This is a topic that we could probably go on about for days, “which diet is the right diet?” This question might be one of the hardest to answer when it comes to your own health. Two of the most popular ways of eating in today’s world is the paleo diet and veganism. Seemingly completely opposite approaches to your health, but they have more similarities than you may think! Let’s dig a bit deeper…
A healthy vegan diet consist of grains, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables. All animal products, including honey and eggs, are out of the picture, along with processed foods. The diet is more than just food though – there’s two other major components for people following a holistic, ideology-driven vegan diet. The first is not supporting animal cruelty, or the harming of animals in any way. Factory farming is a major issue in the United States which includes abusive practices for food production. The second major component is sustainability and the environment. Cows raised for human consumption contribute significantly to carbon emissions and water consumption. The practice of avoiding animal consumption is doing your part to help the environment.
It is a common misconception that the basis of a paleo diet is just meat, meat, meat…but that is completely wrong! The foundation of the paleo diet is to “eat like our ancestors,” which means eating real, whole foods. The focus is to mainly eat vegetables, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, fruits and eggs, while also incorporating wild caught seafood and grass-fed animal protein. On this diet, you avoid all legumes and beans, grains, dairy and processed foods like soy bean oil and high fructose corn syrup. Beans and grains can cause digestive issues and lead to leaky gut, which is linked to an array of autoimmune diseases and health disorders.
Now that you know the basics of each diet, let’s turn to some experts opinions on which is the best diet. Dr. Joel Kahn, a vegan and Cardiologist gives us a bit of science about the vegan diet, and how it’s ideal for heart health and longevity. Dr. Kahn cautions us to consume fats in moderation, no matter what diet we’re following, and points out that no studies have been done showing the link between the paleo diet and coronary heart disease. When you see articles in the New York Times titled, “Eat More Butter!,” take that with a grain of salt. And while he acknowledges that grass-fed meat is less inflammatory than grain-fed meat, the fact is that red meat is is still inflammatory, and he wouldn’t suggest eating it for health or longevity.
On the opposite side of the argument, both Dr. Frank Lipman and Dr. Mark Hyman, doctors operating with a holistic approach, are fans of a paleo-type diet. They believe in a high fat, low carb diet for ideal health. On the topic of gluten, both have experienced taking their patients off of gluten and seeing major health improvements in digestion, weight loss and autoimmune responses. When it comes to grains, their main focus is the glycemic load. Whenever you are eating any type of grain, it will spike your blood sugar, and some grains (e.g. white rice) can have the equivalent effect as drinking a can of soda, so lower glycemic grains are key. Eating meat that is organically raised and grass-fed will offer the body omega-3’s, antioxidants and vitamins A and D, while eggs provide the body with healthy cholesterol that it needs.
Although the experts may disagree on certain elements of what’s right and wrong, there is one theme that is universal – eat what is right for you! One person may thrive on a vegan diet, while another crashes and burns on it. The most important component is to listen to what your body is telling you, and act accordingly. If you are a person with an autoimmune disease, living on mostly grains and starches, your microbiome is most likely out of whack and you may want to adjust. The most important things to remember are:
- Eat mostly plants!! Regardless of which diet you choose to follow, plants should be the main focus. Each meal that you eat should consist of at least 50% plants.
- Keep track of your glycemic load. Although harder on the vegan diet, this can be done on both a vegan and paleo diet. Eat grains with a lower glycemic level, like quinoa or black rice, but focus mainly on proteins and fats.
- Eat the right fats. This means sticking with coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, and grass-fed animal fats for the paleo diet, and avoiding canola oil, corn oil and soybean oil.
- Avoid dairy. Dairy is described by Dr. Joel Kahn as “liquid” meat, and it causes inflammation and weight gain in a majority of the population. We know cheese is delicious, but eat it in moderation! Avoid gluten- the gluten we eat today is not the gluten our ancestors ate. It has been so modified that it’s referred to as “frankenwheat!” If you do eat gluten, try to eat an heirloom variety.
- View meat as a condiment. What we mean by this is to never make meat the only or biggest thing on your plate. If you are a meat eater, see it more as a side dish, and have your vegetables as the main course.
What are your views on these two opposing diets?