The Pegan diet: What it is and why it's being touted as the healthiest

Pegan diet combines principles from the Paleo and vegan diets

The Atkins diet, the Keto diet, the Alkaline diet, the Raw food diet - you name it, there are tons of diets out there with most proclaiming various health benefits. The Paleo diet emphasises on eating fruits, non-processed meat, some fruits, vegetables and avoiding alcohol, grains, dairy, processed sugar, and packaged food – typically a diet that our ancestors used to follow during the Paleolithic era that lasted some 2.6 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago. The vegan diet, on the other hand, says no to meat and dairy products, with a focus on wholly plant-sourced food. And then there is the Pegan diet – the latest to hit the diet circle, which is also being touted as among the healthiest. So what is this new diet fad all about?

Created by American Physician Dr Mark Hymen, the Pegan diet combines the principles of the vegan and the paleo diets. Since both diets are essentially at loggerheads with each other (especially with the meat and dairy part), the pegan diet seems contradictory, at first. However, that is not the case. A pegan diet, as per a Healthline report that quotes Dr Hymen, follows the belief that whole, natural foods, which are nutrient dense, can reduce inflammation, reduce blood sugar levels, and hence lead to optimal health.

What you can and can’t eat

According to Dr Hymen, healthy diets have the following characteristics – they have a low glycemic index, are high on vegetables and fruits, natural, low on pesticides and antibiotics, do not contain chemicals such as MSG, additives, preservatives and are high in good quality fats such as omega 3.

The pegan diet incorporates the best of both the vegan and Paleo diet, without being as restrictive as either. So, while you can indulge in food which may be a big no in the other two groups, occasionally with the pegan diet, it is primarily a plant-based diet with small to moderate intake of meat, certain fish, nuts, seeds and some legumes.

In his blog, Dr Hymen talks about what you can and cannot eat in the Pegan diet:

Vegetables: The Pegan diet requires 75 per cent of your diet to be plant-based. However, the focus is on fruits and vegetables that have a low glycemic index, such as berries and non-starchy vegetables.

Meat: As opposed to the vegan diet which is wholly a plant-based one, the pegan diet allows 25 per cent proteins from animal sources. However, it discourages the consumption of meat sourced from traditionally-farmed animals. It, instead, focuses on grass-fed sources of meat, poultry and eggs. Also, low-mercury fish such as sardines and anchovies are recommended.

Fats: The diet recommends fat intake from omega-3 fats such as fatty fish and flax seeds, along with coconut, seeds and nuts and avocados. Dr Hymen also recommends olive oil and avocado oil as they contain heart-healthy fats.

Legumes and beans: While a Paleo diet discourages grains and legumes since they can influence blood sugar levels, the pegan diet allows you to take no more than a ½ cup of grain per meal and 1 cup of legumes per day. Dr Hymen, however, recommends that people who suffer from diabetes should avoid beans as it can spike blood sugar levels. Also, the lectins in beans could also potentially cause inflammation.

The pegan diet restricts the intake of any form of added refined sugar, gluten, vegetable refined oils such as canola, sunflower oil, corn and soyabean oil, dairy unless it is sourced from sheep or goats (only organic). It also encourages practitioners to stay away from big starchy beans and stick to lentils for proteins, instead. Dr Hymen also suggests that animal products be eaten as a condiment and not as a main course, with vegetables making up the majority portion of the dish.

The flipside

While the pegan diet incorporates elements from both the Paleo and vegan diets, it has its associated problems as well. According to the Princeton Longevity Centre, restricting food groups such as dairy, certain legumes and beans and whole grains, unless it is due to allergic reasons, can lead to inadequate intake of nutrients. Legumes and beans are essential for health and whole grains have been found to lower the risk of heart diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, apart from being high on nutrients and fiber. Also, since the diet focuses on consuming organic products and grass-fed sources of meat and poultry, it becomes rather restrictive and expensive to follow in the long run.

While the diet does offer many benefits, and picks the best from both the Paleo and Vegan diets, for it to work, and to ensure that you do not lose out on essential nutrients, you would have to pick your products and ingredients wisely, so that you add all the required micronutrients to your diet.