Everything you need to know about a paleo vegan diet

There aren’t many aspects of Neanderthal life that suit our modern conveniences. (Rub two sticks together to start a fire? No, thank you.) However, there is one notable exception: the Paleo diet, a popular diet made up of foods eaten by our prehistoric ancestors. But with its reputation as a deli, is it possible to follow a paleo vegan diet?

“Paleo” refers to the Paleolithic era, which occurred 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. At that time, people mainly ate food that could be hunted, gathered, or foraged. As a result, the Paleo Diet is sometimes referred to as the Caveman Diet or the Stone Age Diet. No matter what you call it, the diet “centers on the idea that eating like our original ancestors is aligned with our genetics and therefore optimal for good health, UC Davis Health explains.

If you are looking to follow a herbal paleo diet, you will discover a number of benefits. The paleo vegan diet is low in sugar, sodium, and simple carbohydrates, and eliminating dairy means it’s low in saturated fat. A plant-based Paleo diet even has a name: the pegan diet!

First, let’s cover the basics of the paleo diet. According to the principles of the diet, you can eat lean meat, including game or grass-fed animals; fish and seafood; vegetables; fruits; nuts; and seeds.

Dairy products are excluded from the paleo diet. The same goes for grains like wheat or barley; legumes, such as edamame, chickpeas, peanuts, beans and lentils; or processed potatoes, such as mashed potatoes or French fries. That’s because these foods arrived during or after the Agricultural Revolution, or the Neolithic period, about 12,000 years ago, according to National Geographic. At this time in history, many humans made the switch from hunting, gathering and foraging to farming.

Processed foods, such as hot dogs or sodas, are also excluded. Plus, quinoa is not part of a paleo diet. And soy foods like tofu and tempeh are also excluded from the Paleo diet, as soybeans are legumes and legume cultivation began in the Neolithic era.

There is a misconception that the paleo diet means eating mostly meat, especially red meat. Alas, this myth is based on popular images of Neanderthals, not historical documents. According to Alex Nella, a dietitian at UC Davis, prehistoric men ate the most abundant food near them, which means that the diet varied. Some people would eat mainly fish and seafood if they lived near water, while others who lived in the forest ate mainly plants, nuts, and seeds. In Paleolithic times, people ate wild game and grass-fed animals, but certainly did not eat alone Meat.

The paleo vegan diet eliminates all foods of animal origin. | Xsandra / Getty

What do paleo vegans eat?

The paleo vegan diet eliminates all foods of animal origin. This leaves the following foods to eat:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Oils (olive, coconut, avocado and almond)

According to Dr. Mark Hyman, who coined the term “pegan,” you should eat 75% plants and the rest of your food intake should be nuts and seeds.

When it comes to drinks on the paleo vegan diet, go for water, tea, and fermented drinks like kombucha. (Coffee, soda, and fruit juices are not Paleo.) Paleo vegans can also drink nut-based milks, like almond milk or macadamia milk.

Bowl with vegetable salad in woman's hands.  Fresh kale and baked pumpkin salad.  Healthy eating concept
The foods that you will eat on the paleo vegan diet all have many health benefits. | ivandzyuba / Getty

Benefits of the paleo vegan diet

The foods that you will eat on the paleo vegan diet all have many health benefits.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A, folic acid, dietary fiber, and potassium. If you eat a “rainbow” of fruits and vegetables as recommended by dieticians, you get a good variety of nutritional benefits. Fruits and vegetables are also low in fat and calories and do not contain cholesterol.

Seeds and nuts are high in protein and fiber. The seeds are also good sources of iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

And about those nuts: Although 80 percent of a nut is fat, the Mayo Clinic reassures us that nuts contain “good” fats, or mono- and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. While you should always eat nuts in moderation, these little calorie bombs aren’t as potentially unhealthy as they seem. Nutrition experts believe that the “good” fats in nuts outweigh the “bad” fats and help lower “bad” cholesterol. Nuts are also plentiful, given their small size.

