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Nutrition » Diets » Mediterranean » Mediterranean Diet vs Paleo: Which Eating Pattern Should You Follow and Why?

Mediterranean Diet vs Paleo: Which Eating Pattern Should You Follow and Why?

mediterranean diet vs paleo

Mediterranean Diet vs Paleo: Similarities, Differences, Benefits, and Disadvantages

Never ignore the statement that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. This saying is applicable in many scenarios and especially useful when it comes to weight loss and dieting, simply because what works for you might not automatically work for the other person. Taking time to examine and understand the Mediterranean Diet vs Paleo will help you find out the best and safest option for you.

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There are various diets to select from, and two of the most popular ones are the Mediterranean Diet and Paleo. When choosing an eating plan for your health goals, go for the one that suits your lifestyle well enough to ensure that you can follow it to the latter, and enjoy maximum benefits. So, between the Mediterranean diet and Paleo, which one should you go for and why?

Mediterranean and Paleo diets cater to different tastes and health goals.  It is important to note that even though the two diets take a different approach, they are healthy alternatives to the basic American diet.

Mediterranean Diet 

This eating pattern borrows its name from people who live along the Mediterranean Sea, i.e., Spain, Italy, France, Egypt, Morocco, and Greece. It was originally promoted by Ancel Keys, who traveled to the Island of Crete and observed that traditional Cretan diets were associated with low rates of heart diseases (2).

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What is the Mediterranean Diet Food List?

The Mediterranean diet pyramid, which aids in defining this diet’s features, was developed in 1993 by Oldways food and nutrition nonprofit, Harvard School of Public Health, and WHO. According to the pyramid, the eating pattern concentrates on nutrient-high foods. The Mediterranean diet food list includes legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, low-fat dairy, in-season fruits, vegetables, fish, fresh-foods, and olive oil. Specific foods include:

  • Fresh non-starchy and leafy green vegetables
  • Fruits such as grapes, apples, pomegranates, and citrus
  • Fish, chicken, and eggs
  • Healthy fats such as nuts, olives, and olive seeds
  • Legumes such as beans, lentils, walnuts, almond, and chia
  • Moderate amounts of dairy, yogurt, red meat, and red wine
  • Plenty of herbs and spices
  • Whole grains such as whole-grain bread and pasta, sprouted grains, barley, quinoa, and oatmeal

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Simple Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan

Here is an example of the foods you can take for 5 days if on a Mediterranean diet:

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Whole-wheat toast, a pan-fried egg, and grilled tomatoes
  • Lunch: Whole grain pita bread, 2 cups of mixed salad greens topped with olives and cherry tomatoes and a dressing of vinegar and olive oil, and 2 ounces of hummus
  • Dinner: Grilled vegetables and whole-grain pizza with tomato sauce and low-fat cheese as a topping (you can add shredded chicken, tuna, ham, or pine nuts as pizza toppings)

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Half a cup of blueberries and a cup of Greek yogurt
  • Lunch: Whole-grain sandwich with grilled vegetables
  • Dinner: A portion of baked salmon with garlic and black pepper and one roasted potato with chives and olive oil

Day 3

  • Breakfast: 1 cup of whole-grain oats with honey, dates, and cinnamon (add low-sugar fruits)
  • Lunch: Boiled white beans spiced with garlic and cumin. A cup of arugula dressed with olive oil and topped with cucumber, tomato, and feta cheese
  • Dinner: A half-cup of whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce, olive oil, and grilled vegetables, and add a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese
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Day 4 

  • Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with onions, tomatoes, and peppers, then add a quarter avocado or 1 oz of queso fresco
  • Lunch: Anchovies roasted in olive oil on whole-grain toast, sprinkle some lemon juice, and include 2 cups of steamed tomatoes and kales as a warm salad
  • Dinner: 1 artichoke boiled with garlic powder, olive oil, and salt, then take this with 2 cups of steamed spinach sprinkled with some lemon juice and herbs

