8 Tips for Eating a Paleo Diet If You're a Vegetarian

July 6, 2015
by Dana Poblete for Thrive Market
8 Tips for Eating a Paleo Diet If You're a Vegetarian

Anyone who's ever picked up a fork knows: Food is more than just what you eat—in some cases it becomes a part of your identity.  You might be in it for pure pleasure, or health and well-being, or maybe ethics are your thing.

Both vegetarians and proponents of the Paleo diet believe their lifestyle choices tick off all those boxes—and although there are some pretty big differences in their core philosophies, it's actually possible to mesh them more seamlessly than you might think.

Paleo eaters typically adhere to a diet high in animal protein and healthy fat, eating grass-fed meat and butter daily while most grains, legumes, and soy are big no-nos. For vegetarians whose plate might look like a tofu and quinoa scramble with a side of lentils, it’s hard to imagine how to integrate aspects of a Paleo diet (especially the idea of eating meat!) into their daily meals.

"The foundational principles of both diets—real whole, fresh food in its natural state free of processed ingredients, refined carbohydrates, and additives—are the same," says Dr. Mark Hyman, a champion of Paleo-veganism. "Designed correctly, both a Paleo and vegan diet can provide health benefits like weight loss, lowered cholesterol, and reverse diabetes."

So, let’s make those keystones the basis for a Paleo-ish vegetarian diet. Everyone's body is different, so it's totally acceptable to modify a diet to suit your needs. After all, the modern Paleo movement is an adaptation of the caveman way anyway—most people aren’t actually foraging in the wild for their foods.

"[Paleo-vegetarian] is not a deprivation diet," says Dr. Hyman. "There are a ton of options." Here are some tips on how to eat a Paleo diet as a vegetarian—and get enough protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins in the process.

1. One of the essentials of a Paleo diet is limiting sugar. All the sugar you need can come from ample fruits, which also provide plenty of fiber and other essential nutrients.

2. Make vegetables the center of every meal. Good thing, because the more variety, the better—more phytonutrients to protect against disease. It’s not a stretch that a flavorful, filling meal can be veggie-centric. Our recipes for a green wellness bowl and roasted butternut squash are proof.

3. Seafood isn’t necessary in order to get omega-3s—algae does the trick. Just another vegetable to add into the mix.

4. High-quality fats such as avocados, coconut oil and olive oil also provide omega-3’s. Nuts are great in moderation, too (too much of them can be inflammatory).

5. Eat as many eggs as you can stomach. Their cholesterol content is no longer an issue. This will fill a good portion of the protein gap.

6. Though legumes are traditionally shunned on the Paleo diet, consider incorporating them into your diet occasionally. One cup of beans or lentils provides a ton of protein.  Soaking legumes for 24 hours and cooking them very well—even sprouting them—will reduce enzyme inhibitors and convert some of the starches into sugars, and proteins into amino acids. They are also a source of zinc.

7. The reason for avoiding grains on the Paleo diet is because of their high-glycemic index, which can raise blood sugar and trigger autoimmune responses. Allow low-glycemic grains like black rice, buckwheat, and quinoa in moderation to minimize this possible effect.

8. Seeds such as flax, chia, hemp, sesame, and pumpkin provide some zinc and protein as well.

"The best way to stay satisfied is to plan!" advises Dr. Hyman. "Create the right environment for success. Keep foods in the kitchen that will make you feel good."

It may not be a cakewalk at first, but a paleo-vegetarian can be incredibly nutritious. Sure, it takes a bit of discipline, but you don't have to be totally rigid about every meal. The key is finding foods that make you feel good—and satisfied. Don't be afraid to experiment until you find a balance that works for you.

Photo credit: Amelia Cook via Flickr

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21 thoughts on “8 Tips for Eating a Paleo Diet If You're a Vegetarian”

  • Beth Lauren

    Such a sensible approach. Thanks for the great article!

    Reply
  • Cynthia Lewis
    Cynthia Lewis July 10, 2015 at 4:35 am

    This misrepresents why Paleo advocates shun grains. It's not about glycemic index, as you can eat tons of high-glycemic fruit and still be Paleo. Grains are shunned both because they are relatively novel food sources that Paleo proponents believe we aren't well-adapted to yet, and because grains--like beans--are relatively high in toxic anti-nutrients. You can reduce but not eliminate these by soaking, sprouting and cooking properly.

