How to Be Vegetarian on a Paleo, Keto, Whole30 or Gluten-Free Diet

Man Holding Paleo Vegetarian Lunch Bowl

Often, vegetarians will find that they need to watch what they eat more closely than they did in the past. After all, meat becomes off-limits, and in some types of vegetarianism, so do dairy, eggs, or other animal products.

But what if a vegetarian were to also take on a Paleo diet? Or a keto, Whole30, or gluten-free diet? What happens then? This can become a challenge for members of the vegetarian community. The following guide will discuss the challenges of being a vegetarian while on a second intersectional diet, and suggest a few solutions.

Paleo + Vegetarian Diet

First, what is the Paleo diet? The Paleo diet, short for Paleolithic, is a diet composed of foods that were eaten by humans during the Paleolithic era. To put things more simply, you “eat as cavemen did.” This includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, meat, fish, seeds, nuts, eggs, and healthy oils. This does not include refined vegetable oils, cereal grains, beans, dairy, potatoes, refined sugar, and processed foods.

Man Holding Paleo Vegetarian Lunch Bowl

What makes this diet difficult for some vegetarians is that going Paleo cuts out many vegetarian sources of protein. Thankfully, there are ways to get around this nutritional obstacle if you are willing to make a few changes to the Paleo diet.

Paleo Modification 1: Eat Beans

Beans are not considered to be part of the Paleo diet. The reasoning includes the fact that beans contain phytates, lectins, and protease inhibitors. Phytates prevent minerals in a food from being absorbed, whereas lectins and protease inhibitors can irritate your gut. However, you can counteract two out of three of these reasons. Soaking and sprouting the beans reduces the phytic acid content and cooking the beans well will break down the majority of the lectins. Pressure cooking can remove them completely.

Paleo Modification 2:  Eat Dairy in Moderation

While dairy is also on the “no-no list” for Paleo dieters, it may be beneficial to consume some in moderation. While dairy may not react well with everyone – for example, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, or casein sensitivities – it contains protein, healthy fats, and vitamin B12, which is often lacking in vegetarian diets.

Paleo Tip 3: Focus on Healthy Fats

Healthy fat sources like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, macadamia oil, and nuts are both vegetarian and Paleo-friendly. A light amount of olive oil goes a long way in making cooked or raw vegetables more flavorful and satisfying.

Vegetarian Keto Diet

Keto is short for “ketogenic,” and this diet has been trending rapidly upward. The keto diet is intended to be low-carb and high-fat. The keto diet puts the body in a state of ketosis where fat instead of carbohydrates is released from cells and turned into ketones.

However, like with the Paleo diet, a problem that vegetarians may face while on the keto diet is insufficient protein. Therefore, vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy should keep these forms of protein handy.

Healthy Fats in Ketogenic Pescatarian Diet

  • Having hard-boiled eggs handy in the refrigerator could go a long way in boosting protein intake.
  • Very low-carb diets can be lacking in magnesium, so taking a supplement or vitamin with magnesium could be beneficial. (Always discuss dietary supplements with your doctor or nutritionist.)
  • If this diet plan does not feel suitable for you, listen to your body and adjust or revert.

Vegetarian + Whole30 Diet

The Whole30 is a 30-day meal plan intended to cut out foods that could negatively impact your health and instead emphasizes whole foods and clean eating. Participants in the Whole30 diet eliminate grains, legumes, sugar, alcohol, dairy, and soy from their diets for the entirety of the 30-day period.

Vegetarian Whole30 Plant-Based Dinner

It is encouraged to eat meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats. However, for someone who doesn’t eat meat or fish already and gets their protein largely from legumes, soy, and/or dairy this can be  challenging.

Many vegetarians are doing slightly modified versions of the Whole30 so that they can still participate, while making sure that they obtain sufficient nutrients. Some people are calling it the “Veg Whole30.” This variation of the diet includes organic yogurt and kefir, tempeh, tofu, edamame, pea protein powder, lentils, beans, hemp, and natto.

While this might not be quite the same as the traditional Whole30, it takes into account the nutritional needs of the vegetarian. For example, lunch on the Veg Whole30 might have tofu as a source of protein, squash, and asparagus. Then, later, a snack might be full-fat yogurt with macadamia nuts.

Gluten-Free + Vegetarian Diet

A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes gluten, which is a mixture of the proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. There are multiple reasons why a person may decide to go gluten-free. Some people discover that they have a gluten sensitivity or are outright allergic to gluten, which is called celiac disease. Other people choose a gluten-free diet for nutritional, inflammation or other health reasons.