Day 5

  • Breakfast: 1 cup of Greek yogurt topped with honey and cinnamon
  • Lunch: Roasted garbanzo beans with oregano and thyme and a cup of quinoa with sun-dried tomatoes, bell peppers, and olives
  • Dinner: A piece of baked sardines with a slice of lemon, then add 2 cups of steamed kale with cucumber, tomato, lemon juice, olives, and Parmesan cheese

Healthy snacks for people on a Mediterranean diet include: 

  • Avocado on whole-grain toast
  • Dried fruits like figs and apricots
  • Hummus with vegetables such as celery and carrots
  • A small serving of nuts or yogurt
  • Whole fruits like plums and grapes

The diet encourages moderate physical activity, eating socially with friends and family, and maybe a glass of wine once in a while. However, it discourages the consumption of refined flour and sugar, red meat, animal fat, and processed foodstuffs. By concentrating on quality over quantity, this eating pattern encourages the intake of high-quality fat rather than minimizing fat intake as much as possible. Here, fat is not evil, and instead, good fat is encouraged.

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Benefits of Mediterranean Diet

  • Mediterranean diet is preferred for its effectiveness and flexibility. Its flexibility means you can be sure to cover all your nutritional bases and stay satisfied over the long term.
  • Since it is more of a lifestyle than a diet and one can eat everything in moderation, it is considered one of the safest approaches to eating.
  • This healthy diet helps relieve the symptoms of depression (3).
  • It is a sustainable, healthy weight-loss alternative, may help improve blood pressure, and control diabetes. 
  • It has been proven to enhance overall health, increasing longevity by reducing the risk of certain cancers, strokes, and cognitive illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
  • A Ketogenic Mediterranean diet, where bread and legumes are removed and replaced with more low-carb vegetables, olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish, improves cardiovascular health, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and weight loss in inflammatory markers (7).
  • Studies show that it is good for the brain (9).
  • Mediterranean diet is relatively cost-friendly since it includes more plant-based foods.

For the best outcomes, the Mediterranean diet should be combined with a relaxing psychological environment and regular activity, among others.

Disadvantages of Mediterranean Diet

  • In comparison to the average western diet, both the Mediterranean and Paleo diet can be more costly.
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Paleo diet

What’s a Paleo diet? It is a restrictive eating pattern based on what was eaten during the Paleolithic era, about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. It holds that modern people should eat like the Paleolithic ancestors before farming and manufacturing of food. Simply put, if the caveman did not eat it, neither should you. It is also known as the “Stone Age,” “caveman,” or “hunter-gatherer” diet.

This hunt-and-gather eating pattern constructed around foodstuffs that our ancestors ate was established by Loren Cordain. Although it was established in the 1970s, the Paleo diet gained popularity in the 2000s due to the development of CrossFit. This exercise routine encouraged the inclusion of Paleo eating plans for an ideal body, with the theory of eating like a caveman to shed pounds.

Based on the discordance hypothesis, the reasoning behind the Paleo eating pattern is that the human body is genetically incompatible with the modern diet that resulted from farming practices. Farming led to grains, legumes, and dairy as extra staples in the human diet. The theory is that this late and quick change in diet outpaced the human body’s ability to adapt, and due to this incompatibility, conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart illness originated.

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What is the Paleo Diet Food List?

Paleo encourages the consumption of in-season fruits, whole foods, and fresh vegetables, together with plenty of grass-fed meat, seafood, and poultry. The focus is on lean, healthy proteins. It cuts out alcohol, beans, legumes, cultivated grains, added sugars, dairy, salt, potatoes, and processed foods, including refined vegetable oils like canola.

