COMING CLEAN: Food for Thought: Paleo or Vegan?

Thinking about going Paleo or vegan? A few thoughts, and a roundup of resources for your consideration.

If you want controversy, it seems, put impassioned followers of the Paleo diet and vegan diet in the same room and have them discuss which plan is better. Then stand back! Our food choices are already so personal, but throw meat into the discussion and it gets fiery fast.

Don’t believe me?

Just read the comments section of our “Paleo Vs. Vegan” article. Or page through our magazine archives and find the many Letters to the Editor we received.

Shortly before we published the story, I met up with one of our fact checkers for lunch. During our conversation, we talked about the story, the research, and the nutritional benefits of both. At one point we had mentioned we had been feeling better eating more in line with a Paleo style of eating. (For the record, I’ve never committed to veganism, although I was a vegetarian briefly in my teen years, mostly out of rebellion.)

Then our waiter approached us: A patron nearby had asked him to hand us a note. He or she had been listening to our conversation, and was upset that we didn’t declare veganism as the only and best path to healthy living. (There was some other nasty comments about bunk science and how we needed to do more research, but I’ll save you the cattiness.) Let’s just forget about how invasive and disturbing it felt to receive said note without facing the author to have a respectful conversation and focus on my point: We were bridging on hot-topic territory.

With the new year, I’m hearing and reading a lot about different diets and ways of eating that offer some kind of end-all-be-all solution for weight loss, longevity, clear skin, increased energy, and more. Whether it’s Newly Branded Diet for _________ (slim thighs, flat abs, firm butt, et al.), various models of “clean eating,” a cleanse or detox, or points or calorie counting, everyone has their opinion on these plans. And you’ve probably noticed that we don’t like to be prescriptive here at the magazine, which hopefully you love. Because there are good lessons to be learned everywhere.

Take Dr. Mark Hyman’s UltraSimple plan, one of our most popular articles: The principles of whole, organic food, healthy fats, lots of vegetables, and beans, poultry, and certain types of fish for protein are sustainable practices. They are the foundation of which I build my plan and can be adapted: If grains and beans don’t sit right, remove them and you’re following a Paleo plan. A few days per week, I’ll also eat pasture-raised beef, pork, and eggs from responsible farms. If you’d rather skip the meat, you’re on the vegan track. For both, avoid processed foods whenever possible and read labels on anything packaged you purchase.

Although some of our experts from the article were split, they both agreed on the importance of a plant-based diet. And both sides shared what rookies can do wrong when making the transition: Newbie vegans might overdo it on grains (which poses other problems — see our heritage-wheat story here), and new Paleo followers may focus too heavily on meat and protein, and skimp on the fiber-filled vegetables (see any parallels to issues that were raised during the Atkins craze of 2003?).

The article is full of great resources, including three podcasts, like this one where I interview vegan athlete Brendan Brazier. Following a vegan diet works well for him: He’s a former professional Ironman triathlete, as well as a two-time Canadian 50k ultramarathon champion.

Before you decide which way to lean, read through the article, listen to the podcasts, and consider trying both for a while. See how you feel. Decide on what works best for you. Maybe even cherry-pick aspects from both to make My Own Best Diet. No food shaming, no judgement. Educate yourself and continue discovering. Every body is different, so celebrate and nourish yours.

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