What Is the Pegan Diet?

Pegan diet

In This Article

Both the paleo and vegan diets have been in the spotlight in recent years for their independent approaches to food and health. Most of us probably think of them as polar opposites, with paleo focusing on meats our ancestors theoretically ate and veganism opting out of animal products altogether. But a relatively new eating plan aims to show that meat-heavy paleo and veggie-centric veganism can coexist in a single diet.

The Pegan diet (as in, paleo + vegan), created by celebrity functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, M.D., purports to offer the best of both worlds. The diet advises filling 75% of your plate with plant-based foods and 25% with lean, sustainably raised meats. According to Dr. Hyman, eating this way can reduce the risk of chronic disease, curb inflammation, and promote general health.

Background

As a best-selling author, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, and medical editor for The Huffington Post, Dr. Mark Hyman has been dispensing dietary advice to a large audience for a number of years. He’s a go-to media personality for medical expertise, appearing on a number of TV shows, from The Dr. Oz Show to Good Morning America, and contributing to many popular magazines. 

According to his website, Hyman’s combination of paleo and veganism originated with the idea that “Vegan diet studies show they help with weight loss, reverse diabetes, and lower cholesterol. Paleo diets seem to do the same thing.” Since its inception in 2014, the Pegan diet has steadily gained attention among those looking for guidelines for “clean,” healthy eating. 

Hyman himself has not authored any books solely devoted to explaining the Pegan diet, discussing it primarily on his website. However, interest in the Pegan diet has spawned a number of cookbooks, blog posts, and social media groups that provide recipes and insight on adhering to its guidelines.   

It’s worth noting that the Pegan diet has come under criticism for its exclusion or near-exclusion of dairy, grains, and beans, which many nutrition experts believe provide key nutrients that should be included in a healthy diet. 

How It Works

Unlike some diets, Peganism doesn’t give rules for exactly what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Rather, it provides a general outline of dietary advice based on a number of basic principles. The top tenets of a Pegan diet include choosing foods with a low glycemic load; eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (about three-quarters of your daily intake), choosing grass-fed or sustainably raised meats when you do eat meat; avoiding chemicals, additives, pesticides, and GMOs; getting plenty of healthy fats like omega-3s and unsaturated fat; and eating organically and locally.

What to Eat

Compliant Foods

  • Grass-fed and/or sustainably raised meats

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Eggs

  • Fish

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Dairy products

  • Grains

  • Beans

  • Sweets

Compliant Foods

Grass-fed and/or Sustainably Raised Meats

Not surprisingly, meat comprises the “paleo” part of going Pegan. The diet emphasizes choosing meats like beef, chicken, and lamb—and other, more unusual ones like ostrich or bison—that have been grass-fed, sustainably raised, and locally sourced. However, it’s important to note that meat makes up only a minority of the food you’ll eat on a Pegan diet. Hyman instructs Pegans to “eat meat as a side dish or condiment.”

Fruits and Vegetables

And now for the vegan side of things! The majority of calories on a Pegan diet come from plant-based foods like fruits and veggies. Unlike Paleo’s rules about which fruits or vegetables cavemen would have eaten, Peganism doesn’t discriminate. All types of produce are allowed on the diet—though Hyman encourages choosing ones with low glycemic load, like berries or watermelon, when possible. 

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds provide additional fiber, protein, and micronutrients on a Pegan diet. They’re also a source of healthy monounsaturated and omega-3 fats. 

Eggs

Eggs are another suitable protein for Pegans. This breakfast food classic helps provide vitamin B12, which may run low in a limited-meat diet. 

Fish 

Though fish isn’t the star of a Pegan diet, it has its place in this eating plan. Hyman states that low-mercury fish like sardines, herring, and anchovies are acceptable seafoods.

