There have long been discussions about the benefits of the Paleo diet, a nutritional approach that resembles the eating pattern of people living in the Paleolithic era. However, aside from being pretty restrictive, this diet characterizes by a high intake of meat and saturated fat, which is concerning for many individuals.
The pegan diet combines principles of two popular nutritional approaches: the Paleo and the vegan diet. It involves eating whole foods rich in nutrients, with about 75% of calories derived from plant sources and 25% from animal ones. Thus, the pegan diet offers the benefits of sustainable eating with an emphasis on whole foods without being overly restrictive.
Dr. Hyman, the author of the pegan diet, states that this nutritional approach aids in reducing inflammation, lowering blood sugar levels, decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart diseases, and losing weight. However, to verify these claims, more studies are needed.
The pegan diet incorporates key ideas of Paleo and vegan diets. Since the vegan diet consists solely of plant-based foods, while the Paleo diet involves the consumption of animal products, the pegan diet balances the ingestion of both food groups. Thus, you receive 75% of energy from plants, while the rest 25% comes from animal products.
The pegan diet encourages eating whole foods that have been minimally processed, with a primary focus on fruits and vegetables and moderate consumption of nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, and meat. Foods to be restricted include:
- gluten-containing foods (all grains that contain gluten are restricted)
- gluten-free grains (small portions of gluten-free grains can be eaten sometimes)
- dairy (while cow’s milk and dairy products are restricted, you still can eat limited amounts of dairy products made of goat or sheep milk)
- legumes (except low-starch legumes like lentils)
- sugar (any form of added sugar is restricted but can be eaten occasionally in minimal amounts)
- refined or highly processed oils (for example, sunflower oil, palm oil, soybean oil)
- food additives (including preservatives, colorings, flavorings, etc.)
- processed foods
As you can mention, the pegan diet allows occasional consumption of even restricted foods, making it significantly less restrictive.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and individuals with osteoporosis should discuss the pegan diet with their healthcare providers before starting it. In addition, this nutritional approach may not be suitable for people with iron or vitamin B-12 deficiencies.
How to avoid possible nutritional deficiencies
As with every diet restricting certain food groups, people eating according to the pegan diet may develop deficiencies in some essential nutrients, including vitamin B-1 (thiamin), vitamin B-9 (folic acid), vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine, and fiber. To make sure that you get an adequate amount of these nutrients, try to include some of the following foods in your meals:
- vitamin B-1 (thiamin): fish, mussels, pork, tofu, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, asparagus;
- vitamin B-9 (folic acid): leafy greens, beets, asparagus, avocado, citrus fruits, bananas, papaya, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, fish, seafood, eggs;
- vitamin B-12: beef, liver, kidney, fish (sardines, salmon, trout, tuna), clams, poultry, eggs, fortified nutritional yeasts;
- vitamin D: egg yolks, fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, herring, swordfish), cod liver oil, mushrooms;
- calcium: tofu, canned sardines and tuna, winter squash, rhubarb, leafy greens, almonds, seeds (chia, poppy, sesame);
- magnesium: dark chocolate, nuts (cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts), seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin), bananas, avocado, leafy greens, tofu, salmon, mackerel;
- iron: dark chocolate, red meat, organ meats, turkey, tuna, shellfish, tofu, spinach, pumpkin seeds;
- iodine: iodized table salt, seaweed, fish, shellfish, chicken, eggs, beef liver, prunes;
- fiber: fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans), chia seeds, dark chocolate;
It may be difficult for some people to get adequate amounts of the listed nutrients from their diets. In such a case, you can fulfill your body’s requirements by taking supplements. We recommend seeing your doctor and discussing supplements you may need.
Tips on improving your dieting experience
Due to specific regulations and nutritional restrictions of the pegan diet, it can be challenging for some people to follow this nutritional approach. Here we provide some tips you can use to make your experience less stressful and increase the likelihood of keeping the pegan diet in the long run:
- Make a shopping list and a meal plan. It will help save time, avoid unhealthy food options, and boost your diet with diverse, healthy, and delicious meals.
- Try new recipes. You can find various pegan diet recipes in Dr. Hyman’s book and on the Internet. Making your diet more diverse will make the dieting experience more enjoyable.
- Find support. Support from family, friends, support groups, people on the Internet, etc., can help you continue your diet experience.
The pegan diet is promoted as a long-term nutritional approach that you can keep for life to maintain good health. It promotes eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods with the main emphasis on vegetables and fruits. Although such foods can be a part of a balanced, healthy diet, this nutritional approach involves the avoidance of individual food groups. Some people may find such limitations to be overly restrictive. In addition, limiting grains, dairy, and legumes can increase your chance of developing a nutrient deficiency. Therefore, talking with a doctor before starting any diet that eliminates whole food groups is essential.
If you aim to boost your health and overall well-being, consider following one of the health-promoting, well-balanced diets that don’t restrict whole food groups and are easier to stick with. Examples of such nutritional approaches include the Mediterranean diet and the Nordic diet.