    Reply
    • Dean

      I've read that the anti-nutrients found in legumes aren't nearly as bad as most Paleo proponents believe them to be, and that nuts and seeds actually contain even more, which makes it kind of strange that Paleo advocates are more in favor of eating them over beans/legumes.

      Reply
      • BobK

        Paleo suggests nuts as a snack / condiment... to be eaten sparingly not as a staple.
        There's nothing 'wrong' with properly prepared legumes but they're a lot of work for something that isn't all that nutritious.
        Anti nutrients, especially in wheat


        If one needs the carbs... root veggies are easier.

        Reply
        • Dean

          Good to know, although I don't see eating beans for their carbs the reason to eat them, but their high fiber content. If you're not eating grains, legumes have the highest amount of fiber. But yes, they are definitely work to prepare if starting from dry.

          Reply
  • BobK

    When did eggs become vegan? or even allowable in a strict vegetarian diet?
    Eggs are omnivore fare, as humans are opportunistic omnivores. Eating eggs is simply a human heading in the 'right direction'.
    As for grains, Paleo adherents see them a 'not a great choice' due to anti-nutrients, low level of nutrition and potential digestion issues.
    Yeah, as with legumes, one can 'mess around' with grains on the prep side but they are still a 'less than great' food choice.

    Reply
    • Dean

      The title says Vegetarian, not Vegan. By definition, eggs and dairy fall within the guidelines for a vegetarian diet.

      Reply
      • BobK

        A key quote in the article invokes vegan...


        "Designed correctly, both a Paleo and vegan diet can provide health benefits like weight loss, lowered cholesterol, and reverse diabetes."
        Perhaps it was a typo?

        By definition, eggs and dairy fall within the guidelines for an omnivorous diet,
        not a pseudo "holy than thou" vegetarian diet.
        as in, "I'm a vegetarian but I also eat fish, eggs, dairy & chicken and an occasional burger"
        but I'm really a vegetarian because meat eaters are mean & uncivilized.

        Reply
        • Dean

          Probably a typo. You're right, eggs and dairy do fall within the guidelines for an omnivorous diet. I didn't realize you were talking about "holy than thou" definitions, because I don't know much about that. All I know is what all Vegetarians I've ever met have all said: No animal flesh. Pescetarians will also eat fish, eggs, and dairy, but abstain from eating any other animal flesh. I do know people who don't eat red meat, but I've never heard them call themselves Vegetarians. A vegetarian who eats meat every now and then, but primarily eats veggies, nuts, and seeds, is a Flexitarian.

          Reply
          • BobK

            >>>>vegetarian who eats meat every now and then, but primarily eats veggies, nuts, and seeds, is a Flexitarian.<<<
            they just can't seem to use the 'omnivore' word?

            Question... is eating the muscle of a fish considered 'animal flesh'.. I would image that the sword fish, halibut, tuna or shark on the hook end of a fishing line would certain consider it "animal flesh".


            To me it looks like 'feel good' obfuscation for 'vegaetrains' to generate all manner of
            " I'm not a meat eater " when they do in fact eat the muscle of animals... be them fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds or mammals.

            Reply
            • Dean

              I didn't create the labels or their definitions, but from my limited perspective, I would like to suggest that not everyone chooses their dietary labels or food based upon popularity or recognition from others, and I would bet fewer than you think do so. What you say would suggest someone would choose a vegetarian diet for either the purpose of reducing animal cruelty, or the popularity of the diet itself, but you have overlooked one other driving factor for most: health. Many vegetarians have been mislead to believe that eating animals is unhealthy and is the sole cause for cancer and heart disease (all the while eating loads of gluten, processed foods, and sugar), but eat fish because there is little, if any, argument that fish isn't extremely healthy (if you get clean/mercury-free wild-caught fish).


              No one should have to feel the need to justify their dietary choices to someone else, and we shouldn't feel threatened by other's choices for their own lives.

              Reply
              • BobK

                I would agree but IME, vegetarians & esp vegans seem to 'strive to occupy the moral, ethical & health high ground' which leads me to believe both are religions posing as diets.

                Addionally, vegetarianism, though much better than SAD, is not with its health risks.

