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Mediterranean Diet vs. Paleo Diet

Written by John Davis

Last updated: September 19, 2022

The Mediterranean diet and the Paleo diet, two of the most well-liked, cater to different tastes and health objectives. Moderation is essential when following the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and seafood. The Paleo diet emphasizes a lot of meat, poultry, and fish combined with seasonal vegetables and fruits. However, grain and dairy products are prohibited. (1)

Both diets, despite having quite different approaches, can be healthy alternatives to the typical American diet if they are well-planned and place an emphasis on whole, fresh foods rather than processed ones.

The Mediterranean Diet Overview

The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern that recommends eating nutrient-rich, high-quality whole foods.”

It mimics the dietary habits of people who reside near the Mediterranean Sea. This includes the customary plant-based dietary habits of people from Greece and Spain. A Mediterranean diet pyramid was created in 1993 by Oldways, a Boston-based food and nutrition charity, in collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization to help identify the characteristics of a Mediterranean diet. (2)

The Mediterranean daily diet features:

  • Whole grains
  • Seasonal fruits and fresh
  • Herbs and spices
  • Legumes
  • Seeds and nuts

Additionally, the diet recommends a few servings of fish and other seafood per week as well as small amounts of poultry, dairy, and eggs. The aim is to focus on unprocessed foods. The Mediterranean lifestyle also recommends a small glass of wine and moderate physical activity.

The Paleo Diet Overview

The Paleo diet aims to reduce consumption of processed foods. This means eating like our Paleolithic ancestors, before agriculture and food factories.

Foods that are approved for the paleo diet include:

  • Fruits like bananas, berries, apples, and oranges
  • Grass-fed lamb, beef, chicken, and turkey
  • Spices, herbs, seeds and nuts.
  • Organic eggs and tuna
  • Vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and leafy greens
  • Wild-caught fish such as shrimp, salmon, and shellfish

The concept is simple: We shouldn’t consume anything if our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t. This means emphasizing whole meals, seasonal raw fruits and vegetables, and meat. The diet cuts out beans and legumes, cultivated grains, and dairy means avoiding anything that demands intensive farming. Alcohol is prohibited as well because it is a grain-based product with a lot of carbs. (3)

Similarities between the Paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet

The following foods are recommended by both the Paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet:

  •  Fish
  •  Veggies
  •  Fruit
  •  Seeds and nuts

Whole foods

The Mediterranean diet and the Paleo diet both lean toward the same NOVA end of the spectrum, which promotes consuming more whole and minimally processed foods. (4)

But the term “processed foods” covers a vast range of products, many of which are more affordable and convenient than other foods. Not all processed foods are seen as being unhealthy. 

Both the Paleo and Mediterranean diets recommend avoiding heavily processed foods, such as potato chips, bacon, packaged ramen, sodas, sugary desserts, and so on. Many health professionals also recommend avoiding processed foods, as they contain hidden fats, sugars, sodium, and preservatives.

Record-keeping

Moreover, neither diet demands keeping records or calculating serving quantities and diets. However, the Paleo diet strictly forbids eating from a variety of food groups, some of which contain nutrient-dense foods.

Eating lots of vegetables and fruits

Eating more fruits and vegetables is encouraged in both diets. However, starchy foods like corn and potatoes are not allowed on the Paleo diet. Potatoes are permitted in the Mediterranean diet, in moderation.  While potatoes have a higher carbohydrate and starch content, they are also rich in healthy nutrients and vitamins like Vitamin C and potassium. (5)

Olive oil

Olive oil is part of both the Mediterranean and the Paleo diets because it contains good fats that support heart health, brain health, and help prevent cancer.

The differences between Paleo and Mediterranean diets

The Paleo diet is more restrictive than the Mediterranean diet. It demands utter abstinence from all grains, beans, and dairy products. Instead, it is recommended to eat foods like tubers, fish, chicken, red meat, nuts, and seeds.

Therefore, the Paleo diet excludes a lot of nutrient-dense foods. Although they contain essential minerals like calcium, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, zinc, and protein, dairy, whole grains, and legumes are not always unhealthy. (6)

These vitamins and minerals are crucial for both treating and preventing disease. 

On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet heavily recommends whole grains and legumes. However, yogurt and cheese should be used in moderation and red meats like beef and pork are discouraged.

Health benefits  

Mediterranean diet

Due to being linked to numerous health benefits, the Mediterranean diet is particularly popular among health experts and dietitians.  The Mediterranean diet has been convincingly demonstrated in numerous studies to provide significant health benefits. (7) As a result, it is particularly popular among dietitians and other health experts. The main health benefits of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Lowering the risk of stroke, heart attack, and premature death
  • Helps lower cholesterol
  • Improves symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Weight loss
  • Lowering the risk of developing diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and many types of cancer

Paleo diet

The Paleo diet can be a great approach for people to lose weight quickly since it can kick-start a weight loss program by eliminating processed foods, sweets, and carbohydrates. It can be used as a replacement for the typical American diet if the focus is on including unprocessed foods and lots of veggies.

