The 'pegan' diet combines paleo and vegan eating into one healthy plan

The 'pegan' diet combines paleo and vegan eating into one healthy plan
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • The paleo-vegan "pegan" diet was popularized by Dr. Mark Hyman, physician and nutrition writer.
  • The diet combines elements of healthy eating such as avoiding processed foods and grains.
  • It emphasizes fresh, whole foods and healthy fats, with some animals products if you want.

A few years ago, Dr. Mark Hyman, a doctor and best-selling nutrition writer, was participating in a nutrition panel discussion when a fight broke out.

Two doctor colleagues on the panel, a paleo advocate and staunch vegan, entered into a heated argument about which diet is best. Sitting between them, Hyman wanted to break the tension, and joked that he was "pegan," or a combination of both.

The comment didn't just get a laugh from the audience. It prompted Hyman to seriously consider whether the best elements of those two diets could be mixed together.
Hyman initially introduced the pegan diet in a 2014 blog post. Since then, Hyman has refined what he considers his personal best strategy for a diet that's good for both human health and the environment, outlined in his new book "The Pegan Diet."

The book collects principles that most experts agree on for healthy diets, such as avoiding processed foods and eating fresh produce, healthy fats, and quality proteins. It's mostly plant-based but allows for some high-quality animal products, too.

The result is a diet meant to unite often-adversarial schools of thought in nutrition against a common enemy: the prevalence of cheap, poor-quality convenience foods, Hyman said on a recent episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast.

"It's like every week there's a new fad and everyone is kind of fighting with each other and we're fighting the wrong person. We should be fighting with the traditional American diet," he said. "That's really what's driving the chronic disease epidemic."

A paleo-vegan diet avoids processed foods in favor of whole foods like veggies and fruit

Processed foods, including refined grains and added sugars, are strongly linked to chronic health issues like obesity, and heart disease, as well as faster aging and earlier death. In contrast, there's evidence that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, such as a vegan diet, has loads of benefits, like a healthy weight, lower blood pressure, and a diverse microbiome (the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut).

Hyman also recommends avoiding pesticides and eating organic, local, and non-GMO whenever possible. This is more controversial, although it's a common recommendation on paleo diets, because the health risks of GMOs are minimal, according to current evidence. There's also no clear data that organic foods are better for health.

You'll limit grains on a pegan diet

In line with many popular low-carb diets, Hyman's plan discourages eating lots of grains, beans, and other starchy plant foods, since they can raise your blood sugar and insulin levels.

You can eat some carbohydrates, but the goal is to focus on smaller portions of foods like brown rice and quinoa. These have a lower glycemic index, meaning they're less likely to spike blood sugar levels.

Gluten, and other wheat products, are also limited on a pegan diet except as an "occasional treat," he said on his blog.

The 'pegan' diet combines paleo and vegan eating into one healthy plan
Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Pegan dieters prioritize quality fats

Similar to the keto diet, Hyman's pegan diet plan emphasizes getting enough healthy fats from sources like nuts, seeds, and avocados. These are generally regarded to be healthy fats by experts, since they can help lower inflammation and manage cholesterol levels.

Hyman advocates for small amounts of saturated fat, too, from sources like coconut and butter.
He doesn't recommend dairy, which is linked to like digestive distress and higher risk of certain diseases, according to some evidence.

Hyman also suggests people should avoid processed seed and vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, corn, and soybean oil. While these are often included in processed foods or unhealthy cooking methods such as frying, there's no clear evidence they're especially dangerous in moderation.

A pegan diet can include animal products if they're sustainably sourced

A pegan diet should be about 75% plants, but can also include some animal products if they are sustainably raised, according to Hyman. Some examples include grass-fed meat or butter, organic eggs, and wild caught-fish, all of which should be included as part of a balanced meal, but not as the main course.

This approach maintains some of the ethical and environmental principles of veganism, while allowing people the flexibility to find what works best for their health and wellbeing, according to Hyman.

"No two people are alike and no two people thrive in the same way, based on the same diet," he said on the Bulletproof Radio podcast. "So you might ideologically be a vegan but it might be the worst thing for you. Or you might ideologically want to eat keto but it might be the worst thing for you. It's important to understand what your body is doing."