The Pegan Diet – More Problems Than A Simple Misnomer?

The Pegan Diet, developed by Dr. Mark Hyman in 2015 is a combination of the meat-laden Paleo diet and the word vegan. It is also a misnomer since the diet is certainly not vegan. Between half and three-quarters of your menu will consist of plants on this diet, but small amounts of grass-fed, organic, and sustainably raised meat, poultry, and eggs, as well as sustainably raised or harvested seafood, are allowed. Nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil are emphasized on the Pegan diet.

The list of food ingredients and food groups avoided on the Pegan diet is pretty long – gluten, sugar, dairy, certain oils (canola, soybean, grapeseed, and corn oils), and any food that contains chemical additives, including pesticides, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives. Although you are allowed to eat starchy vegetables, you need to limit yourself to a ½ cup per day of these vegetables, including potatoes and winter squash. Vegetables with a glycemic index of 55-69 are allowed in unlimited amounts; these include greens, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and tomato, among others. Only low-sugar fruits are permitted (also with a GI of 55-69), such as berries and citrus fruits. Up to one cup of beans is allowed each day. Non-gluten-containing grains are also limited to a ½ cup at each meal. The only sugar allowed is the rare addition of honey or maple syrup. Ghee and kefir are allowed occasionally, as are sheep’s and goat’s milk. Alcohol is forbidden and soy is never allowed.

Unfortunately, there’s no real definition of “processed” or “unprocessed” food. A hamburger made from grass-fed beef is technically processed, as are almond butter and olive oil. The best that you can do is look at the ingredient list to determine if it’s something that you could make yourself at home if you were so inclined.

No health professional will tell you that eating more vegetables is a bad idea, or that reducing processed foods, refined starches, and added sugar is unadvisable. Using meat as a condiment is known to be better for health and the environment. The well-planned Pegan diet can provide the protein, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, iron, and zinc that is often missing from vegan diets. It will also provide the nutrients, such as fiber, that are often missing from a strict Paleo plan. After all, the Paleo diet is intended to consist of 55% lean meat and seafood and only 15% each of fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds. Also, eating local, sustainable foods, as recommended in the Pegan diet, is becoming a much more mainstream idea.

However, I and many others would say that avoiding certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limiting others, and placing limits on the number of legumes that you consume is imprudent. Whole grains are an essential part of a healthful diet and are known to decrease the risks of diabetes and heart disease. The dietary fiber in whole grains is linked to a decrease in rates of cancer and other health problems, as well. Beans are an important part of the much-studied and highly regarded Mediterranean and DASH diets because they are low-fat, high-fiber, and a rich source of phytochemicals. Beans correspond with many health benefits, including improved heart health and weight loss. Moderate intake of dairy foods, especially yogurt, actually has an anti-inflammatory effect in some people, and these foods are important sources of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, magnesium, phosphorous, and sometimes probiotics. For people who have a tight budget, it’s not realistic to demand that all foods be organic. Buying organic is not necessary for many foods, including those that are peeled, such as kiwi.

This diet would likely be inadequate for many athletes and is not appropriate for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Rather than adopt a strict doctrine of foods to eat and those to avoid, why not make a few simple changes? Try replacing refined grains with whole grains at least 50% of the time, experiment with meatless meals a few times a week, eliminate soda and other sweetened beverages from your diet, or challenge yourself to eat a cup of fruit and three cups of vegetables every day.