The Paleo diet has seen many variations since it exploded in popularity about 4 years ago after the release of Robb Wolf’s book “The Paleo Solution”. Paleo is a very balanced diet, resembling as closely as possible the “original” human diet that we evolved with, before Agriculture took hold of our lives and our bellies. Lately though, there have been increased reports of vegans and vegetarians trying to suit Paleo into their meat-free regimen. This article is about guiding these dieters to the closest possible diet that resembles both Paleo and some form of vegetarianism.
But, first things first: Paleo is not just about what foods you remove from the Western diet (namely: grains/gluten, vegetable oils, legumes, excess sugars). Paleo is also about what you add to it: bone marrow/broth, offal of all kind, seaweed, fermented foods, shellfish (especially oysters), enough sunlight, enough sleep, enough exercise etc. Paleo without these additions is not true Paleo. In fact, most meat-eater “Paleo” dieters are not hard-core Paleo dieters! But a muscle-eater still gets enough protein (and vitamins that are only found in specific forms in meat) to get him/her by. A vegetarian needs to try extra hard with the kinds of food he/she must consume in order to come closer to true health that Paleo can offer.
So these are my personal opinions about how an almost-vegetarian diet, or more accurately a reduced-meat diet, can achieve most of Paleo’s well-known health benefits. I present the information in steps, to help you decide to include a specific food or not. But basically it boils down to this: you can’t have the full health benefits that Paleo could potentially offer if you don’t include at least some of the suggested superfoods in your diet.
Meat and fish
Please hear me out for a second. Even if you don’t put muscle meat in your mouth, 200 gr of liver, twice a month, is probably enough to get you most of the needed vitamins that are only found in specific chemical forms in animal meat. This is a sacrifice you might have to do for your well-being. Think about it, it’s just twice a month! I’d suggest pastured lamb liver, because it has the least strong taste (compared to beef, goat), it’s way more nutritious than birds’ livers, and when it’s pastured, you know that the animal has had a good life (so you’re not collaborating with an abusive meat industry). If you decide to not eat offal, consider supplementing with CoQ10 (specifically the Ubiquinol form) and PQQ. These enzymes are not found anywhere else in large-enough quantities (not even in muscle meat).
In addition to offal, or if you’re not willing to eat any land-animal meat at all, you should seriously consider shellfish, particularly the superfood that is oysters (and mussels as a second option). That should be at least 200 gr of oysters, once a week (you can also have other kinds of shellfish throughout the week too if you like). From the vegan point of view, oysters/mussels are the most vegetarian-friendly animals to eat, because they don’t have a nervous system, so they don’t feel pain when we harvest/eat them.
In addition to shellfish, or if you can’t have shellfish because of allergies, then you should go hard on fish, particularly on wild salmon. You will need to eat fish almost daily, about 100 gr/day. Wild canned sardines, whole fried smelt (with heads/guts), cod, and any other fish with low mercury levels is good to eat. Overall, it’s better to have fish than not to have any because of fear of mercury (besides, enough selenium intake can clean up mercury from our system — all you need is a single Brazil nut a day to get enough selenium). Occasionally, go for sashimi (raw fish) too! If you’re eating out, just make sure you arrive at the sushi restaurant with your own, wheat-free, “Tamari”, non-GMO, soy sauce (no shame in that, most celiacs do it this way too).
4. Bone Marrow or Fish Bone Broth
You will need either a bone marrow broth (recipe), or at least, fish bone broth (recipe). You can’t find the gelatin required to rejuvenate and heal your insides (and your outsides) in any other kind of food. In fact, bone broth is among the top-line defenses of Paleo, and one of the reasons of why the diet was adopted so quickly (people got healed fast!). If you go for fish bone broth, prefer non-oily fish for slow cooking. Add oily fish towards the end of the cooking cycle (or it could go rancid). For fish bone broth, the fish heads are required to be cooked along the fish bones for full potency.
5. Cod Liver
I put this food at the end of this list, because it’s a bit of an acquired taste. It tastes like foie-gras, and it has a lot of vitamin A. It’s definitely one of the foods you should try if you can stomach it. I’d suggest you eat it out of the can and not fry it, because it will then smell strongly throughout your house for a week…
Notice how I started suggesting liver twice a month, oysters weekly, and fish daily. This is because they’re sorted by some loose, nutrient density.
If you’re “mostly” vegetarian, dairy becomes more needed in your diet than for other Paleo dieters.
Go for pastured duck eggs if you can (4-6 a week are enough — find them at your local farmer’s market), or pastured chicken eggs as a second option. This way, you still get eggs from animals that live a good, natural life for the most part.
