What’s the deal with the Pegan Diet?
Ask someone about the “best way” to eat, and you’ll get a thousand different answers. It’s a lot like politics.
People choose sides and argue that their way is the best like their lives depend on it. There isn’t much room for rational debate once emotions (and egos) get involved.
It’s easy to take things to an extreme…
Vegetarians and vegans do it. So do Paleos. But what if there were a middle ground? A way to take the best parts of what different diets have to offer?
Enter the “Pegan diet”…
What is the Pegan Diet?
The Pegan diet is a hybrid approach to eating that combines different elements from the Paleo and vegan diets. According to its creator, Dr. Mark Hyman, the idea was to take the best elements from each of those diets and avoid any drawbacks. In his words: “I wanted to combine the very best aspects of a Paleo and vegan/vegetarian diet rather than cherry-pick studies and pick sides” (1).
The Pegan diet emphasizes eating whole, unprocessed foods. Its followers supposedly get the health benefits from both the vegan and Paleo lifestyles… without sacrificing the flexibility they’d find on less restrictive programs.
What’s the Difference?
In a nutshell, plant-based foods make up about 75% of your daily intake. Most of that comes from vegetables, with some fruits thrown in for good measure. The remaining 25% consists of high-quality animal protein (grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, etc.), along with healthy fats (avocados, coconuts, olive oil, etc.)
You might be scratching your head about that “animal protein” part. The Pegan diet isn’t technically vegan because it does include animals and animal products (like eggs). The common ground here is the emphasis on high-quality, plant-based foods.
How to Go Pegan
Both the Paleo and vegan diets focus on unprocessed, whole foods which are sustainably grown and raised.
Here’s how Dr. Mark Hyman, the creator of the Pegan diet, recommends applying the diet in your life:
- Eat mostly plants: Dr. Hyman recommends you make vegetables and fruits about 75% of your plate at every meal. He also urges you to focus on low glycemic options, as those are processed slower in your body and don’t spike your blood sugar so much.
- Eat healthy fats: some vegans avoid all types of fat. Instead, Dr. Hyman recommends focusing on the “right kind” of fats. Fats from coconuts, avocados, other nuts, and even animal products are good to go. But stay away from vegetable oils (canola, sunflower, corn, and soybean) because of their high omega-6 content, genetic modifications, and tendency to cause inflammation.
- Focus on nuts and seeds: Dr. Hyman emphasizes nuts and seeds more than most Paleo dieters because he considers them good sources of protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
- Avoid dairy: there are plenty of differing opinions about dairy’s place (or lack thereof) in the Paleo diet. Dr. Hyman recommends avoiding it completely, as lactose, milk protein, and hormones can cause digestion problems and blood sugar spikes.
- Avoid gluten: gluten can cause all kinds of problems – everything from fatigue and inflammation to inflammatory bowel disease and even osteoporosis (2). That’s why it doesn’t have a place on either the Paleo or Pegan diets (though Dr. Hyman says it might be okay to eat heirloom wheat if you aren’t gluten sensitive).
- Eat gluten-free whole grains sparingly: many followers of the Paleo diet don’t eat any grains, opting for more nutrient-dense produce and animal products. But the Pegan diet allows for extremely limited amounts (less than ½ cup per meal) of grains, as long as they’re gluten-free and low on the glycemic index – like quinoa and black rice.
- Eat beans sparingly: here’s another departure from Paleo. The Pegan diet allows you to eat limited amounts of legumes, where the Paleo diet recommends you avoid them completely. Dr. Hyman argues lentils are better than larger, starch-heavy options like kidney beans.
- Eat meat or animal products as a condiment, not a main course: the Pegan diet allows you to eat animal products, just like the Paleo diet. The difference is in the dose. Where you’d eat a full serving (4 to 6 ounces) of animal protein per meal with Paleo, you eat much less on the Pegan diet. It’s more of a sideshow instead of the main attraction.
- Think of sugar as an occasional treat.