Healthy Gluten-Free Yogurt, Berry & Granola Breakfast

Combining the vegetarian and gluten-free diets may seem especially challenging because so many foods are off-limits. However, it is quite possible to be successful with the intersection of these two diets. Here are some tips:

  • Most of what you eat should be in the produce area of wherever you do your grocery shopping. Fruits and vegetables are a solid source of nutrients.
  • While seitan is not gluten-free, there are many other vegetarian, gluten-free sources of protein that are available. These sources include beans, nuts, seeds, soy, quinoa, amaranth, some meat substitutes (although these need to be investigated for gluten beforehand), and some vegetables.
  • Processed and pre-packaged foods can be tricky, so it is important to carefully read the ingredients to make sure that they do not include meat or sources of gluten.

Diet intersectionality: challenging, but not impossible.

While incorporating a second diet into your meal plan can seem daunting, it is certainly not impossible for many dietary needs. However, it is important to listen to your body and prioritize your nutritional needs, even if that means customizing your diet. Always consult with your physician or nutritionist to ensure you are getting critical vitamins and nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.

Are you a vegetarian with a second dietary restriction?

Do you have tips for people who are vegetarian while also eating a Paleo, Keto or Whole30 diet? Any favorite recipes you recommend? Share in the comments below!

Is a Paleo-Vegetarian Diet Setting Yourself Up for Failure?

The popularity of Vegetarian and Paleolithic diets is on the rise. But that might be the understatement of the century. Vegetarianism has a long history, stretching back thousands of years in some regions, and the last several decades seem to have been on a steady incline for adopting the vegetarian diet as information about ethical and healthy eating practices becomes more widely available. But when it comes to the Paleo diet, it might be more accurate to say that the interest in this diet has skyrocketed in the last several years.

Loren Cordain, an exercise scientist and nutritional expert, published his book, The Paleo Diet, in 2002. The book heralded a hunter-gatherer style of eating, positing it as the diet of the Paleolithic era when people did not have access to farmed and processed foods. Then, once Paleo hit the CrossFit community, its reputation exploded, and by 2013 it was the most commonly searched diet on Google. Both diets are in vogue — and due to their potential health benefits, many athletes are adopting them to support optimal performance. But typically, athletes choose one or the other – not both.

In the vegetarian community, there is a divide between those who abstain from meat due to health benefits, and those who do so for ethical reasons. Both groups have risen in numbers, with more information generated every day about the lamentable practices of the slaughterhouse industry and the high incidence of health complications engendered by high-cholesterol diets laden with unhealthy fats.

Before we go on, we’d better break down what exactly “vegetarianism” means. While vegetarianism is merely foregoing meat in one’s diet, there are some variations. Many vegetarians also exclude eggs, and some eschew the consumption of dairy. Others cut out both. Pescatarians, who are often classified as vegetarians, don’t eat meat but allow for fish and seafood. While abstinence from meat has shown numerous health benefits, it is still common for a vegetarian diet to be nutritionally weak in some areas for some people, as it bears no restrictions on processed foods, bad fats or refined carbohydrates.

The Paleo world is more uniform, in that most who choose the Paleo route do so strictly for health reasons. However, the strictures of Paleo are more complicated than vegetarianism. The idea is to eat only foods that would have been available to humans during the Paleolithic era. Meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts all get the green light. But on the no-eat list are grains, refined sugars, legumes, seed oils, processed foods and gluten. In the athletic arena, the reasons for the diet are obvious to the diet-conscious. Paleo provides heaps of quality protein and carbohydrate sources — crucial for supporting any intense physical regimen — while eliminating foods that encourage fat gains and wreak havoc on the body’s digestive and cardiovascular systems.

Venn Diagram of What Paleo & Vegetarians Won't Eat
Can you live in the overlap of what Vegetarian and Paleo eaters won’t eat?

Both the Vegetarian and Paleo diets have been used by athletes successfully. But quite rare among athletes — or the population in general — is the Paleo-Vegetarian diet, which follows Paleo rules while also refraining from meat. Given that a central pillar of Paleo tends to be meat such as bacon and lean grass-fed beef, these two diets can be very challenging to combine. With the communities taking interest in each other — Paleo enthusiasts who wish to nix the meat from their diets, and vegetarians looking to optimize their health — the question has to be asked: can a diet geared for top athletic performance be both Paleo and Vegetarian?

In a word, yes. It is certainly possible to take a Paleo diet and cut out the meat. However, whether it is an optimal plan for an active lifestyle is less certain. It also means following a number of complex rules, so it requires someone who is both knowledgeable and committed.

