Paleo vs Mediterranean diet: which one is the best for you? Considering the number of choices that you have, learning about the different diets can help you choose the one that fits your needs the best. In this blog, we will compare two popular diets: the Paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet, and will explore a combination of both.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular diets and one of the main benefits of the eating pattern of people living in the Mediterranean sea is the variety of foods that you can enjoy.
The Paleo diet is more restrictive but it has clear rules making this diet very easy to follow. Also, the Paleo diet is a lower carbohydrate diet and has been compared with other trendy diets. However, macronutrients are still better balanced than other diets such as the keto diet.
Both diets place emphasis on eating whole foods and discourage the consumption of modern processed foods.
The question is: what is the best one for you?
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean eating pattern is a diet of abundance, an eating style that includes a variety of foods. The goal is to the enjoyment of meals.
Foods encouraged in the Mediterranean diet include olive oil, nuts, grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, as well as small quantities of lean meats and wine; while processed foods are discouraged.
The Mediterranean diet originated from the observation of the benefits of the eating style of the people living on the coast of the Mediterranean region including Spain, southern France, Albania, Greece, Turkey, and Morocco.
The benefits of the Mediterranean diet on health are astonishing and include positive links between this diet and heart, cognitive, and gut health. Furthermore, studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet can help with depression and anxiety.
Needless to say, most experts consider the Mediterranean diet pattern a safe and effective eating style; easy to adhere to for prolonged periods of time. The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the best diets.
What Foods Can You Eat in the Mediterranean Diet?
What Foods Do You Need to Avoid in the Mediterranean Diet?
- Processed foods
- Large amounts of sugar
- Sweetened beverages such as sodas and energy drinks
Alcohol in the Mediterranean Diet
Typical Meals in Mediterranean Countries
- Small caffè latte, croissant, and jam -Italy
- Eggs, cheese, olives, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, bread, fruit, coffee- Turkey
- Toast with ham, olive oil, coffee-Spain
- Gjellȅ, a dish consisting of slowly cooked meat with vegetables and olive oil; served with tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, and olive oil -Albania
- Salad, vegetable and meat stew, couscous – Morocco
- Quiche served with salad-France
- Tomato, cucumbers, greens and feta cheese salad-Greece
- Beef shish kebabs served with couscous-Turkey
- Greek-style baked fish served with potatoes-Greece
The secret ingredient
Enjoyment of the meals is the secret ingredient to the success of this diet; there is something powerful about eating foods that taste great and are good for you.
The Paleo Diet
What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleolithic diet is sometimes referred to as the caveman diet or paleo diet, and focuses on eating foods that early humans ate in the paleolithic era, including all foods available prior to farming and eliminating modern-day processed foods.
As a result, Paleo dieters must remove grains, beans, and legumes; and include meat and fish, mimicking the diet of the hunter-gatherer era.
Paleo followers usually focus on more than just a diet. It is usually seen as a way to improve lifestyle practices, saving the environment and overall well-being.
In addition, there are high standards for the quality of foods you select on the paleo diet. For example, protein should be grass-fed and ingredients should preferably be organic.
Compared to other diets, research shows that the paleo diet can result in more weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, better blood pressure control, lower triglycerides and better appetite management.
The paleo diet is expected to be closer to the natural way of eating. The Mayo Clinic suggests that there is a mismatch between the human body genetics and the modern diet leading to obesity and chronic diseases. The mismatch is believed to be related to a sudden change in eating practices, outpacing the body’s ability to adapt (1).
Rules for Eating Paleo Diet
What Foods Can You Eat in the Paleo Diet?
- Lean protein such as chicken, turkey, pork, beef, veal, bison, and eggs.
- Healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado
- Fish, best those rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon and trout.
- Healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and ghee
- Nuts such as almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and walnuts.
- Seeds such as sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- All non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus, artichoke hearts, brussels sprouts, carrots, spinach, celery, broccoli, zucchini, cabbage, peppers, eggplant, onion, squash, yam, and sweet potatoes
- Fresh fruits lower in sugar such as apples, berries, watermelon, and cantaloupe
What Foods Do You Need to Avoid in the Paleo Diet?
- Whole grains-including wheat, oats, and barley
- Bread, English muffins, crackers
- Legumes, including beans, lentils, garbanzo, peanut butter, soybeans
- Dairy products including milk, cheese, dairy spreads, cream cheese, pudding, ice cream, and yogurt
- Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, yucca, and malanga
- Processed foods
- Fruit juices and sugary beverages
- Processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, and low-quality meats.
Alcohol in the Paleo Diet
Alcohol was not consumed by our ancestors and it is processed as a toxin, therefore removing alcoholic beverages is ideal.
However, flexibility is common with most diets to make a sustainable change, and some diet followers approve of an occasional glass of wine or cup of tequila.
Typical Meals in Paleo Diet
- Green smoothie made with cucumber, spinach, avocado, and apple.
- Eggs your way with avocado, almond milk latte
- Chicken lettuce wraps
- Arugula, tomato, and cucumber salad with salmon and olive oil.
Grass-fed sirloin strips, roasted vegetables with olive oil.
Chicken stir-fry with broccoli and peppers; mushroom soup.
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Similarities and Differences
|Encourage eating whole foods||The Mediterranean diet is a diet of inclusion and |
most foods are part of this eating pattern.
|Discourage eating processed foods||The paleo is a restrictive diet and eliminates major |
food groups, including
legumes, dairy products, and grains.
|Both include protein, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds||The Paleo diet is lower in carbohydrates|
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Which one is Easier to Follow?
Considering the level of restrictions in the paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet is easier to follow. This is a key to the success of the Mediterranean diet as people can follow for long periods of time, and there obtain all the benefits of the diet.
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Weight Loss
Though comparison. In the short term, paleo can result in faster weight loss as it is more restrictive than the Mediterranean diet.
Also, diets higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates -such as the Paleo diet- can result in faster weight loss and a spontaneous decrease in food intake.
In the long term, the Mediterranean diet plan can be easier to sustain as it is more a lifestyle than a diet -making it easier to sustain weight loss. The long-term results of the paleo diet are less clear.
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Heart Health
Extensive research has been conducted regarding the Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular disease, as a result, a clear connection between this eating style and heart health has been established.
One of the most important research linking the Mediterrranean diet and heart disease, comes from a Harvard school of public health by reasercher Dr. Walter Willet. The reseach found that elements in the Mediterranean diet are linked to the decrease of heart disease and premature death among Americans (2).
More astonishing research highlighting the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet is “Prevencion with Dieta Mediterranea,” a study that included 7.500 Spaniards and compared the Mediterranean diet with the low-fat diet. As a background, it is important to note that the low fat diet is the standard diet in the United States to treat heart disease. The results of using the eating style in the Mediterranean were so overwhelmingly positive that researchers stopped the study as they considered it unethical to keep participants on a low-fat diet (3).
The elements protecting heart health include nutrients present in olive oil, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits, also found in the paleo diet. Thus, it is possible that the paleo diet is also effective in decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
However, the Paleo diet does not include legumes and it is harder to maintain the diet for longer periods of time.
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Blood Pressure
The components of the Mediterranean diet such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil have shown to lower blood pressure in normotensive and hypertensive patients (4).
Whereas the foods discouraged by this diet -red meat and processed meat- have unfavorable effects on hypertension (5).
Furthermore, the Mediterranean is safe and easy-to-follow, therefore is no surprise that health professionals often recommend the diet.
In contrast, the paleo diet has no conclusive evidence of beneficial effects on blood pressure.
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Blood Sugar Levels
Studies about the effectiveness of a Mediterranean eating style have shown beneficial effects on diabetes mellitus and glucose metabolism in general.
For example a large study among 380 university graduates, a traditional Mediterranean eating pattern was associated with an 83% reduction of developing type 2 diabetes. (6)
A different study among diabetic patients suggested that those following the traditional Mediterranean diet had lower blood glucose 2 hours after a meal and HbA1c -a test that measuring blood sugar in a 3 month period (7).
Researchers believe that the Meditteranean diet is effective due to the high consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, fish, cereal and olive oil. Moreover, there is a moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages and the decreased consumption of processed foods and added sugars (8).
When both diets compared, a study showed that the caveman diet was associated with marked improvements in glucose tolerance while participants following the Mediterranean diet did not show a significant improvement in their glucose tolerance (9).
However, the results of the study have not been able to be replicated enough times to determine that the paleo diet is more effective than the Mediterranean diet to lower blood sugar levels (9).
The paleo diet is a low carbohydrate diet, thus potentially this diet could improve glucose tolerance, decrease insulin secretion, and increase insulin sensitivity.
However, a low carbohydrate diet can lead to a dangerous low blood sugar level for those on blood sugar lowering medications. Thus, if you are on blood sugar medications you must speak to your physician to adjust your medications if necessary.
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Cognitive Health
Fascinating research in the last years suggests that the Mediterranean diet can protect brain health. Specifically, the Mediterranean diet can slow down cognitive decline that results in dementia.
However, it is the combination of the Mediterranean diet with the DASH diet (the MIND diet) that has gained more respect in terms of protecting the brain against rapid cognitive decline (10).
It has also been suggested that a paleolithic diet could potentially be beneficial for cognitive health (11). However, there have not been many scientific studies corroborating the theory.
One of the studies available revealed that post-menopausal women following the paleo diet had a significant improvement in episodic memory performance, which was associated with increased hippocampal activity, smaller waist circumference, and reduced fatty acids (12).
In conclusion, more evidence is available about the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet and cognitive health. However, the diet works best when combined with the DASH diet approach to creating the MIND diet.
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Mental Health
The Mediterranean diet appears to protect mental health. For example, an analysis of current research studies links the Mediterranean eating style to a reduced risk of depression (13).
Considering those following the Mediterranean diet eat a variety of nutrients, it is possible that they are less likely to be deficient in the nutrients linked to depression such as vitamin K.
Similar components are also present in the paleolithic or caveman diet, the difference is that this diet restricts entire food groups and nutritional deficiencies linked to depression can occur.
Furthermore, the paleo diet has some evidence suggesting that it can contribute to blood sugar control and insulin dysfunction. As a result, Paleo dieters could lower the risk of severe depression as it has been suggested that people who are insulin resistant are more likely to suffer from severe depression (14).
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Required Effort
The Mediterranean diet is a diet of inclusion where most foods fit, thus one of the biggest benefits of this diet is that people can follow it.
The Paleo diet is much more restrictive, therefore more difficult to follow.
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Costs
The Mediterranean diet is the clear winner in terms of food costs because includes a variety of lower-cost foods such as beans, lentils, and garbanzo beans; and lower amounts of higher-cost foods such as grass-fed animal proteins, Mediterranean diet is significantly lower in cost.
Paleo vs Mediterranean Diet: Health Risks
Most health professionals experts agree that the Mediterranean diet is a safe and effective eating style because it includes all food groups, therefore nutrition deficiencies are less likely to occur.
The paleo diet could be less safe because excludes entire food groups that provide important minerals and vitamins, potentially leading to a wide variety of diseases.
Furthermore, excessive protein intake might be hard to process by the kidneys and can increase risks of heart disease and certain types of cancer.
The Paleo-Mediterranean Diet
A combination of both diets has emerged in recent years, the Paleo-Mediterranean diet and while there is not a lot of research about it, it is an interesting concept.
The Paleo-Mediterranean diet focuses on eating whole foods and excluding processed foods; it is more inclusive than the Paleo diet but does not include all foods as the Mediterranean diet does. Furthermore, high-quality foods are encouraged.
The explanation of this diet comes from Dr. Alex Vazquez, a functional medicine chiropractor.
What Foods Can You Eat in the Paleo-Mediterranean Diet?
|Vegetables||Choose 5-9 servings per day from a wide variety of fresh, in-season, or frozen vegetables.|
|Fruits||Choose 2-3 servings per day from a wide variety of fruits- fresh, frozen, or lower sugar dried fruits like apples, melons, kiwi, plums, pears, pineapple, mango, dates, raisins, and cranberries.|
|Protein||2-3 small servings per day (~3 ounces) of lean protein. Include fish twice a week and include legumes as sources of protein.|
|Soy products||Tofu, soy milk other soy products, are included but limited to one serving per day.|
|Legumes||Include one serving of lentils, black-eyed peas, and all beans.|
|Seeds||Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame butter (tahini), and others.|
|Nuts||Including walnuts, macadamia, Brazils, filberts, pecans, cashews, almonds, also almond milk |
|Berries||Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, and all berries.|
|Dairy||Yogurt with abundant live cultures like greek yogurt, Activia, kefir, also cultured soy or coconut milk|
|Fats||Fats (including) olive oil, canola, coconut.|
|Sweeteners||Includes honey, agave nectar, stevia, (severely limiting, exclude) raw cane sugar, molasses|
|Beverages||64 ounces of clean filtered water daily, teas, (include 1 serving green tea) and (organic) coffee in moderation|
|Wine||4 ounces- optional|
What Foods Do You Need to Limit or Avoid in the Paleo-Mediterranean Diet?
|Vegetables||Limit root vegetables such as yams and severely limit starchy vegetables like corn and white potatoes and avoid canned vegetables.|
|Fruits||Limit sweeter dried fruits such as dates, raisins, prunes, grapes, and bananas.|
|Protein||Limit red meat intake to once a week, eggs to 4 per week|
|Dairy||Severely limit cheese, exclude milk, butter, ice cream, sour cream.|
|Grains||Severely limit all grains|
|Fats||Limit or avoid seed oils like sunflower, corn, safflower, lard, all trans fats, (shortening, margarine, deep fryer oils), peanut, brominated vegetable oils (in preservatives)|
|Sweeteners||Sugar, aspartame, NutraSweet, Splenda, saccharin, acesulfame-K|
|Beverages||Exclude all types of soda, fruit juices, Kool-aid, artificially flavored and bottled drinks, imitation juice, caffeinated energy drinks (excluding) all distilled alcohol and beer, malt alcohol beverages|
|Other foods||Exclude ALL commercially made foods, frozen meals, fast foods, convenience foods, artificial foods, chemical food additives, artificial flavorings, and all artificial sweeteners|
Dr. Su-Nui Escobar is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in Miami, FL. She is passionate about helping women over 40 live their best lives through healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Su-Nui is a doctor in clinical nutrition, able to translate complicated evidence-based science into practical advice. Su-Nui’s charisma and warmth have made her a frequent guest on Hispanic popular morning television shows.