The term ‘Pegan’ comes from combining paleo and vegan, thus resulting in Pegan. A Pegan diet is for those wanting a combination of the paleo and vegan diet, as the Pegan diet incorporates some aspects of each. The Pegan diet was created by Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine doctor who is a very active voice in the health and wellness space. While Hyman was one of the first individuals to make this diet well-known, it has since gained traction and there are many individuals who proudly call themselves ‘Pegans’.
In order to best understand the Pegan diet it is first helpful to understand the paleo and vegan diets on their own.
A paleo diet is one that takes a very “hunters and gatherers” approach to eating, that is, eating what comes from the land or the wild, or what our ancestors would’ve had access to. Typically, foods consumed include meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, oils, herbs and spices. Those on a paleo diet typically exclude processed foods, sugar, grains, most dairy, legumes, artificial sweeteners, processed oils and margarine.
A vegan diet excludes all animal products including meat, fish, eggs, dairy and sometimes condiments such as honey (those that are made from an animal). However, vegan diets do not exclude foods such as grains, legumes, sugar, artificial sweeteners, or processed goods (as long as the foods within each category are vegan).
The Pegan diet was birthed as a way to try to combine both of these diets, creating a diet that Hyman saw as pulling the most health beneficial aspects of each diet (paleo and vegan) and leaving the rest.
The Pegan diet advocates for consuming mostly vegetables and plant-based foods and consuming meat, fish, and dairy, but in smaller quantities. The meat portion of a meal is seen as a “condiment” or “topping” to pair with mainly vegetables. For example, a typical Pegan plate would be around 75% vegetables and about 25% meat/animal-based foods.
The Pegan diet advocates for consuming meat and fish but choosing meat that is wholesome, organic and grass-fed and fish that is lower in mercury, such as salmon, sardines, and herring. It also advocates for including eggs and dairy, but the dairy should be in minimal amounts and should come from sources such as sheep or goat’s milk as opposed to cow’s milk.
A Pegan diet supports intake of a variety of fruit and vegetables that are low glycemic, meaning that they are lower in starch and typically have a higher water content. Some low glycemic vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, jicama, asparagus, cabbage, cucumber, mushroom and spinach. Most fruits are fairly high in sugar, so it is important to be mindful of serving size when consuming fruit. Some fruits that are lower glycemic than others include apples, oranges, peaches and strawberries. Veggies and fruits that are lower on the glycemic scale won’t raise blood sugar as rapidly, leading to more regulated energy levels throughout the day.
Lastly, the Pegan diet recommends including a variety of nuts and seeds and heart healthy oils, such as olive and avocado oil.
One aspect of the Pegan diet that may be helpful for some individuals is that it doesn’t directly cut out any food groups or types of foods, rather it recommends minimizing certain foods for overall health promotion.
The first food that the Pegan diet suggests minimizing is dairy, as mentioned above. The reasoning behind this recommendation is that Dr. Hyman believes that most individuals are naturally intolerant to dairy, even if you may not have severe symptoms of lactose intolerance (i.e. gas, bloating, diarrhea when consuming foods with lactose). If you are someone who tolerates dairy just fine, the Pegan diet still advocates eating it sparingly and going with organic and grass-fed sources.
Next, the Pegan diet advocates minimizing sugar and refined carbohydrates, which ultimately turn to sugar in the body. This means limiting sweets, grains, and legumes. If you are going to eat grains, the Pegan diet suggests choosing gluten free, whole grains when possible. Beans are discouraged due to the thought process that they may contribute to digestion issues and impair mineral absorption in some individuals, however, lentils are allowed. The Pegan diet does acknowledge the health benefits of beans, including their fiber and protein content, and suggests limiting consumption to 1 cup per day. In addition, the diet suggests minimizing peanuts for the same reason to minimize beans listed above.
Third, the Pegan diet suggests limiting vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, corn, grapeseed and soybean as they can be pro-inflammatory to the body. Small amounts of other nut and seed oils like walnut, sesame and macadamia can be ok, however, rely mostly on olive and avocado oil when cooking.
Lastly, the Pegan diet advocates staying away from chemicals, additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners or any other ingredient that is difficult to pronounce or that you wouldn’t find in a typical kitchen. For example, food dyes such as Red 40 and ingredients like sodium benzoate should try to be avoided.
The Pegan diet has been marketed as a diet that is a wholesome combination of both vegan and paleo. Some individuals find that paleo places too much of an emphasis on animal-based foods and not enough on fruits and vegetables. These individuals find a vegan diet limiting in other respects, as a vegan diet places too much emphasis on fruits and vegetables and not enough on animal-based foods, as well as not placing parameters on processed foods/added sugars. The Pegan diet can serve as a nice middle ground, including meat, fish, eggs, and dairy (in limited amounts), along with a strong emphasis on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.
If you are someone who has been following a paleo or vegan diet and have been looking to expand your options, the Pegan diet may be a nice transition to a more liberalized diet. However, if you are someone who doesn’t like to follow an eating/diet program, this plan may be hard to adhere to due to certain restrictions.
Overall, the Pegan diet is a hybrid diet plan option that may provide some individuals with a way of eating that could be beneficial for overall health and wellbeing. Ultimately, ways of eating and behaviors surrounding food are incredibly individualized and should be enjoyable and satisfying. If you are wondering if you would benefit from a Pegan diet, we recommend consulting your local nutrition or healthcare professional for further guidance.