Paleo takes a huge chunk of the typical Western diet and shoes it away. Without grains, refined sugars, legumes and seed oils, one is already going against the societal norm. Meals have to be planned and prepared ahead of time, because the fast food menu and the pizza night at the neighbors’ cannot accommodate a Paleo eater.

Since Paleo relies heavily on meat for protein, it is easy to see that making it vegetarian-friendly presents difficulties. Vegetarians typically obtain high quantities of protein from dairy and legumes — both of which are prohibited by Paleo. So what’s left? Those who wish to marry the two diets will be compelled to rely primarily on nuts and eggs for protein. While this is feasible, it certainly limits one’s options. And limited meal options means getting bored or being left unsatisfied, which in turn often means giving up on the diet. Athletes looking to encourage muscle gains with a high protein intake may find the restrictions of a Paleo-Vegetarian life quite imposing.

Paleo Vegetarian Athlete Eating

It is not all bad from here, though. Adding more eggs and nuts into one’s diet is simple enough, and after a few weeks of adjustment it can begin to feel natural. Many Paleo-Vegetarians also rely heavily on protein powders and supplements to round out their protein needs. One who is truly committed to a Paleo-Vegetarian diet can make it work with a lot of planning and a strict grocery list.

But for those who are willing to make just one compromise from the Paleo diet, things become much easier. Since legumes are proven to have excellent nutritional benefits and provide a great source of protein and complex carbohydrates, it is sensible for most vegetarians to stick with legumes while giving a nod to Paleo by dropping refined sugars, grains, dairy and gluten. This slightly modified Paleo-Vegetarian diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs and legumes, provides plenty of quality carbohydrates, fats and protein. We know it isn’t a perfect Paleo-Vegetarian solution, but this ensures that those with full exercise schedules you can get all the nutrients you require without relying on nearly all of the foods that Paleo purists are so keen on avoiding.

In the end, everyone has to decide which diet — or hybrid diet —will work for them. A meat-free Paleo diet including legumes — think “Paleo-Vegetarian with breathing room” — provides plenty of cuisine options and still jettisons problem foods like refined sugars, seed oils and gluten. As for those who wish to forego legumes and embrace a strictly Paleo-Vegetarian life, it is certainly doable. It will just require a little extra effort — and plenty of patience for eggs and nuts.

Vegetarian Diet Makes #11 on 2014 U.S. News “Best Diets” List

The beginning of each new year brings about the promise of a fresh start, a chance to make good on our good intentions. For many of us, this means changing our diets to lose weight or to control certain health issues. Each year, U.S. News and World Report magazine researches major diet trends, compiling a list of the best and worst diets and rating them according to seven specific criteria: both short- and long-term weight loss, ease of implementation and use, nutrition, safety, and diabetic and heart health. A panel of health experts, including physicians, nutritionists, and food psychiatrists, carefully examines each dietary plan and ranks it on a scale of 1 to 5; all seven factors determine the diet’s overall score.

balsamic-caramelized-onion-mushroom-baked-potatoesU.S. News evaluated more than 32 diets for Best Diets 2014. The list is “designed to help consumers identify a diet that suits their specific needs,” according to Angela Haupt, Health and Wellness editor for the magazine. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension plan (DASH), developed primarily to combat high blood pressure through portion control and protein/carbohydrate balance, came in at number one. But both the flexitarian and vegetarian diets placed in the top third of this year’s list. Last place was awarded to the popular “Paleo Diet,” which was deemed too restrictive and difficult to follow to regularly achieve the desired results.

The flexitarian diet placed at #6 for 2014. Flexitarians follow a vegetarian diet most of the time, but with some flexibility factored in to allow for the occasional consumption of meat products. It is balanced, nutritious, usually results in weight loss, and is entirely customizable according to taste and health needs.

Vegetarianism placed 11th on the list. A vegetarian diet is nutritionally sound, aids in the control of diabetes, and is heart healthy if followed correctly – consisting mostly of plant-based proteins, fruits, and vegetables rather than high amounts of fats or sugars. It is restrictive in that no meat is consumed at all, and therefore requires a certain amount of planning. It can also be somewhat costlier to begin than a traditional mixed diet as you’re learning to modify your meals to not include meat and animal byproducts. However, the cost is quickly offset by its numerous health benefits, and by eliminating the cost of meat in the long-term from both your grocery bills and restaurant tabs.

Studies show that balanced, plant-based diets are instrumental in preventing heart disease, losing weight, and keeping blood pressure and bad cholesterol in check. Both flexitarian and vegetarian diets are deliciously varied, safe to follow, and highly beneficial to one’s overall well-being.