To anyone familiar with both a Paleo diet and a vegan diet, the phrase “Paleo vegan diet” probably sounds a bit like an oxymoron. A Paleo diet bring to mind meat, meat, and more meat, while vegans shun not just meat, but all animal products entirely. For even more of a contradiction, the Paleo diet forgoes grains, which are often a staple source of complementary amino acids in vegan diets.
But despite these drastic differences, the concept of a vegan Paleo diet is very much a thing in some pockets of the Internet. If you’re thinking that it sounds like a pretty darn restrictive diet…it’s because it is. There are several challenges to being vegan and following Paleo guidelines, so you need to do your research about it before making the transition and exclusively pinning vegan Paleo recipes to your Food board on Pinterest.
Here’s what you need to know about Paleo, vegan, and how people are trying to combine the two ways of eating into one diet.
Vegan vs. Paleo Diets
A vegan diet is a strictly plant-based diet and bans anything of animal origin. That means no meat, seafood, poultry, dairy, eggs, or even honey. “Basically anything that is an animal or came from an animal is off limits,” says Krista Maguire, RD, CSSD, nutrition manager at Openfit. Instead, vegans eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, grains, avocado, olives, and plant-based oils.
The Paleo (or Paleolithic) diet mimics what our early ancestors ate. However, there’s no firm consensus from the scientific community about their diet actually consisted of, so if you search online or read diet books, you’ll find a variety of approaches to a modern Paleo diet that are adapted to today’s lifestyle and foods, Maguire explains.
But generally, foods that are allowed for Paleo eaters include meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, most vegetables, some fruit, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. The diet blacklists all grains, legumes, beans, dairy, anything containing refined sweeteners, and high-starch vegetables such white potatoes.
What Is the Paleo Vegan Diet?
Combine the Paleo diet and the vegan diet and you get a Paleo vegan diet. The origins of this diet are unclear, but in theory, followers eat a very limited selection of food. Individually, Paleo and vegan diets are restrictive, so this merger is quite intense. “You just upped the level of both diets by combining the two,” says registered dietitian Amy Kubal, RDN. “It doesn’t leave you with a lot that you can eat.”
A strict Paleo vegan diet would allow for vegetables, some fruit, nuts, and seeds. However, many who say they are vegan Paleo followers tend to eat with a little more leeway. For example, some may also consume fermented soy and soaked beans and legumes to get more protein, Kubal says.
Others may follow what Mark Hyman, MD, coined as the “Pegan diet.” This allows for vegetables, fruit, eggs, nuts, seeds, low-mercury fish, moderate amounts of beans, and small amounts of grass-fed meat and low-glycemic gluten-free grains, so it’s neither fully Paleo nor vegan. But it has a strong vegan-focus, as Hyman recommends making plants 75 percent of your diet and treating meat as a condiment when you plate your meal.
Is It Healthy to Be a Paleo Vegan?
Given how restrictive the food choices are on a strict Paleo vegan diet, nutrition experts have concerns about this eating plan. “Your choices are so limited, so you are basically eating a lot of the same thing,” Kubal says. This makes eating out difficult (if not nearly impossible), bores your tastes buds, and most significantly, may also lead to nutritional deficiencies.
“The biggest challenge of following both programs combined to a T would be getting adequate nutrients day after day,” Maguire says. You may have trouble getting enough protein (particularly all of the essential amino acids), fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin D. And even on the Pegan diet, “if you are not doing it correctly, you can still miss out on nutrients,” Kubal says.
Another concern is the potential for a restrictive diet to snowball into disordered eating. “Usually what I’ve found is lot of people going this route have an eating disorder and are looking for more ways to restrict their diet,” Kubal says. A registered dietitian or psychologist who specializes in eating disorders can help people who might show symptoms of disordered eating, like avoiding social situations that involve food, bringing their own food everywhere, or when food and eating is all-consuming.
Drop the Diet Labels
If you’re thinking about following a vegan Paleo diet, first ask yourself why, Kubal says. Figure out what your ultimate goal is. Do you want to lose weight? Do you have a moral obligation to eating animal products? “If you can accomplish that goal in a less restrictive way for your body and mind, go that direction. Don’t let your diet make you crazy,” she says.
Rather than eating Paleo, vegan, or Pegan, oftentimes it’s best to eat a diet that has no label. “The best way to follow a ‘Paleo vegan diet’ is to make it your own and personalize it to suit your needs and preferences,” Maguire recommends. “Take parts from each of the philosophies and combine them in a way that is nutritionally sound.”
You might also consider meeting with a registered dietitian to ensure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need. He or she can tailor your diet to your goals if you are trying to lose weight, balance blood sugar, improve exercise performance, or have a medical condition that warrants nutritional therapy, Maguire adds.