The Pegan Diet: Food list, Health Benefits & Risks
As Dr. Mark Hyman writes, “Food is medicine, with both power to heal and power to harm.” Nearly all of us are searching for a diet with the power to heal. In the eternity of diet varieties, you may have met the Pegan diet - combining two of the most popular diet plans - paleo and vegan. In this article, we will look closely at this eating style, focusing on its composition, benefits, and potential drawbacks.
What is the Pegan diet?
Basically, the Pegan diet is a paleo-vegan hybrid. It combines a low carbohydrate/high fat paleo-ketogenic diet with a low fat/high carbohydrate plant-based diet (1). The diet was first introduced by Mark Hyman, MD, in a 2014 blog post. Later, Dr. Hyman outlined his eating plan entirely in his book published in 2021, the Pegan Diet: 21 Practical Principles for Reclaiming Your Health in a Nutritionally Confusing World.
The paleo diet is similar to that of our ancestors, who were hunters and gatherers. Its basic concept is to eat whole food and avoid highly processed food.
The vegan diet excludes all animal food products, including meat, dairy, and eggs.
Being the combination of these two, the Pegan diet is unique. Its guidelines are less strict. The majority of allowed food for this diet are vegetables and fruits, but consuming certain nuts, seeds, meat, and fish is not a red flag for it.
“The Pegan diet is an inclusive, flexible way of eating for life,” Dr. Hyman writes in his book: this indicates that the diet is designed to be sustainable, not short-term.
Foods to eat
Here are the foods Dr. Hyman recommends using if you consider following the Pegan diet.
Fruits and vegetables
The author of the diet says that plant food, such as fruits and vegetables, should make up 75% of the diet plan. “Plant foods are nutrient-dense - lots of nutrients, few calories. They contain two unique ingredients: fiber and phytonutrients,” Dr. Hyman writes. Dietary fiber is essential for gut health and microbiome modulation (2). Phytonutrients such as flavonoids, anthocyanins, carotenoids, and phenolic acids, have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, can modulate immune and endocrine systems, support gut health, and healthy blood circulation (3) (4) (5) (6).
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are on the Pegan diet list as heart-healthy and fiber-rich. These two contain omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins, protein, carbs, and minerals. Dr. Hyman mentions that nuts and seeds are not recommended for specific medical conditions, such as autoimmune diseases. They can also limit the absorption of some vitamins and minerals. However, “Nuts and seeds are nutritional and disease-fighting powerhouse superfoods,” the doctor writes.
The Pegan diet suggests using a handful or two of walnut, almond, cashew, chia seeds, or pumpkin seeds per day.
Beans are beneficial for the gut microbiome because they contain a particular type of fiber that helps microbes to produce butyrate. This short-chain fatty acid has shown anti-cancer effects. Dr. Hyman recommends eating half a cup of non-starchy beans and avoiding canned beans.
Whole grains are a good source of essential fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. The diet recommends consuming ½ cup of them per meal, avoiding gluten-containing processed variants.
Animal food products
The Pegan diet differs from the vegan eating style by having some amounts of animal food products in its plan. Dr. Hyman says that grass-fed meat cooked correctly can be beneficial in providing the most nutrient-dense protein available. You should avoid high-temperature grilling, smoking, and frying. The author of the diet suggests switching the protein source by using poultry, seafood, and low-mercury fish. The doctor also recommends consuming eggs two or three times a week.
Except for all the foods mentioned above, Dr. Hyman suggests using healthy fats in your meal (3 or 5 servings of fat per day). Avocados, olives, and traditional oils like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil, can be excellent sources of healthy fats. You should avoid saturated trans fats.
Foods to avoid
Here are mentioned foods and compounds on the Pegan diet's banned list.
Yogurt, cheese, and milk are discouraged by the author. They likely contain additives and sugar and will lead to weight gain. Instead of these products, you can use grass-fed butter, goat, or sheep milk.
“The biggest culprit when it comes to harming the gut is gluten,” Dr. Hyman writes. Gluten-rich grains, like wheat and barley, are discouraged in this diet plan.
Consumption of any form of sugar is discouraged. However, if it is too hard for you to avoid your lovely sweets, sugar can be used occasionally. You can enjoy limited amounts of maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar.
Any kind of food additives, such as preservatives, flavorings, and food colorings, are avoided.
Benefits of the Pegan diet
In this part of the article, we will discuss the health benefits of the Pegan diet. Although there are no scientific research papers about the diet, its principles can show the potential benefits.
The Pegan diet supports using unsaturated fats sources like avocados, nuts, and seeds. Poly- and monounsaturated fats are linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases (7). The intake of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, which are on the menu of this diet, also lowers the risk of CVD and stroke (8).
Most of the non-starchy vegetables and fruits in the allowed list of the Pegan diet provide dietary fiber, which is beneficial for gut health. The fiber interacts with the gut microbiome and leads to the production of certain key metabolites, such as short-chain fatty acids (9).
Following the Pegan diet can cause weight loss. The author specifically notes that the ones who decide to follow his diet should avoid sugar, artificial sweeteners, food additives, and dyes. Moreover, limited intake of nutritious foods, like dairy, and starchy vegetables, can decrease the calorie intake, thus promoting weight loss.
Downsides of the Pegan diet
The description above suggests that the Pegan diet is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. However, it has its drawbacks which are important to consider while following this diet.
Lack of dairy
The Harvard Health blog mentions that a well-balanced diet should include dairy. Dairy products contain calcium and vitamin D. These two nutrients help maintain bone density and bone mass, lowering the risk of fractures (10). Fermented dairy products contain beneficial microorganisms that are involved in reducing LDL cholesterol levels in the blood flow, thus lowering the risk of high blood pressure (11).
Lack of gluten
Nowadays, there is a widespread opinion that gluten-free products are always healthy. Although the Pegan diet discourages using gluten-containing whole grains, it does not mean that gluten is an enemy to our organism. A study showed that people who followed a gluten-free diet had increased levels of toxic metals, such as arsenic, mercury, and cadmium (12). Moreover, Harvard School of Public Health research states that long-term gluten consumption reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (13).
You should keep in mind that using gluten-containing products is encouraged for those who do not have any form of gluten intolerance.
Cost and accessibility
The diet offers an exciting and attractive meal plan with organic vegetables, fruit, and grass-fed meat that is expensive and inaccessible to many people. The restrictions on ordinary food and purchasing costly products can cause stress and social isolation among people following the diet.
Lack of scientific evidence
As Barry Boyd, MD, a Yale Medicine hematologist, oncologist, and nutritionist mentions in his review about the Pegan diet, this eating plan includes “non-validated diet components, like ‘detox.’” Some of the foods on the banned list have scientifically proven health benefits but are restricted in the diet. Many of the arguments about the health benefits of the suggested foods do not have scientific proof in the form of references.
The Pegan diet is a combination of a paleo diet and a vegan diet. This is a much less restrictive eating plan primarily based on plant food. The Pegan diet may promote heart and gut health. However, it has some drawbacks, for instance, lack of some essential nutrients and inaccessibility.