The Paleo Diet: One Vegan’s Perspective (Part 1)

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • These days it seems that two dietary systems are leading the way amongst health advocates, the vegan/raw food approach and the Paleo Diet, a primarily meat-based approach. Although I choose to follow a mostly vegan diet myself, taking the necessary steps to ensure that I am getting all the required nutrients from my plant-based diet, there are some arguably great aspects of the Paleo Diet worth sharing. Since there is no perfect diet for all human beings, a higher protein diet may work better for some people. However, for this diet to be healthy, it’s important to really understand the specific health reasons behind each part of the diet and to only consume high quality and safe animal products.

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    The philosophy behind the Paleo Diet is that our modern diet should mirror that of our ancestors from the Paleolithic era (a period of about 2.5 million years, which ended about 10,000 years ago), if we want to achieve optimal health and prevent disease. The hunter-gatherers or cavemen of this time consumed primarily vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, roots, and meat. Foods that have become staples in the modern diet as a result of the media, misinformation, and the interests of food corporations should thus be eliminated. These foods include grains, legumes (including peanuts and soy), dairy products, starches, processed foods, refined salt/sugar and alcohol. The Paleo diet promises to alleviate excess weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and help you avoid diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.[1] [2]

     

    So, lets break down the key aspects of the Paleo Diet and address the potential pros and cons of this dietary approach from my vegan perspective.

     

    Pros

     

    1.    Consume whole fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds

    There is no question that a diet rich in whole foods is the surest pathway to good health. Plant based foods supply a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients. Vegetables and fruits also supply carbohydrates that the body needs for energy. Nuts and seeds are healthy fats with a bit of protein and can be used in a wide-variety of ways to make delicious plant-based meals. The Paleo Diet also supports eating a high amount of raw foods to obtain the most vital nutrients from the food.

     

    2.    Avoid processed foods

    Processed foods are full of artificial additives, sweeteners and chemicals and usually full of sugar, primarily high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is dangerous for one’s health and a sure pathway to obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and liver damage.  Many processed foods also contain trans fats, which increase bad cholesterol (LDL), lower good cholesterol (HDL), and increase your risk for heart disease, clogged arteries and heart attack/stroke.

     

    3.    Avoid refined carbohydrates, starches and sugars

    Although the Paleo Diet recommends avoiding all grains, which I don’t agree with, I do support the elimination of gluten containing grains (such as wheat), refined carbohydrates (such as bread and pasta), potatoes and all refined sugar. Excess carbohydrates not used for energy, regardless of whether they are of the whole wheat varieties, are always stored as fat. Refined carbohydrates, including potatoes, cause blood sugar spikes that contribute to insulin related problems and weight gain. Gluten (the protein found in wheat) can also cause IBS-like stomach problems, bloating, headaches, fatigue, depression and other health problems.

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    4.    Avoid dairy products

    Whether or not to avoid dairy products is a sensitive subject for many. However, part of the vegan perspective is that due to dairy pasteurization, milk is devoid of any nutritional value. The preservatives, antibiotics and growth hormones fed to the cows supplying our milk and cheese can also be harmful to one’s health, which some claim puts you at risk for certain cancers, acne and allergic reactions. Cheese produced from grain-fed cows is also high in omega-6, the overconsumption of which (without the balance of omega-3) can lead to an array of diseases.[3] [4] Although there may be some nutritional value to raw milk and cheese, as a vegan, I generally agree that regular store-bought dairy products should not be consumed.  There are a multitude of plant foods with higher calcium levels than dairy products, without potential side effects. Organic free-range eggs are allowed on the Paleo Diet.

     

    5. Avoid peanuts and soy products

    The main Paleo Diet guidelines state that all legumes should be avoided. Although I will address this point later, I do wholeheartedly agree with their recommendation to stay clear of peanuts (which are actually a legume) and soy products. Peanuts are highly contaminated with pesticides as well as a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin, a potential cancer-promoting carcinogen. Unfermented soy has also been linked to many health problems due to its content of the hormone phytoestrogen and the fact that most soy is genetically modified. Unfermented soy consumption has been linked to many health problems associated with the thyroid, fertility, digestion, immunity, reproductive disorders, cognition, cancer and even heart disease. I do believe that the consumption of organic, non-GMO, fermented soy products (tempeh, miso, natto, soy sauce) is a beneficial dietary choice.

     

    In part 2, I will discuss some additional pros of the Paleo Diet from my vegan perspective, as well as some of the cons or red flags I see with this dietary approach.

     

    [1] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://robbwolf.com/what-is-the-paleo-diet/

     

    [2] (n.d.) Retrived from http://thepaleodiet.com/what-to-eat-on-the-paleo-diet/

     

    [3] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.eat-real-food-paleodietitian.com/paleo-diet-and-dairy.html

     

    [4] (2009, November 11) Retrieved from http://thepaleodiet.blogspot.com.ar/2009/11/paleo-diet-q-111809.html

Published On: April 03, 2013