Those who have never tried the Mediterranean diet and paleo diet will often confuse one with the other. One diet revolves around whole foods such as legumes, fresh fish, and vegetables, while the other offers a strict way of eating that our hunter-gatherer ancestors have followed since the stone age. Choosing the right diet for your lifestyle can be easier once you understand what each diet is and why they could be the right fit.
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What are the Paleo and Mediterranean Diets?
Both the paleo and Mediterranean diets focus on whole and unprocessed foods — their differences lie in the various food groups that they limit and encourage.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The paleolithic diet, also known as the stone age diet, hunter-gatherer diet, and caveman diet consists of eating food items that people from the paleolithic era would be able to access. This includes any food that could be hunted or gathered, which includes:
- Lean meats
- Fresh fruits
On the other hand, the paleo diet restricts the following:
- Dairy products
- Vegetable oils
- Added Sugar
- Ultra-processed foods
While this diet may have differed based on where these early humans were located in the world, they all would’ve eaten whole foods and would’ve had no access to any processed foods. Scientists believe that the paleo diet encourages people to go back to a simpler way of eating since humans weren’t meant to eat modern foods. By eliminating certain food groups, the paleo diet is believed to bring balance to the body, helping to avoid heart issues and obesity.
Because of this, many people find the paleo diet appealing for their weight loss goals.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
This diet also takes its roots from earlier humans who created ancient civilizations, consisting of a diet that’s centered around the Mediterranean Sea. Instead of implementing strict rules, this diet is based on the traditional meals you would find in Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, France, and the Middle East. The Mediterranean diet uses olive oil as its main source of healthy fats and encourages the consumption of various food groups, which include:
- Whole grains
- Tree nuts
Because it’s a less restrictive diet compared to the paleo diet and the keto diet, you can moderately eat low-fat dairy, fatty fish, eggs, and seafood while also allowing alcohol such as red wine. However, there are also foods discouraged from this diet, which include:
- Red meat
- Added sugars
- Refined grains
- Ultra-processed foods
Research suggests that adopting a Mediterranean eating pattern can provide plenty of health benefits, including better brain function, supporting heart health, lowering blood sugar, and more. Remember that there are no solid rules as to how the Mediterranean diet should be implemented. Instead, follow the general guidelines below that you can slowly add to your usual routine.
Similarities Between the Paleo and Mediterranean Diet
Both the paleo and Mediterranean diets are known for their great health benefits, and many focus on weight loss. Here, we outline more similarities between these two popular diets.
- They both focus on consuming high-nutrient foods while emphasizing the importance of getting rid of refined sugars and processed foods.
- These diets have shared food groups that should be made a part of your daily diet, such as fresh produce, fish, seeds, nuts, and more. All of these are minimally processed foods — a category of food that has been classified by NOVA, a system made specifically to classify processed food.
- The paleo and Mediterranean diets fall under the same category of NOVA, where both diet regimens encourage more minimally-processed and unprocessed foods.
- Both the paleo and Mediterranean diets can aid in losing and maintaining weight; the paleo diet has also been associated with waist circumference and BMI.
- Neither diet calls for a caloric restriction or tracking portion sizes. However, they require strict avoidance of specific food groups, some of which have nutritious foods.
- According to a study, both the paleo and Mediterranean diets have been linked to low levels of oxidative stress and inflammation.
Differences Between the Paleo and Mediterranean Diet
While the paleo and Mediterranean diets have things in common, they also have a few differences that you may need to consider, such as:
- One of the key differences between these low-fat diets is that the Mediterranean diet allows for the consumption of anything in moderation, excluding processed items.
- The paleo diet doesn’t allow the consumption of any legumes, grains, or dairy products, which is why it’s known as a highly restrictive diet. Instead, consumers are encouraged to eat nuts, red meat, fish, poultry, tubers, seeds, and nuts.
- Another difference between these diets is their source of protein. While the Mediterranean diet focuses on fish as its main source of protein, the paleo diet takes this nutrient from poultry and meat.
- Because the paleo diet cuts out whole food groups, people miss out on essential nutrients such as protein, zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and more. These nutrients are crucial because they help to manage and prevent disease — depending on where you’re located, they can be affordable and accessible.
- However, the Mediterranean diet strongly encourages legumes and whole grains, while dairy products such as cheese and yogurt can be consumed moderately. Moreover, the Mediterranean diet plan discourages people from eating red meat such as pork and beef but it isn’t restricted.
