The Pegan Diet is Trending (Again). Here's Why
Lately, celebrities from Katie Couric to Eva Mendes have sung the praises of the Pegan diet, a way of eating that combines principles from Paleo and vegan diets that was first coined by Mark Hyman, M.D., in 2015. Pegan diets have surged in popularity again recently thanks to Dr. Hyman's latest book, published in February.
If the word "Pegan" makes you chuckle, it turns out you're not far from its origins; the concept for the Pegan diet started off as a joke, after all. "Years ago, I sat on a nutritional panel at a conference between two doctor friends—one doctor a Paleo proponent and the other a vegan cardiologist. To break the tension, I quipped, 'If you are Paleo and you are vegan, then I must be Pegan,'" Hyman shares.
As Dr. Hyman thought more about it, he realized that even though he'd been teasing, the idea of combining Paleo and vegan wasn't that far-fetched. Even though Paleo and vegan ways of eating can sound like polar opposites, those diets have far more in common with one another than people realize, he adds.
If you stick to the best approach of both, Paleo and vegan diets are actually identical, with one big exception: protein source. The two diets promote a plant-rich, whole food diet; low consumption of starch and sugar, processed foods, additives, hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs; and a diet rich in good fats (except for a small group of extreme low-fat vegans), Hyman says. Both diets eschew dairy, too.
What You Can Eat on the Pegan Diet
The Pegan diet is more of a lifestyle than a diet, Hyman says. Following a Pegan plan, you'll eat foods that are more nutrient-rich—in all the colors of the rainbow. The basic guidelines:
- Eat unlimited amounts of non-starchy vegetables like salad greens, peppers, asparagus, and carrots (75% of your plate by volume) and up to 1/2 cup of starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, yams, and butternut squash per day. "The foundation of any healthy way of eating, including the Pegan diet, is to make it plant-rich—not plant-based," Hyman says
- Eat lean protein (25% of your plate) from animals such as organic pastured chicken, wild Alaskan salmon, or grass-fed beef; or up to 1/2 cup of non-starchy beans per day, such as black-eyed peas, lentils, or mung beans
- Eat 1/2 to 1 cup of whole, unprocessed grains, such as black rice or quinoa, per day.
- Avoid processed foods, sugar, gluten, and most dairy (if you can't go without dairy, Hyman advises sticking with nutritionally dense varieties such as butter, ghee, and goat or sheep yogurt and cheese)
What's different about Hyman's latest book is that he distills the science behind a Pegan diet into 21 easily understandable principles for healthy eating, which he suggests make it feel more like a lifestyle than a diet. Here's how he starts the book:
What the Experts are Saying
According to Sheena Batura, a registered dietitian at Everlywell in Austin, Texas, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is highly reliant on ultra-processed foods, red meats, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, saturated fat, and too much sodium, all of which are not beneficial to our health. Her take on the take on the Pegan diet emphasizing plant-rich eating? "Encouraging people to eat more plants and increase intake of healthy fats is definitely viewed as a good thing," Batura says.
Similarly, less subsistence on meat is positive for both the health and the environment, she adds. And while Batura agrees with the notion that shopping local, fresh, organic, non-GMO, and pasture-raised foods is a good idea, she acknowledges not everyone can afford to eat this way. "I think the greater problem is that Americans simply aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables, so encouraging them to eat what they can afford is still preferred over not eating them at all," Batura says.
When it comes to limiting healthy grains on the Pegan diet, Batura says there simply isn't enough scientific research suggesting that the average healthy adult should avoid gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley, and farro, which Hyman recommends eating sparingly (he even states in his book that "whole wheat bread is worse for you than plain old sugar"). Batura also says limiting "starchy" beans such as kidney or pinto beans (as Dr. Hyman advises in his book) means you're missing out on an affordable food source that's rich in fiber, plant-based protein, and vitamin B.
The bottom line on Pegan, according to Batura? If you're looking to improve your diet, focus less on one specific dietary pattern or philosophy. Instead, apply the key concepts that tend to be highlighted among dietary patterns. That includes choosing fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats; reducing reliance on meat (especially highly processed red meats) and limiting added sugars; and choosing high-fiber foods, which often include whole grains and beans.
Niket Sonpal, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist practicing in New York City, says he supports the fact that the Pegan diet doesn't focus on weight loss, but rather on nourishing the body through foods that are rich in nutrients and anti-inflammatory properties. He also notes that the Pegan diet is less restrictive than the two diets it's derived from, although it may not be the easiest diet to follow, especially if you're cost-conscious or eating out. That said, he acknowledges that a Pegan way of eating comes with myriad health benefits. "Since the diet aims for its followers to eat mostly organic fruits and vegetables and healthy fats, it may be beneficial for heart health, lower blood pressure, and possibly protecting against certain types of cancers," Sonpal adds.
Recipes to Try if You're Following a Pegan Diet
Dr. Hyman's book contains more than 30 new Pegan recipes covering all meals of the day, including a breakfast quinoa berry bake, creamy lemon basil soup, grain-free steak tacos, and raw snickerdoodle doughnuts sweetened with monk fruit. Since there are no photos in the recipe section of his book, though, we've provided a few Pegan-friendly options below.
Skip the sauce, or replace with the sour cream in the recipe with sheep's or goat's milk yogurt.
The Pegan diet encourages eating whole eggs over egg whites.
Be sure to look for the best quality grass-fed beef you can find for this recipe.