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Mediterranean Diet vs. Paleo: Which Is Better for Health and Weight Loss?

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a plate combined of two, one with an example of a mediterranean diet meal, second one with paleo meal, Mediterranean Diet vs. Paleo
Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Table of Contents

The paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet are both popular eating patterns that many believe can improve overall health and even promote weight loss. However, is there evidence to support these claims, and if so, which diet is the best for weight loss? 

In this article, we discuss the differences between the paleo and Mediterranean diets. 

The Basics and Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

According to the American Heart Association, the Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern that focuses on the dietary habits of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. [1]

While the diets in these countries can still vary significantly, some commonalities encompass the Mediterranean diet we think of today. 

Rather than a strict eating plan that we typically associate with the word “diet,” the Mediterranean diet is more of a set of guidelines that compose a dietary lifestyle.

No foods are strictly forbidden or eliminated. However, there is a focus on some foods over others.

Eating Patterns in the Mediterranean Diet

Per the American Heart Association, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes the following food groups: 

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grains (including whole grains), bread, potatoes
  • Legumes, such as beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olive oil is the main source of fat, instead of other oils such as coconut oil
  • Dairy products
  • Protein sources such as fish and poultry [1]

This diet reduces the amount of red meat, such as beef or pork, in exchange for other sources of protein, such as fish, eggs, or poultry.

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based, minimally processed foods instead of highly processed foods.

A central tenet of the Mediterranean diet is that it does not eliminate any foods but simply includes more of certain foods or food groups, such as fruits and vegetables, than others, such as red meats. 

Potential Benefits of The Mediterranean Diet

Let’s outline some potential benefits of the Mediterranean diet according to the journal Nutrients. [2] These benefits have been shown as significant by high-quality research studies that have been reproduced on a large scale. 

The Mediterranean diet can:

  • Prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke
  • Decrease the risk of diabetes
  • Lower the risk of depression and cognitive decline
  • Prevent of certain cancers

Additionally, according to the medical journal Circulation, the Mediterranean diet also has potential benefits for reducing weight, body mass index (BMI), and fat mass. [3] Therefore, the Mediterranean diet can be a good option for healthy weight loss. 

The Basics and Benefits of the Paleo Diet

According to research, the paleo diet (also known as the Paleolithic diet) is a modern take on the diet of those during the stone age. [4]

This stone age or “caveman” diet primarily focuses on eating plants, animals, seafood, and insects.

Eating Patterns in Paleo

Per the Australian Family Physician, the Paleolithic eating pattern encourages an abundance of the following foods ad libitum, meaning as much as desired [5]

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Seafood and fish
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Water

Additionally, the paleo diet restricts and completely eliminates certain food groups, including dairy, legumes, cereals, grains, and rice. 

Potential Benefits of The Paleo Diet

Now, let’s outline some primary benefits of the paleo diet found in various small-scale studies, according to a meta-analysis published in the journal Australian Family Physician. [5] 

  • Decreased waist circumference
  • Increases glucose sensitivity
  • Weight loss
  • Improved hemoglobin A1C
  • Increased insulin sensitivity
  • Improved satiety with meals

It is important to note that the potential benefits of the Paleo diet mentioned above are inconclusive, especially since the studies were small-scale and did not have adequate participants to equate to a proper sample size. 

Therefore, it is difficult to determine if these benefits were truly from the paleo diet or if a confounding variable played a role in the results seen. Also, many of the benefits that were found in some studies were not consistent across all studies.

Therefore, more research needs to be conducted to determine the true effect of the paleo diet on weight, satiety, glycemic indicators, and more.

