If you want to want to lose weight, you need to resign yourself to going on a diet. Diets reduce the amount of food you eat and create a calorie deficit. This deficit forces your body to use more stored fat to make up the energy shortfall. As a consequence, you lose weight.
There are lots of different diets to choose from, and many of them are very effective. Two such options are the paleo and the Mediterranean diet. But, in the paleo vs. Mediterranean diet battle, which one is best?
Choosing the best diet is not always easy. After all, every diet works in much the same way. However, things like food choice, cost, and convenience are all important considerations. Picking the right diet for you will mean that you reach your weight loss goal quickly and easily. Choose the wrong diet, and you might not reach it at all.
In this article, we compare and contrast two of the most popular diets around. Use these comparisons to determine if either of these options is right for you.
A Brief Introduction To The Paleo Diet
The paleo diet is not new. In fact, fans of what is also called the Caveman diet say that this is the oldest diet known to man. In simple terms, when you follow the paleo diet, you adopt an eating plan that is allegedly similar to a stone-age hunter-gather.
Over the last 10,000 years or so, humankind has moved away from being a hunter-gather and started eating foods that are farmed and processed. Grains, for example, were something of a rarity in the paleolithic era.
When we gave up our nomadic lifestyle, settled in communities, and become farmers, our food sources changed, but our biology and physiology didn’t. Paleo diet fans believe that Neolithic (new stone age) foods are not suitable for human consumption and that the hunter-gatherer Paleolithic (old stone age) diet is much healthier. They think that it is more in tune with our nutritional needs and our relatively unevolved digestive systems.
In a caveman’s nutshell, the Paleo diet involves eating foods that you could hunt, catch, and kill – any animals – and any foods you could pick, dig up, or forage. Foods that are processed or are the result of farming are not allowed as they are deemed to be Neolithic. That means no rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, dairy, refined foods, sugar, or anything else that doesn’t occur naturally.
Instead, paleo dieters eat a lot of organic meat and fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fats, and other natural foods.
There are several different schools of thought as far as what is and what isn’t paleo. Some paleo diet variations ban all dairy while others permit butter and cream as they are natural foods made with very little processing. Some allow some unrefined grains such as buckwheat, wild rice, and quinoa as they are predominately unrefined. Others do not permit grains at all. Potatoes are also something of a grey area. While they are a vegetable, they are a relatively recent crop and were not as common during the Paleolithic era as they are now.
It all comes down to how much of an authentic paleo experience you want – or can tolerate.
Some dieters stretch the paleo manifesto to its limit by using paleo-approved ingredients to make “modern” foods. For example, making cookies using almond flour, cheesecake using mashed avocado, or eating dark chocolate – cocoa being a natural food even if it isn’t found in the form of chocolate bars. Other, more rigid paleo dieters, view this as cheating.
Paleo Diet Benefits
If you follow a paleo-type diet, you will automatically eliminate almost all processed foods, and that will do you nothing but good. While it is not specifically a low-carb diet, eliminating foods like bread, rice, pasta, etc. and eating more vegetables will significantly reduce your carb intake; the paleo is less a low-carb and more a selective-carb diet.
Eliminating most grains and eating more vegetables and fruit will provide lots of healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber – another plus for the paleo diet. Grains are a leading cause of digestive upset for many people.
Sugar is also very scaring on the paleo diet. Added and refined sugar is arguably the unhealthiest ingredient in almost all modern foods. The paleo diet is ideal for getting your out of a sugar-fueled rut. Cutting sugar will also lower your overall calorie intake, which could help with weight loss.
With paleo, there is an emphasis on both protein and healthy fats which makes a nice change from the usual high carb, low-fat approach that modern mainstream nutritionists recommend. Being free from processed foods, the paleo diet is free from artificial additives which may or may not be unhealthy. Most paleo dieters take this a step further by purposely seeking out organic, free-range food.
Paleo Diet Drawbacks
The paleo diet is quite controversial – mainly because some of the claims that form the basis of this diet are unsubstantiated. Paleolithic man DID eat some grains, and fossilized remains have shown traces of oats and other grains in the digestive tracts of hunter-gatherers. They also consumed dairy. If they caught a milk-producing goat or similar, they would have milked it. However, it’s true to say that hunter-gathers ate very little of these foods and never processed them.
Some people find the paleo diet very restrictive (although it doesn’t have to be) and may soon become bored with eating nothing but meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. These people are the ones who are likely to turn to make “paleo bread” and other such pseudo-paleo foods.
A Brief Introduction To The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is based on the foods and recipes commonly found in Mediterranean cooking. The Mediterranean region consists of countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. It’s considered to be very healthy and is the diet that most doctors recommend. For many years, the Mediterranean diet has been at the top of the diet charts.
The Mediterranean diet is as tasty as it is healthy, which is another reason it is so popular. It’s built around fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, and replaces butter with healthy olive and canola oil. It uses lots of herbs and spices instead of salt to make meals tasty. Fish and poultry are a significant part of this diet, while red meat is only eaten occasionally.
Many proponents of the Mediterranean eating plan also advocate a daily glass of red wine, which is high in antioxidants and other beneficial substances. This is, however, entirely optional. Meals are also meant to be sociable, relaxed affairs during which diners sit and relax while they eat. This is thought to contribute to the healthfulness of this particular diet.
The Mediterranean diet is not a weight loss diet, but that doesn’t mean you won’t lose weight if you follow it. Natural foods like vegetables, fish, and legumes are lower in calories than processed foods. If you usually eat a lot of junk food, switching Mediterranean foods will reduce your calorie intake, and that can lead to weight loss.
