Experimenting with a Vegetarian Paleo Diet

I am not a cavelady (I live in an old farmhouse), nor do I live in the Stone Age (although I did come across this cool stone structure on a recent bike ride along Lake Champlain).  But, I am curious about the growing enthusiasm surrounding the Paleolithic Diet (or Paleo, Primal, Caveman, Stone Age, Hunter-Gatherer Diet), which, in very simple terms, is going back to what our ancestors ate as a way to return to optimum health with maximum energy.  Basically it is a diet of meat, fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts and berries…, and all the other delicious vegetables and fruits from both near and far you are able to “gather” in your shopping basket at the local market.  It’s the modern “hunter-gatherer”.

What I like most about this approach is the clear lack of processed foods.  With our “convenience this, convenience that” lifestyle, it seems very shortly after a diet becomes the least bit popular (such as the low-fat, Atkins, The Zone, South Beach, etc.)  a whole new line of carefully-crafted foods in colorful packages screaming health benefits line the shelves.  I’m not interested in new packages.  I’m wanting real foods, arriving on my plate in a form as close as possible to how nature created them. With a garden entering harvest time, a CSA (community supported agriculture) farmshare, and nearby farmer’s markets offering all manor of fresh produce, this is a great time of year to be focused on vegetables.

What is hard for me is all the meat that is implied in the Paleo diet. I am a vegetarian (with a little fish thrown in here and there, so a “pescatarian” to be exact), and have been since I was 11.  Although I have done plenty of careful consideration about reentering the meat world, no piece of meat has yet called out my name, and so I am adjusting the Paleo diet somewhat to make it work for me (and others) who are interested in real, whole foods, but not necessarily the quantity of animal foods cave people presumably consumed.

I am also all for the elimination of sugar and other sweeteners (save, perhaps, for a bit of raw honey from time to time, and maybe a drizzle of our own maple syrup…), as well as processed grains.  The more I read about the increase in gluten intolerance, and how grains are digested and assimilate into the body, the more I have become curious to try a spell without any.  So, when two friends who were turned onto the Paleo diet at their CrossFit gym, asked if I would join them on a 30-day challenge, I agreed.  I’m generally up for any interesting dietary experiment, so here we go!

Day #1:

Breakfast: Organic, whole milk (cream on top) plain yogurt with banana, apricots, ground flaxseeds and walnuts.

Lunch: Salmon cooked with zukes, simple beet salad, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Snack: Handful of cashews and a plum.

Dinner: Hummus with celery and carrots; roasted sweet potatoes and lots of grapes. Tea with raw honey and goji berries.

Day #2:

Breakfast: Fruit with nuts, and coconut.

Lunch: Veggie burger (was at a BBQ, had just kayaked and was hungry), carrot sticks and lots of fruit salad.

Snack: Handful of walnuts.

Dinner: “First-name” omelet: my garlic and spinach, Lindsay’s organic, raw milk, Hannah’s organic goat cheese, and Beth’s organic, pastured eggs; and a fresh garden salad.

Day #3:

Breakfast: Left-over spinach omelet and 2 plums.

Lunch: Another veggie burger (have got to make more time to prepare protein – don’t want to be buying or eating these processed soy-derivatives anymore), 2 ears of fresh corn with umeboshi paste.

Snack: Handful of almonds late afternoon when I got very hungry.

Dinner: Vegetable and chickpea soup, green salad with avocado and a fried banana with coconut for dessert.

Day #4:

Breakfast: Raw chocolate smoothie: sunflower seeds (soaked overnight), pears, bananas, organic raw cacao nibs, cinnamon, organic raw cacao powder, then adjust consistency of smoothie with as little or as much milk or coconut milk as you like. Can add ice cubes if you like it chilled.

Lunch: A plum.  I would like to join my children and all the kids we have over today for lunch, but I can not imagine eating — still so full from my smoothie breakfast.

Snack: Another glass of my morning smoothie.

Dinner: A particularly delicious salad: fresh mesclun greens, baby spinach, shredded red cabbage, cucumbers, sauteed mushrooms, walnuts, crumbled gorgonzola cheese, black olives.  Homemade apple sauce from the apples that our apple tree dropped and I gathered.

Day #5:

Breakfast: What was left of last night’s delicious salad.

Lunch: (feeling strangely low on energy and not necessarily hungry) I had a large bowl of grapes and two large cups of black tea.

Snack: Handful of raw almonds with dried apricots.

Dinner: Lentils with onions, garlic, peppers, spinach, basil and corn, served with avocado slices on top.

After just five days, I am enjoying the purity of only eating real, nutrient-rich, whole foods (most of which have been organic, and a good portion has been home- or locally grown) and I am not missing grains, which are already starting to feel like filler foods.

Days 6-30: Skipping grains and sweets has not only been easier than I thought, it has felt more like a luxury than a deprivation. Think about your favorite sandwich. Maybe it is a BLT, peanut butter and jelly, or (this time of year) fresh cucumber, tomato and avocado.  Well, the beauty of grain-free living is that you don’t have to waste any time or appetite on the bread, and you just get to indulge in a little more of the filling (which is probably what makes it your favorite sandwich to begin with).