Like the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet also aims to restrict the intake of processed foods. However, it focuses on the intake of a wide variety of strictly ancient plant-based food sources. It is largely high in fat and animal protein, and low to moderate in carbohydrates. Paleo approved foods include:

  • Fruits such as berries, bananas, oranges, and apples
  • Grass-fed meat such as beef, wild game, chicken, lamb, and turkey
  • Healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocado, and olive oil,
  • Nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices
  • Organic tuna and eggs
  • Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and leafy greens
  • Wild-caught fish such as shellfish, salmon, and shrimp
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Simple Paleo Diet Meal Plan

A typical Paleo diet  for 5 days includes:

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Banana, kale, avocado, and apple juice with almond milk
  • Lunch: Cooked lean pork loin and mixed salad
  • Dinner: Lean beef sirloin tip roast or roast chicken, steamed broccoli, salad, and berries for dessert

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with pumpkin seeds, grilled tomatoes, and wilted spinach
  • Lunch: Left-over roast chicken and mixed salad leaves dressed in olive oil
  • Dinner: Baked salmon with broccoli and asparagus fried in coconut oil

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Fruit salad made up of bananas sprinkled with almonds and blueberries
  • Lunch: Leftover salmon and combined salad leaves dressed in olive oil
  • Dinner: Stir-fry beef with peppers using coconut oil
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Day 4

  • Breakfast: 1 poached egg, broccoli with toasted almonds fried in coconut oil
  • Lunch: 1 boiled egg, mixed salad with tuna, seeds, and olive oil
  • Dinner: Steamed broccoli with baked chicken wings

Day 5

  • Breakfast: Mixed fruits, spinach smoothie, and coconut milk
  • Lunch: Tomato omelet with mixed salad, broccoli, and butternut squash
  • Dinner: Stir-fried salmon, broccoli, red pepper, and baby corn

You can make dessert or snack with fruits, nuts, and seeds.

When on Paleo, you should take enough water and stay physically active. You snack with an orange, celery, or carrot sticks. Some people on this diet take black coffee or green tea, but all soft drinks and juices with added sugar are prohibited.

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Benefits of Paleo Diet

  • Paleo helps people to cut weight quickly, as it eliminates sugars, many carbs, and all processed foods. Due to encouraging weight loss, Paleo may reduce the risk of Type II diabetes that results from obesity.
  • Some trials claim that this eating plan enhances glucose tolerance, leads to better blood pressure control, lowers triglycerides, and results in better appetite management (1).
  • Also, Loren Cordain claims that there are clinical trials that show this eating pattern can lower the risk of blood pressure, heart disease, and inflammation (13). It also reduces acne and promotes optimal health and athletic performance. However, more research on this needs to be done.

Disadvantages of Paleo Diet

  • Paleo diet is a limiting eating pattern and, thus, can result in some health risks.
  • It is challenging to stick to it in the long term because it is restrictive. People tend to start strong but lose interest after a short while. 
  • Since the diet eliminates grains and legumes, the amount of fiber and other essential nutrients might go down. Fiber is necessary as it feeds the good bacteria in the GI tract; therefore, reducing the intake of fiber can change the gut microbiome that depends on the food.
  • Paleo encourages the intake of plenty of meat, and this can increase the risk of heart diseases or certain cancers such as colorectal cancer.
  • The omission of dairy, a reliable source of Vitamin D, and calcium may be unhealthy because these nutrients are essential for bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis.
  • It is more expensive because it includes plenty of red meat.
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Mediterranean Diet vs Paleo: Similarities

The main similarities are that:

  • Both diets focus on whole and natural foods and restrict processed foods and refined sugar.
  • Both diets highlight healthy fats, nuts, seeds, fruit, and an abundance of vegetables and leafy greens.

Mediterranean Diet vs Paleo: the Difference

Is the Mediterranean diet like Paleo? Well, No. The two eating patterns are very different. In the Mediterranean diet, no food is off-limits. However, moderation is the key. On the other hand, the Paleo diet restricts the intake of grains and dairy.

Here are some other Mediterranean vs Paleo diets differences:

  • The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fish with very limited red meat, while the Paleo diet stresses more on red meat and poultry.
  • Unlike Paleo, the Mediterranean diet permits the occasional red wine, dairy, or dessert.
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Mediterranean Diet vs Paleo for Weight Loss 

Is the Paleo or Mediterranean diet better? It depends. If quick weight loss is your primary goal, then the Paleo diet can give you faster outcomes since it is a more restrictive diet. However, to maintain weight loss over a long time, the Mediterranean diet is the best eating pattern as it is a lifestyle that is easy to follow for the long-term.

