Paleo? Vegan? Mediterr-wha? Which diet should I be following?

This has been a popular theme recently in my life so I thought I would give my take on the various diets all over the internet in the coming weeks. My hopes is the clarify some of the confusion and help you decide what is best for your situation. For this post, I’m going to start with the two that I feel are fairly popular and recommended frequently by health professionals.

  • Paleolithic – most commonly known as just, “Paleo” and also known as the “Caveman Diet.” Wildly popular and recommended by doctors, chiropractors, personal trainers, and others for those looking to get lean, gain energy, and lose weight. In summary, it eliminates grains, refined sugar, dairy, potatoes, salt, refined oils like canola oil, and wheat. It consists of nuts, seeds, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, lean meats, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables. No processed food whatsoever if you are truly following the concept although there are lots of “paleo-friendly” packaged foods on the market that go against this idea. Everyone’s gotta maximize the marketing potential, right?

Pros: it can yield weight loss because it cuts out the calorically dense junk food and it promotes satiety because it tends to be high in fiber and good protein. It doesn’t require you to count calories if weight loss is the goal, which is a big pro for most.

Cons: you’re likely going to have to fill in nutrient gaps, specifically folate, the B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D which are all found in dairy products and fortified grains. It’s very difficult for the average person to follow long term due to it’s elimination of convenience food and therefore, restaurant meals.

  • Plant based whole foods also known as Vegan. Numerous research has shown the health benefits of following this diet such as lower blood pressure, reduced blood lipids, reduced blood sugar levels, and weight loss to name a few. To truly follow this diet – as in “Forks Over Knives” style, you will need to eliminate all processed and highly refined foods such as added oils and sugars, meat, dairy, eggs, and seafood. It includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as wild rice, oats, barley, quinoa, whole grain pasta, millet, and sprouted grain breads, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, avocados, dried fruits, potatoes, hummus, tempeh, and tofu.

Pros: Could possibly lead to weight loss due to the elimination of calorically dense, highly processed junk food. This diet is also rich in fiber, antioxidants and vitamins/minerals from their natural sources – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. All which may lead to reduced risks of various types of cancers.

Cons: At first, some may find they are hungry because of the drop in protein intake from animal sources. Supplementation from vitamin B12 is required on this type of diet. There is a risk of iron deficiency because it is best absorbed by the body from animal sources rather than from plant sources. So a person on this diet should be mindful to consume a good source of vitamin C along with a high iron containing food to maximize absorption. Eating in restaurants can be a challenge.

As you can see, both have excellent qualities and downfalls, too. They both take massive amounts of commitment, but have big health payoffs. I recommend starting small, regardless of which one you choose. Overhauling your entire life overnight will never work, so start with removing refined, processed sugars and carbohydrates out of your life first. That’s good for everyone and clearly, it is important enough to be included in both diets I’ve discussed here. In fact, I will be surprised if they are allowed in any of the diets worth anything that I discuss in the coming weeks.

So, what does it mean to eliminate processed, refined carbohydrates? This means you are getting rid of what I call the “six C’s.” In other words – cereal, cake, candy, cookies, chips, and crackers. That about covers it. But for completes sake, foods that come in a box with an ingredient list and sugar content are also processed – granola bars, pretzels, baked goods (especially white versions), fruit snacks (including this for moms), chocolate(s), and of course, added sugar of any kind. If you are going to use it, try agave or honey. They are both going to be processed in the body just like white table sugar but they at least contain some added antioxidants – so still use sparingly.

Let me know what you think and if you’d like to learn more about these topics and gain support from others on this journey, request to join my free online community by clicking here.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN