What Is the Pegan Diet?

Pegan Diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Paleolithic diet and veganism seem like polar opposites, but a relatively new diet suggests they can coexist as a single eating pattern. The pegan diet (as in, paleo + vegan) combines the supposed meat-centric diet of our ancestors with plant-based eating. The diet was created by celebrity functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, MD.

To follow a pegan diet, 75% of your plate should be filled with plant-based foods and the other 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.

As a best-selling author, founder and director of the UltraWellness Center, head of strategy and innovation at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, and medical editor for HuffPost, Dr. 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 magazines.

Dr. Hyman discusses peganism on his website and details the eating plan in his 2021 book, "The Pegan Diet: 21 Practical Principles for Reclaiming Your Health in a Nutritionally Confusing World." Growing interest in the pegan diet has also spawned a number of cookbooks, blog posts, and social media groups that provide recipes and additional insight on adhering to its guidelines.   

According to his website, Dr. 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. 

It’s worth noting, however, 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 balanced diet. Learn more about this hybrid eating pattern to determine whether it's a healthy choice for you.

With its focus on unprocessed, whole foods, sustainably sourced meats, and nutrient-rich veggies, there’s a lot to like about the pegan diet. However, the diet limits nutrient-dense foods like dairy, grains, and beans, all of which have well-established health benefits you may not want to miss out on.

What Can You Eat?

Unlike some diets, peganism doesn’t have any 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 You Need to Know

The pegan diet does not provide guidelines around the timing of meals or snacks—nor does it offer recommendations on how much to eat in a day, or what portion sizes to choose. 

You won’t be required to master any particular type of cooking technique or purchase any specific products while on a pegan diet. As interest in the diet has grown in recent years, Dr. Hyman's book and other cookbooks (and even a handful of food products, such as pegan protein bars) have hit the market.

The internet contains a wealth of information about the diet, with myriad blog posts and websites offering recipes that follow the whole foods, three-quarter-plants, and one-quarter meat rules.

Modifications

Since fruits, vegetables, and meats 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 will also need to be extra mindful about getting enough of certain nutrients these foods provide.

If you remove dairy such as yogurt from your diet, for example, you might have to up your intake of fermented foods like kimchi to get gut-boosting probiotics. You might also add sardines, eggs, and lots of green leafy vegetables such as broccoli to supplement for some of the calcium and vitamin D you would usually get from milk.

In some instances where you cannot meet your vitamin needs, you may benefit from supplementing. If you're unsure whether you need dietary supplements, consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian.

What to Eat
  • Grass-fed and/or sustainably raised meats

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Eggs

  • Fish

What Not to Eat
  • Dairy products

  • Grains

  • Beans

  • Sweets

Grass-Fed and/or Sustainably Raised Meats

The pegan 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. Dr. Hyman instructs pegans to “eat meat as a side dish or condiment.”

Fruits and Vegetables

Unlike Paleo’s rules about which fruits or vegetables our ancestors may have eaten, Peganism doesn’t discriminate. All types of produce are allowed on the diet—though Dr. 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. Dr. Hyman states that low-mercury fish like sardines, herring, and anchovies are acceptable seafood.

Dairy Products

You won’t be eating dairy on a pegan diet, so that means no cheese, cow's milk, or ice cream. Dr. 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. That means wheat, oats, barley, bulgur, and many others won’t appear on a pegan plate. Dr. Hyman's theory is that grains increase blood sugar and can cause inflammation—but some research shows the inverse. Limited consumption of certain low-glycemic grains is occasionally acceptable on the diet, such as 1/2 cup of quinoa or black rice.

Beans 

You don’t have to swear off beans entirely on a pegan diet, but Dr. Hyman urges caution with them, saying that their starch content can raise blood sugar. Up to 1 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.

Sample Shopping List

The majority of calories on a pegan diet come from plant-based foods like fruits and veggies. You'll avoid most grains and beans and eliminate processed foods and added sugars. The following shopping list offers suggestions for getting started on a pegan plan. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods that work better for you.

  • Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, collard greens)
  • Veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots)
  • Low-glycemic fruits (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, watermelon, grapefruit, apples)
  • Grass-fed meat (sirloin, lean ground beef, bison, elk, ostrich)
  • Organic poultry (chicken, turkey)
  • Low-mercury fish (salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies)
  • Healthy fats (avocados, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, olive oil)
  • Fortified dairy-free soy products (milk, yogurt)
  • Low-glycemic grains (quinoa, black rice)
  • Lentils
  • Eggs

Sample Meal Plan

Because the pegan diet is 75% vegan, your meals will be mostly plant-based. When you do consume meat, strict followers of this plan choose only grass-fed, organic, and sustainably sourced options. However, that choice is up to you.