Pros of the Pegan Diet
The biggest advantage of the Pegan diet is that it’s a little less restrictive than Paleo or vegan alternatives. Because more foods are allowed, you might have an easier time navigating a restaurant menu or sticking to the program without feeling burned out.
Also, because the Pegan diet is primarily plant-based, following it offers a wide variety of nutrients to keep your body healthy. Organic, high-quality vegetables and fruits are excellent sources of calcium, fiber, folate, as well as tons of other vital vitamins and minerals so many of us lack today.
The emphasis on organic, quality foods is another upside. A lot of fad diets focus only on the total number of calories consumed (urging you to lose weight through a calories in, calories out approach) or the macronutrient ratios (carbs vs. fat vs. protein) without paying enough attention to food quality. But the Pegan diet urges you to choose foods without harmful pesticides, antibiotics, and other dangerous chemicals. You end up with nutritionally “denser” meals.
Finally, the Pegan diet adheres to many classic Paleo diet principles. By forbidding you from eating gluten, dairy, soy, and sugars, it puts you in good shape to avoid many health issues – like insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and hormone imbalances – affecting millions of people every day.
Cons of the Pegan Diet
One of the Pegan diet’s biggest downsides is the danger of not getting enough protein. Protein, easily found in animal products but hard to come by for vegans and vegetarians, is a key building block for your organs and tissues to function properly (3). Animal products also provide key nutrients – like Vitamin B12 – you can’t find anywhere else (4). Not getting enough protein can cause serious health issues and make it difficult (if not impossible) to build muscle mass if that’s your goal.
Another issue: when you eat less protein, you feel hungry more often. Protein has higher satiety (it makes you feel full the longest) than carbohydrates or fats (5). So if weight loss is your goal, going Pegan might make it harder to reach it. You’ll feel hunger pangs more often, and you’re more likely to binge on junk food without enough protein in your system.
The Pegan diet also allows foods which aren’t recommended on the Paleo diet. Although Dr. Hyman only recommends small amounts of gluten-free grains and legumes, sometimes that’s all it takes to cause health problems. Even without gluten, grains don’t offer the “bang for your buck” in nutrients like produce or animal products, and they also spike your blood sugar. And legumes contain anti-nutrients like phytates and lectins, which can interfere with mineral absorption and cause digestive nightmares (6, 7).
Finally, the Pegan diet doesn’t accommodate vegans who choose not to eat animals for ethical reasons. It’s not a viable alternative for that group because it includes animals and animal products.
The Pegan diet might be trendy, but it’s basically just an offshoot of the Paleo diet with less emphasis on animal products and more emphasis on vegetables and fruits.
If how you’re eating now is working for you, there’s no need to give this diet a shot. You can get all the nutrition your body needs without applying all of Dr. Hyman’s guidelines – like eating grains and legumes.
The Biggest Takeaway From All This?
Dr. Hyman’s criticisms of the typical Paleo diet are worth considering. Many of us get the vast majority of our calories from animal products, but we underestimate the importance of top-quality vegetables and fruits. It’s worth increasing your vegetable intake a bit and tracking the results. A little difference here could mean a massive boost in energy and well being!
Overall, much can be gained from the vegan diet’s philosophy to seek out unprocessed, whole foods. But there’s no need to jump ship from Paleo or start trying to combine it with the vegan diet. You already have the framework of what to eat to improve your health.
Over to You
The Paleo framework – basing what we eat today on what our ancestors thrived on – gives you all the tools you need to enjoy a happier, healthier life.
Fad diets come and go, and we can expect to see plenty more pop up over the next few years trying to modify the Paleo diet some way or another.
But there’s no need to worry about trends if you’re focused on the fundamentals. Avoid toxins and stick to fresh produce and high-quality animal protein, and your health problems will take care of themselves. You’ll get all the nutrients you need.
What do you think of the Pegan diet? Is it something you’d consider trying? Why, or why not? Leave a comment below and share your experience!
(Read This Next: 16 Biggest Best Benefits of the Paleo Diet)