There is no "right" diet for everyone.
What works for one person may not work for the next.
For this reason... the argument about which diet is best is pretty much pointless.
The only right answer, is that it depends on the individual.
There are all sorts of things that need to be taken into account.
This includes age, activity levels, food culture, metabolic health... and, last but not least, personal preference.
That being said, healthy diets (or "ways of eating") that are seemingly polar opposites of each other do have more things in common than some might think.
For example... the paleo diet seems to be pretty much the opposite of a vegan diet, or a whole-foods, plant-based diet as some like to call it.
There are glaring success stories for both diets, and even some clinical trials showing impressive health benefits (, ).
If we take a look at what these diets have in common, instead of what they don't, then we can start to form some conclusions about what truly constitutes a healthy diet.
Here are 7 things that the vegans and paleo folks actually agree on...
The typical modern diet is often termed the Standard American Diet (or SAD... an appropriate acronym).
This is the diet the average person is consuming every day, and it is an absolute disaster. It involves all sorts of processed, packaged foods that don't resemble anything humans were exposed to throughout evolution.
These foods are extremely low in essential nutrients and can cause people to become deficient in key nutrients over time.
Not only is this diet low in healthy foods, it is also very high in ingredients that are downright harmful.
This is a double whammy. Very little good stuff, but plenty of disease promoting crap.
Everywhere the "modern" diet goes, diseases follow... this awful diet may just be the single largest preventable risk factor for some of the world's most serious diseases.
The vegans and paleo dieters may disagree on why this diet is bad, but they pretty much all agree that it is a disaster.
Bottom Line: The paleo folks and vegans may disagree on why the Western diet is bad, but both groups agree that this is a very harmful way of eating.
Most chronic, Western diseases are preventable.
Not only that, but in many cases they are even reversible using changes in diet (and lifestyle).
This includes obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
That being said, just because it is possible, it doesn't mean that it is easy.
A dramatic lifestyle change can be difficult and most people don't succeed in the long run when they try to do it ().
But at the very least, people should be given the option of doing this, with support from their health professionals.
Most vegans and paleo people agree that changing the diet is a much better option than trying to solve these chronic diseases with drugs.
As we know, these drugs don't really "cure" anything... they don't address the root cause of the problem, only the symptoms.
Even with drugs, these diseases usually get worse over time.
Bottom Line: Many chronic, Western diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes are reversible using changes in diet and lifestyle.
Most vegans and paleo folks do agree that refined carbs and sugar are unhealthy.
In fact, pretty much everyone agrees that this is true... although some like to put the major emphasis on other aspects of the diet.
Refined carbs have little to no fiber, are stripped of many of their beneficial nutrients and can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar, contributing to hunger, obesity and disease (, , ).
Sugar can be even more problematic... it is 100% "empty" calories and can contribute to severe metabolic problems when consumed in excess (, ).
If you're going to eat carbs, then eat whole, unprocessed carbs that resemble what they looked like in nature.
Bottom Line: Pretty much everyone agrees that refined carbohydrates and added sugars are harmful, including most vegan and paleo proponents.
Some of the most popular versions of the vegan diet are ultra low-fat.
They basically shun all sources of added fats.
The paleo diet endorses some fats, but shuns trans fats and refined vegetable oils.
Therefore, even though vegans and paleo folks disagree on certain fats, both are in agreement that refined vegetable oils and trans fats are unhealthy.
It is well known that trans fats are harmful. They are linked to a drastically increased risk of heart disease and many other diseases (, ).
Processed vegetable oils, on the other hand, are low in essential nutrients, easily oxidized and contain way too many Omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to an imbalance in important biochemical processes (, , ).
Bottom Line: Both paleo and vegan diets shun processed seed- and vegetable oils, as well as artificial trans fats.
It is a huge misunderstanding that the paleo diet is mostly a meat based diet.
This diet encourages consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and even tubers... which are all plant foods.
I personally eat a low-carb diet that is mostly paleo and I have room for a ton of vegetables. I have honestly never eaten even close to this amount of vegetables before.
Looking at calorie breakdown, my diet is mostly animal foods. But looking at volume or weight, my diet is about 2/3rds plants.
Even very low-carb diets leave room for a ton of vegetables and people who adopt such a diet often end up eating much more vegetables than they were doing before.
Only extremist versions of low-carb/paleo are zero carb (barely any veggies), pretty much all the books and key opinion leaders of these diets advocate consumption of plants.
Bottom Line: The importance of eating plenty of plant foods is something that pretty much everyone agrees on, including paleo and low-carb dieters.
Optimal health is about more than just eating healthy.
There are several other lifestyle factors that are just as important.
One of the reasons for the success of "diets" is that people tend to make other lifestyle improvements at the same time.
Exercise is a major factor here... it is an essential part of being healthy.
It leads to all sorts of benefits for both physical and mental health, can dramatically lower the risk of chronic disease and help you live longer (, ).
Sleep is another huge factor... poor sleep is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity and many chronic diseases ().
Although often underemphasized, getting quality sleep may just be the most important thing you can do for your health.
Diet is just one part of the puzzle, it is incomplete without the rest.
Humans can thrive eating a variety of diets.
Some people do best eating a low-carb diet high in animal foods, others a low-fat diet high in plants.
Vegan, paleo, Mediterranean, etc... these diets can all work, for different people.
As long as you stick to real, unprocessed foods, then the exact types of foods you choose becomes less important.
Real food is the key to good health, processed junk food is not. Period.