paleo meets vegan vegetarian-min

Paleo Meets Vegan Meets Vegetarian

On the way to LAX airport from PrimalCon, my new friend Jennifer and I stopped off in Santa Monica for coffee (Jennifer) and tea (me). We got talking to an interesting couple, who seemed keen to find out about us, as soon as they realised we had different accents to them.

They were asking what we were doing in California, to which we replied rather vaguely, telling them we’d been to a health conference. The conversation then progressed onto health and how healthy our new friends believed they were. That’s where they proudly told us they were Vegan, clearly of the popular belief that that is the ultimate in healthy lifestyles. That wasn't really a conversation I felt like having, so didn't delve further. However, it wasn't long before they asked exactly what our health conference was about. Before I could say it was a Kettlebell conference (I know, gutless – but this was Vegans on their home turf) Jennifer quickly announced we’d been to PrimalCon – and were Paleo, pretty much the opposite to Vegans. Carnivores. I filled the silence by explaining how we actually have a lot in common. We don’t eat feed lock, intensively farmed meat.  We are really careful to ensure our meat is ethical and comes from well cared for animals, in their natural environment and fed their natural diet. They seemed to accept this, before the woman started to tell us how she could never eat a cute, soft, cuddly, beautiful cow and how if she saw one she’d have to take it home so she could pat it and stroke it all day. Or something like that.

Cow paleo meets vegan-min

This conversation (and the book I'm currently reading “The Vegetarian Myth”) has got me thinking about the similarities and differences between being Paleo and being Vegetarian or Vegan.

Is it possible to be Vegan or Vegetarian and Paleo?

I've even seen increasing numbers of people on Paleo forums posing the question as to whether it is possible to follow a Paleo lifestyle as a Vegan or Vegetarian. Denice Minger has a talk about this very subject. With the absence of meat and dairy too (in the case of Vegans) this group often rely heavily on grains as a source of calories and legumes as a protein source. A shift from a grain and legume heavy diet, to a meat-free Paleo diet would be quite a transition, but theoretically possible – probably involving lots of nutritionally dense eggs. I guess it’s a lot easier for those Vegetarians who do eat fish (Pescetarians) – that would certainly make following a Paleo style diet a lot easier…

The Vegetarian/ Vegan is Healthy Myth

I don’t think it’s accurate to assume that just because someone is Vegetarian they automatically live a supremely healthy lifestyle. Whilst a lot of Vegetarians are healthy, there also seem to be a lot of “Junk Food Vegetarians”. So many processed foods have the “V” Vegetarian symbol. In fact, it would be very easy for a Vegetarian to conduct their entire diet through packets of processed foods, without a vegetable in sight. I think this is where Paleo differs. Whilst I'm sure industry will start to produce “Paleo Processed Foods”, they will never be Paleo – as the whole basis of Paleo is to eat natural, uncomplicated, whole foods.

From Vegetarian/ Vegan to Paleo?

A lot of people do seem to become Vegetarian or Vegan through concern for their health. It amazes me how many of those now following  a Paleo lifestyle used to be Vegetarian of Vegan, in fact, the 2012 Paleo Survey results show that over 38% of Paleo respondents used to follow either of those lifestyles.  I have a lot of respect for these people, as it can’t be easy to go through such a transformation. How do you start the process of telling your friends and family you now eat meat? Do you spend time as a secret meat eater before casually ordering a steak at dinner with friends?

Have you ever been Vegetarian or Vegan? Do you think Paleo is the polar opposite lifestyle?

Paleo Cookbooks cavemanfeast paleo-recipe-book
18 replies
  1. Zynster
    Zynster says:

    I was a vegetarian in my 20s. Then I spend a few years living in the bush. There was a rabbit plague on at the time so I started hunting them with a bow. That got me back into eating meat. I then spent a long time as a white meat vego. That is mostly vego with some chicken and fish. Going Paleo was a complete turnaround as I now mainly eat red meat and have gone right off chicken.

    • Suz
      Suz says:

      I think that’s the best Vegetarian goes Paleo story I’ve ever heard Zynster! I don’t think I’ve ever tried Rabbit…

      • Zynster
        Zynster says:

        Rabbit is like very lean chicken in taste. Hunting was a very interesting process. Especially with a bow. Firstly it gave me a huge appreciation of rabbits. They are smart and fast. Very difficult to get with a bow. Secondly when I would get one, it felt very natural, like the animal was giving it self up for me to eat.

        • Colours
          Colours says:

          Well, actually, if the animal had been “giving it self up for me to eat” she would have walked up to you, pointed to her heart and said “here we go huge animal, make it quick”. The fact she was probably running from you and that she probably had babies in a burrow who died of slow starvation as a result of her agonising death indicates that no, she didn’t want to give herself up at all.

  2. Brian Cormack Carr
    Brian Cormack Carr says:

    Great article, Suzanne. Before I found paleo, I did have spells of near-vegetarianism (was never quite able to go all the way) and often felt that I “should” be vegan (but found it fundamentally unsatisfying every time I tried). If pushed, I’d say that it is possible to be vegetarian and paleo, as long as high-quality animal produce (eggs and even dairy) were included. Veganism would be harder and would require very careful supplementation. I blogged about this on Paleo Diet News a while back by posing a question to which there perhaps isn’t an easy answer….Is The A Place For Vegetarianism On The Paleo Diet? It’s interesting to note what Nora Gedgaudas had to say…

    • Suz
      Suz says:

      Thanks Brian! There definitely is a perception that Veganism is the ultimate in healthy lifestyles.
      Great article, thanks for sharing!