- Lastly, the paleo diet includes coconut oil, butter, and lard to use as cooking oils apart from olive and avocado oil. However, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t approve of using saturated fats like butter, lard, and coconut oil.
Are They Considered to be Healthy Diets?
While any diet can present a health risk if you don’t consult your doctor before taking up a new diet, both the Paleo and Mediterranean diets have been considered healthy. There are, however, a few things you need to keep in mind whenever starting a new diet plan.
When it comes to the Mediterranean diet, people are usually skeptical about its potential to promote weight loss since there’s no portion control. But when paired with the right amounts of food, it can certainly help with your health goals.
The paleo diet is a great solution for people looking to get short-term results. Because of the higher intake of saturated fats from specific foods like coconut oil and animal protein, there are a few concerns regarding long-term effects. This diet is also made up of a lot of red meats, which can cause cholesterol levels to increase over time.
As a result, consider going on the paleo diet for shorter periods of time or try the diet with leaner meat such as chicken as your main source of protein.
Pros of the Paleo Diet
Just like any diet (even fad diets), there are both pros and cons. Below are some of the advantages you’ll enjoy while on the paleo diet.
- There’s potential for weight loss on the paleo diet since you’ll be eating whole foods and restricting processed foods. Depending on your diet and physical activity, you may even get faster results.
- The paleo diet also has possible benefits for cardiovascular disease, where a 2019 study found a link between a lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and the paleo diet. This is due to the restriction of dairy, grains, added salts, and sugar, along with processed foods.
- Because paleo cuts off sugars and processed foods while promoting a low-carbohydrate diet, it can help people shed weight fast. As a result of this weight loss, it can potentially reduce Type II diabetes that comes as a result of obesity.
- There are also trials that claim this healthy eating plan can lower high blood pressure, enhance glucose tolerance, and better manage your appetite. Other clinical trials also found the paleo diet to lower the risk of coronary heart disease and inflammation while promoting optimal health.
Cons of the Paleo Diet
Here are a few things that you may find disadvantageous when trying the paleo diet.
- Because the paleo diet doesn’t allow dairy, grains, or processed foods in the foods you eat, it may demand big lifestyle changes for some people. Moreover, when a diet restricts too many food groups, you may find it too challenging to do after a certain period. Too often, people will be able to do this diet for a while but come back to their usual way of eating.
- The paleo diet can be expensive because it focuses on eating red meats like pork and beef, which will typically cost more than chicken and shrimp.
- Since the paleo diet has an increased intake of meat, it can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Compared to the standard American diet, the paleo diet is pretty limited and can lead to health risks. Omitting whole food groups such as dairy products may lead to a shortage of calcium and vitamin D, which are essential for osteoporosis prevention and healthy bones.
Pros of the Mediterranean Diet
Much like the paleo diet, there are plenty of positives to following the Mediterranean Diet.
- Compared to the paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet pyramid allows for more flexibility, so it’s an easier long-term option to follow. Those who are looking for a more sustainable low-carb diet will find that this is the best way to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
- When combined with the ketogenic diet, people can use the same dietary guidelines but can replace legumes and bread with low-carb vegetables. This can improve metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular health, and weight loss.
- Some consider this option to be the healthiest diet because you can have almost anything in moderation. As such, it’s one of the safest ways to approach dieting for the human body.
- Studies show that this diet helps brain functions, and can help to reduce the risk of cognitive illnesses including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to enhance our overall health while helping to protect against chronic diseases such as strokes and cancer. Moreover, it may also help to ease signs of depression.
Cons of the Mediterranean Diet
Even the best diets will have a few drawbacks — here are a few things to consider before going on a Mediterranean diet.
- This may sound confusing since weight loss was listed as one of its possible benefits. However, weight gain is also a possibility since there’s no portion control in this diet.
- Compared to the usual human diet, the Mediterranean diet may be more costly since it promotes the consumption of seeds, nuts, olive oil, and fish, all of which are pricier items.
Which is the Best Diet for You?
It’s not easy picking just one diet to try when you’re looking for results that will last a long time. But before you take the plunge into any kind of diet, be sure to talk to your doctor and seek guidance on the kind of diet that’s suitable for your body and lifestyle. While paleo is the better option for quick weight loss, the Mediterranean diet offers a more sustainable diet, but both will work better with a carefully formulated exercise regimen.
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