Let’s face it: The paleo diet has held onto popularity for longer than anyone would have imagined (thank Jeb Bush and Matthew McConaughey for that). Now, it’s joining hands with the longstanding go-to diet for health nuts: veganism. Individually, they can be hard to stick to in the long run, leaving wannabe healthy eaters skipping from trendy restrictive diet to trendy restrictive diet.
The pegan diet looks colorful for a reason: It’s full of good-for-you fruits and veggies. (Photo: Erik Mace for Yahoo Health)
Enter: the pegan diet. Coined by Mark Hyman, MD, in a January 2015 blog post, the diet combines the best of paleo and vegan into one easier-to-follow superdiet. You might think combining two notoriously restrictive diets would leave you with about five foods to eat, but the pegan diet focuses more on what each diet includes, rather than leaves out, allowing more options. “I wanted to combine the very best aspects of a paleo and vegan/vegetarian diet rather than cherry-pick studies and pick sides,” Hyman explained to Yahoo Health. “Combining research with my several decades working with patients, I pulled together this plan. Once you get the hang of it, the pegan diet becomes easy to stick to and delivers fast but lasting results.”
The diet is centered on fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats — plus meat in small, condiment-size portions and small amounts of gluten-free grains and legumes. Dairy is out (if you just can’t give it up, Hyman suggests the occasional sheep’s or goat’s milk yogurt), as are gluten and added sugars.
So what makes the pegan diet unique? Most obviously, it includes meat and eggs — strictly banned for vegans. Hyman acknowledges that meat is a “sticky subject,” but adds that grass-fed, sustainably raised meat can provide valuable nutrients and makes it easier for participants to stick to the diet. The solution: Try meat like a side dish or condiment, adding it to dishes for flavor and nutrients, but don’t eat it as the dish itself.
It also allows for small amounts of grains — a compromise between the vegan diet, which can be grain-heavy, and the paleo diet, which bans grains altogether. Hyman cautions that grains raise the glycemic index and can trigger disease-causing inflammation. Aim for no more than one small serving of gluten-free grains — try quinoa or black rice — each day, always eaten in whole-grain form (gluten-free breads and pastries are out).
Vegan and paleo diets, while popular, have caught flack from experts for not including a wide enough array of nutrients and for enforcing a restrictive mindset. The pegan diet fares a bit better, according to dietician Kristin Kirkpatrick, manager of nutrition services at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. The diet is healthy, Kirkpatrick explains to Yahoo Health, “because it doesn’t rule out any one food except dairy and gluten.” Not only does that give adherents access to a wider range of nutrients, but the variety can help prevent diet burnout or binging on ‘forbidden’ foods. Kirkpatrick sees it as a step up from both the vegan and paleo diets, saying, “In a vegan diet, for example, no meat is allowed but you can have beans, and paleo preaches the exact opposite. The benefit of combing means you can have your meat (but it’s got to be grass-fed, sustainable, etc.) and you can even have your beans, just in small amounts.”
Kirkpatrick gives bonus points for the emphasis on foods that are as close to natural as possible. “I love that the diet preaches foods that have not gone through processing of any kind, void of sugar and abundant in vegetables, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds,” she explains. “That means that the nutrient density of the diet is higher than with most diets out there.”
While many, including Kirkpatrick, see the pegan diet as a great adjustment for those who are eating a more restricted vegan or paleo diet, Hyman stresses that it’s also ideal for those whose diets aren’t already healthy. “Transitioning from the standard American diet to a pegan diet will jump-start optimal health and create impressive results immediately,” Hyman says.
The diet gets a thumbs up for its rational, nutrient-dense approach, but Kirkpatrick warns that doesn’t give adherents free rein to gorge on “accepted” foods. “Because it’s [billed] as healthy, people may throw portion control to the wind,” Kirkpatrick cautions. “Calories can still add up, especially from nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats. You can have too much of a good thing and find yourself gaining weight.” The bottom line: It’s a healthy way to eat, not a quick fix or crash diet. Treat it that way.
Read This Next: Jeb Bush Drops Pounds With the Paleo Diet — But Is It Healthy?