  3. Manja
    Manja says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life, from birth. I was heading to the vegan lifestyle but I lost too much weight and came in contact with the Paleo lifestyle. I like it, read about it, started eating fish and now chicken. These two are not difficult for me to eat. Beef however, I don’t get it, I don’t taste it. So I stick to fish and chicken for a while… Paleo has a lot of similarities for me.

  4. Ganza
    Ganza says:

    I have tried a vegetarian lifestyle but actually found I gained so much weight, so for health reasons I now eat meat but no processed foods. After six months I have returned to my ideal weight. I actually feel so much more energetic as well.

  5. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Interesting article that just came out recently:

    …and the full interview transcripts:

    I think Nora’s interview was especially good. Like her, I tried Vegan/Vegetarianism and felt terrible. My health got worse on that diet. Plus I had dreams of bacon…hmmm.

    I think moderators were kinda lame…it didn’t seem like they even read the interviewees statements. Lazy? Or just trying to stay in the middle?

  6. Harriet
    Harriet says:

    My husband and I went vegetarian for a year after being persuaded by a health advocate who used highly emotive language about it all and waxing eloquently about how it improved all health. After a year on it – strictly, cooking all food from scratch with nothing processed and finding it reduced our food budget by 40% which was a big plus for me – I had to recognise that it had NOT improved my or my husband’s health at all. In fact to be honest we were continuing to deteriorate.

    I was given a copy of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and we reintroduced meat to our diet, played around with raw milk, homemade yoghurt and cheese, and sprouting beans and lentils. I ended up with a very severe gut problem and using my intuition gave up legumes overnight. I went totally grain free, sugar free and legume free. Over 4 months I improved slowly and thereafter started to lose weight again. We are largely paleo now with most weeks being totally paleo and only sometimes allowing non-paleo items in (by mistake when eating out and easter eggs after winning a huge hamper).

    I was totally paleo in 1985 for 6 months and it helped in or drove my recovery from CFS/ME/FM – back then it was called the stone-age diet, promoted by a Dr McKenzie who wrote a book “Its not all in the mind”. Trouble is, I should have stayed on that diet and not migrated back to grains.

  7. Irena
    Irena says:

    Good post! I have nothing against vegetarians/vegans and I know many of them eat that way for various moral reasons (although sustainability/animal cruelty and Paleo is an entirely different post as I think primal lifestyle actually promotes humane treatment of animals and there is a whole evolution debate bla bla bla) but I do think they’re missing out on some nutrients that are simply not found in plant based food. I have seen so many vegetarian friends with stomach problems, fatigue and all sorts of other health issues, which I don’t doubt has a lot to do with the grain consumption and lack of essential nutrients.

    In good cases, vegetarians and vegans do eat lots of vegetables and fruits but as you said we often see them consumed food out of boxes and plastic packaging. I hope Paleo message can spread around more so everyone can benefit from beautiful, tasty whole foods.

  8. Mich
    Mich says:

    Hi all. I am a staunch vegetarian (not a judgmental or overbearing one toward others, but am strict on my intent to consume no meat until the end of my days). I started crossfit and am looking into Paleo. It will never be orthodox Paleo due to my stubborn and unwavering attitude towards meat, which I still can’t ethically bring myself to eat. I therefore must make do with what I can eat, including eggs and tempeh as protein sources, and Greek yoghurt as my one dairy exception (I did say unorthodox). If i don’t make quite the same gains as my meat-eating crossfit buddies, I don’t really care, as it’s still an improvement on my grains-based sedentary lifestyle that added 4 inches to my waist in the last year alone. I will be proud as punch to balance a Paleo-ish diet and crossfit regime without meat, and am tracking my progress to share with other vego crossfitters soon.

    • Suz
      Suz says:

      Hi Mich, there seem to be a lot of vegetarians and vegans exploring a Paleo-ish diet, which I think is great! There’s no one Paleo diet so it’s important to do what works for you. Just cutting out the grains must make a huge difference. Do/ would you take supplements? How about fish, I know some vegetarians do eat fish? Good luck – I’d love to hear how you progress!

  9. Daniel V
    Daniel V says:

    The vegan version of paleo is raw food. While technically not paleo it holds the same standards, un refined all natural. They do eat legumes and some grains but they are all sprouted instead of being cooked.

  10. Susannah
    Susannah says:

    I was a long-time vegetarian, sometime vegan until after a series of seemingly disjointed medical issues, I was told I had pernicious anemia (due to lack of B-vitamins) and candida (due, in large part, to a system dependence on sugar/carbs and a few too many cycles of antibiotics). This forced me to seriously re-examine what I had always felt were smart, healthy lifestyle choices. I have now been eating nearly carb-free while I get my system back in balance. My mind, skin, and gut are much more clear, and my energy is steady. Although a candida diet isn’t exactly in line with paleo (fruit and acidic foods BAD), I find the paleo/primal community to be much more informative and slightly less fringe-y.


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