Some paleo love for the vegetarians?

I’ve been living the paleo/primal/real foods way for a while now and…

  1. Most paleo folks hate dislike are not really fond of vegetarians.
  2. A bunch of folks tried out ‘vegetarian-paleo’ and it sucked their efforts were not too fruitful (at least not shared publicly on the web).

In this post…

  1. I will try to act as a mediator/translator between the vegetarians and paleo community explaining one side’s arguments to the other.
  2. I will take a stab at making the generic vegetarians a little (more) healthy by recommending a make-believe ‘vegetarian ancestral diet’.

Realize that…

  1. I will be talking only about ‘vegetarians’ in this post. No vegans. No frutarians.
  2. Being vegetarian does not mean you’re healthy by default.
  3. Being vegetarian does not make you better than anyone else in any damn way. The relationship between morality and food is just as stupid as the relationship between wealth and happiness.
  4. I come from a country where a lot of people are vegetarian by birth (almost never by choice) and you need to be one of them to understand ‘why’ they are vegetarians. So my argument here might be more pertinent to these folks than those who chose to be vegetarians.
  5. Anything titled ‘vegetarian-paleo’ is retarded. It’s an oxymoron for all practical purposes… you know like Microsoft Works.

To everyone:

Paleo is a simple dietary lifestyle that is based on foods being either in or out. In are the Paleolithic Era foods that we ate prior to agriculture and animal husbandry (meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, fruit, berries, mushrooms, etc.). Out are Neolithic Era foods that result from agriculture or animal husbandry (grains, dairy, beans/legumes, potatoes, sugar and fake foods). – From

A vegetarian does not eat meat, including red meat, game, poultry, fish, crustacea, and shellfish, and may also abstain from by-products of animal slaughter such as animal-derived rennet and gelatin. An ovo-lacto vegetarian is a vegetarian who does not eat animal flesh of any kind, but is willing to consume dairy and egg products. – From

To the vegetarians:

While a lot of paleo folks are against a vegetarian diet, I, personally, am not against any way of eating (except this guy’s twinkie diet) as long as it encourages consumption of wholesome and real ingredients. Make no mistake, the folks who hate you because you don’t eat meat actually care about you. They believe that the pinnacle of human health was reached when man ate meat and you can’t hate them for trying to help you make the choices that (they think) are best for you.

Keep in mind that these paleo rock-stars are not idiots like your average dietitians/nutritionists. These folks are a part of the select few (I’d say 0.0001% of the population) who have the balls to go against conventional wisdom that is prescribed worldwide today by doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, the respective governments and well, the World Health Organization itself. Check out some of their advice – ‘Eat more meat’, ‘Saturated fat is good for you’, ‘Skip the olive oil. Go for the butter’, ‘Eat lard’, ‘Don’t eat breakfast’. For someone to make such bold statements/claims there absolutely has to be solid evidence available. And guess what… there is. Look into Dr. Loren Cordain’s ‘The Paleo Diet’ or Robb Wolf’s ‘The Paleo Solution’ or Anthony Colpo ‘The Great Cholesterol Con’ or T. S. Wiley’s ‘Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar & Survival’. I kid you not, ~ 30% of each of these books (~ 100 pages in each book) has nothing but references of published literature! These guys are  extremely well-versed in nutrition and the human body and understand extremely well, how what goes in your pie-hole can lead to your coffin. These guys are indeed elite.

My point? Keep an open mind. Listen to what these guys have to say. Decide for yourself if it fits your bill. Don’t just hate.

To the paleo folks:

It’s not that vegetarians think meat eaters are evil (at least not everyone), it’s just that they find it hard to wrap their heads around ‘killing something for food’ when it is possible to live without doing so (note that I said ‘live’ and not ‘thrive’). Realize that these folks haven’t eaten meat in a long long time and have been taught over and over again that a vegetarian diet is the healthiest diet there is. They, like most of us, think that they are making smart choices (remember the days you proudly ordered ‘Whole wheat toast with no butter please!’). So even if you do convince them that meat is what resulted in brain development in the early man and that eating grass-fed meat is the healthier option, the texture, taste and smell of meat along with other psychological challenges make the transition painful and, in most cases, impossible.

Proof that stress can get to cavemen too!

While it is true that being vegetarian is unnatural and will not provide the best nutrition possible, it is also true that the benefits of meat consumption can be easily negated with bad meat choices (grain-fed/farm-raised), less than optimal sleep, a polluted environment, chronic stress and  lack of exercise. So, as important as it is to fine tune nutrition, it is critical to grab other low hanging fruits (eating real unprocessed foods, avoiding grains and sugars, increasing activity level, weight training, getting adequate sleep etc.)  first up.