Health benefits of the Paleo diet include:

  • More weight loss
  • Improved blood pressure regulation
  • Improved glucose tolerance
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Better appetite control

Remember that longer-term studies involving larger groups have not yet been conducted.

Which one is healthier for you?

The Paleo and Mediterranean diets may have different impacts on your health.

The Mediterranean diet may lower blood sugar, while the evidence for the Paleo diet is conflicting. Numerous studies link a Mediterranean diet to lower insulin resistance and blood sugar levels.

Studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet seems to be beneficial in preventing metabolic syndrome and diabetes. (8)

The Paleo diet is an excellent alternative for lowering that risk because being overweight or obese is linked to a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Health risks 

Mediterranean diet

This diet is considered one of the safest dietary approaches because you can eat everything in moderation. Due to its versatility, you are sure to meet all of your nutritional needs.

Paleo diet

Since the Paleo diet is considered to be limiting, there may be certain health hazards and harder to maintain long-term. Fiber is one area of concern. The absence of grains from the diet may result in a deficiency in the amount of fiber and other crucial nutrients. (9)

Weight loss

Both the Mediterranean and the Paleo diets can help you lose weight, but if that’s your main objective, the Paleo diet can be more effective because it’s more limiting. For certain people, diets high in protein may result in quick weight loss. In either case, portion control is essential to losing weight, and the majority of dietitians recommend aiming for weekly weight losses of 1 to 2 pounds.

Another crucial factor is how to keep the weight off. The Mediterranean diet may be a better option for maintaining weight loss over the long run than a more restrictive Paleo diet that may be more difficult to adhere to over time because it is intended to be more of a lifestyle than a true diet.

Cost

Both the Mediterranean and the Paleo diets contain a lot of fresh produce and meat, thus their cost profiles are comparable. The Mediterranean diet may be more cost-effective than some variations of the Paleo diet that include a lot of more expensive red meat since it contains more grains and legumes, such as beans and lentils, which are usually some of the cheapest staples in the grocery store. (10)

The cost profiles of the Mediterranean and Paleo diets are comparable because both include a lot of fresh food and meat. The Mediterranean diet contains more grains and legumes, such as beans and lentils, which are typically among the cheapest commodities in the grocery store, making it potentially more cost-effective than some forms of the Paleo diet that feature a lot of more expensive red meat.

Adherence

There are some significant differences to take into account, even if research on the Mediterranean and Paleo diets has found significant health benefits.

The Paleo diet has greater restrictions compared to the Mediterranean die.  As a result, long-term Paleo diet adherence may be more challenging. With such severe carbohydrate restrictions, cravings could steer you off course and it can be challenging to get back on the wagon once you’ve fallen off. (11)

However, the Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle and includes a wider variety of less-restrictive foods. The Mediterranean diet promotes celebrating food and human connection, rather than providing a list of foods to eat and avoid.

It is encouraged to linger over meals with family and friends, perhaps even while holding a glass of red wine.

Bottom-line

Fortunately for everyone, there are a number of eating habits that can support a healthy lifestyle. Most of us find that maintaining any kind of diet, especially one that is restrictive, is the toughest challenge. 

All of these eating patterns might be beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight quickly. Other health benefits of the Mediterranean diet include better blood pressure control and diabetes management. Additionally, it is the diet that the majority of people are able to maintain for extended periods. (12)

Your diet should not feel like a burden in your daily life. A great, proven strategy to get started is to stick to minimally processed foods and include lots of fruits and vegetables in your eight loss meal plan.

References

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/adopt-a-mediterranean-diet-now-for-better-health-later-201311066846
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/Paleo-diet/art-20111182
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mediterranean-diet-vs-Paleo
  5. https://inm.center/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Paleo-vs-Med-Diet-Article.pdf
  6. https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/the-paleo-diet.aspx
  7. https://www.sochob.cl/web1/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Intermittent-fasting-Paleolithic-or-Mediterranean-diets-in-the-real-world-exploratory-secondary-analyses-of-a-weight-loss-trial-that-included-choice-of-diet-and-exercise.pdf
  8. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/compare-diets/articles/mediterranean-diet-vs-Paleo-diet
  9. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/7594952/new-study-compares-the-mediterranean-diet-intermittent-fasting-and-the-paleo-diet-for-weight-loss-see-how-they-stack-up/
  10. https://ourarchive.otago.ac.nz/handle/10523/6239
  11. https://nutrition.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk426/files/inline-files/fact-pro-paleo-diet.pdf
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4877627/

 

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John Davis

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