I have been enjoying smoothies (fruit, raw milk or coconut milk, cacao, avocado, soaked nuts and seeds), all sorts of salads (fresh vegetables from the garden: lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beets, carrots, beans, peas, herbs… with olives and protein such as nuts, seeds, chickpeas, tofu, hard-boiled eggs), colorful stir fries (dark green leafy vegetables, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peppers, tomatoes…, seaweeds and a protein) and cooking on the grill (fish- needing some more concentrated protein than strict vegetarian fare is providing, tofu, tempeh, corn-on-the-cob, eggplant, portabella mushroom caps, potatoes, summer squashes…). Quick meals and snacks have included things like carrots, peppers stick, cucumber spears or celery sticks with a nut butter or bean puree such as hummus; half an avocado; a hard-boiled egg; a few olives; fruit with nut butters; a nice mix of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and shredded coconut; making fresh veggie, hummus or guacamole rolls with either lettuce or nori.

The “challenge” stopped feeling challenging weeks ago. It does require more thinking ahead and planning.  There are very few options in the “I’ll just grab something on the way” way of life.  But once the pack-something-to-take-along habit becomes routine, the variety is plentiful, the nutritional value unbeatable and the resultant lightness, strength, clarity and energy unavoidable.

If the meat urge ever strikes, I will be interested to include those foods as well, but for now, I am a happy consumer of a broadly defined vegetarian-Paleo diet.

________________________

I realize a pure Paleo diet would not include any legumes, dairy or potatoes, but being a pesca-vegetarian I have made some adjustments (at least initially).  I thought about trying meat, but after 30 years of not eating any, that would be such a big adjustment in and of itself that I would not be able to sort out what was what.

If you are interested in learning more, I recommend reading the book: The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat by Loren Cordain. I am by no means an authority. Just curious about different diets and trying this one out for an initial 30 days. If you want to give it a shot too, but not sure where to find all of the ingredients, I linked some of the harder-to-find items I’ve been eating to Amazon Grocery, which will deliver them to your door. Now that makes for some irresistibly easy hunting and gathering!

Enjoy experimenting to find what works best for you.  Would love to hear about your experience if you’d like to share in the comments.

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11 thoughts on “Experimenting with a Vegetarian Paleo Diet

  1. The paleo diet need not be meat heavy, but it does require some animal products. Fish would be great and I see it in your menu. And I see you eat eggs. I’ve eaten four a day for breakfast for years (and none at other meals). While many make it meat heavy, we don’t know the quantities of foods eaten. We only know what foods were in and what was out. And that they followed Optimal Foraging Theory and obtained the most nutrition for the least effort for where they were located. So you can pretend your ancestors lived near the water and speared fish and collected shell fish.

    There are health problems with milk. Loren Cordain’s newsletter recently had an article on it. You can subscribe to the newsletter free (and you should), but he only sells past issues, and that one is $6.95. [If you privately e-mail me I’ll forward it to you.]

    While chick peas and lentils are legumes, they aren’t as bad as others. Many require much longer soaking times to get the toxins out.

    For coconut milk I drink So Delicious’s Coconut Kefir.

    You can get used to drinking tea with no sweetener. You can wean yourself by gradually reduce the honey over a couple week period.

    There are vendors coming out with paleo foods. Some are only pseudo-paleo. You can find them listed in the first section here: http://PaleoFoodMall.com/

  2. Don,

    Thanks so much for your insightful comment. I will certainly keep your suggestions in mind, as the experiment continues. Thanks for taking the time to share your understanding of the diet and the additional resources.

  3. Amen sister, I’m right there with you.

    #1 drop the dairy,
    #2 drop the humis
    #3 explore some raw veganism
    #4 simple is the key
    #5 remember your power foods IE
    -honey
    -pollen
    -propolus
    -royal jelly
    -Chia seed
    -hemp seed
    -red cabbage,
    -dates and
    -figs

    Om Mani Padme Hum,
    Lama Jigme Gyatso :)

  4. My anthropologist (and vegetarian) husband says that paleolithic people would probably have eaten wild grains, didn’t actually eat much meat (although they obviously had some), and, of course, probably didn’t eat dairy products (which you know, of course). But, we are interested in the description of your vege-paleo diet, and are very pleased that you’re experimenting with it.

  5. You do realize that salmon is meat, right?

    Fish aren’t plants.

    Then you’re not vegetarian, that would make you you a pescatarian.

    I would follow the meal plan, but being a vegetarian, I DON’T eat fish.

    • Sarah, Yes, you are right, I am a pescatarian. It’s not a term everyone is familiar with, and for some reason it has become acceptable to be called a vegetarian, even when you do eat some animals foods: milk, dairy products, eggs, sometimes fish… some people will even include chicken.

      The Paleo diet clearly includes animal foods. As much as I am intrigued by this dietary thinking, when I decided to give it a 30-day try, I was not ready to fully dive into animal eating. But, in order to get enough protein and a little variety, as you can see, I did have some fish.

      I’d love to hear about your experience if you give it a pure vegetarian go. Since legumes are not strictly Paleo (they became a part of our diet with agriculture, and so after pure hunter-gathering), that leaves nuts, seeds and eggs. Too short of a list for me, but if it works for you – fantastic!

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  7. Hi there!
    This post is interesting and I’ve definitely heard of people taking on vegetarian paleo (using eggs and egg protein powders). Will be interesting to see how your journey pans out and how you are liking it!

  8. Useful info. Lucky me I found your web site accidentally, and I’m surprised why this coincidence did not took place in advance! I bookmarked it.

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