1 February 2013

Paleo Vegetarian/Vegan? Can it be?

Posted by Brad Hefta-Gaub under: Fitness.

I got into a recent Facebook debate about Paleo being soooo bad for your health. The person I was arguing with, is an advocate of vegetarianism/veganism. Her primary argument relates to “The China Study” and how it claims that animal protein has many health risks.

Personally, I’m skeptical about the study. I haven’t read the book or the original research, so I still have an open mind…. but let’s just leave it at I’m skeptical.

But just because I’m skeptical about the claims of this book, doesn’t mean that Vegetarians couldn’t also be Paleo, or more importantly Whole 30. Whole 30 is more about eliminating things from your diet that cause inflammation: Grains, Legumes, Dairy, Potatoes, Sugar.

The main concern is getting protein. Most people assume you only get protein from meat. Of course vegetarians know that isn’t true. But even most vegetarians assume the best source of plant proteins is Legumes. But in reality, very few mammals eat legumes in their natural diet. Most mammals eat leafy greens (or other animals who ate leafy greens). And that’s actually where meat gets its protein. So it’s perfectly reasonable to just go straight to the source!

The key however would be to eat WAY MORE greens than even the average vegetarian would eat. Many green vegetables are actually great sources of complete proteins.

For example: Broccoli… 1 cup of broccoli provides 3g of protein, and from a protein quality score (PQS) perspective it scores an 83, with large/balanced amounts for all the essential amino acids.

The average adult should consume between 0.8-1.8gm/kg. If you’re mostly sedentary, then you need the low end, if you’re an active athlete, you need on the high end. So, for example, a 130lbs (59kg) woman who is a casual exerciser, might need 0.8g/kg. So she would need 47 gm of protein a day.

Now, 15 cups of broccoli might sound like a lot… but actually, if you consider all the other great sources of high protein greens out there, and then mix in other protein sources like nuts. You’re not eating an unrealistic amount of vegetables to get to your protein needs just on vegetables.

Some other examples of high protein non-legume plants…

  • 1 Cup of Kale - 2g… PQS 92!
  • 1 Cup of Zucchini - 2g… PQS 89!
  • 1 Cup of Sweet Potato - 4g!! PQS 82
  • 1oz Cashews, Raw - 5g - PQS 100
  • 1oz Macadamia Nuts - 2g - PQS 4 - Sad Face, but oh well. BUT — complimentary with Mushrooms which give you 1g per “whole mushroom”

Now, let me reiterate, I’m not a certified nutritionist or any kind of a medical expert. I am however, and expert eater! And I love to think about how to use whole food ingredients to make healthy and nutrient rich meals.

I tried to think about food I like to eat, that’s (afaik) Whole 30 compatible, but doesn’t have any animal products in it, including no eggs. With a goal of getting to 48g of protein, by just eating vegetables. This is what I came up with.

Here’s a mini VEGAN (non-lacto-ovo-vegetarian) meal plan I threw together along the lines of thinking above…

  • Breakfast:
    • Fruit & Nut Bowl - 11g Protein - ~450 kCals
      • ½ cup melon
      • ½ cup pineapple
      • ½ cup grapes -
      • ¼ cup cashews - 7g
      • ½ cup sweet potatoes - 2g
  • Lunch:
    • Large Salad - 20g Protein - ~600 kCals
      • 3 cups Romaine - 3g
      • 3 cups Spinach - 3g
      • ½ cup Artichoke Hearts, steamed, chopped - 2g
      • ½ cup broccoli - 2g
      • 1 whole “Florida” avocado - 7g
      • 3 sliced mushrooms - 3g
      • 1 Tbps Olive oil (dressing)
      • 1 Tspn Balsamic Vinegar (dressing)
  • Dinner:
    • Stir fried greens - 17g Protein - ~500 kCals
      • 4 cups Kale - 8g
      • 3 sliced mushrooms - 3g
      • 1 cup red cabbage - 1g
      • ½ cup bamboo shoots - 4g
      • ¼ cup red onion - 0.5g
      • 4 cloves garlic - 1g
      • 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil

This comes to 48g of protein, and about 1500 kCals. You could certainly add in more fruits and other less protein rich vegetables to add more flavor and calories to this meal. You could also add in other fat/oil sources but this still comes out to 50% fat, so it’s actually very “metabolically efficient” too (which would be one of my goals as an endurance athlete, but I didn’t have that in mind when I made this).

The one “concern” I have in this, would be the ¼ cup of cashews. I am not clear on whether or not the authors of Whole 30 would say that’s too much nuts. They have expressed some concern over getting too much Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs) in your diet. Nuts and seeds have a lot of PUFAs. Cashews on “better” than most nuts (along with hazelnuts and macadamia nuts) because they have a higher ratio of Omega 3’s which most of us get far too little of.

But these cashews are such a good source of protein for this “all plant” menu, which is why I included it. I haven’t calculated the Omega 6:3 ratio for this, but my gut says, it’s probably not too bad.

The point here is that it would be possible to get your daily protein needs from only eating plants (not including legumes). And by eating in this manner, you’re actually both Paleo and Vegan!

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About Brad

Me in 2002 - 200lbsThis is my fitness blog. Some people who knew me a long time ago may wonder, what the heck I'm doing writing a blog about fitness. Many of them wouldn't imagine that I'd have anything to do with fitness. You see, up until age 34, I treated my body very poorly. I sat around at home, at work, at play. I ate junk food and lots of it. And the result was what you'd expect 5'4" and 200 lbs with 36% body fat. (more...)