Paleo diet for vegans/vegetarians

I’m thinking of trying the Paleo diet after reading The Paleo Diet for Athletes. I am particularly interested in the nutrient timing aspects in the book how carbs are ‘cycled’ around training. But, my wife is Whole food Plant Based and as it is easier I have followed suit though not as strictly and could best be described as vegetarian with very occasional eggs and fish. Is it simply a case of adding in vegan protein instead of animal? Any thoughts @trevor as I know you have had a lot to do/affiliation with the Paleo Diet?

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Hi @dreednya,

Thanks for your question. I’m glad you enjoyed the book and found it valuable!

Your question is a good one and a tough one to answer. It’s certainly one where you will get different answers. I obviously have a bias, but you asked specifically about that bias so I’ll do my best to give you the Paleo perspective. Hopefully others will chime into this thread and give some differing perspectives.

The first thing to say is there has been some talk about a “Pegan” diet that is a vegan diet based on the Paleo Diet. Unfortunately, that’s not something we support. There were no hunter-gatherer societies that were vegans. There were also none that were entirely carnivore (and we’ve certainly had our arguments with the carnivore community.) So, I personally do not believe that a vegan diet can be as healthy as an omnivore diet. That said, it’s been my hope in the future to write (from the Paleo perspective) about how to make a vegan diet as healthy as possible. I do admire people who are vegan for moral reasons.

But getting back to the pure Paleo perspective, we see many issues, from a health standpoint, with eating only plant-based proteins. A few of them are:

  1. While all plant food contains all amino acids, with few exceptions, they do not contain them in the ratios that are optimal for humans. While eating most animal-based proteins will give us mostly the right ratios of amino acids, that’s not the case eating any one plant-based protein. So, to get the amino acids you need requires careful planning - not one plant-based protein but mixing many different plants proteins that are high in different amino acids in order to ultimately get a good ratio. Experienced vegans understand this and carefully mix their protein sources.

  2. Eating a purely vegan diet lacks key nutrients that we need. In particular, you will not get adequate B12 or bioavailable B6. This leads to a breakdown of the folic acid cycle which in turn leads to high levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine has a high correlation with heart disease. So while a vegan diet is often promoted as good for the heart, ironically, without careful planning and supplementation, it’s quite the opposite.

  3. Many of the best plant-based protein sources are also high in anti-nutrients. For example, beans are one of the best plant-based proteins. A few beans are actually complete proteins (i.e. they have the right mix of amino acids.) However they are also high in lectins and saponins which are damaging to the gut and can cause inappropriate inflammation. I can go deeper into that, but as I remember, Dr Cordain and Joe Friel covered antinutrients in the book.

I know that doesn’t fully answer your question but it hopefully gives some context. My answer is that there really isn’t a good single plant protein to replace your eggs and fish. If you are committed to going fully vegan you’re going to have to carefully select a mix of plant-based proteins. There are good websites that can tell you how to do that. I just recommend you be careful about being overly reliant on beans since they can have many negative effects. Again, from the Paleo perspective, we generally recommend avoiding beans altogether - particularly if you have certain chronic conditions such as autoimmune disease.

Hope that helps!



Thanks Trevor,.

That is kind of what I thought, possible but needs a lot of thought especially on the bean front! Luckily I’m not a huge fan of beans, but that does make sourcing protein more difficult unless you go down the artificial (powder) route which I am not adverse to.

I also hadn’t realised that there was a “Pegan” diet - I’ll take a look and see what I can take from that respectful of all your comments above

Thanks again


Thanks Dave! Definitely let me know how it goes…

Will do Trevor. My main stumbling block will be the beans as my wife uses them extensively in her cooking! But the nutrient timing outlined in the book will definitely be implemented and the food groups as much as is feasibly possible. Good to see the Vegan diet also allows eggs and fish :smiley:

If you can get eggs and fish in your diet, that will help a lot! Not sure how to help you with beans. If your wife is a pure vegan, they are something that she’ll need. They’re just unfortunately high in anti-nutrients.

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She is pure vegan/whole food plant based so yup beans are a big part of her diet so probably not much I can do. I guess the replacement of processed foods with whole foods is a bigger positive than the not being able to exclude beans.

There are some mixtures of pea and rice protein isolates on the market which are both complete proteins and low in antinutrients. I would not consider it a one-stop solution to improving vegan/veg protein consumption though, and pretty far from a whole food!! But for something that comes in a plastic tub, it’s less bad than most of the other stuffs on the shelf (as long as you don’t have allergy/FODMAP issues with peas). There are not many of us that have all the time in the world to prep ideal meals all the time (so many dirty dishes!) so tubs of powder have a place, especially if the family is not on the same page. One additional thought, quinoa and nuts are underutilized as good protein sources and generally family friendly.

As a side note, as a vEGGan myself, one of the very few supplements I take is ~1g omega3 (DHA) oil. These are hard to get into a meat free diet!


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that antinutrient listing is interesting, for years soy beans have been roasted to remove trypsin inhibitor activity, so it is unlikely that any veggie protein has them in this day and age. Roasting does not change the amino acid balance but it changes the protein structures. Phytic acid is found in nearly all plants and though it may be a cause of mineral chelation it may not be the type of anti nutrient one usually concerns oneself with. Similarly with the category saponins, these are found in many plants and in many cases are consider useful components. Lectins are also something that cooking or heat treating and hull removal will affect such that it reduces the concern. So it depends on the processing of the veggie proteins if the trypsin inhibitor or lectins are of concern. Finally tannins are what we all get when we drink tea and to date I have not heard that much negativity with tannins, though again they may be implicated for chelating minerals and other substances. A good place to get straight info is from the Harvard web site: Are anti-nutrients harmful? | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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