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Paleo vs Vegan

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Paleo vs Vegan 


In the interests of health, ecological sustainability and animal welfare many people today are following a vegetarian or vegan diet…even if only part-time. Claims that vegetarians live longer than omnivores or that a plant-based diet is better for the environment are increasingly popular as well. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a plant-based diet from a nutritional perspective?


Plants are rich in nutrients that are not found in animal foods such as polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids, and fibre. Plant-based diets are also low in saturated fat and rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Including a wide variety of quality plant-based foods with plenty of colour into your diet may also decrease your risk of:

  • heart disease,
  • high blood pressure,
  • diabetes,
  • colon and breast cancers,
  • obesity.

Red meat, especially processed meats such as sausages and salami, is linked closely with heart disease and bowel cancer. Reducing red meat and increasing legumes, especially chickpeas, lentils, beans and pulses is an intelligent way of getting protein in your diet.[1]  It is also worth remembering that as we get older our stomach acid production gets less which can make it more difficult to digest rich protein foods.

In clinic, I find that most of my clients are not eating a wide enough range of vegetables.  I try to encourage them to eat a minimum of 10 different varieties of vegetables or salad each day choosing a wide range of colours. Plant-based foods are rich in soluble and insoluble fibre, and resistance starch.  These feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut microbiome.  A healthy microbiome helps us to digest our food, regulates our immune system, protects us against disease forming bacteria, and produce vitamins such as B-vitamins and vitamin K.

Eating a plant-based diet also helps to expose and reduce the exploitation of animals and the environment in the meat industry. It must be said however, that this does not mean that no animals should ever be grazed or eaten. In fact, grazing animals are necessary for healthy ecosystems and as I show in the rest of this blog, eating animal products are important to ensure a nutrient-dense diet.


Eating only a plant-based diet results in nutrient deficiency and, for many people, eating only plants will not be enough to meet optimal nutrient needs, particularly vitamin B12 and certain essential amino acids. Vitamin B12 is needed to make healthy blood cells and DNA (genetic material in all cells).  A deficiency in vitamin B12 is associated with a type of anaemia leading to people to feel tired and weak.  Here is a good article from the Telegraph on Vitamin B12.  Amino Acids, which are derived from protein, are the building blocks for our body and are needed to make the tissues in our body’s as well as hormones and neurotransmitters.

According to Chris Kresser, nutrient density is lower in a plant-based diet and contributes to nutrient deficiencies. He writes:

Maximizing nutrient density should be the primary goal of our diet because deficiencies of any of these essential nutrients can contribute to the development of chronic disease and even shorten our lifespan. A diet that contains both animal and plant foods is the best way to maximize nutrient density because animal foods are higher in some nutrients (B12, iron, zinc, EPA and DHA, etc) and plant foods are higher in others (flavonoids, carotenoids, diallyl sulfides, lignans, fiber, etc).[2]

An alternative to a vegan or plant-based diet is the paleo diet that is fashionable at the moment. This diet is modelled on what our Palaeolithic ancestors would have eaten thousands of years ago. It is essentially the diet of a hunter and gatherer with lots of fresh-caught meat, fruits and vegetables. The paleo diet limits the intake of processed foods, grains, legumes and dairy products, but includes nuts and seeds. It is rich in lean protein and plant foods and has many health benefits.

It is important to remember that each of us is individual and we each have individual needs.  Some people feel better on less protein and more plant-based food and other feel better on more protein.  It is important for you to find out what works for you.  If you find that rich-protein sits in your stomach, you may be lacking stomach acid and it is important to correct this.  According to the blood type diet, people who are blood type O produce more stomach acid than people who are blood type A and therefore do better on a higher protein diet. A good example of this is the difference between my husband and me. He is a blood type O and loves his red meat. I am a blood type A and love my vegetables!  A good indication of a person’s preference is what the first mouthful on their plate is!  I often ask my clients how they would feel if I gave them a big juicy steak!   Again, this is very telling.

The majority of people I see in my clinic are either not eating enough quality protein (or are not digesting and absorbing it).  They are also not eating a wide enough variety of vegetables and salad ingredients.  If there is an imbalance in ratio of starchy carbohydrates to protein, it will disrupt blood sugar balance which can lead to many of the chronic illness we are now seeing in the Western world. I use the ONE (Optimal Nutritional Evaluation) Test to assess my clients nutritional needs. Please contact me if you would like more information.

To conclude, a simple way to ensure you are getting enough nutrients is to include a good balance of plant-based and animal products in your diet according to your individual needs!

From Emma

Emma Maitland-Carew MBANT, Registered Nutritionist in Oxford and Bloxham, Oxfordshire


[1] For an interesting study on the importance of high protein intake in elder populations and findings that suggest plant-derived proteins are associated with lower mortality than animal proteins see this article Levine, M., et al, ‘Low Protein Intake is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population’, Cell Metabolism, 19.3, 2014, pp.407-417.

[2] You can read more from Chris Kresser here.


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