Vegan Vs. Paleo Diet: What Are the Differences?

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By Ashley Woodward • Last Updated: February 16, 2023 is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Vegan Vs. Paleo Diet

Despite having less variety and selection than we have today, people in history tended to be healthier and avoided developing chronic disease due to their diet.

However, the rise of industrial food has caused chronic health problems to increase throughout the world, and more people are questioning their diets today than ever before.

Today, two eating mentalities have risen, each with thousands of dieters around the world that advocate for it: veganism and the paleolithic (paleo) diet.

Trying to sort through the science to understand the differences between the two diets can be tricky, as conflicting evidence seems to exist for each one.

Should you cut out carbs completely and fill up on meat, or is it better to fill your plate with a rainbow of vegetables instead? The research can be anything but clear.

To help you understand the differences between veganism and paleo diet, we’ve combed through the studies to make them simple to understand. The rest of this article will explore what these two diets are all about so that you can make the best dietary choice for you. To clear out your confusion, keep on reading.


First popularized by the CrossFit fitness community, the paleolithic (paleo) diet is one of the most popular health diets in the world. The Paleo diet is modeled after the way that humans ate for the vast majority of history before the rise of agriculture introduced increasingly processed foods into their daily lives.

Paleo Diet

In the same way, people that follow a paleo diet believe that their bodies aren’t fully adjusted to eating grains, as they have only been part of the human diet for the past 10,000 years.

For this reason, true paleo dieters avoid any food that comes from a factory farm and instead eat lots of pasture raised meat, wild caught fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts while turning down legumes, dairy, eggs, grains and sugar.

Paleo dieters try to think like an ancient hunter gather and eat only the foods that were available to them in order to limit their risk of contracting the chronic diseases so common in the western world today. In fact, research has shown that eating a healthy paleo diet can support weight loss and improve autoimmune illnesses.


At first glance, the differences between a vegan diet and paleo diet should be obvious. By attempting to emulate the diet of our hunter gatherer ancestors, paleo followers take the “hunter” side seriously and eat diets filled with meat. While they avoid all other animal products, most paleo followers attempt to eat meat at every meal.

In contrast, vegans believe that all animal products are unethical to eat and can even cause chronic disease. Instead of animal-based protein, vegans fill up on beans, grains, fruits and vegetables. However, processed foods and sugar is technically allowed (though not recommended) in vegan diets.

Paleo followers take a harder stance against processed foods and cut out all added sugar besides honey and maple syrup and turn away from grains like rice and quinoa as well.


While vegans and paleo dieters have the same goals of being healthy and eating what’s best for the planet in the long run, they have widely different views about what this really means within a variety of food categories.


Unrefined whole grains are an important part of a vegan diet. Rice, quinoa, and even wheat are relied on for bulking nutritional content, providing carbohydrates and producing protein.

Grains In The Diet

Vegans argue that humans have been eating grains for over 10,000 years and that they have been essential for the start of long term civilizations in the Mediterranean. 

In contrast, paleo dieters believe that the scientific literature is increasingly showing that grain products are dangerous to the body in multiple ways.

Paleo dieters cite the rise of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease as evidence that humans weren’t designed to eat grains, and they blame them for a wide variety of neurological, inflammatory, and immunological problems that lead to chronic disease.

In their view, refined grains like white rice simply provide quick energy for the body that spikes blood sugar levels and turns to fat.


Technically, French fries and sugary sodas are vegan, and many vegan dieters rely on them for far too many of their daily calories. In the same way, some vegans rely on heavily processed meat alternatives like tofurkey and vegan hot dogs, which have negligible health benefits.

A vegan diet can be followed in a wide variety of ways, meaning that it can range significantly in health benefits depending on whether you fill your diet with fruits and vegetables or processed snack foods instead.

However, paleo diets require you to only eat whole foods, meaning that anything processed or refined is strictly off limits.


Vegan diets have meat and all other animal products strictly off limits because of concerns about animal cruelty, their health effects and environmental sustainability.

Because 70 percent of cropland in America is used for growing animal feed, vegans believe that eating lower on the food chain will make a difference for the environment.

In contrast, paleo dieters highly value meat in their diets, so long as it comes from high quality sources. Paleo eaters try to avoid factory farm products as much as possible and turn towards pasture raised meat sources, preferably from local sources.

Paleo eaters believe that these animals build up topsoil, utilize land that couldn’t otherwise be used for growing crops, increase fertility to the land and support the livelihoods of local farmers, all while improving their health with a powerful source of protein.


Every diet has its downsides, and the paleo diet is no different. The following points are major risks of the paleo diet that can happen to dieters that aren’t careful enough about the kinds of foods they choose.