Non-Compliant Foods 

Dairy products

Put away the pizza and ice cream–you won’t be eating dairy on a Pegan diet. Hyman believes cow’s milk contributes to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 

Grains

In line with the paleo philosophy, Peganism shuns almost all grains, so wheat, oats, barley, bulgur, and many others won’t appear on a Pegan plate. The theory goes that grains increase blood sugar and can cause inflammation. Limited consumption of certain low-glycemic grains is occasionally acceptable on the diet, such as a half-cup of quinoa or black rice.

Beans 

You don’t have to swear off beans off entirely on a Pegan diet, but Hyman urges caution with them, saying that their starch content can spike blood sugar. Up to one cup of beans (or, preferably, lentils) is permitted per day.

Sweets 

Like many other “clean eating” diets, the Pegan diet keeps sweets to a minimum as an occasional treat.

Recommended Timing

Since the Pegan diet promotes an overall pattern of eating, it doesn’t provide guidelines around timing of meals or snacks—nor does it offer recommendations on how much to eat in a day, or what portion sizes to choose. 

Resources and Tips

You won’t be required to master any particular type of cooking technique or purchase any specific products while on a Pegan diet. In fact, because the diet has only been around for five years, resources on following it aren’t as widely available as many other trendy eating plans.

However, as interest in the diet has risen, more and more Pegan cookbooks (and even a handful of food products, such as Pegan protein bars) have hit the market. Your best bet for finding resources on adhering to the Pegan diet is probably the internet, where blog posts and websites offer recipes that follow the whole foods, three-quarter-plants, and one-quarter meat rules.

Modifications

Clearly, since meat and vegetables make up the majority of the Pegan diet, these foods are non-negotiable if you decide to go Pegan. However, you may have to make personal decisions about how much you’re willing to pay for non-GMO, chemical-free produce and grass-fed meats.

Since the Pegan diet limits or excludes dairy, beans, and grains, you may also need to be extra mindful about getting enough of certain nutrients these foods provide. If you remove dairy (like yogurt) from your diet, for example, you might up your intake of fermented foods like kimchi or tempeh to get gut-boosting probiotics, or add sardines or broccoli to get calcium you used to get from milk. 

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Full of fruits and vegetables

  • Low glycemic index

  • Focus on sustainability

  • Less restrictive than other diets

Cons

  • Conflicting evidence on nutrition

  • Difficult in social situations

  • Potential nutrient deficiencies

  • Cost

Pros

Full of Fruits and Vegetables

It’s common knowledge that a healthy diet contains plenty of fruits and vegetables—and studies show the majority of Americans are still woefully deficient in this department. A Pegan diet will certainly fill any gaps in your five-a-day target, providing much-needed fiber and micronutrients.

Low Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a system that measures how much individual foods spike blood glucose. The Pegan diet encourages users to get educated about which foods help stabilize this pattern, since a yo-yo of ups and downs in blood sugar can have harmful effects. This can be a positive, especially for those with diabetes, pre-diabetes, and other insulin-related conditions.

Focus on Sustainability 

The paleo diet often receives criticism for its negative environmental impact. If everyone ate meat at every meal, the planet would face disastrous results of land degradation, air pollution, and water overuse. Peganism mitigates this impact by encouraging the purchase of sustainably raised meat—and scaling back consumption in general.

Less Restrictive Than Other Diets

Let’s face it: It’s tough to commit 100% to paleo or veganism. Because of its middle ground between the two, the Pegan diet offers more balance and flexibility. Vegans and paleo eaters may find this a welcome reprieve.

Cons

Conflicting Evidence on Nutrition

Hyman points to a number of studies that back his belief that the food groups of dairy and grains are harmful, contributing to heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes. But in the larger world of nutrition experts, there is no consensus that this is true. In fact, dairy and grains have proven benefits for health.

Though dairy sometimes gets bad press for saturated fat content that could lead to heart disease, a large-scale study from 2016 revealed that dairy fat was not associated with risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus, cow’s milk contains significant amounts of calcium, protein, potassium, and vitamin D—nutrients that are all necessary for general health.

