Weight loss and health are big business these days, and with so many fad diets claiming to be ‘the one’ to help you meet, or even beat your goals, it is difficult to decide which ones to believe.  There is a group of diets, however, that are increasingly gaining in popularity.  Not only do they argue for a lifestyle change rather than a faddy quick fix but they all advocate similar eating patterns and for very similar reasons.  They include the following:

Paleo:  This diet is based on the belief that the increase of chronic disease is directly correlated to the change in our diets after the agricultural revolution, around 10,000 years ago.  Thus, the plan is based on what was eaten during the Paleolithic era and involves eating free-range and grass-fed meats, fish and seafood, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, and healthful oils.  More important, though, is the avoidance of dairy, cereal grains, legumes, refined sugars, and processed foods (Loren Cordain, 2010). 

Vegetarian:  There are several different kinds of vegetarianism but the most popular is the lacto-ovo-vegetarian.  This type of vegetarianism avoids the consumption of all meat, poultry, game, fish, and seafood, although eating dairy products and eggs is permitted.  Vegetarians may choose this lifestyle for a variety reasons, ranging from ethical beliefs to health concerns (The Vegetarian Society). 

Vegan:  Veganism is similar in structure to vegetarianism but vegans avoid any animal-related products, including all dairy, eggs, or any animal by-product.  The plan is based on the idea that animals are not ours to use and therefore, it is unjust for us to take their products.  Another common proponent is an ethical one, as chickens may be killed when their egg-production rates decrease with age, for example, and dairy cows are often highly farmed and unfairly treated (Christian Nordqvist, 2009). 

Slow Carb:  Developed by author Timothy Ferriss, the Slow Carb diet is similar to the Paleo diet in terms of foods but is based around the idea that we eat the wrong kind of carbohydrates (the processed, starchy kind).  Instead, our diet should consist of slow energy-release carbs and foods with a low glycemic index.  Permitted foods include: eggs, fish, grass-fed beef, lentils, beans, vegetables, mushrooms, tea, and water. All dairy (except cottage cheese) should be avoided, along with soy products, fruit, starches, sweets, bread, rice, grains, oatmeal, sugar, honey, and maple syrup (Wikipedia, 2013). 

Flexitarian:  Alternatively named ‘flexible vegetarian’, the flexitarian diet is for those that agree with the ethical and health benefits of vegetarianism but aren’t ready to give up their bacon sandwiches and steaks just yet!  Flexitarians have meat-free days but are not averse to indulging in their meaty desires when the mood takes them (Angela Haupt, 2013). 

Common Allies

Despite their subtle differences, this group of diet plans all purport the same basic ideas and it is those ideas that make them interesting – they are all fighting for the same cause.  All the diets are primarily plant-based and if they are not completely meat-free, then meat (as well as chicken, fish, game, and so on) should be properly raised, free-range, and grass rather than corn-fed.  They are all strongly against the highly processed foods that seem to find their way to our plates more and more, and they all argue against white starches and refined sugars.  With such a strong alliance, and with their ever-increasing popularity, the question remains: exactly why do these eating plans agree on the basic dieting tenets and what are the benefits?

Healthful Over Harmful Foods

It is estimated that two thirds of the American population are overweight (Loren Cordain, 2010) and that this epidemic is dramatically increasing the rate of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and other chronic illnesses.  Despite medical advances, it seems that the world is getting sicker and this, according the advocates of the above plans, is due to our diets.  So in what way will changing our eating habits help?

Diets based on any of the above plans will generally be lower in trans- and saturated fats and higher in fibre, vitamins, and minerals.  Foods that are not grain based and that have a lower glycemic index are easier to digest and release energy slowly, meaning that we are unlikely to have blood sugar spikes which can lead to problems such as diabetes.  Processed foods and refined carbohydrates do not have these benefits (Loren Cordain, 2010). 

Moreover, it is claimed that a diet that is primarily animal-based is directly related to heart disease and certain cancers.  Dr Campbell, a lifetime researcher in the area, discovered that rats that were fed a high protein diet were more likely to show early signs of liver cancer than those fed a low protein diet.  Similarly, correlation studies show that cancer and heart disease rates are higher in areas in which meat and animal products are in greater consumption (Forks Over Knives, 2011).  A similar 2012 experiment concluded that “plant based diets either minimize or completely eliminate people’s genetic propensity to developing chronic disease” (cited by Christian Nordqvist, 2009).  

A Moral Good

Of course, the health benefits are far from the end of the story.  In fact, a great number of people choose these types of diet for their environmental benefits – and there are many.  Despite the pleasant image many have of farming and agriculture, modern agricultural techniques are far from idyllic.  In fact, rearing livestock for meat production is one the most damaging and polluting businesses there is today and “eating beef is particularly environmentally damaging” (Mark Hertsgaard, 2013), due to the sheer work involved.  Corn-fed beef requires the corn to be planted, grown, harvested, and shipped to the cattle farms in huge numbers and all that requires fuel, releases green-house gasses, and massively increases our carbon footprint.  It’s unnecessary too, as cows are naturally grass-eaters.  The cattle are then shipped to slaughter, processed, and sent all over the world, compounding the problem further. 

An Extreme Measure?

The advantages of adopting one of the above dietary lifestyles, therefore, are obvious.  Such a drastic change in diet may seem extreme but the alliance and commonalities amongst these eating plans really does speak volumes.  Perhaps an entirely meat-free diet is not for you, but a primarily plant-based regime certainly has benefits.  Restricting your meat intake to a few days per week and ethically sourcing the meat that you do eat will do wonders, both for your health and for the world.  Moreover, the health benefits of cutting out processed foods and refined starches are clear for all to see.  And of course, the concept of ‘extreme’ could be flipped because, as Dr Esselstyn asks in Forks Over Knives (2011), isn’t open heart surgery in itself pretty extreme? 

References and Further Reading

Angela Haupt, 2013, The Flexitarian Diet [online] Available at: <health.usnews.com/best-diet/flexitarian-diet> [accessed 30th June 2013]

Christian Nordqvist, 2009, What Are The Benefits of Being Vegan? [online] Available at: <www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/149636.php> [accessed 6th July 2013]

Denise Minger, 2011, Forks Over Knives: Is The Science Legit? A Review and Critique [online] Available at: <rawfoodsos.com/2011/09/22/forks-over-knives-is-the-science-legit-a-review-&-critique/> [accessed 30th June 2013]

Loren Cordain, 2010, The Paleo Diet [online] Available at: <www.thepaleodiet.com> [accessed 28th June 2013]

Mark Hertsgaard, 2013, Michael Pollan On Agriculture’s Role in Fighting Climate Change [online] Available at: <www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/michael_pollan_on_agriculture_s_role_in_fighting_climate_change.html> [accessed 6th July 2013]

The Vegetarian Society, What is a Vegetarian? [online] Available at: <www.vegsoc.org> [accessed 6th July 2013]

Timothy J. Key et al., 1999, Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet [online] Available at: <journals.cambridge.org> [accessed 6th July 2013]

Wikipedia, 2013, Slow Carb Diet [online] Available at: <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow-Card-Diet> [accessed 28th June 2013]

Documentaries:

Lee Fulkerson (director), 2011, Forks Over Knives [documentary], United States

Robert Kenner (producer & director), 2008, Food, Inc. [documentary], Hong Kong

Creative Commons License
A FIGHT FOR HEALTH: THE COMMONALITIES OF THE PALEO, VEGAN, VEGETARIAN, SLOW CARB, AND FLEXITARIAN DIETS by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer, Victoria Froud, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://urbansculpt.com/terms-and-conditions.

Google+