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Does a Paleo Diet for vegetarians exist?

Here's a dilemma: What do you do if you want to eat Paleo, but you're a vegetarian? Compromise, of course.

I’ve been a full-blown vegetarian for almost seven years and I don’t plan on eating meat anytime soon. Forgoing meat, fish, and poultry gives me ample energy, enough flexibility if I want to eat out, and variety—I can honestly say that I've never met a fruit or vegetable I didn't like. Plus, a no-meat diet is healthy. Abundant research shows that vegetarians have better scores when it comes to blood sugar, blood fats, and body mass.

Veg-heads have better tickers too. A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming a plant-based diet was associated with reduced heart disease risk—most likely due to vegetarians’ lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Oxford scientists analyzed 44,561 English and Scottish men and women who were participating in the ongoing European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. Even after adjusting for variables such as smoking and physical activity, researchers concluded that vegetarians had a 32 percent lower chance of heart disease than nonvegetarians—a pretty remarkable stat.

Paleo Diet 101

But this blog is not entirely intended to preach the vegetarian path. Rather, it’s about the Paleo (or “Caveman”) Diet. I like its philosophy. Eat animals and plants hunted and gathered by people who lived 20,000 years ago. Cut out grains, refined sugar, and dairy—“modern” dietary additions that correlate with obesity and other ailments like diabetes or allergies.

The Paleo Diet encourages participants to choose clean, unprocessed foods. As Melissa Joulwan, author of the awesome Paleo cookbook Well Fed (Smudge, 2011) brilliantly describes it, “Generally speaking, the paleo diet is made up of nutrient-dense foods that began with dirt, rain, and sunshine. They come from the earth and would be recognizable as food by a person from any time in human history.” Salmon, eggs, beef, almonds, carrots, and berries are in. Cheese, wheat, corn, beans, soy, and Doritos are out.

I suppose a vegetarian could tackle the paleo diet with a few modifications though—or at least adopt the ideologies. Obviously meat wouldn't be included, and the lack of legumes, a main source of protein for many vegetarians, is slightly troubling.

But eggs, seeds (sunflower, hemp) and nuts (cashews, walnuts) could cover lost nutrients. Milk is replaced by almond or hemp or coconut. And I posit that in the face of limitation, one would organically embrace ultra-nutritious foods like broccoli, squash, spices, and coconut oil. A Paleo-vegetarian wouldn’t have to live a chocolate-less life either: unsweetened cocoa is allowed (I'll raise a club to that!)

Check out this neat infographic to learn more about the Paleo Diet.

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