Mediterranean Diet vs. Paleo: Similarities and Differences

Let’s compare and contrast the main principles of the Mediterranean diet and the paleo diet.

comparison table of food lists of the mediterranean diet vs paleo

Similarities Between Mediterranean Diet vs. Paleo

  • Emphasis on fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds
  • Recommends the reduction of highly processed foods

Differences Between Mediterranean Diet vs. Paleo

Mediterranean DietPaleo Diet
A diet that revolves around the diet of those in the countries that border the Mediterranean SeaA diet that revolves around the food available to those in the Paleolithic era, therefore the “Stone Age” or “Caveman” diet
An eating plan that focuses on certain foods and food groups, but does not eliminate anyEliminates certain food groups completely
Includes legumes, dairy, and grainsExcludes legumes, dairy, and grains
Olive oil as the main fat sourceDoes not specify the main fat source
Evidence-based and supported by the medical communityEmerging research suggests it may be beneficial but larger-scale studies need to be done

Paleo Diet vs. Mediterranean diet: What’s Best for Overall Health?

Focusing on the evidence-based recommendations, the Mediterranean diet is the best for overall health because it has research to support its benefits. 

As mentioned above, the Mediterranean diet has proven benefits for cardiovascular health, diabetes management, cancer prevention, and much more. As a result, the Mediterranean diet is widely supported by the medical community as a healthy eating pattern for a majority of individuals. 

On the flip side, the paleo diet is controversial in the medical community because it only has preliminary research supporting its benefit, with many of the studies involving very few participants. 

Additionally, regarding dietary recommendations, the Mediterranean diet allows all foods with an emphasis on some over others, while the paleo diet advocates for completely eliminating dairy, grains, and legumes. 

Dairy is an important food group that provides vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. Dairy also can provide beneficial protein. 

Grains and legumes also provide many vitamins and minerals and are essential for adequate dietary fiber. Therefore, the Mediterranean diet is more beneficial than the paleo diet to overall health because it does not eliminate these essential food groups. 

You may also like: Mediterranean vs. DASH Diet

Mediterranean Diet vs. Paleo: Weight Loss Perspective

From a weight loss perspective, the Mediterranean diet is still the healthiest way to lose weight because it is more sustainable and less restrictive overall. 

While a restrictive elimination diet such as the paleo diet or 600-calorie diet may produce rapid weight loss, this is not conducive to a healthy and balanced diet. Additionally, the weight loss may not be sustainable, and you may gain the weight back. 

On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet is a shift in your eating patterns rather than a traditional “diet” in which you can not eat your favorite foods. Therefore, the Mediterranean diet will provide more sustainable weight loss. 

As mentioned above, research supports this difference as clinical studies show the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet on weight loss. 

Wrapping Up

Let’s summarize some key takeaways from this article.

  • The Mediterranean diet focuses on the food consumed by those in the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. 
  • The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and bread. 
  • While the Mediterranean diet typically includes poultry, fish, and plant-based foods instead of red meat and highly processed foods, it does not advocate for the strict elimination of any foods or food groups.
  • The Paleo diet is a modern take on the foods that were available in the Paleolithic era, dubbing it the “Stone Age” diet or the “Caveman” diet. 
  • The Paleo diet focuses on lean meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds but eliminates grains, dairy, and legumes. These excluded food groups are necessary for a balanced and healthy diet because they provide essential vitamins, minerals, protein, dietary fiber, and more. 
  • Both diets reduce highly processed food in exchange for plant-based foods or lean animal proteins. 
  • The Mediterranean diet is supported by high-quality research and clinical trials for improving overall health, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurological decline, and more. Additionally, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to promote weight loss.
  • The Paleo diet has many proposed health benefits, including weight loss. However, the studies to back up these claims are not extensive and need to be reproduced on a larger scale to confirm actual benefits. 
  • It is important to note that the Mediterranean diet also supports a healthier relationship with food than the Paleo diet because it does not label certain foods as “good” or “bad.” 

If you are struggling to lose weight, consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist can provide you with individualized advice specific to your preferences, social and economic factors, dietary concerns, and more. 

Additionally, using an all-in-one weight loss app can provide guidance to help meet your weight loss goals and support your weight loss journey. 

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!

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