What is the vegan diet?

The pegan diet takes aspects from a paleo and vegan diet and combines them into a way of eating that claims to have health benefits. However, the diet may be too restrictive for some people and excludes foods that some research suggests are beneficial.

This article defines the Pegan diet and explores its potential health benefits and drawbacks. It explains which foods to eat and avoid as part of the diet and provides example recipes.

The pegan diet combines a vegan and paleolithic way of eating. Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine practitioner and author, created the diet and coined the term pegan.

The paleolithic or paleo diet aims to mimic the foods our ancestors may have eaten before the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago. It focuses on eating meats, seafood, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Advocates of the paleo diet reason that human bodies are genetically geared to eat these types of food, and eating refined foods causes ill health.

A vegan diet excludes animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Additionally, those following a vegan diet avoid consuming animal products such as honey or food additives and colorings that manufacturers make from animals or insects. The vegan diet avoids exploiting animals for entertainment, clothing, or food.

Dr. Hyman’s pegan diet aims to combine elements of both diets and recommends mainly eating plants, with animal products as a condiment rather than the main course. In addition, the diet avoids dairy and gluten and recommends eating beans sparingly.

Focusing on whole plant foods, less meat, and avoiding processed foods puts the pegan diet in line with some of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025. The diet is nutrient-dense, providing essential vitamins and minerals. Additionally, it may have the following health benefits.

Prevent chronic diseases

While scientists have studied the benefits and risks of paleo and vegan diets, there is scant evidence for a combined approach. However, a fellow functional medicine practitioner reviewed the diet and its potential benefits.

The review compared the dietary composition of the Pegan diet to the Mediterranean diet.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. These include lowering the risk of or helping to prevent:

Support gut bacteria

Additionally, the above review notes that a Mediterranean diet has a favorable effect on gut bacteria, suggesting the Pegan diet may produce similar results.

Eating a wide range of plant foods provides prebiotics that help feed beneficial bacteria. Evidence suggests that healthy gut bacteria can help prevent obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

Emphasize plant foods, lowering inflammation

The pegan diet emphasizes vegetables and fruit, similar to a plant-based diet. Research suggests that plant-based diets can lower inflammation and prevent obesity.

Another 2021 studies found that higher intakes of fruit and vegetables were associated with lower mortality, but the risk reduction plateaued at five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. These findings support current dietary recommendations to increase the intake of fruits and vegetables, but not fruit juices and potatoes.

Learn more about plant-based diets.

Manage weight

Low glycemic foods are a key element of the vegan approach. The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar.

Studies suggest that low GI diets may be beneficial for managing weight and reducing the risk of diabetes.

Learn more about the low GI diet.

Nutrition research is often conflicting and may be inconclusive. Some of the foods the pegan diet recommends avoiding have well-studied health benefits.

For example, the pegan diet suggests avoiding beans, legumes, and whole grains. But evidence suggests that beans and legumes lower obesity and inflammation and may improve immune and cardiovascular function. Additionally, research indicates that eating 2–3 servings of whole grains a day may help prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also includes whole grains, beans, and legumes as part of its recommended healthy eating plan for maintaining a moderate weight.

Some people, such as those with diabetes or celiac disease, avoid certain foods to manage their health conditions.

However, a restrictive diet such as the vegan diet may be unnecessarily limiting if people do not have intolerances or allergies to the food groups it limits. It also could make preparing food more time-consuming, eating out more challenging, and may be more expensive.

The pegan diet recommends focusing on the glycemic load when planning meals, with more emphasis on protein and fats.

The glycemic load is a measurement of how quickly food makes glucose enter the bloodstream and how much glucose per serving it delivers.

The following are foods that people can eat on a vegan diet.

Vegetables and fruits

Vegetables and fruits should make up 75% of the vegan diet and plates at mealtimes. Dr. Hyman recommends eating 2–3 vegetable portions per meal.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises that most fruits have a low GI due to their fructose and fiber content. Melons, pineapple, and some dried fruits such as dates and cranberries may have a medium GI.

Non-starchy vegetables are more suitable for people on a low GI diet. These include:

Learn more about low GI foods.

Nuts and seeds

People following a vegan diet can focus on eating nuts and seeds as they contain protein, minerals, and healthy fats. Dr. Hyman advises eating seeds such as:

As mentioned above, the CDC includes legumes in their recommended healthy eating plan. So restricting legumes from a person’s diet may not reflect public health guidance.

Learn more about the six healthiest nuts.

