plant based, paleo or low energy diet?

chopped vegetables - capsicum, mushroom, zucchini, onions

plant based, paleo or low energy diet?

I feel as though I haven’t been entirely clear about the benefits and disadvantages of these three types of diets, plant based, paleo, or low energy, and a lot of the search traffic to this site, is seeking information about the difference between a paleo diet and a plant based diet. So to this end, I am going to provide an updated evaluation of these three options. Since I am studying nutrition, my understandings develop as we go along, and therefore, information needs to get updated.

In terms of eating healthy to get everything that you need nutritionally in the day, the most respected guideline is something that I have previously questioned due to the large quantities of meat and dairy prescribed. The Healthy Eating Guidelines are evidence based guidelines, that are respected within the field of nutrition and dietetics. I will do some more research into the evidence behind these guidelines and write about that soon.

However, if you are looking for something to lose some weight, or are interested in some of the other diets that are available, here is some more information about three popular diet types:

Plant based diets

green and orange salad

green leaf, fruit and tomato salad

There is a lot to be said for plant based diets. Evidence suggests that people who eat plant based diets are less likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, cancer and have a lower BMI than their omnivorous or meat eating friends.

You WILL lose weight. It is fairly clear when you start to analyse the calorific content of various foods, that meat is among the most energy dense, so without it in your diet, your average intake of energy is going to be much lower, as long as you don’t go too crazy with the nuts, cheese and bread.

There are obviously some clear benefits. You are eating clean, ethical food, and getting a large amount of fruit and vegetables, and perhaps grains in your diet.

The main problems with these kinds of diets, is that they can be difficult. Eating out is a real pain, and it can be difficult to find tasty, easy, fun recipes that are entirely plant based. Especially if you are cutting out gluten and dairy as well. I find that lunch is the hardest. And for moderation, if you are following a plant based diet, you can eat meat three times a week for dinner.

Your zinc levels could suffer, and your copper levels might rise. The balance between copper and zinc, may get skewed, and if you are not eating dairy products, which is not advised on these types of diets, calcium is also going to be an issue.

Paleo diets

fish and tomatoes in fry panI would really discourage you from these types of protein diets. I tried the Dukkan diet once, which is a high protein and vegetable diet, and I really noticed a lot of pain in my kidneys from processing all that extra protein. There is really only so much meat you can eat before you just gag, at the thought of more protein, and because meat is so high in saturated fat, cholesterol AND in calories, I think you are doing yourself a complete disservice by trying to follow this diet.

The way it works is that your body, not getting any carbohydrates for fuel, will go into a state called Ketosis, and burn fat and protein through the secondary metabolic pathway available to generate energy or ATP through food. The problem is that with so much protein, you actually start to waste away your muscle mass, which doesn’t make any sense, I know, but it is true.

20 % fruit and vegetables and 80 % meat is just dangerous in my opinion. You will lose weight, but you will put it straight back on if you stop eating this way, and are you really committed to eating steak and bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of your life? How disgusting!?!

Low energy diets

breakfast calories, fat, calcium and carbohydratesCalorie counting gets a bad rap. It is true, that it can be a pain. To note down every single thing you eat can be painfully laborious, but to be honest, I find it kind of fun. And you start to get acquainted pretty quickly with the sorts of foods that are energy dense (meat, olive oil, bread, alcohol) and what isn’t (kiwi fruit, spinach, mountain bread).

I think it is the most flexible, in that within the constraints of your energy target, you can experiment with different foods, and eat quite normally. There is something satisfying about setting a target for every day. There is a great free website that will help you to do this: Calorie King Australia. It is a lot of fun! And the exercise that you do each day gets taken off your total.

Does it work? Probably. Evidence says that it does. I am only six days into it, so it is too early to tell, but people who have maintained their weight loss have found that this method is the most effective. Also it is pretty easy really. I ate all sorts of things on Sunday because I had a few too many wines the night before, and still managed to stay under 1560 calories in the day.

chopped vegetables - capsicum, mushroom, zucchini, onionsThe main advantage with this kind of eating regime is that you have specific goals, which can help you stay motivated. Also, within reason there is a lot of flexibility in your choice of food, and you are less likely to eat a packet of m and m’s if you know you have to write it down 🙂

As mentioned in the fasting post, there is some evidence that a reduced energy diet, can have benefits to your longevity, and that studies have shown that animals who have a reduced calorie diet live longer than those who don’t.


It really depends on your perspective as to what method will suit you best, if you are leaning towards a plant based diet, due to ethics, or because you are understandably concerned by some of the health problems with eating meat, then a plant based diet is most likely the best fit for you. Over time, I will add more recipes that suit this diet, because, there are significant benefits, if you have enough resources of recipes that are interesting and appetising.

Whether or not to supplement calcium and zinc is the subject of another post, but eating fish and other meats with dinner occasionally might be a good idea to get some of those important minerals.

If you enjoy setting goals for yourself, and for learning about the energy of various foods, then I would suggest the low energy diet.

I am not going to encourage you to eat Paleo, because even though it is fashionable, I haven’t seen anything to convince me that it is healthy. Fat, cholesterol and protein, does not supply you with all the vitamins and minerals that are so abundant in plant food, and the Healthy Eating Guidelines, does suggest that carbohydrates and grains should comprise a significant part of your diet 🙂

What is your preferred way of eating for health and vitality or weight loss?

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