Paleo, vegan and vegetarian diets all have their pros and cons. Credit: Jessie Snyder/The Foothill Dragon Press
Foothill Technology High School

Looking at vegetarian, vegan and paleo diets

Paleo, vegan and vegetarian diets all have their pros and cons. Credit: Jessie Snyder/The Foothill Dragon Press
Paleo, vegan and vegetarian diets all have their pros and cons. Credit: Jessie Snyder/The Foothill Dragon Press

For people looking to have a healthy diet, there are many views about what is healthiest. Vegans and vegetarians think that eliminating all animal products and/or meat is healthy. Paleos believe that a diet that includes high-quality meat, but no grains, is best.

With so many different diets, it can be difficult to discern which diet is healthier than the other. In fact, there are positives and negatives to all of the diets: vegan, vegetarian, and paleo. Although they may seem different, there are some things that these diets share: all of them emphasize more vegetables and fruits and encourage less processed food and sugar.

Sizing up different diets. Credit: Emily Kinnaman/The Foothill Dragon Press

Sizing up different diets. Credit: Emily Kinnaman/The Foothill Dragon Press

Vegetarian

For a variety of reasons, whether due to ethics or health, many people choose to not eat meat. Studies have found that vegetarians have “lower rates of a number of health problems, including obesity, cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.”

Junior Kailey Schuyler is a vegetarian because she favors a healthier diet, but also because she prefers food without meat.

“I never ate a lot of meat before I was a vegetarian, and [before I was a vegetarian] meat was never something I really enjoyed, so I just stopped eating it altogether, and I felt healthier,” Schuyler said.

Schuyler believes that her vegetarian diet is healthy because it causes her to avoid fast food and make healthier choices.

“One thing for me is it influences me not to eat fast food a lot,” she said. “When I’m out and my friends want to go eat fast food, I don’t really have any interest in that because I don’t eat meat. It makes me make healthier eating decisions.”

Some difficulties accompanied by a vegetarian diet can be getting enough nutrients like protein and iron. Schuyler believes that when she initially became a vegetarian, her diet lacked enough of these nutrients.

“If you’re not taking care of your protein and your iron needs, you could definitely miss out on lots of things,” she said. “I feel like last year when I was a vegetarian, and before I was really intact with what I needed to be eating, I think I was anemic and I wasn’t really healthy. I was really tired and dizzy all of the time.”

“If you’re not taking care of your protein and your iron, I think that could be a negative, but I think as long as you know what you’re doing, you’ll be fine,” she added.

Paleo

Paleo diets on the other hand, emphasize grass-fed and natural meats, including red meat. The idea behind the diet is to eat plenty of protein and fat and less carbohydrates. The paleo diet eliminates all grains like rice, wheat, and corn, dairy, and refined sugar.

Math teacher Bill Huffman has eaten a paleo diet for about five years, and so is knowledgeable about the diet.

“Basically it’s a diet that based on whole foods. What they say is like pre-agriculture, so you’re talking about meats, vegetables, some fruits, nuts, seeds, things like that. Really it’s a diet that’s geared away from the processed stuff,” Huffman said.

High-quality meats that are grass-fed and antibiotic-free are essential to the paleo diet. Unfortunately, these healthier meats are more expensive, which is one difficulty of the diet.

“Quality meats are the key,” Huffman said. “Because there’s a lot of meats out there like farmed meats, corn-fed beef, farmed fish, things like that, that actually I think are terrible for you.”

The paleo diet has been found to have more nutrients than typical diets. This means that there are also many health benefits. One study found that a paleo diet can reduce the risk of “cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cancer.”

Since eating a paleo diet, Huffman has noticed large improvements in his overall health.

“Whenever I started to get on that diet and clean up my diet in that way, I noticed a difference in my performance,” Huffman said. “Energy levels as well. Energy levels on the paleo diet, they definitely go up. Mental clarity early in the morning, definitely notice a difference.”

“In terms of the paleo diet and seeing the difference, without a doubt. Like my immunity, I rarely get sick. When I say rarely get sick, I’m talking like once every two to three and a half years,” he said. “And when I do get sick, it’s not very intense, my body is able to recover.”

Because the diet eliminates many foods, it can be difficult to maintain a strict paleo diet.

“With any diet, just to keep sanity, I always say like the 80/20 rule, like you try to stay like 80 percent pretty strict toward the diet you’re on, and 20 percent give or take,” Huffman said. “If I go out to eat for a celebration or something like that, there’s deviations because that’s just part of enjoying food.”

Huffman believes that the paleo diet is a healthy diet for most people, but that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” diet.

“Everyone comes with a different physiology, [and a] different lifestyle too,” he said. “Like if someone who runs marathons came to me, and I told them to go on a strict paleo diet where all their carbohydrates were coming from fruits and vegetables, there’s no way that could ever happen. So lifestyle’s a big part of it.”

All three diets prioritize fresh fruits and vegetables over processed foods. Credit: Jessie Snyder/The Foothill Dragon Press

All three diets prioritize fresh fruits and vegetables over processed foods. Credit: Jessie Snyder/The Foothill Dragon Press

Vegan

Vegans, like vegetarians, do not eat meat. They also avoid animal products like milk, honey, and eggs. Instead, vegan diets emphasize plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.

The diet has been shown to lower risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. This is likely because vegan diets include more vegetables and fruits than typical diets, and therefore have more fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Science teacher Macie Vega has eaten a vegan diet since she was a teenager. She is vegan both for health and ethical reasons.

“I’ve had some health problems in the past and my doctor has always been supportive and recommended a low cholesterol diet,” she said. “I really like the health aspect of it; I feel healthier when I eat vegan, and I’m lactose-intolerant, so obviously any time I eat dairy I don’t feel good. But I also do it for ethical reasons, too, so for me it’s both.”

Vega believes that a vegan diet can be very healthy when planned correctly. Still, there are many processed foods that are vegan, but are not necessarily as healthy as fruits and vegetables.

“I feel like the more fruits and vegetables I eat, the more energy I have,” Vega said. “When I was in high school and in college, I was vegan, but I ate a lot of processed foods. A lot of things are vegan, like french fries are vegan, and Oreo cookies are vegan and there’s all these things that are vegan technically.”

“When I was younger I ate a lot of that, and I didn’t feel necessarily that great,” she continued. “But then as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized I really have to have a lot of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and things like that in my diet. And so now I try to eat, not just vegan, but just healthy, fresh things that are not so processed.”

Vega has also found a vegan diet to be cheaper compared to other diets.

“For me, once you learn to cook on your own, it’s actually a lot less expensive,” she said. “When I sit down and compare with friends of mine and their family, because my whole family eats vegan, and we compare our grocery bills, we are buying a lot of nuts and fruits and grains and beans and rice and things like that, and it’s actually cheaper than buying a lot of grass-fed beef or organic beef and things like that.”

Overall, Vega believes that a vegan diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and less processed food, is healthy.

For her, moderation is key.

“I would say, just like with any diet, you have to be careful with balance and moderation and not eating too much processed stuff,” she said.

–Emily Kinnaman

Featured Photo Credit: Jessie Snyder/The Foothill Dragon Press