Other Health Benefits of the Paleo-Vegan Diet

It is dairy free

Dairy is not part of a vegan diet, so if you are following a paleo vegan diet, you will also not be eating milk, butter, eggs, cheese, or yogurt. Giving up dairy products can also be beneficial for your health, as long as you get your protein and vitamin D from elsewhere. Dairy products, including butter and whole milk, are a source of saturated fat, which can raise your “bad” cholesterol. Too much “bad” cholesterol can put you at risk for heart disease. Additionally, many people are sensitive to dairy products, including lactose intolerance, which can lead to gas, bloating, upset stomach, cramps, and diarrhea.

it is low in sugar

Added sugars, which are typically found in processed foods, can cause chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and increase the risk of heart disease.

It’s low in sodium

A diet high in sodium is associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and strokes.

It is low in simple carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide our body with fuel. There are two types of carbohydrates that provide different types of fuel. Complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, vegetables, legumes and nuts, provide long-term energy. During this time, simple carbohydrates (sometimes called “bad carbs”) quickly break down into sugar in your system. The paleo vegan diet is low in simple carbohydrates, so you’re mostly getting the “right” fuel.

Dried fruits on pastel background
Nuts are a good source of omega-3s and are paleo-vegan. | Javier Zayas Photography / Getty

Are there any downsides to a paleo vegan diet?

The paleo vegan diet isn’t for everyone. There are a few downsides to consider before making the switch.

You must find other sources of omega-3 fatty acids

Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids. These are called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In the paleo diet, eating fish would provide you with these omega-3 fatty acids. Fortunately, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, and walnuts are other good sources of omega-3s suitable for paleo-vegans.

You will not have legumes as a source of protein

With the paleo vegan diet, you won’t eat legumes and whole grains. Therefore, you will have to replace the fiber and other nutrients that you would have obtained from these two foods. Whole grains, like brown rice and barley, are sources of fiber and B vitamins. You’ll want to get these nutrients from seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. If you are on a paleo vegan diet, you will need to get your protein from other foods. (More on this below.)

it may be expensive

There is an economic aspect to the paleo vegan diet to consider. Legumes are generally one of the cheapest foods anyone can eat. If you’re eliminating legumes from the paleo vegan diet, you’ll want to factor in your budget that your new sources of protein may be more expensive.

How to get enough protein in the paleo vegan diet

Protein is a crucial part of our nutritional well-being; it is a source of energy and it builds muscles and bones.

Sources of plant protein include legumes like beans and lentils. However, the paleo vegan diet eliminates optional legumes. So how do you get enough protein as a paleo-vegan?

bowl of roasted red potatoes
Potatoes are rich in protein. | Robynmac / Getty

Plant-based options rich in protein

  • Asparagus (4.32 grams of protein per cup)
  • Almonds (6 grams of protein per ounce)
  • Avocado (4 grams per avocado)
  • Broccoli (4.28 grams per stem)
  • Brussels sprouts (5.6 grams of protein per cup)
  • Chia seeds (4.69 grams of protein per ounce)
  • Coconut (3 grams of protein for a cup of raw meat)
  • Hemp seeds (5 grams of protein per tablespoon)
  • Kale (2 grams of protein per cup)
  • Mushrooms (3 grams of protein for 5 medium mushrooms)
  • Pistachios (6 grams of protein per ounce)
  • Potatoes (7 grams of protein per large unprocessed potato)
  • Sweet yellow corn (4.689 grams of protein per ear, raw)

Another option to make sure you get enough protein is a vegan paleo protein powder. A product like Peak Performance Whole Grain-Free Plant Protein can be added to smoothies or dairy-free milks as a way to incorporate your protein.

That being said, the American Dietetic Association recommends eating whole foods for nutrients, instead of supplements.

How to start the paleo vegan diet

Before starting a diet, consult a nutritionist who can help you achieve your health goals. If you’re looking to start a paleo vegan diet, find out what foods you’ll need to get the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals.