In a general sense, a vegetarian diet is one that does not include meat, poultry, or fish. In contrast to a vegan diet, vegetarians usually consume eggs, honey, and dairy products.
There are a few different categories of vegetarians – lacto-vegetarians consume dairy and honey but no eggs; ovo-vegetarians eat eggs and honey but no dairy; lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume all three.
Research has shown that over half of vegetarians in the U.S. choose to eat this way for health reasons. Other reasons may include opposition to the treatment of animals, environmental or economic concerns, or religious reasons.
While the evidence for plant-centric diets is strong, omitting all meat, poultry, and fish comes with its concerns. Animal protein, especially organ meats, are incredibly nutrient-dense and some nutrients, like protein and heme iron, are much more bioavailable in meat than in plants. By choosing not to eat meat, you are more at risk for missing out on these nutrients.
Meat, poultry, and seafood are also one of the greatest sources of vitamin B12. Eliminating these foods from your diet can lead to a B12 deficiency. In fact, research shows that vegetarians have a much higher chance of developing a B12 deficiency compared to omnivores.
The inclusion grains in the vegetarian diet, both unrefined and refined, can come with a host of problems. Grains are high in anti-nutrients, like phytic acid, which block the absorption of important nutrients. We have covered the issues with grains extensively, so check out this article for a more in-depth explanation.
Obviously, meat, poultry, and seafood play a foundational role in the Paleo diet. For this reason, nutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin B12 and iron, are not as big of a threat as they are with a vegetarian diet. That being said, vegetables (an abundant amount!) play just as an important role as meat.
Contrary to popular belief, Paleo is not just all bacon all the time. Again and again, studies have shown the many benefits of including a variety of plant-based foods in a well-rounded diet. On a balanced Paleo diet, a person will oftentimes be consuming just as many vegetables and fruits as a vegetarian. An abundance of plants, combined with the addition of meat and exclusion of grains, oftentimes leaves people feeling better than they ever imagined.
Also, regarding meat, the Paleo diet encourages the consumption of high-quality, sustainably-raised animals. This means grass-finished beef, pastured chickens, and wild caught fish. Not only are these conditions infinitely better versus conventionally-raised standards for animals, research has shown that the nutrient profiles (like omega-3 content in grass-fed beef is higher.
The Paleo diet encourages the consumption of high-quality, sustainably-raised meat as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables for a wide-ranging, balanced diet.
As you can see, once you get the hang of it, following the Paleo guidelines is relatively simple. (Still confused – check out our guide here).
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You may enjoy these other diets - where we break down the differences so you can find out what works best for you.