2. Kefir, yogurt, and cheese
The original standard Paleo diet does not allow milk products, however, with time, this rule has relaxed under some very specific conditions. If possible, the milk has to be raw, which includes enzymes to digest it properly. If that’s not possible in your area, then the next best thing is this: fermented-only dairy (home-made goat kefir, European-style yogurt, real cheese), and only from A2 casein animals (goat, sheep, buffalo, camel). I would not recommend to anyone to drink pasteurized cow milk out of the carton. If you decide to only do one type of dairy for your calcium and B-vitamin needs, go for home-made goat kefir, which is the most potent of all (10x more potent than yogurt for healing). But it has to be home-made (store-bought is not potent), it has to be from an A2 casein animal, and it has to be fermented for 24 hours (add some RAW honey, nuts, and berries afterwards if you find it too bitter). Well-fermented goat kefir has the needed enzymes to properly digest it too (start slowly though).
3. Grass-fed butter & European-style, cultured, organic sour-cream
Don’t fear it, use it in your recipes! Definitely go for grass-fed butter btw, you will need the K2 vitamin in it.
1. Fermented foods
Sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented veggies should be eaten regularly.
A must-have for good thyroid function, especially if you’re eating the suggested Brazil nut above (there must be a balance of selenium and iodine in your system). I use seaweed in unpasteurized soy-based miso soup (the year-long fermentation of soy in miso makes it benign).
3. Lentils and other beans
This would probably be my least-popular suggestion among the meat-eater Paleo readers of this article. However, there are good reasons why I would suggest lentils (and other beans), 2-3 times a month or so, specifically for vegetarians and vegans. When properly fermented for 36 hours, lentils in particular become almost benign. Given the amount of protein, iron, manganese, B vitamins, and folate they have, beans become a must-have food for those who don’t eat meat. But again, it must be traditionally-prepared, not cooked as-is, or out of a can. Legumes are still legumes, and they contain harmful lectins when cooked without fermentation. But if you don’t do meat, they kind of become a “must”. However, still avoid processed soy products (e.g. soy milk, tofu, tempeh). Ferment your non-GMO soy, and learn to eat natto (which is the best source for protein if you’re 100% off meat).
4. Raw, unfiltered and local Honey
A vegetarian has already cut out the “hunting” part of “hunting and gathering”, so there’s no reason to reduce the “gathering” part too. When the honey is raw, it has significant anti-bacterial properties, and when it’s local, it strengthens the immune system against allergies. Raw honey should be the sweetener of choice for any Paleo dieter.
6. Don’t fear the carbs (too much)
Robb Wolf’s latest series on carbs is an eye-opener. Paleo is a diet first for health, and then for weight loss. Weight loss comes naturally with it as your health improves.
If you’re going for 100% meat/fish-free diet (I hope this article explained why this would not work as a Paleo framework though), then you will need to supplement with vitamins. Unfortunately, there’s not a single multi-vitamin company that gets it right regarding vitamins geared for a vegan diet. I’m not a doctor, so none of these are medical advices. But in my personal research, these are the nutrients that came up short on a vegan diet.
1. D3 (3000 IU, daily, in the morning)
Test your D3 levels via a blood test (do not supplement with high doses without knowing your levels, it can become toxic). Without adequate D3 levels your immune system can not function properly to heal you. In the Western world today, most people are deficient of it.
2. Magnesium (daily, 20 mins before bed)
In the Western world today, most people are deficient of it. Our soil and water are depleted of it.
3. DHA oil (daily)
4. B-Complex (if you’re not eating offal & shellfish, take it 2-3 times a week, the specific B-complex gets it more right than others)
5. Taurine (2-3 times a week)
6. Zinc (2-3 times a week — or just eat oysters)
7. Essential Amino Acids (daily, not a vegan product, but there’s none better than it — Alternatively, definitely go for L-Lysine, and L-Acetyl-Carnitine separately. Creatine and others might be useful too)
6. Protein (eat fermented beans, and natto, but not processed soy like tofu/soy-milk, try to avoid GMO too)
9. Vitamin A (1-2 times a week, before bed — if you’re not eating offal or oysters)
10. Calcium (2-3 times a week, if you’re not eating dairy)
11. K2 Mk4 (the specific form, 2-3 times a week, when you take Calcium or dairy)
12. Iron (1-2 times a week, ask your doctor first though, iron supplementation can be dangerous)
13. CoQ10 Ubiquinol (the specific form, 2-3 times a week)
14. PQQ (1-2 times a week, or eat a heart every week)
15. Finally, if you’re not drinking bone broth, you’ll need Collagen. There are Collagen Types I and III, and Collagen II (two different products). Take them at different days, 2-3 times a week each.
UPDATE: A more up-to-date article about veg*n supplementation.