However, if weight loss is your primary goal, you may need to lower your intake of higher calorie Mediterranean foods such as nuts, bread, and potatoes, eating more leafy green and non-starchy vegetables instead.
Unlike most fad diets, this eating plan is considered to be very safe. It’s based on the eating habits of an entire geographic region, and that means it’s been tested by millions of people for hundreds of years. If you ask your doctor what the best diet to follow is, he’ll probably tell you it’s this one! That’s a pretty good indicator that it’s safe.
Mediterranean Diet Benefits
This diet is often considered to be the healthiest diet you can choose. Research has shown that people living in the Mediterranean region have less heart disease, diabetes, lower cholesterol, and live longer, healthier lives than other populations.
People who adopt the Mediterranean eating plan can significantly reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It helps lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol while increasing levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. This diet is also associated with a reduced risk of developing certain cancers and may prevent Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Mediterranean Diet Drawbacks
The Mediterranean diet is based on the eating habits of a very large population back in the 1940s and 1950s. As such, rather than being a very prescriptive eating plan, it is more of a set of general guidelines for healthy eating. After all, Spanish, Greek, and Italian cuisines are very different. Because of this, the Mediterranean diet is open to a lot of interpretation.
The main healthy features of the Mediterranean diet are also its drawbacks. Cooking food from scratch from fresh ingredients can be time-consuming, and lack of time is one of the most common barriers to eating healthily.
Another drawback is that the Mediterranean diet could lead to weight gain. Many Mediterranean meals include things like bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, or bread. These starchy carbs are high in calories and easy to overeat. While your Mediterranean meal might be healthy and filling, it may also contain too many calories, and you could end up gaining weight rather than losing it.
A final drawback that you should consider before starting the Mediterranean diet is olives and olive oil. Green and black olives and extra virgin olive oil all feature heavily in almost every Mediterranean diet meal. The fruit of the olive tree and they oil both have a very distinct taste. If you don’t enjoy the flavor of olives or olive oil, you may find that you don’t like the taste of many Mediterranean diet meals.
The Difference Between Paleo And The Mediterranean Diet
In some ways, the paleo and Mediterranean diet are very similar. Both are based around natural foods, frown upon the consumption of sugar and processed foods, and include healthy fats consumed in abundance. However, there are also some crucial differences.
Protein – the paleo diet is high in protein. Meat, fish, and eggs are consumed in abundance. In contrast, with the Mediterranean diet, high protein foods are consumed in much smaller quantities, and red meat is a rarity rather than a dietary mainstay.
Grains – the Mediterranean diet involves eating a lot of whole grains. This may be rice, pasta, bread, pilaf, or couscous. In contrast, the paleo diet all-but bans grains except for wild rice and quinoa, which are considered ancient grains.
Dairy – cavemen did not raise cows, goats, or sheep for dairy, although they may have consumed milk if they trapped an animal that was lactating. In contrast, the Mediterranean diet contains considerably more dairy, especially in the form of cheese and yogurt, which are popular in the Mediterranean region.
Meat consumption – the Mediterranean diet lends itself really well to going meat-free. Many Mediterranean dishes are naturally meat-free or can be adapted to be so. Meat, when consumed, usually is only included in small amounts. In contrast, the paleo diet usually involves eating a lot of meat, much of it red. After all, people living in the Paleolithic era were hunters first and gatherers second.
Carbs – the paleo diet is naturally lower in carbs than the Mediterranean diet. High-carb foods like bread, rice, pasta, and breakfast cereals are all off the menu as they are processed and don’t occur naturally. The Mediterranean diet contains much more carbohydrate. This means the paleo diet may be better for weight loss while the Mediterranean diet may be better for athletes in training who need more carbs for energy.
Acceptance – of the two, the Mediterranean diet is the most widely accepted. It’s very much a mainstream diet and is equally popular with dieters and healthcare professionals. In contrast, the paleo diet is often considered to be a fad diet, despite the fact it’s based on the age-old eating habits of our paleolithic ancestors.
Because of this, following the Mediterranean diet is relatively easy, and the foods and ingredients associated with this diet are widely available. In contrast, going paleo may prove harder, especially if you have to eat out. You’ll also have to adopt an entirely new mindset when you go grocery shopping, only buying foods that you could have hunted or gathered if you were a cave dweller.
The Mediterranean diet is good for your health and can help you lose weight. As diets go, it’s one of the least restrictive and easiest to live with. Many Mediterranean dishes are already part of the American diet, and it won’t take much to adopt a more Mediterranean approach to cooking. On the downside, preparing Mediterranean food can be time-consuming, which may mean you don’t always have time to eat like someone from Greece or Spain.
The paleo diet eliminates almost all of the foods linked to weight gain and poor health. This makes it useful for weight loss, but it is very restrictive. Many of the foods you love are off the menu with paleo, simply because they weren’t available during paleolithic times. This may make the paleo diet hard to live with.
Which one is best? That’s a hard question to answer. Both can help you lose weight and improve your health, but the Mediterranean diet may be easier to live with providing you have the time necessary to cook your meals. The paleo diet is stricter, but it’s also simpler to follow. Eat nothing but natural foods, and you’ll be doing paleo like a caveman.
Ultimately, you could try both and see which one works best for you. In most cases, the best diet is the one you can live with. Not for a week, or for a month, but for as long as it takes to reach your weight loss and healthy eating goals.