Healthy fats

The pegan diet recommends eating the following fats:

Now nutritional guidance recommends limiting saturated fats for cardiovascular health, which includes coconut oil.

Meat, fish, and animal products

People following a vegan diet should have meat or animal products as a condiment, not the main course. Vegetables should be the main ingredient of a meal, and meat should be a side dish.

Any animal products a person consumes, such as meat or eggs, should be sustainably raised, grass-fed, and organic.

People must choose low mercury and low toxin fish such as sardines, herring, and anchovies.

The pegan diet recommends that people avoid or limit the following foods.

Grains

The paleo diet avoids grains as ancestors did not eat them until more recently. The pegan diet suggests eating only small portions — for example, half a cup of low glycemic grains such as black rice or quinoa with a meal.

In addition, people should avoid processed foods made from flour, which may raise blood sugar.

Gluten

People on a vegan diet must avoid gluten. Foods containing gluten include:

  • bread, wraps, and pitta made from wheat, barley, or rye flour
  • pasta made from wheat, barley, or rye flour
  • pastries, cakes, and biscuits made from wheat, barley, or rye flour

The diet advises eating gluten-free grains sparingly as they may raise blood sugar or trigger autoimmunity.

Learn more about gluten-free products.

Beans

Dr. Hyman advises that beans can cause digestive problems for some and may trigger spikes in blood sugar. Therefore, the diet recommends avoiding big starchy beans. However, people may have lentils occasionally.

Dairy products

Dr. Hyman notes that both the vegan and paleo diets shun dairy products. He recommends avoiding all dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt. However, people can occasionally eat organic goat or sheep products as a treat.

High-mercury fish

The pegan diet recommends avoiding fish with higher mercury levels. These include:

  • tuna
  • swordfish
  • king mackerel

Processed foods and additives

The pegan diet emphasizes natural and whole foods, so people should avoid refined and processed foods.

In addition, avoiding processed foods helps to limit the number of additives and food colorings that someone consumes. The diet also seeks to exclude pesticides, antibiotics, and genetically modified foods (GMOs).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have a standardized definition of what “natural” means in terms of food labeling. It does state that foods labeled as natural should not contain anything synthetic or artificial. However, it is worth noting that this does not indicate a food’s nutritional or health benefit.

Beam

Someone following the pegan diet should use sugar only occasionally and sparingly. This includes sugar in all its forms, such as table sugar, syrups, and fructose in processed foods.

Vegetable oils

Dr. Hyman recommends avoiding consuming most vegetable oils, including:

Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of different oils.

The following recipes adhere to pagan principles.

Cracked miso spinach salad

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup organic miso paste
  • ½ cup avocado oil
  • 1 leek, both white and green parts, halved and thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon Maldon flake salt
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 Meyer lemon, juiced — regular lemons work too
  • 3 tablespoons truffle-infused olive oil — regular olive oil works too
  • 10 ounces (oz) baby spinach, washed and dried

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the miso paste thinly using a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes or until browned, then crumble into pieces and set aside. This can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.
  3. Heat the avocado oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the leeks in the oil until lightly browned and crisp, about 2–3 minutes. Drain and lay them on a paper towel, sprinkling with flake salt.
  4. Whisk the shallot, lime, lemon, and truffle-infused olive oil together to create a vinaigrette.
  5. Toss the spinach with the shallot vinaigrette, then top the salad with the crackled miso and crispy leeks.

Double chocolate protein bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups natural almond butter, preferably crunchy
  • 1 ¼ cups no sugar added chocolate protein powder
  • ¼ cup hemp seeds
  • ½ cup monk fruit maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • 2 oz 100% cacao dark chocolate, unsweetened
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

Method:

  1. Add the almond butter, protein powder, hemp seeds, and monk fruit syrup to a large bowl and mix into a smooth ball using your hands. Add some water if it is too dry.
  2. Transfer the dough into a parchment paper-lined 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Press into a flat and even layer and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Once firm, cut into 15 bars and place on a wire rack over a tray.
  4. Melt the chocolate and coconut oil using a double boiler. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the bars with a spoon or piping bag. Set the bars in the refrigerator for 5 minutes. Store the bars in a covered container for up to 1 month.

The vegan diet combines a paleo and vegan diet. Nutritional aspects of the diet, such as an abundance of plant foods and avoiding sugar, may help prevent chronic diseases, weight gain, and inflammation.

However, the pegan diet restricts grains, beans, and dairy products and may be too limiting for some people. Additionally, the foods it restricts may benefit people who do not need to avoid them for health reasons.

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