Hello Lagom Lifer!
We have always searched for the ‘perfect’ diet for losing weight and increasing our overall health. Many diets have come and gone, but it seems that there are three on the rise nowadays: the Paleo Diet, Vegetarianism and Veganism. Each of them preaches to be the best for weight loss and health improvement. I’ve even seen battles on social media between Paleo followers against Vegetarians and Vegans argueing the Paleo Diet is the best diet and vice versa, so let’s dive in and find out the pros and the cons of each diet.
The Paleo Diet, eating as our ancestors.
The Paleo Diet was founded by Dr. Loren Cordain and its premise is that “mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors (…) will help to optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight” (1).
What does the Paleo Diet allow you to eat? You can eat grass produced meat, fish, fresh fruits and veggies, eggs, healthful oils (olvive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut), nuts and seeds. You cannot eat cereal grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, refined vegetable oils and salt (2).
As to my personal thoughts on the Paleo Diet, I don’t like the idea of eating high amounts of animal protein. My body doesn’t process red meat and poultry very well, I used to feel very heavy when I consumed them. Besides, the IARC – International Agency for Research on Cancer – classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans and processed meat was classified carcinogenic to humans (3) .
The cons of this diet are the high amount of meat and the low intake of cereal grains and legumes – which are a healthier source of protein than red meat; the pros are that it avoids processed and sugary foods which will absolutely help for losing those extra pounds and improving your health.
If you want to give this diet a try, I would only suggest to consume poultry and fish/ seafood over read meat (even though the meat comes from grass fed animals). The key is avoiding to get obsessed with proteins, specially if they are of animal source. I have seen many videos on YouTube and Pictures on Instagram who consume animal protein in every meal, which I think is being obsessive.
Vegetarianism, the flexible diet.
Vegetarianism is nothing new and the Vegetarian Sociey traced its origin back to Pythagoras and even the egyptian civilization (4). I do like this diet the most among these three.
The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as “someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae, yeast and/or some other non-animal-based foods (e.g. salt) with, or without, dairy products, honey and/or eggs. A vegetarian does not eat foods that consist of, or have been produced with the aid of products consisting of or created from, any part of the body of a living or dead animal. This includes meat, poultry, fish, shellfish*, insects, by-products of slaughter** or any food made with processing aids created from these. ” (5)
I consider to be four ways of vegetarianism: peschetarian, ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian and ovo-lacto vegetarian. The Vegetarian Society also includes Veganism as a type of vegetarianism, and leaves the peschetarians out of the list. However, I decided to seperate Vegetarianism and Veganism in this post, and add the Peschetarians. These are for me the four ways of vegetarianism:
- Peschetarian: the peschetarians do not eat either red meat or poultry but they do consume fish or seafood. Some peschetarians can include some dairy products to their diet but not eggs at all.
- Ovo Vegetarian: the ovo-vegetarians are those who do not consume red meat, poultry, fish or dairy but they do include eggs into their diet.
- Lacto Vegetarian: the Lacto Vegetarians are those who do not consume meat, poultry, fish or egss but they do consume dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt).
- Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian: the Ovo-Lacto Vegetarians are those who do not consume meat, poultry or fish but they do allow themselves to consume eggs and dairy products.
Vegetarianism has many pros, which shares along with Veganism. The pros are very wide, from enviromental purposes to dieting purposes. The only and one con with vegetarianism is dairy products, as some people can easily overdose them trying to take in big amounts of protein from dairy source, such as whey or greek yoghurt (i.e. a bodybuilder could overdose on dairy source protein).
I consider Vegetarianism the most flexible among the three. I think Vegetarianism is the right balance for animal protein intake (fish, egss or dairy products) and the intake of veggies, whole grains and legumes. I would recommend following a vegetarian diet if you do not have any issues quitting on red meat and poultry.
Veganism, it is just not about diet.
Last but not least, here comes Veganism. The Vegan Society defines Veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose” (6). I underlined the part ‘as far as is possible and practicable’ because I used to think Veganism exclude any kind of animal-origin ingredient (say milk or eggs used in bread) but it is not so. If you want to become a vegan and you do not find a 100% vegan bread or is way too expensive (say you like to eat bread a lot and you do not want to quit bread), do not be so hard on yourself, you are still doing a great deed to the planet, to the animals and most important, to yourself.
Veganism is not just about the diet, vegans do also exclude products from animal origin such as leather, tested on animals and even honey from bees. Its origin is also traced back to Pythagoras and Buddha time (7).
I consider to be 2 main ways of veganism:
- Vegan: as a vegan, you do not eat any kind of animal protein source. So, how do I get protein? There are many green protein source such as spinach, oats, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Raw vegan: the Raw Vegans do not eat either any kind of animal protein source or cooked meals. They eat mostly fruits, smoothies and salads.
The vegan lifestyle has tons of pros: it fights against the big food corporations, fights against animal cruelty, healthier body and minds, it is easier to lose weight and so on. You can check the Vegan Society webpage for further information on all the benefits on being vegan (8). The only ‘cons’ I found by being vegan is its restrictiveness on taking in animal protein and – since it is not only a ‘diet’ but whole lifestyle and mindset – once you are in, it is hard to go back eating or using animal source products. I tried this diet for about five months and I learned a lot about my body and I lost 26 pounds (12 kgs) along the way, but I never went 100% vegan and I do not plan to go there.
Which one is the best?
I do not think there will be ever be a ‘perfect’, ‘magical’ or a suitable diet for everyone. The best thing we can do is to hear our body. Many of us might not digest milk or red meat very well and we ignore it. I actually found out that is very hard for my body to digest red meat and dairy products through my veganism journey, so I avoid them now. I also reduced my intake of processed foods and now I eat 80% natural and organic foods. Another lesson from veganism is that carbohydrates and fats are not the ennemy, as long as you choose the right fats (nuts, olive oil, avocado, coconut oil) and the right carbs (sweet potatoes, fruits, whole grains).
As to my experience, trying out a vegan diet for about five months was the answer to my digestion problems, for losing weight and gaining strength. I am following a vegetarian diet now and I enjoy the flexibility of it. I do not consume red meat, poultry or fish but I admit I do eat foods containing animal source ingredients, such as milk or eggs.
Lagom Lifer, I hope this post inspires you to quit processed foods – which are the real ennemy – by trying any of these three options. You might find out what kind of foods are the most suitable for you and your body, as I did with veganism. You might find out that you have no digesting issues with animal source products at all… or you might be surprised that, by reducing animal source products, your health improves and weight lose gets easier.