Paleo and vegan diets have several potential benefits, which is why millions of people choose to follow them (but not normally at the same time!). However, the Paleo and vegan diets are on quite opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of eating styles. While they share a few similarities, the differences far outweigh them.
The main differences between Paleo and vegan diets are:
- The type of protein allowed (meat and eggs vs. soy/legumes)
- Allowance for grains and sweeteners (avoided on Paleo, mostly allowed on vegan)
Otherwise, there are plenty of differences between Paleo vs. vegan, which we’ll review in this article to help you decide which one might be better for you!
What is the Paleo diet?
The concept of the Paleo diet actually began back in the 1970s, even though it didn’t start to gain popularity until more recent decades!
A Paleo diet (short for Paleolithic) is an eating style meant to mimic what people were able to hunt and gather thousands of years ago before farming began. The Paleo diet or “caveman diet” is meant to mimic what people ate in the Paleolithic era, dating from around 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 B.C.
The Paleo diet is considered strict in comparison with a typical Western diet and avoids many of today’s more common foods – which isn’t always a bad thing, as you’ll see!
Some foods avoided on a Paleo diet aren’t very nutritious (like refined sugars), but some are considered healthy by non-Paleo dieters, like whole grains and legumes.
Some of the foods that are avoided in a Paleo diet include:
- All grains, including gluten-free and “ancient” grains
- “Pseudocereals” like quinoa (though some Paleo dieters eat them; it’s a somewhat controversial topic)
- Dairy products
- Refined sugar/sweeteners, as well as artificial sweeteners, including any foods or drinks containing refined sugars. Honey is allowed.
- Legumes (beans, peanuts, soy, etc.)
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet avoids all foods and drinks that are or contain animal byproducts. That means that a vegan diet excludes:
- Meat (including poultry and fish)
- Dairy products
- Foods with added animal-derived ingredients such as gelatin (derived from cows or pigs) and honey
Nutrients of concern for vegan diets
Because a vegan diet excludes animal products, you’ll need to make sure you get those nutrients from other sources. Some of the nutrients a vegan diet is most likely to be deficient in are:
- Energy (calories)
- Vitamin B12
Many vegans get their protein from plant-based foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, and soybeans (including tofu, tempeh, etc.).
A Paleo diet avoids legumes and soybeans and focuses on animal meats and eggs as protein, which aren’t vegan-friendly.
Some vegan calcium sources can be Paleo-friendly, such as fortified non-dairy milk (like almond milk). However, many popular vegan calcium sources like soybeans and lentils aren’t Paleo-friendly.
Paleo vs. Vegan: similarities and differences
There are a few areas where Paleo and vegan diets intersect in their similarities. Visualizing some similarities and differences can be helpful, so we’ve created a handy table comparing the two!
|Meat (includes poultry and seafood)
|Yes (as long as it doesn’t contain non-vegan ingredients like milk or eggs)
|Psuedograins like quinoa
|Legumes (including peanuts)
|Nuts & seeds
As you can likely gather from this table, there wasn’t such a thing as a vegan dieter in the Paleolithic era! There are very few similarities between the diets with plenty of differences.
The only foods shared between a Paleo and vegan diet are:
Can you be a vegan and follow Paleo?
It would be quite challenging to follow a vegan diet and a Paleo diet simultaneously. It’s technically possible but would require careful planning to ensure you’re not missing out on important nutrients.
Without being able to eat legumes and soy, your primary protein source would be nuts and seeds on a Paleo vegan diet. Vitamin and mineral supplementation can help fill in the gaps in a Paleo vegan diet, which isn’t as ideal as getting nutrients from whole foods.
Which is better – Paleo or vegan?
Paleo and vegan diets are very different, but both have their potential benefits and drawbacks.
While many vegan dieters are health-conscious and choose to avoid refined grains and added sugars, it’s possible to eat a vegan diet high in processed foods that contain these ingredients, which wouldn’t be allowed on Paleo.
Because a vegan diet is plant-based, it comes with many potential benefits such as higher vitamin, mineral, fiber, and antioxidant intake. On the other hand, a Paleo diet can naturally be higher in iron, protein, and vitamin B12 due to the intake of animal protein.
Because the diets are so different, it’s impossible to say which is better – it all comes down to the reason you want to follow either diet.
For instance, if you wanted to cut back on your intake of refined sugars and grains, then a Paleo diet would be a good fit. If you want to rely more on plant-based protein and reduce your intake of meat, then a vegan diet would be the better match.
Both diets come with potential pros and cons, so it’s really up to you to decide which would be the right fit for your health and lifestyle goals!
Vegan and Paleo diets aren’t necessarily weight-loss diets, but both could result in weight loss depending on what your regular diet looked like before adopting the new diet. For instance, a Paleo diet will likely be a bit more balanced and can be lower in added sugars, while a vegan diet can naturally be lower in fat – and both changes could help you lose weight.
There are many ways to reduce inflammation through your diet, and both aspects of Paleo and vegan diets could help fight inflammation. A vegan diet is richer in plant-based foods (compared to a typical Western diet), while a Paleo diet excludes refined grains and sugars, and both are powerful ways to help reduce inflammation.