It’s all too easy with the Paleo diet to turn exclusively towards protein at the cost of fruits and vegetables. Balance and moderation is key, and without working to balance their daily diet, paleo eaters can overload on meat.


Our paleolithic ancestors never ate meat raised in factory farm conditions that was polluted with environmental toxins, and eating meat that’s been exposed to these conditions won’t do anything good for your health.

Paleo dieters need to source high quality meat raised as similar as possible to how nature intended in order to truly follow the spirit of the diet.

Even wild caught fish should be limited or considered carefully, as mercury, dioxin and sex-altering hormones are far too common in water systems today.

And the effects can travel up the food chain to the people who eat them.


It’s easy to assume that low-fat options are always the healthiest, but the truth is that fat is necessary for combating cravings and staying healthy. Sticking to whole fat animal sources tends to be the best way to go for paleo eaters.


The vegan diet isn’t immune to potential shortcoming that can compromise the results for your health, the following which are listed below.


When people first transition to a vegan diet, it’s tempting to rely on meat substitutes made from soy and other ingredients to taste like the meats they are giving up.

However, these products tend to be unhealthy and highly processed, making them less than ideal for a healthier lifestyle.


There’s a lot to adjust to when you first go vegan, and many bodies aren’t equipped to handle the change all at once. In order to prevent your meatless diet from being a shock to your system, it’s better to ease off animal products gradually by eating increasingly frequent meatless meals each week.


While Oreos are vegan, they don’t belong in any definition of a healthy diet. To keep yourself healthy, stay away from the temptation of vegan processed foods and stick with whole fruits and vegetables instead.


There’s a lot to like about both vegan and paleo diets, which is why some people have combined the benefits of both in order to follow a paleo-vegan diet (pegan).

What does this mean? Is it even possible?

Let’s look at the facts behind the curious lifestyle to see if it might make sense for you.


At first glance, paleo and a well-balanced, plant-based vegan diets have more in common than different. Both value the role of whole foods and plants for well-balanced nutrition, and both see it as essential that the food they eat be sustainably raised.

Both vegans and paleo dieters also believe that minimizing your consumption of sugar, flour and refined carbohydrates is essential, as is avoiding any foods laced with pesticides, chemical additives, preservatives, antibiotics and hormones.

Contrary to what you might think, both diets also value the importance of protein and high quality fats that can be sourced in a wide variety of ways, including nuts, avocados and coconuts.

In the same way, both diets reject dairy as a viable nutrition source and look to green plants for calcium instead, even for those that aren’t lactose intolerant.

In this way, a paleo vegan diet combines the whole foods focus of paleo living with the plant-based mentality of vegans. For this reason, a paleo vegan diet is filled with fresh fruits, non-starchy vegetables, lots of leafy greens, seeds, healthy fats and nuts.

Grains are limited (some people still eat quinoa and similar nutritious grains) and meat, beans and soy products are forbidden in favor of nuts and occasionally lentils instead.


In many ways, a paleo vegan diet provides the best benefits of both lifestyles into one. The diet is an ethical answer to the treatment of animals and provides proven health benefits for keeping your BMI level low and heart healthy.

Likewise, eating a paleo vegan diet ensures that your diet won’t include any processed foods, and your fruit and vegetable levels will be sky high.

Paleo vegan diets are low in sugar, processed fats and refined grains, which provides powerful nutritional benefits and lots of fiber to keep you regular.


If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that a true paleo vegan diet cain be limiting with what you are able to eat. Meat and most vegan friendly sources of protein like beans and tofu are forbidden, meaning that you’ll need to eat large quantities of greens and nuts to keep your levels up.

In the same way, most grains are also forbidden, making it impossible to balance out a veggie-filled meal with a bowl of rice or pasta.

For this reason, most vegan paleo followers tend to make minor modifications to the diet to make it more manageable. Some eat beans and rice, while others allow for occasional servings of meat so long as it is used as a meal ingredient and not the main course.

Another option is to eat lots of eggs or processed dairy products like yogurt and kefir to keep your protein levels up.

Never Give Up

There’s no reason to give up if a paleo vegan diet sounds too difficult to follow. Approximations and compromises are okay because in most cases they are still getting you closer to a healthier, more balanced diet.


Going either vegan or paleo is a popular dietary strategy right now, and for good reason. Despite their differing stances on nutrition, both diets are filled with powerful health benefits that make them a smart choice for reducing your risk of chronic disease and maintaining a healthy weight.

For an added benefit, it’s possible to combine the two eating strategies together to follow a ‘paleo vegan’ diet that’s filled with healthy, whole foods. So long as you keep in mind that it’s okay to compromise on the rigorous rules for either eating strategy, they can be a great option for achieving the healthy diet you’ve been striving for.

Now, we want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on going paleo or vegan? Have you ever switched from one to another? Share your experiences below!

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