There seems to be a common misconception that the Paleo diet is a diet heavily based on meat. While most people who follow the Paleo diet eat meat (beef, poultry, pork, seafood, eggs and wild game), it's not to say that you couldn't eat only a small amount of meat, and still apply the basic principles of the Paleo lifestyle to your own.
This post is not intended to be a daily meal plan, or even a recommendation on macronutrient percentages. All of that is going to depend on the individual, their activity levels, and their goals. This is merely a simple guide on how to take a Paleo approach to a Vegetarian lifestyle. I use the word lifestyle because just like Paleo/Primal, Vegetarianism is a lifestyle. You choose to eat and live a certain way in accordance with a particular set of beliefs. If you're a Vegetarian considering incorporating the principles of Paleo into your lifestyle, I think this is very doable.
The Paleo Framework Applied to Vegetarianism
Using the general framework of Paleo, let's start with the typical protocol of foods to eliminate: grains, dairy, legumes, seed oils (soy, corn, canola, vegetable, peanut, sunflower, safflower, cotton, etc), and refined & artificial sugars.
Regardless of whether or not a caveman or cavewoman did or did not eat those foods is not the definitive reason for modern day humans to eliminate those foods. The biggest reason is that those foods play a big role in modern disease due to large amounts of anti-nutrients (such as lectins, phytates, & gluten), unnecessary amounts of omega 6s (which lead to inflammation), and large spikes in blood sugar and insulin.
If you are a Vegetarian and looking to incorporate the principles of Paleo into your dietary lifestyle, here is what I think would be your best approach.
Let's assume you eat either eggs, fish, dairy or some combination thereof as a means of protein. Since you're probably not spending a whole lot of your food budget on protein, I would allocate a little more toward higher quality protein sources: pastured eggs, wild-caught seafood, and grass-fed dairy are the keywords you want to look for with each of those foods. Grass-fed butter or ghee (clarified butter) are great sources of vitamins A, D, and K, and Paleo or not, this is real food and should be consumed as long as you don't have any adverse reactions. If you are someone who has problems with dairy, give ghee a try and see if you still have those same issues.
If you do consume dairy I would also suggest supplementing with a grass-fed whey protein that has little to no fillers (I like Stronger Faster Healthier's Pure Whey). Granted it is a processed food, but this will help ensure you're getting more protein each day, and it's a better option than your standard whey protein powder.
If you consume fish, getting four ounces of wild-caught salmon twice per week will ensure you're getting a amount of omega 3 in your diet. If you're not into fish, supplementing with a teaspoon of fish oil, or fermented cod liver oil a couple times per week will help with that omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.
Grass-fed butter and ghee (as mentioned above), coconut oil, olive oil (as a salad dressing only), and macadamia nuts. You'll want to avoid cooking with olive oil as it has a low smoke point and can oxidize easily even at low heats (meaning it can cause free radicals and inflammation in the body when consumed). The reason I only list macadamia nuts and no other nuts is because macadamia nuts have the lowest levels of omega 6 compared to all other nuts. You could have other nuts but I'd keep it to very limited amounts.
Beans are pretty popular in the Vegetarian communities as an alternative protein source. I personally consider them more of a carb than a protein source, but that's a different discussion. Legumes are not considered Paleo because cavemen probably didn't spend a whole lot of time digging around in the dirt trying to find beans to eat, so they weren't a staple of their diet. Maybe they did eat a lot of beans, maybe they didn't. Who cares.
The problem with beans is the high amounts of anti-nutrients that can irritate the intestines and exacerbate autoimmune disorders. That being said, the lentil appears to be the least problematic of the legumes. If you do choose to eat legumes do your best to properly prepare them by soaking for a long time (upwards of 24 hours or more) and cooking the hell out of them. This will help to mitigate a good amount of the anti-nutrients.
There's really no good reason to ever eat grains other than they're a cheap source of calories. If you're going to eat grains the least offensive appear to be quinoa and white rice. As with legumes you should do your best to properly prepare the grains through soaking, sprouting and/or fermenting.
Fruits and Vegetables
I don't recommend that anyone go crazy on fruit. There may be nutrients and antioxidants in there, but it's still sugar. Have at it with the veggies, and make sure to get a wide variety of color. If you're going to be eliminating grains (and with that eliminating a large source of cheap calories), you'll need to replace those calories with starchy tubers like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and all the various squashes.
I'd love to hear from any Vegetarians out there who have tried Paleo (or are thinking of trying Paleo) and what they thought of it. Leave your comments below.