My point? Claiming that eating meat is the be-all-end-all of health is BS and won’t work. There are other changes that can be made in an existing generic vegetarian diet/lifestyle that will produce numerous health benefits. Respect a person’s food choices and try to work with/around it.

Please note that I too have read The Vegetarian Myth and I’m only trying to explain a vegetarian’s perception of food. So please don’t waste your and my time with emails/comments talking about how a vegetarian diet also results in bloodshed and you absolutely have to kill to live blah blah blah. You’ll only be preaching to the choir.

So what is a vegetarian’s ancestral prescription for health and longevity?

1. Eat real food: No brainer. I’ve spoken about this plenty and you can read about it here. Also, be sure to check out this post about how to gradually transition to clean eating.

2. Drop the grains: Grains include wheat, oats, barley, rice, quinoa etc. Just drop ’em. This post will teach you how to gradually reduce/quit grains.

3. Control the sugar: Enjoy your fruit and honey in moderation and drop all other types of sugars. Yep even the zero-calorie sweetener.

4. Love your nuts: Ok that did not sound right. Anyways include nuts as a part of your diet.

5. Don’t worry about macro-nutrients: Unless you’re marching towards a certain aesthetic/performance goal.

6. Don’t fear the fats: Saturated fats are your friends. Enjoy the coconut oil/butter as a part of everyday cooking. Here is a list of other awesome fat sources you can enjoy often.

7. Include a protein in every meal: Since your protein sources are limited, include eggs, cheese, paneer, cottage cheese, whey protein powder and tofu/tempeh (for women) in your diet. Regularly.

8. Eat starch only when you need starch: Sweet potatoes, yams, squash, beets and other starchy vegetables/tubers are your best options.

9. Fish Oil: Please, please, please swig some everyday.

10. Move like the hunter: Sprint, jump, push, pull… you know like when we they used to hunt critters.

11. Sleep like a baby: Getting enough sleep is extremely important in controlling stress and systemic inflammation.

Now the above will be an ideal vegetarian diet. What are some sensible detours that will let you live disease free but also let you enjoy some of the sinful neolithic foods available today?

1. Lentils/Beans: Yes, they contain lectins and yes, they give some people the runs. But if you can tolerate them and the carb-load they provide, lentils/beans are definitely a fair compromise. Tip: Soaking lentils/beans in water overnight (prior to cooking) has proven to remove some of the toxins.

2. The infrequent rice indulgence: The key word here being ‘infrequent’. If you did this everyday then you’re just too stupid to live long enough anyways.

3. The occasional sugar-high: When it’s time destroy that plate of cheesecake! The key word here being ‘high’. Sugar = cocaine. Do it rarely… the sugar I mean.

Since this turned out to be a long-ass post, I will elaborate in the near future by dedicating one blog post to each of the above points.

Peace out.

8 responses to “Some paleo love for the vegetarians?

  1. Lavanya October 5, 2010 at 8:55 am

    I have been reading quite a few articles / blogs on Paleo diet, esp Mark’s Daily Apple. While the idea of eating food that is the opposite of processed is attractive, the minimal provisions for vegetarians is a big deterrent. I seriously do not get WHY the various diet / fitness blogs cater for meat eaters only.

  2. Anand October 22, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I love your style. The way you present the subject matter.

    I am also from India as you can guess from the name.

    I am married to a vegetarian. So these goals are very close to my heart.

    I have been trying to get my wife move away from the neolithic foods to the paleolithic foods.

    Success has been very patchy.

    Unfortunately dairy is not a neolithic food that a vegetarian can avoid. That is the only food that provides animal sources of vitamin and minerals, particularly the B12, K2 and Zinc. It has to be one of the staples of a vegetarians diet.

    Also it is more difficult for women to over come their food cravings. It has something to do with their capability to multi-task. They can be doing something else and still continue to think about the food they could not have. There was a study, where they showed that those brain centers continue to fire even though they are concentrating on something else.

    Another problem is lack of non-neolithic foods in Indian food culture. There are few but rare. Luckily my wife is a good cook and tries yo make exotic dishes. Potato yogurt curry is good and Avial (a Kerala dish) has become a staple for us.

    Dosa/Appam/Uthapam/Idly are the other staple. Yes they are not highly nutritious, but they are better than plain rice or lentils, with reduced anti-nutrients and increased bioavailability of nutrients.

    Rosti a Swiss dish made with Cheese and Potatoes is a very frequent breakfast.

    She is also trying to get more eggs.

    We are still not a wheat free household, but I am hopeful that we will be someday.

    I didn’t see in your blogroll. You should check it out if you haven’t. Stephan is a biochemist and a neurobiologist. I consider it the best for nutritional information.

