Mediterranean Diet vs. Paleo Diet

There are many different ways to eat. Two of the most popular – the Mediterranean diet and the paleo diet – cater to different tastes and health goals. With the Mediterranean diet, which features lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and seafood, moderation is key. No food is off limits. With the paleo diet, fresh vegetables and in-season fruits are featured alongside lots of meat, poultry and seafood. However, grains and dairy are out of bounds.

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Though quite different in their approaches, both diets can be healthy alternatives to the standard American diet when well planned and when the focus is on fresh, whole foods rather than processed foods.

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Mediterranean Diet Overview

“The Mediterranean diet is not a diet at all, but an eating pattern that focuses on nutrient-rich, high quality whole foods,” says Lindsey Kane, a registered dietitian and in-house dietitian and director of nutrition for Sun Basket, a meal delivery service based in San Francisco.

The Mediterranean diet seeks to codify the eating patterns of people who live around the Mediterranean Sea. This encompasses the traditional, plant-based ways of eating by people from Spain to Greece. In 1993, Oldways, a food and nutrition nonprofit based in Boston, in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization, developed a Mediterranean diet pyramid that helps to define the features of a Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet features daily intake of:

  • Whole grains.
  • Fresh vegetables and fruit in season.
  • Beans and legumes.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Herbs and spices.

The diet also includes a few servings per week of fish and seafood, and moderate portions of dairy, eggs and poultry. Sweets and red meat are limited. The idea is to focus on whole, unprocessed foods that are close to the source. The Mediterranean lifestyle also encourages moderate physical activity and perhaps a small glass of wine with the evening meal.

Paleo Diet Overview

Like the Mediterranean diet, the paleo diet seeks to limit the intake of processed foods and focuses on including a wide variety of plant-based food sources – but only the ones that our ancient selves would have likely come across in their hunter-gatherer days.

“It’s a diet based on the idea that we’re supposed to eat like our Paleolithic ancestors, before farming and food factories,” says Lori Chong, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The idea is simple: If our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either. This translates into a focus on whole foods, raw fruits and vegetables in season and plenty of meat. Anything that requires intensive farming is out, so that means cutting out beans and legumes, cultivated grains and dairy. Alcohol is also out, as it’s a grain-based product that’s high in carbohydrates.

The idea of eating in tune with our biological ancestry has been around since the 1970s, but the diet gained in popularity in the 2000s with the development of CrossFit, an exercise regimen that espoused this approach to eating to fuel sports performance and the ideal body. Today, many food companies offer paleo-friendly products that make following a paleo diet a somewhat more convenient proposition.


Health Benefits

Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean diet is very popular among health experts and dietitians because of the many health benefits it’s been associated with, Kane says. “Those following this eating pattern not only experience low incidence of heart disease and greater longevity, blood pressure, as well as lower risk of diabetes, stroke, certain cancers and cognitive diseases including Alzheimer’s.”

Preference for whole foods over processed foods.

Higher consumption of meat and poultry.

Focus on in-season fruits and vegetables.

Preference for whole foods over processed foods.

Increased intake of red meat and processed meats have been associated with increased risk of heart disease and certain kinds of cancer.

Reduced risk of certain cancers.

Reduced risk of developing diabetes and better management of Type 2 diabetes.

Elaine K. Howley, Contributor

Elaine Howley began writing for U.S. News in 2017, covering breast cancer and COPD. Since …  Read more


Lori Chong, MBA, RDN, LD, CDE; Lindsay Collier, MS, RD; Lindsey Kane, RD

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