Diet Smack-Down Part 1: Vegan vs Paleo

This is Part 1 of 3 of my Diet Smack-Down series where I share my experience eating vegan for a month followed by eating Paleo for a month. Read about My Month of Vegan in Part 2, and My Month of Paleo in Part 3.

Have you heard the news?

You can drop weight, unclog your arteries, defeat diabetes and cancer, rid yourself of brain fog, dementia and debilitating auto-immune diseases, and even win endurance sporting events…all by eating a 100% plant-powered VEGAN diet!

No wait, scratch that… all by eating a meat and egg rich, no grain, no dairy, no sugar PALEO diet!

Wait – how can complete opposite prescriptions give the same excellent results?

And, anyway, who wants to deprive themselves of entire food groups for the rest of their life?

If you are like most Americans, you have probably never gone without eating some sort of animal product (beef, chicken, fish, cheese, milk or egg) for an entire day, let alone for an entire month or year. You also have probably never gone an entire day, month or year without grains or sugar either.

Meat vs wheat

nutrition blogAll indications are that amazing things can happen by eliminating certain food groups.

Yet, is it necessary to be this extreme? And if so, what food groups should be eliminated?

Is it the fat, cholesterol and protein associated with animal products that are villainous as the vegan proponents say, or is it the “frankenwheat” and processed sugar that we are genetically unsuited to eat, as the Paleo enthusiasts profess?

As a nutritionist, I was feeling bombarded by all the contrasting information about veganism and Paleoism coming across my professional realm, and since I was unable to find “apples to apples” controlled studies comparing the two diets, I decided to conduct my very own personal study to get to the bottom of these questions.

My design:

I would give equal time and effort immersing myself in the available literature about each diet. I would then spend an entire month eating vegan followed by a wash-out month of my normal omnivore diet, then spend an entire month eating Paleo. I would measure my weight, percent body fat, cholesterol, and HDL and triglyceride levels before and after each diet, and perform a computer nutrition analysis of my dietary intake during each of the months. I would also keep my exercise the same (3-4 times per week).

To keep me accountable and supported through my experiment, I coaxed my husband and Media Manager, Scott, and my Director of Operations, Amy, into joining me.

Read about My Month of Vegan, including where I got my protein from.

Read about My Month of Paleo, including how I managed being sugar-free.

My verdict:

nutrition blogBoth diets are a slam-dunk improvement over the SAD (Standard American Diet) by supporting weight loss through less calories and more nutrient-dense foods. Whether it’s animal products that you are denying, or sugar and grains, both diets force you to stop and think about each meal and snack, sub in extra vegetables, and essentially get off processed foods.

I had begun this quest with trepidation that I might be missing the boat on diet trends. But to my unexpected pleasure, this vegan vs. Paleo experiment actually returned me more strongly back to my roots, which are my Eight DIET FREE Habits! By immersing myself in two diets that at their core require the abandonment of processed food, I was able to spend two months engrossed in my DIET FREE Habit # 6, “Replace processed food with wholesome,” in an up-close and unique way.

Following my test months, I settled with laser focus into eating real food, supported by my Eight DIET FREE Habits. I then reanalyzed my dietary intake. And what did I find? I remained low in calories, while nutritionally complete!

I am now convinced more than ever that eating real food is a vital component to a healthy lifestyle. This can certainly be accomplished as a vegan or Palean, but these restrictive diets are not necessary to keep it REAL.

Giving up all processed foods while enjoying real food from ALL food groups is, after all, more freeing than giving up ENTIRE food groups like all sugar, all meat, all dairy, or all grains. Similar results, yet with a fraction of the deprivation – wow, I’m in!

Zonya Foco, RD is the creator of the lifestyle program DIET FREE: The Eight Habits That Will Change Your Life and co-author of the Eat REAL Cookbook, as well as a partner in the membership site, all excellent resources to help you find your EAT REAL lifetime strategies to deprivation-free health.