The Pegan Diet: A Dietitian Explains the Benefits and Downsides
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Food & Nutrition

The Trending Diet Our Doctors Love

August 13, 2019

Move over keto, the pegan diet is here—and we hope it’s here to stay. Unlike most fad diets, the pegan diet ties together the scientifically researched strengths from two of the most popular dietary movements, the paleo and vegan diets. This dietary combo has created a way of eating that focuses on whole foods with optimal nutrient density and anti-inflammatory properties. The outcome is a nutritional plan that is more sustainable and healthier than either nutritional plan on its own.

To be clear, the pegan diet isn’t necessarily new. At Parsley Health, we actually recommend a similar way of eating—we call it plant-based Paleo—to many of our members. It places a greater focus on organic plants, healthy fats, and high-quality animal proteins.

In this article, we’ll review everything you need to know about the pegan diet from what to eat, what not to eat, and what to consider before you dive in.

What is the pegan diet?

As the name suggests, the pegan diet combines aspects of veganism and the paleo protocol. While these two diets may sound conflicting—being that vegans focus solely on plant-based food sources and paleo emphasizes eating high quality, well-sourced meats and fish—the two share a key underlying component in their philosophies: a focus on natural, whole foods. As a result, the pegan diet is largely made up of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, and complemented with meat, fish, and eggs. It completely eliminates gluten, conventional dairy, and processed foods and advocates for limited amounts of legumes and grains.

What do you eat on the pegan diet?

Produce

A pegan diet is comprised of an intake that is 75 percent plant-based. This means each pegan plate contains about 2-3 cups of fresh produce—mostly non-starchy vegetables and dark, leafy greens. For maximum nutritional density, getting in a variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, and herbs is key. The pegan diet also emphasizes quality as a fundamental nutritional factor, so it encourages the inclusion of local, organic food whenever possible.

Meat, fish, and eggs

The last 25 percent of the diet consists of animal-based products, meant to serve as a side-dish to the plant-based star players of the meals. Red meat, poultry, and eggs should be grass-fed or sustainably-raised and fish should be wild-caught and preferably lower mercury varieties.

Healthy fats

The pegan diet gives special importance to omega-3 fat sources which are known to be highly anti-inflammatory. These foods include wild-caught fatty fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and herring in addition to certain nuts like walnuts, seeds like chia, flax and hemp and pasture-raised eggs. Inclusion of other plant-based fats such as olives, olive oil, avocados, and avocado oil are encouraged. Small amounts of cold-pressed oils like sesame, macadamia, and walnut oils are also on the table. Lastly, pegans can also include a bit of saturated fat from coconut products such as organic virgin coconut oil or coconut butter or grass-fed animal sources.

What foods should you avoid on the pegan diet?

Gluten

Followers of a pegan diet avoid gluten entirely. Whole gluten-free grains such as quinoa, black or brown rice, oats, millet, and amaranth are permitted but should be limited to no more than ½ cup cooked portions at meals at a maximum to help manage blood sugar.

Dairy

Additionally, pegans stay away from conventional cow’s milk dairy products including milk, cream, butter, cheese, and yogurt. High-quality goat or sheep’s milk products or organic and grass-fed varieties of kefir, grass-fed butter, and ghee can be enjoyed occasionally in moderation.

Legumes

Legume consumption on a pegan diet is limited given that they can cause digestive issues for some and may impair mineral absorption because of lectin and phytate content. So while beans and lentils can be included, they should be restricted to no more than 1 cup per day.

Oils

Some common cooking oils are discouraged because of their high amounts of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. This includes vegetable oils such as canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, and peanut oils.

Sugar

Processed and refined sugar are extremely minimal on the pegan diet, and natural sugars are limited as well. Natural sugar should come from whole forms of fruit and preferably low glycemic varieties such as organic berries, kiwis, apples, peaches, and pears. High sugar fruits such as bananas, grapes, pineapple, and melons are limited. Naturally-derived sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup are permitted as an occasional treat but artificial sweeteners, chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes and MSG are all off-limits.

What are the benefits of the pegan diet?

The pegan diet as a whole has not been clinically researched, but it may contribute to improved health in a few different scientifically proven ways. Most notably, the emphasis on fruits and vegetables as the crux of the diet is by far its biggest nutritional strength. It’s well-known that fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutritionally rich foods being full of many key vitamins, minerals, plant compounds and fiber that can help to prevent the onset of disease and reduce inflammation in the body.

The pegan diet focuses on consuming healthy fats derived from whole food sources such as wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives has also been linked to improved heart health.

Lastly, the reduction of processed foods which contain a variety of added sugars and preservatives helps to improve nutritional diversity and density of the diet and remove unwanted negative effects from additives, pesticides, and chemicals.

What are the downsides of the pegan diet?

While the pegan diet gets the nutritional stamp of approval from Parsley Health, it’s worth noting that completely eliminating gluten and greatly restricting dairy may not be necessary for everyone. Although these food groups may promote inflammation in a variety of different people, for those that do not have an intolerance cutting out entire food groups can often lead to unnecessary restriction and potential nutrient depletion.

Similarly, restrictions of legume and gluten-free grain intake, which are known to have specific health-promoting properties, may not be necessary for all. Those that require greater amounts of protein and carbohydrates, such as endurance athletes, may also need to allow for greater inclusion of some foods that are restricted in the pegan diet to help adequately reach their needs. For these specific caveats, we always recommend consulting with a doctor or health coach to help contextualize your individual diet to your personal health goals.

The Parsley Take

The core principles of the pegan diet are directly in line with the plant-based paleo approach that we recommend to many of our members at Parsley Health.

  • The pegan diet is comprised of 75% healthy, plant-based foods known to prevent disease and reduce inflammation – thumbs up!
  • Animal proteins are only a small part of the diet, which is essential because they provide many key nutrients, but eating them in excess has been shown to increase risk of cardiovascular disease
  • This diet focuses on principles of nutrition that have been well-researched to support optimal health
  • Unlike many diets, this nutritional outlook is more of a lifestyle change—refocusing your eating on whole, real foods, so it’s doable and not depriving
  • To help navigate changing your diet to a pegan or plant-based paleo dietary approach, we recommend meeting with a doctor or health coach to help individualize your nutrition plan to your personal needs

Parsley Health is the only medical practice that leverages personalized testing with whole body treatments.

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