a balance in the two fatty acids, rather than a significant imbalance as is found in the average American.

Eating a paleo diet that reduces processed and fast foods will significantly and naturally decrease consumption of omega 6 fatty acids and restore the body to better harmony.  Certainly, meat that is not grass-fed has a especially high rate of omega 6 fatty acids over omega 3’s, so buying grass-fed, organic, and local can make a drastic difference in your body’s fatty acid balance.  Similarly, fish, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, and most fruits and vegetables contain ample amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, which will help your body find the balance it needs to thrive.

While a diet rich in omega 6 fatty acids is essential and beneficial, the amounts consumed on the average American diet are excessive.  The dangers of this overabundance are compounded when the intake of omega 3’s is proportionally low.  On a Paleolithic diet, that balance between these two important fatty acids is restored, decreasing risk for serious and chronic diseases and increasing overall mental and physical health.