    @Lavanya: I also read mark’s daily apple forum frequently. Slowly people there are getting more carb tolerant. But initially when I started people where complete low carbers. Ironically Mark himself is not a strict low carber. Most of the people are not from India, so you cannot expect them to get the concept of a cultural vegetarian. I don’t agree with any other reason to be a vegetarian. All other reasons are facetious. The Vegetarian Myth shows this very soundly.

    • RG October 26, 2010 at 3:08 pm

      I have been trying to get my wife move away from the neolithic foods to the paleolithic foods.
      Success has been very patchy.

      Raj: Send me a personal email. I work with a lot of vegetarians and they eat per the plan everyday every meal and love what they eat.

      Dosa/Appam/Uthapam/Idly are the other staple. Yes they are not highly nutritious, but they are better than plain rice or lentils, with reduced anti-nutrients and increased bioavailability of nutrients.

      Raj: I disagree. Would I drink coke or coke zero? Neither. But coke zero has no calories? Poison is still poison.
      Raj: Every once in a while? Sure! Every day? Nope.

      Rosti a Swiss dish made with Cheese and Potatoes is a very frequent breakfast.

      Raj: Not a great breakfast choice. Rosti is predominantly potatoes which are mixed with cheese and then fried. Too many carbs. Negligible protein. Very little vitamins/minerals. I wouldn’t start my day with it. You are definitely better off with a shake (whole milk, whey, macadamia nuts, berries, coconut may be) or eggs and veggies. Can’t do both? Skip breakfast. Fasting FTW.

      We are still not a wheat free household, but I am hopeful that we will be someday.

      Raj: This is big. 95% of your health and well-being will come out of the following…
      1. Throwing out the junk food.
      2. Going gluten-free.
      3. Restricting grains and sugars to a minimum.
      4. Including more vegetables.
      5. Good quality sleep for ~8hrs a day.
      6. Fish oil, magnesium and vit d3 supplementation.

      This stuff is guaranteed! Money in the bank! You ill get stronger/leaner/faster and your blood work will improve significantly. The rest of the stuff is all splitting hairs. I find it ridiculous to fight about potatoes vs yams when people are still downing soda by the gallon and cheetos by the bowl.

      I didn’t see in your blogroll.

      Raj: My bad. I’ll add it right away. I’m a big fan of Stephan. Legit stuff!

      • anand srivastava November 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

        I understand what you are saying. But you don’t understand my wife ;-).

        Do you think she would drink a protein shake? I have been after her for that since an year. Hasn’t happened yet.

        The real changes that we have done are, got rid of large chunks of sugar from our diet. Its now only an occasional past time. Got rid of Refined oils, that one was easy. Got rid of much of the wheat, and to do that I had to move her towards dosa and potatoes. I think that you will agree they are better than wheat. The craving are still there, and hopefully we will get rid of it completely, rsn.

        Out of your list of 6 things the item 3 is the sticking point. Rest of all is fine. She does not take enough fish oil, but does take a little bit. There is a still bit of gluten. That is what my current focus is. I have to somehow get her to get on to a protein shake. It will be a tough fight ;-).

    • Arvind Ashok October 26, 2010 at 3:23 pm

      I am a regular reader of Raj’s blog and my routine is very similar to his. One major difference is I am mostly vegetarian. My protein sources are mostly eggs and cottage cheese. Plus, I use whey and hemp protein in my shakes to supplement my protein intake.
      One comment. IMO, there is no reason to pigeon-hole oneself into a restrictive diet. In your case, it seems to be the paleo diet. Trying to move a vegetarian to a paleo diet might not be in their best interests. A paleo-vegetarian is an oxymoron.
      I agree with Raj’s comments on your idli/dosai remark. It is still a form of rice. Either you should take it out of the diet or eat it in whichever form it satiates. One can still eat rice (and high GI carbs) and be healthy, as long as the timing and portions are planned. Again, my personal opinion.

      • Arvind Ashok October 26, 2010 at 3:26 pm

        To clarify, I said “mostly vegetarian” because I use fish oil supplements. And I eat eggs. A lot of them.

      • anand srivastava November 10, 2010 at 11:55 am

        My wife does eat some cottage cheese and gouda/mozzarella cheese regularly. Some whey protein shake will do wonders to her health, but have to convince her of it. She does eat eggs but unfortunately doesn’t like it. I am not pigeon holed into paleo otherwise I wouldn’t be going for dosa, instead of wheat. I am just trying to go from more dangerous stuff to less dangerous ones, whatever my wife will agree to.

  3. SG June 9, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    It’s an oxymoron for all practical purposes… you know like Microsoft Works….LOL

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