The Pegan Diet: What You Need to Know About the Paleo/Vegan Mashup

This combination of the vegan and Paleo diets could be the answer to your dieting woes. Here's what you need to know

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You’ve probably heard of the vegan diet, and likely the Paleo diet too. But odds are you haven’t come across the pegan diet—a mashup of both of these trendy diets. Mark Hyman, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and author of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat, was involved in a diet debate several years ago with two fellow physicians. One was a vegan, the other a Paleo dieter. When it was Dr. Hyman’s turn to chime in, he admitted he combines parts of both diets, creating one that works for him. “I joked that it must be called the pegan diet, and the name stuck,” Dr. Hyman says.

According to Dr. Hyman, the pegan diet is low-glycemic with a focus on eating plant foods, healthy fats, and high-quality protein. The pegan diet specifically emphasizes healthy fats, plants, nuts, seeds, and suggests avoiding dairy, gluten, beans, and sugar. “Stay away from most vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, corn, and especially soybean oil which now comprises about 10 percent of our calories,” Dr. Hyman says. “Focus instead on omega-3 fats, nuts, coconut, avocados and yes, even saturated fat from grass-fed or sustainably raised animals.” 

Dr. Hyman believes that anyone could be a good candidate for the pegan diet. Although, he notes it isn’t a “quick fix,” but a sustainable diet that does allow some room for pleasure foods. “The pegan diet is not about perfectionism,” he says. “It’s about eating in a way that serves your body, and also allowing yourself to enjoy dessert every now and [then] or a glass of wine.” He also suggests talking with your doctor before trying the pegan diet, specifically if this type of healthy eating is drastically different than your everyday diet. Here are things that happen to your body when you go vegan

That said, not everyone is as big of a fan of the pegan diet. Alyssa Ardolino, RD, Nutrition Communications Coordinator at the International Food Information Council Foundation, wouldn’t recommend trying it out. “It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins, which isn’t a bad thing,” she says. “However, it arbitrarily prohibits dairy and gluten, and limits legumes, all while focusing on ‘clean eating,’ which is a term that doesn’t really have a legitimate definition.” The pegan diet isn’t all too different from a low-carb or Paleo diet, but at the core, the pegan diet is, “still about restriction, which can be very isolating and increase your risk for eating pathology,” she says, pointing to a write up in the North American Journal of Psychology.

As an alternative, Ardolino suggests focusing on the tenants of this diet—eating more fruits, veggies, lean meats, and healthy fats—instead of the restrictions and rules. “It’s totally possible to eat all different kinds of food and still maintain your health,” Ardolino says. “We need to stop perpetuating the idea that people will be healthier and improve their well-being only if they adhere to super strict diets. It’s just not true.”

Another good point Ardolino makes is that sticking to a diet that promotes only eating organic produce, grass-fed meats, and no processed foods isn’t realistic for most people. “We’re all at different points in our journey to better [our] health, and we should aim to make improvements to our eating patterns that are relative to where we are,” Ardolino says. Next, don’t miss these tips that will help you eat healthier.

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Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.