FAQs

Are raisins Paleo?

Yes, but only in small quantities (4). Raisins, sun-dried or dehydrated grapes are natural foods without additives, making them Paleo-friendly. However, they should be taken in moderation because of their high sugar content (33.8% fructose and 31.2% glucose). Since they are dried, it is very easy to overeat them, resulting in too many calories from the sugars.

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What is the healthiest diet: Mediterranean vs Paleo? 

According to the latest US News annual diet rankings compiled by a panel of health experts, the Mediterranean diet ranks top out of 35 diet plans, with a healthy score of 4.8 out of 5 (4). This is because it is safe, nutritious, easy to follow, and effective for long-term weight loss.

The same experts ranked the Paleo diet 29th with a healthy score of 2.6 out of 5. This is due to its more limiting eating pattern, and it is not as sustainable as other diets. Based on this ranking and the  Mediterranean vs.Paleo diet for health’s respective pros and cons mentioned above, it is clear that the Mediterranean eating pattern is considered the healthiest with many benefits. 

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet is less controversial among health professionals; therefore, it is more recommended by these experts. We can conclude that the diet for weight loss is Paleo, while the diet for health and maintaining weight loss in the long-run is the Mediterranean.

Mediterranean diet vs Paleo is an engaging subject with proponents presenting facts in their favor. Clearly, the Mediterranean diet takes the day, but a mutual benefit is that both discourage fast foods, making them healthier options than the Western diet. But before beginning any of these eating plans, remember to consult your doctor.

If you are interested in healthy meal plans, you may be curious about other methods of supporting your body health. Supplement a proper meal plan with some exercise and take up this 20 Min Full Body Workout at Home.

DISCLAIMER: 

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. 3 Benefits Paleo Diet Followers Enjoy in Just 10 Days (2018, universityhealthnews.com)
  2. 5 THINGS PALEO EATERS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET (n. d,paleoleap.com)
  3. A brief diet intervention can reduce symptoms of depression in young adults – A randomised controlled trial (2019, journals.plos.org)
  4. Best Diets Overall (2020, health.usnews.com )
  5. Can You Eat Raisins on Paleo? (2020, paleoflourish.com)
  6. For your health, should you try paleo or Mediterranean diet? (2015, today.com)
  7. Mediterranean diet and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: New therapeutic option around the corner? (2014, researchgate.net)
  8. Mediterranean Diet May Be Good for the Brain (2017, nytimes.com)
  9. Mediterranean Diet May Help Ease Some Symptoms of Depression (2019, nytimes.com)
  10. Mediterranean-type diet and brain structural change from 73 to 76 years in a Scottish cohort (2017, n.neurology.org)
  11. Mediterranean Diet vs. Paleo Diet (2019, health.usnews.com)
  12. Mediterranean vs. Paleo: Comparing Best Diets For Health (2017, camelmilk.com)
  13. The Paleo Diet (2020,webmd.com)
  14. Paleo diet meal plan: A simple guide (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
  15. Paleo diet: What is it and why is it so popular?(2020, mayoclinic.org)
  16. When Diet Meets Delicious (2013, nytimes.com)
Jedidah Tabalia

Jedidah Tabalia

Jedidah is a passionate writer with over 5 years of experience in researching and providing content on healthy eating habits, specifically in relation to nutritious dieting, exercising, and weight loss that contribute to a person's overall well-being. She injects her go-getter mentality and can-do attitude into every article because she believes that happiness begins with good health, so the more people she inspires to embark on a healthy journey, the better. Jedidah provides tailored, evidence-based content that will ensure her readers that fitting healthy diets and workouts into their hectic lifestyles is not only possible, but easy and affordable.
She believes that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and a steadfast commitment to a healthy lifestyle is bound to pay off.

Kristen Fleming

Kristen Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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