Dieting. Just the word can make your head hurt and your stomach crave your favorite unhealthy foods (all of which are probably off-limits for most diets). If you’re like most people, you’ve probably tried dieting in the past. In fact, most Americans have. Every single year, 45 million Americans go on a diet (1).
Some of those diets are more effective than others. There are extreme dieting regimens like the Vegan diet, the Keto diet, and the Paleo diet, or there’s more lenient options like the Mediterranean diet, calorie-restriction based diets, or low-fat diets. It seems like every day there’s a new dieting trend on social media or the internet.
With so many different options to choose from – and differing professional opinions for each diet – choosing one that’s right for you can be a struggle. For a diet to work for you, it needs to be something that gets your body all the nutrients it needs, while helping you feel your best. There’s no one “best” diet for everyone. Every body is different, so not every diet will work for you. That’s why it’s important to really do your research before jumping into a new nutrition plan.
Harvard Medical school recently published an article comparing two super popular diets – the vegan diet and the paleo diet. They said that “both diets can offer good health benefits,” but only if you follow them carefully and “consider possible pitfalls” (2). Both diets are great options because they include lots of vegetables and cut out processed foods. But, as with any diet, there are some things you need to be careful about with each of them.
A traditional vegan diet is entirely plant based, and excludes meat, dairy, and other animal products like fish, eggs, cheese, and butter. If you choose to live a vegan lifestyle, your meals will be made up of fruits and vegetables, legumes (like peas, beans, and lentils), and grains like bread, rice, and pasta. This can be a healthy diet and a great way to improve your heart health. But there is one thing you need to be careful about – getting enough vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that’s important in blood cell formation and nerve function. (3) Most people get enough of this vitamin from a balanced diet, but because it’s usually found in poultry, meat, fish, and dairy products, vegans and vegetarians could struggle to get enough of this vitamin and might need to take supplements. If you do choose to try a vegan or heavily plant-based diet, make sure you add Vitamin B12 supplements to your diet as well.
The paleo diet has become very popular in the last few years – many people claiming that it’s the best diet for weight loss and muscle building. But, is it true? Let’s take a look at the famous paleo diet.
The paleo diet – also called the hunger-gatherer diet or the caveman diet – is based off eating the same food our paleolithic ancestors ate thousands of years ago. It also cuts out all processed food from your diet, instead focusing on eating meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. With this diet, grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and potatoes are all off-limits.
It’s important to be wary of diets that cut out entire food groups, since our bodies need nutrients from a variety of food groups to function properly. For that reason, with the paleo diet, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough fiber, calcium, and B vitamins, since most of the foods that contain those nutrients are not allowed in the paleo diet.
As far as which diet is better – well, let’s see what the experts have to say. UC Davis Health dietitian Alex Nella says the paleo diet has the potential to be healthy. He says, this diet “may kick-start weight loss and, at least in the short-term, improve blood sugar and lipid profiles.” But he also warns, “the paleo isn’t effective for sustained weight loss, as it is very difficult to stay committed to any diet that is too restrictive of one or more food categories.” (4)
So, while the Paleo diet might be a great start for losing weight and improving health, it might not be the best long-term option. If you try the paleo diet but find after a few months that it’s very difficult to stick to, re-evaluate your options and see if there’s a better option for you.
For the vegan diet, it depends on what your diet looks like. Experts point out that while you can cut meat and dairy from your diet, if you replace it with unhealthy sugars, it isn’t going to be great for your health. Dr. Garth Davis says, “hands down, eating a plant-based diet provides the most nutrients per calorie, including many phytonutrients that cannot be obtained through meat, poultry and dairy.” He also mentions that the vegan diet is great for preventing sickness and disease, because “cancer and heart disease-fighting nutrients are found in plants, not meats.” (5)
Both the paleo diet and the vegan diet are great options, but really it depends on your body and your health and nutrition goals. The best way to see if a diet works for you is to try it out for a few weeks and see how you feel. If you feel like you have more energy and strength and feel healthier and happier, stick to it. But if you feel like you don’t have enough energy or feel hungry all the time, try something else.
If you’re hesitant about both the vegan diet and the paleo diet, check out the Pegan diet – it’s a combination of the best of paleo and the best of the vegan diet. This diet focuses on healthy whole foods.
A typical meal would be 75% fruits and vegetables and 25% healthy protein (like grass-fed beef, pork, or poultry, and fish). You also focus on eating healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. You can eat some whole grains, but usually try to keep it to a minimum. (6)
This is a great option because it is mostly plant-based and has a balance of whole foods that have a variety of essential vitamins and nutrients. If you’ve tried paleo or vegan in the past but are looking for something a little different, the Pegan diet could be a great option for you.
Whatever you choose, it’s important to remember to pay attention to your body – make sure you are getting enough vitamins and nutrients and you are fueling your body properly. Start off small, cutting out processed foods and other unhealthy foods, then add healthy foods and try to stick to it. Lifestyle changes happen little by little. You want these positive changes to be long-term, so take it slow and don’t give up.