Beans and grains provide plenty of benefits, too. A landmark study from 2016 confirmed that eating whole grains lowers risk of heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality. Beans are widely accepted as a healthy food because of their fiber, protein, and phytochemical content.

Difficult in Social Situations

Though a Pegan diet may be less restrictive than full paleo or veganism, it still comes with major provisos about what you can and cannot eat. If you opt out of eating dairy, grains, and legumes, you may find yourself unable to enjoy many foods offered at social or family gatherings. It may also require you to get creative to prevent boredom or burnout.

Potential Nutrient Deficiencies 

There’s always a risk, when going without major groups of food, of becoming deficient in certain key nutrients. Depending on exactly how you follow a Pegan diet, it’s possible you might not take in enough vitamin B12, iron, or calcium.

Cost

While eating sustainably raised ostrich or locally sourced kale sounds great in theory, it may not fit everyone’s budget or resources. Certainly, a Pegan diet doesn’t require you to purchase any particular costly products, but following it to the letter by buying high-end meats and farmer’s market veggies could add up financially.

How It Compares

Clearly, the Pegan diet is a hybrid of two other original diets, so it can’t help but draw strong comparisons to both paleo and veganism. But Peganism also takes its place amidst a host of trendy eating plans aimed at better health through “clean” eating. We’ll explore these similar diets below.

USDA Recommendations

Since a Pegan diet doesn’t dictate how much you can eat in a given day, it doesn’t conflict with the USDA’s nutrition guidelines for daily calories, macro- or micronutrients. With a bit of foresight, you should be able to meet these needs by eating the diet’s list of approved foods.

The USDA does recommend including dairy, grains, and legumes in a healthy diet, so if you decide to embrace a Pegan eating plan, just know that you may need to make an effort to plan your meals for variety and nutrients like calcium, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin D.

Similar Diets

Paleo Diet

Obviously, a Pegan diet bears similarity to its own ancestor, the paleo diet, with its stress upon eating whole, unprocessed foods and its inclusion of animal products. But you’ll eat a lot less meat (and probably more fruit) on a Pegan diet than on paleo, and with somewhat different motivation, since Peganism doesn’t place the same emphasis on eating for the sake of emulating our furry forebears.

Vegan Diet

Its abundance of plant-based foods make the Pegan diet a close cousin to its other predecessor, veganism. And, as with veganism, Peganism is intended to be a lifestyle founded upon certain environmental principles and health concepts. The difference, of course, is Peganism’s inclusion of meat and exclusion of most grains and legumes. Depending on your preferences, one or the other may be easier for you to follow. 

Clean Eating

While “clean eating” is often vaguely defined, it’s usually marked by opting for as many unprocessed foods as possible, often those without pesticides or genetic modification. In this way, it resembles the Pegan diet. However, a Pegan diet adheres to Dr. Hyman’s established “rules” for food groups and glycemic load, rather than a more self-directed plan to eat clean.

Whole30 Diet

The popular Whole30 eating plan is a 30-day jump-start that looks, in many ways, like a Pegan diet, eliminating dairy, grains, and legumes. The Pegan diet, however, is not quite so restrictive as Whole30 (which also removes other foods like soy, alcohol, and sugar) and is meant to be followed long-term.

A Word From Verywell

Compared with other, similar diets, the Pegan diet is relatively accommodating. You won’t need to count up individual grams of macronutrients, time your meals in a particular way, or restrict yourself to an extremely narrow list of approved foods if you go Pegan. With its focus on unprocessed, whole foods, sustainably sourced meats, and nutrient-rich veggies, there’s a lot to like about the diet. However, foods a Pegan diet limits—including dairy, grains, and beans—have well-established health benefits you may not want to miss out on. If you’re looking for an eating plan that reduces inflammation and promotes good health, it’s probably not necessary to become Pegan.

Was this page helpful?