What is the pegan diet and is it good for you?
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You’ve likely heard about the paleo diet, which is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era. And, we’re fairly certain you’re familiar with veganism, which is a style of eating that requires adherents to abstain from consuming animal products. But, have you heard about the pegan diet, which is often thought of as a combination of the two?

In 2014, Dr. Mark Hyman, an American physician and a New York Times best-selling author, began advocating for people to follow a “pegan diet” and first wrote about it on his blog. Hyman coined the phrase “pegan,” and with it, he developed a style of eating that’s designed to reduce inflammation and balance blood sugar for the purpose of promoting optimal health.

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What Can You Eat on a Pegan Diet?

Eating a pegan diet involves cutting out animal products—or at least, any animal products that aren’t sustainably raised or grassfed. Hyman also says you should think of meat and animal products as “a condiment,” not as a main course. That means, you can eat up to four to six ounces of meat or animal products per meal—but no more.

Because followers of the pegan diet tend to limit their meat and animal product intake, they’re highly reliant on plants and vegetables to fill up their plates. It’s encouraged that they rely mostly on veggies that are darker in color, since they’re generally less starchy and lower on the glycemic index than, say, white potatoes.

(So, yep! That means skipping on fries, sadly.)

In Hyman’s book, “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?,” he explains the pillars of following a pegan diet. In addition to limiting your animal product intake and eating lots of veggies, Hyman says you should also:

  • Avoid sugar: In addition to staying away from sugar, Hyman advises against ingesting anything that could spike your insulin levels, such as flour and refined carbohydrates.
  • Slow down on fruit: While you can eat fruits, Hyman says not to go overboard and to stick to mainly consuming those that are low on the glycemic index. Like vegetables, this typically means going for fruits that are darker in color, such as berries, since they’re less likely to spike your blood sugar.
  • Avoid chemicals in your food: Even if you aren’t interested in following a pegan diet, this is a good rule to follow in general. When consuming any kind of food, try to stay away from those that contain pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, or GMOs.
  • Consume healthy fats: When Hyman says to eat “healthy fats,” he’s referring to foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as avocados, flax seeds, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Eating omega-3s is known to support your cardiovascular system, while also helping to decrease inflammation, lower your blood pressure, and more.
  • Use only specific kinds of cooking oil: While on a pegan diet, it’s recommended that you avoid using most vegetable, nut, and seed oils. This is because Hyman says oils, such as canola, corn, and soybean oils, make the calories add up fast. Instead, he recommends using tiny amounts of expeller or cold-pressed nut and seed oils, such as macadamia and walnut oils—and avocado oil is also a good choice, especially when cooking at high heats.
  • Eliminate (or limit) dairy: According to a blog post on Hyman’s website, about 75 percent of the world’s population cannot genetically digest milk and other dairy products. As a result, he says it’s best for most people to steer clear of dairy altogether if possible. And, if you still want to incorporate it into your diet, Hyman suggests choosing organic and grassfed goat or sheep products since they’re often easier for the human body to process.
  • Choose your fish carefully: When shopping for fish, you should be choosing those with low-mercury and low-toxin levels that are sustainably harvested. Some safer choices include: sardines, herring, anchovies, and wild-caught salmon, Hyman says.
  • Go easy on grains: When following a pegan diet, you can eat gluten-free grains—but very sparingly. Since grains are known to raise your blood sugar, Hyman says sticking to about a half cup of gluten-free, low-glycemic grains (such as quinoa or amaranth) per meal is best.
  • Be careful with beans: Since beans are also known to encourage digestive issues, pegan diet followers are advised to only eat a small amount of beans, such as lentils, on occasion. (One cup per day at a maximum, Hyman says.)

What Do Health Experts Say About Following a Pegan Diet?

Like most diets, opinions are split among registered dietitians and health professionals when it comes to following a pegan diet.

Lauren Cadillac, a New York City-based registered dietitian, says she isn’t a fan of the pegan diet since it encourages you to think of certain foods as either “good” or “bad.” Cadillac explains that this way of approaching food often sets people up for failure when they consume something on the “do not eat list,” which can “can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.”

On the other hand, Cadillac is in favor of how the pegan diet “incorporates more whole foods, plant-based foods, fresh fruits, and vegetables,” Cadillac says. “These foods are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But, I think we can still encourage consumption of these foods without the extreme label of ‘pegan.’”

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When it comes to individuals who should maybe think twice before going on a pegan eating regimen are “those with an eating disorder, body image issues, disordered thoughts around food, or is severely restrictive in their thinking in terms of food, exercise, and health,” says Mary Jane Detroyer, a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist in New York City.

Like Cadillac, Detroyer fears that any “demonization” of food, or diets promoting restrictive eating, could lead to issues for a person with past or present disordered eating.

Amy Shapiro, a registered dietitian and founder of Real Nutrition NYC, adds that anyone following a strict vegan diet (or who doesn’t eat a variety of foods) and growing children should also be careful about going on a pegan diet.

Overall, though, if a person is mindful about getting in all of their food groups, and makes sure they’re eating enough to support their needs when it comes to calories, nutrients, and energy levels, adhering to the pegan diet can qualify as a positive lifestyle choice.

“I would be OK with someone following this plan in an effort to eat in a healthier way in order to lose weight, lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, or lower blood glucose,” says Elizabeth DeRobertis, Director of the Nutrition Center at Scarsdale Medical Group and White Plains Hospital.

DeRobertis adds: “Their ideal day would start with a protein, such as eggs, followed by lean and green meals at lunch and dinner, with protein, such as chicken or fish and unlimited vegetables. Snacks could be choices such as nuts, veggies, and fruit.”

Header image courtesy of OatmealStories / RooM / Getty Images

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