Mediterranean and Paleo Diets – The Good, The Bad, The Tasty
Keeping up with all the latest diets and findings on nutrition could be a full time job. It seems that what’s “good” and “bad” changes everyday! We’re going to peel back the layers and take a closer look at two diets that are hot right now, paleo and Mediterranean – from the perspective of being vegetarian.
The premise is that if our Paleolithic ancestors would not have recognized something as food, then we should not eat it. Our ancestors were hunter – gatherers. They did not grow grains, keep chickens, nor peruse a junk food aisle at the corner market.
The paleo diet is relatively new on the scene, emerging in 2010. It is based on years of research conducted by Doctor Loren Cordain, a professor at Colorado State University. Dr. Cordain’s quest has been to reveal which foods we are genetically programmed to digest. The diet eliminates processed foods, refined sugars, grains, and salt – things that many of us are already trying to avoid.
The diet focuses on proteins, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. However, most of the protein is supposed to come from grass fed and free range meats, as well as fish and seafood, so it is not very vegetarian friendly. Pollo-vegetarians or pescetarians have the best chance of success with a paleo diet.
Vegetarians and vegans can still learn from the paleo diet. The paleo diet includes interesting and simple ways to prepare fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Also, it draws attention to bone health by educating us about dietary acid/base balance. We learn that grains, cheeses, dairy, processed foods, and legumes produce “net acid,” which contributes to loss of bone calcium and inflammation. Lean meats, fish, seafood, fruits, and vegetables produce “net alkaline,” which helps bones hold onto their calcium as well as reduces occurrences of a range of health issues.
- Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables.
- No processed foods.
- High-fiber intake.
- Higher intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant phytochemicals.
- Pescetarian friendly.
- Teaches us about net acid in our diet – and how it relates to health, calcium absorption, and more.
- Diet focuses on meat and seafood, which makes it unfriendly to many vegetarians.
- Potatoes, cereals, grains, and legumes are out.
- Difficult to consume enough protein from nuts and seeds alone.
- Paleo does not allow for beans or dairy.
- Little use of spices to flavor food.
- Lots of delicious foods can be made with fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Recipes are simple, focusing on flavoring with natural ingredients, not added salt, processed oils, refined sugars.
- Semi – vegetarians and pescetarians can find much to love in the paleo diet.
- Mouth-watering paleo recipes include dishes like salmon Caesar salad, ratatouille (great with eggs), and fruit and nut salad
The premise is that we should eat like people who live in the Mediterranean. The diet focuses on the native Greek diet, where people tend to experience low levels of cardiovascular problems and enviable longevity.
At the end of February 2013, the Mediterranean diet was a hot topic on the news. This is because a study conducted in Spain compared the results of people prone to cardiovascular problems eating a Mediterranean diet versus a low-fat diet. The study found that participants on the Mediterranean diet saw a nearly 30% reduction (when compared to participants on the low-fat diet) in major cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.
Characteristics of the Mediterranean diet are generous use of extra virgin olive oil, lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and limited processed foods. Butter is rarely used, rather it is a swirl of extra virgin olive oil that makes Mediterranean food pop. Red wine, consumed in moderate amounts, is also part of the diet.
For years, the Mediterranean diet has been a go-to dietary recommendation from doctors and nutrition experts – it even has its own food pyramid. It calls for all meals to be based upon plant-based foods, then fish/seafood, then poultry/eggs/cheese/yogurt, then meats and sweets.
The Mediterranean diet is an easy diet for vegetarians because it is built upon a balanced mix of plant-based foods. In many ways, the Mediterranean diet is opposite the American diet where meats and sweets are often the foundation of the diet.
- Familiar foods that include grains, bread, legumes, fruits and vegetables, seafood, and olive oil.
- Proven to lower the risk of cardiovascular problems.
- You can drink wine!
- Balanced diet that includes many vegetarian staples such as legumes, whole grains, olives, and more.
- The Mediterranean diet also implies that eating should be a social, enjoyable occasion. Love and laughter make any meal better for you!
- Perfect diet for carb lovers.
- Can be a little carb heavy with the emphasis on whole grains, breads, and pastas.
- Protein is most often consumed as fish, which does not work for every vegetarian.
- Red wine is not good for everybody; especially recovering alcoholics and people with sulfite sensitivities.
- Low dairy and meat consumption can lead to deficiencies in calcium and iron.
- Some people get carried away with olive oil, which can turn it into a fatty diet.
- There are a lot of commonalities between recipes and preparations, which can lead to food boredom.
- Enjoy treats like fresh apricot, yogurt, and honey parfaits with whole-grain toast or pasta tossed with light sauce and roasted tomatoes.
- Lots of fresh herbs, lemon, and balsamic vinegar means bright, fresh flavors.
- Spices are used regularly.
- No need to deny yourself breads, pastas, and whole grains, as with most things- moderation is key!
Diet Difference: Paleo vs. Mediterranean
Both the paleo and the Mediterranean diet emphasize eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Both diets require you to learn how to cook your own food to follow. Also, both diets are wary of the salt shaker, preferring fresh herbs and natural flavors as a means of seasoning.
The paleo diet is meat-centric and does not allow for consumption of legumes or grains which makes it much harder for vegans and vegetarians to follow. The Mediterranean diet is more friendly to traditional vegetarians because it is built on fresh produce, grains, and legumes. Paleo does not use many spices, whereas Mediterranean loves spices.
Which is Better for Vegetarians?
Most vegetarians will have an easier time following a modified Mediterranean diet. Pescetarians (vegetarians that eat fish and seafood) will probably feel quite at home eating a Mediterranean diet. Unless you are part-time or fish-eating vegetarian, you will probably struggle to stick to the paleo diet. Still, it does bring up some good points about how the food we eat impacts are health in ways we cannot see.
No matter what type of vegetarian you are; whether part-time, vegan, Pescetarian, or curious, the key point is to eat a diet that delivers the kind of nutrition your body needs. Being in tune with your body is more important than following a specific diet that somebody else says is good for you – we all have unique needs! By giving your body the specific nutrition it needs, you will experience the best possible health.
We would love to hear from you! Have you had an experience with either Paleo or Mediterranean diets as a vegetarian? What worked and what didn’t?
Till next time,
Budding Veg Staff