                Humans are meant to be omnivores not herbivores or carnivores, though a complete animal based diet is possible & likely better than a completely plant basked diet. YMMVased diet


                cheers

                Reply
              • Halli620

                Just a thought, I doubt that most vegetarians who have chosen to avoid meat "for health" purposes are the ones eating "loads of processed foods and sugar." Also, much of the population is still unable to purchase meats that are sustainably-raised, pasture-raised, organic-fed, etc., so their meat options do actually continue to be "unhealthy" and a "cause of cancer and heart disease"; and these better options have only really been available even in major cities for the past 5-10 years. Now, yes, there are mail-order options, though costly; however, not everyone who eschews meat does so because they think ALL meat is inherently "bad" or because they are "misled," but often because the only meat options they have available to them are conventional and are not good options.

                Reply
                • Dean

                  Good points. I'm just going off of all the vegetarians and vegans I know who readily eat sugar, glutenous grains, and other highly processed food products, who also all struggle with being over weight. Of course, all of the vegan documentaries (Forks Over Knives, etc.) all talk about how bad animal products are for you, while leaving out how much worse gluten, sugar, and other processed food-like products really are, and most even encourage eating more glutenous simple carbs. I was just trying to talk a vegetarian friend out of doing a crazy fruit-only diet detox cleanse. It didn't work.

                  Reply
              • BobK

                My sample is probably biased by the 'vegetarians' I encounter in SoCal.
                Most people who go vegetarian don't stick to it very long... the overall 'stickiness' of vegetarianism in the US quite low.

                Reply
            • Halli620

              Many "omnivores" in this country eat meat daily - why shouldn't there be another term available who eat meat very rarely? No one said you have to use it, but there's ample reason for the existence of the term.
              Further, as Dean stated above, people who only eat fish and no other meat are pescetarians. Why you would claim that "vegetarians" eat fish and still call themselves "vegetarians" as a "feel good obfuscation" is unclear and incorrect.

              Reply
              • BobK

                >>> Why you would claim that "vegetarians" eat fish and still call themselves "vegetarians" as a "feel good obfuscation" is unclear and incorrect.<<<<<.


                Why? Because fish are not vegetables? Perhaps you can offer a different reason for them calling themselves vegetarians when they eat animal products?

                My experience is that, rather than label themselves "omnivores leaning towards plant based but still eating animal products' they call themselves 'vegetarians' because it's 'cooler' and distances them from 'those terrible meat eaters'.


                I wonder if they eat fries with their burgers?

                Reply
  • Louis

    Yeah but you wouldn't be eating a paleo diet if you follow rules 6 and 7... And paleo likes to really have low sugar and not ample fruits because fruits weren't as widely available as most people believe. -if you're in a more tropical climate, or during the summer months there's usually more fruit in traditional diets. Eating tons of sugar while on a diet that's high in fat isn't really the best. This article might be good for those still on the sad American diet, But I think most people that use thrive are already health-conscious individuals.

    Reply
    • thrivemarket

      Thanks for the comment Louis. We find that there are lots of Thrive members or people interested in trying Thrive who are not as health conscious as they would like to be. We want Thrive Notebook to be a resource to both our super healthy readers and those who are less knowledgeable. Our mission is to enlighten and empower as many people as possible to make healthy choices.

      Reply
      • Louis

        Yeah I appreciate that, and that's why I'm a member. I just wanted to share my feelings because after reading dozens upon dozens of books on health and doing everything from fasting to paleo, it seems that ample fruit while on a higher fat diet isn't the best metabolically speaking. I think Denise Minger's video on "what we can learn from vegetarians" points out that while vegetarianism can be healthy and paleo can be healthy, mixing the two isn't ideal because essentially we have a high fat,low carb approach and a higher carb, lower fat approach. Picking one or the other seems to work really well, but having a high fat, high carb (even with fruit) seems to not be the most optimal diet. Of of course if someone is eating processed foods then yes, having more fruits will be an improvement. This is something that took me a while to figure out so I wanted to get it out there. Really appreciate everything that Thrive Market is doing. You guys are absolutely driving positive change in this world and doing great things. And I'll continue to support you and tell my friends where they can get healthy foods for lower prices

        Reply
    • Halli620

      Just a thought, there is obviously the option of having fruit and other food groups in "moderation," without wholly disallowing them, nor "eating tons of sugar."

      Reply
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