The following three-day meal plan offers suggestions for what to eat on the pegan diet. Note that this meal plan is not all-inclusive, so if you do choose to adhere to this eating pattern, there may be other meals that are more appropriate for your tastes, preferences, and budget.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

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

As with all diets, the pegan diets has its benefits and drawbacks. Review the pros and cons to determine whether this plan is right for you.

Pros

Lots of Fruits and Vegetables

Many of us are aware that consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables is healthy for us, yet studies show the majority of Americans are still deficient in this department. A pegan diet will certainly help to 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 individual foods raise blood glucose. The pegan diet encourages followers to get educated about which foods help to stabilize blood sugar. This can be 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 helps to potentially mitigate this impact by encouraging the purchase of sustainably raised meat—and scaling back consumption in general.

Somewhat Less Restrictive

Let’s face it: It can be tough to commit 100% to paleo or veganism. Because of its middle ground between the two, the pegan diet offers more balance and flexibility.

Cons

Conflicting Evidence on Nutrition

Dr. 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.

Difficult in Social Situations

Though a pegan diet may be less restrictive than fully committing to paleo or veganism, it still comes with major provisions 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 of becoming deficient in certain key nutrients when you cut out major groups of food. Depending on exactly how you follow a pegan diet, it’s possible you might not take in enough vitamin B12, iron, or calcium.

Cost

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.

While eating sustainably raised ostrich or locally sourced kale sounds great in theory, it may not fit everyone’s budget or resources.

Is the Pegan Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The pegan diet resembles other eating patterns with potential health benefits, most notably the paleo and vegan diets. The paleo diet emphasizes 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.

With its abundance of plant-based foods, the pegan diet a close cousin to veganism, which is also a lifestyle founded on 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. 

The pegan diet also shares certain similarities with the “clean eating” trend, which typically involves opting for as many unprocessed foods as possible, often without pesticides or genetic modification. Additionally, 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 as restrictive as the Whole30 and is meant to be followed long-term.

When compared to federal guidelines for a healthy diet, a pegan diet lacks balance since it restricts grains, beans, and dairy products. The USDA's 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods including whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein sources, low-fat dairy products, and healthy fats for a well-balanced diet.

Since a pegan diet doesn’t dictate how much you can eat in a given day, it doesn’t necessarily conflict with the USDA's guidelines for daily calories, macro- or micronutrients, however. With careful planning, you should be able to meet these needs while still following the diet’s list of approved foods.

If you're looking to lose weight, it's helpful to know your daily calorie requirement to help you stay on track with your goals. This calculator can provide you with an estimate if you're interested in counting calories.

The USDA recommends including dairy, grains, and legumes as part of a healthy, balanced diet. If you decide to go pegan, you may need to make a concerted effort to plan your meals for variety and ensure you're getting enough nutrients like calcium, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin D.

Health Benefits

Dr. Hyman suggests that both plant-based and paleo diets have similar health benefits. Indeed, research shows that plant-based diets can help treat and prevent many forms of chronic disease and also promote weight loss. In addition, paleo diets are associated with weight loss and chronic disease management—but more research is still needed to determine any long-term health effects.

However, there is no evidence to suggest that combining these two plans and restricting certain food groups can lead to better health outcomes than a well-balanced diet. Though dairy sometimes gets a bad rap for its saturated fat content, a large-scale study from 2016 revealed that dairy fat was not associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Health Risks

While there are no known health risks associated with a pegan diet since it's still a fairly new eating pattern, restricting dairy and whole grains could lead to nutrient deficiencies. Cow’s milk contains significant amounts of calcium, protein, potassium, and vitamin D—nutrients that are all necessary for general health.

Additionally, whole grains are a great source of fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. A landmark study from 2016 confirmed that eating whole grains lowers the risk of heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality. Additional research shows that not eating enough of them can lead to deficiencies in thiamine, folate, magnesium, calcium, iron, and iodine.

Beans provide plenty of benefits, too, and are widely accepted as a healthy food because of their fiber, protein, and phytonutrient content. In fact, beans are a great source of plant-based protein for many vegan diets. Eliminating beans on a diet that that is 75% plant-based puts followers at risk for not getting enough protein, fiber, and other important nutrients.

A Word From Verywell

While you won’t need to restrict calories or time your meals, you might miss out on important nutrition by eliminating healthy foods like whole grains, dairy, and beans if you go pegan. If you’re looking for an eating plan that reduces inflammation and promotes good health, there are other more balanced diets to consider, such as the flexitarian diet or Mediterranean diet.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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