Vegan vs Paleo vs Plant-Based: Is One Diet Better Than The Others?

Sydney Mulroy
Vegan vs Paleo vs Plant-Based: Is One Diet Better Than The Others?

Do you have a friend or colleague who raves about going paleo and how life changing consuming this dietary pattern has been for them? Well this might have piqued your interest to learn more about what a paleo diet even includes and if it would be right for you. Before diving into changing your whole pantry to be vegan, take some time to understand the definition of these eating patterns and the research behind some of the most popular claims. 

Ask Yourself ‘Why’?

Changing your eating habits can impact your life. Knowing why you are attempting to change or follow a specific diet, it is important to dive into the why and what you want it to accomplish. Some questions to ask yourself: 

  • What are my health goals?
  • Can you eat like this for the rest of your life?
  • How will this restriction on my food choices affect my daily life?
  • Is it possible to meet my personal health goals on this diet?
  • Can I acquire the foods in my current environment?

If this diet would require a shift in your daily routine, conflict with family and friends, or you're not very passionate about it, then your odds of maintaining this diet is low. There is too much conflict created against this eating pattern making it more challenging to accomplish. It will be more challenging to maintain the diet than you could receive in benefits from following this eating pattern. 

To help you answer those questions mentioned above, we are going to explain the differences between a vegan, paleo, and plant based diet, so you can make the decision for yourself of which one is best for you! 

Vegan Diet Basics

Getting started with the easiest to define diet of the three! A vegan diet is a food pattern that does not include any animal meat or products from animal sources. Some people that follow a vegan diet, also life by the value of not purchasing or using any other animal products such as leather, wool, etc. A vegan diet includes the following foods with no restrictions: 

  • Grains (corn, wheat, barely, cereal, rice, bread, tortilla) 
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes, nuts, seeds 
  • Plant proteins (tofu, tempeh, soy proteins) 

A vegan diet excludes: 

  • Animal meat (chicken, beef, pork, poultry) 
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products from animals (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Byproducts of animal (Honey)

Why Go Vegan? 

People opt for a vegan diet for a variety of reasons, and if you resonate strongly with one of these WHYs, then this might be a good meal pattern for you. 

  • To decrease cardiovascular risk and improve heart health. Consuming less animal products can decrease your intake of cholesterol and saturated fat. Heart disease is linked with high intakes of cholesterol, red meat, and sat fat consumption.
  • Increase your vegetable and fruit consumption 
  • Some religions promote a vegan diet such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
  • For environmental reasons, meat has a higher carbon footprint than grain and vegetables per calorie. Decreasing your own carbon footprint with your food choices, reducing your negative impact on the environment.
  • Empathy for animals and concern for animal welfare in the food industry.

Paleo Diet Basics

The paleo diet is based on the eating style that would have been consumed during the Paleolithic era which is about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. This diet is primarily whole foods, aka if you could hunt and gather for it, then it's on the menu. While limiting foods that come from the process of farming such as grains, dairy products, and legumes. More detail list of include foods: 

  • Fruits and vegetables 
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruit and nut oils, olive oil 
  • Lean and minimally processed meats, grass-fed animals, free range chicken, wild game 
  • Fatty fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna) 

Foods Excluded from a Paleo diet: 

  • Grains (corn, wheat, rice, oats, etc) 
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts) 
  • Dairy Products
  • Refined Sugar and Salt
  • Potatoes
  • Coffee and Alcohol
  • Any processed foods

The Paleo diet does include foods a part of a healthy diet such as fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Due to the removal of grains, processed foods and salt, this eating style could result in weight loss, decrease waist circumference, improved glucose control, and decreased blood pressure. 

Con’s to a Paleo Diet

There could also be some negative side effects of this eating pattern. It is important to consider the following when considering going paleo. 

  • Gut distress from the removal of whole grains which provide soluble and insoluble fiber can result in constipation.
  • Less options when traveling, eating out, or at social gatherings
  • More expensive when purchasing higher quality and specific types of proteins
  • Requires more creativity when it comes to cooking meals

Just like with a vegan diet or any meal plan that restricts certain food groups, there is definitely a learning curve to figure out how it could integrate with your life in a realistic way. Before making the switch to a full paleo diet, test out just making 1 meal that follows these guidelines to learn if it is practical for you. 

Plant-Based Diet Basics

This is the newest of the 3 diets mentioned here. Plant-Based has been the buzz word of the 2000s in terms of food marketing, and it isn’t a trend according to experts. There has been an increased interest for restaurants and food establishments to add more plant based options to their menu. Labeling your food choices as plant based or plant forward is attractive because of the flexibility. 

There are a few different definitions of plant-based, and since it is relatively a new term for a plant forward diet, there is the opportunity for an open interpretation of this eating pattern. Since this is a less restrictive eating pattern than a vegan or paleo diet, it is more attractive to the general population. Plant based can mean the following: 

  • Food choices are mostly coming from plants, aka grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes
  • Some animal proteins and products in small portions 
  • Opting for the plant based option when it is present, but not closed off to the animal option if it’s the only choice
  • *Consuming plant based versions of meat products such as the Impossible burger, chicken-free nuggets from Dang, or oat milk over cow's milk. 

*While there is research to support plant based diets might be a healthier food pattern, these processed meat alternatives are nutritional similar to the meat options. They might not be healthier, however they might have a smaller carbon footprint than animal based products. Also can help with decreasing overall meat consumption and a gateway to more whole foods plant-based foods. 

Personalized Plan

The basics of a plant based diet are not yet defined, however it is closer to a vegetarian and pescatarian diet, however there is a bigger emphasis on the quality of the plant based food (whole food vs. processed) . There are some scientific journals with more rigid guidelines such as the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology which includes consuming “minimally processed” plant sources, and excludes all “animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products.” However, you can create your own definition for what plant-based would realistically look like for you. Because of the flexibility, this is one might be the better option compared to vegan or paleo.

Sample Plant-Based Meal Plan

If you are interested in seeing what a plant based day of eating might look like, check out this meal plan for one day. 


Oatmeal made with milk of choice (milk based or cows), chia seed, walnuts, chopped strawberries

Paired with oat milk latte or iced matcha with coconut milk


Avocado toast topped with sliced cucumber and hard boiled egg, lemon juice, sea salt


Dates stuffed with nut butter, topped with granola

Carrots and pita chips with a dip (hummus, tzatziki, salsa)


Stir fry veggies, with brown rice or quinoa, sautéed tofu cubes, topped with crushed cashews


Frozen mango, drizzled with dark chocolate, topped with shredded coconut 

You can see from this meal plan, there is an inclusion of dairy milk, eggs, and yogurt. There are plant based versions of these foods such as almond milk yogurt or JUST eggs which is a pea protein egg substitute. However you could also still incorporate the animal version and your day of meals would majority still be plant-based. 

Which Is Best For You?

Now you can feel confident knowing the technical difference between a vegan, paleo, and plant-based diet. You have the power in your hands to determine eating preference is the better option for you. If it is for health, environment, or animal concerns, your own goals are individual for you. I hope you are empowered to make the choice that feels most aligned with your health goals. If you would like more personalized support for creating a wellness plan that encompasses the multi aspects of your health, sign up for Vessel today to learn the potentials you can unlock when you combine urinary testing of your nutrient levels.