February 8th 2019
Why going ‘pegan’ is the new vegan
January 2nd 2020 / 0 comment
Ella Olsson via Unsplash
Searches for the part Paleo, part vegan diet are up 337 per cent on Pinterest. This is what's behind it
It’s a new year and as to be expected, a new line-up of diets are doing the rounds, each one claiming to be better than the last when it comes to weight loss. However, there’s one in particular that has gained especially large amounts of attention as of late - peganism. With searches last year up 337 per cent on Pinterest, it’s one of the biggest ongoing dieting trends.
What is a pegan diet?
It’s a combination of the Paleo diet (a meat and vegetable-heavy way of eating that seeks to replicate what cavemen ate), and a (healthy) vegan diet. It was originally cooked up by American functional medicine expert and 10-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, Dr Mark Hyman.
It's largely plant-based, but incorporates meat, fish and eggs and is high in omega 3 fats, low in sugar, and dairy, gluten and processed food-free. Grains are limited and it can be personalised to suit your specific health conditions, preferences and needs. Think of it as a type of flexitarianism. As nutritional therapist Daniel O’Shaughnessy puts it: “If you’re trying veganism and aren’t coping, then this is the diet for you.”
If you’re wondering how the two very different eating styles can co-exist, you’re not the only one. Sounds like a contradiction in terms right? That’s what we thought too. However, as Dr Hyman explains, it’s more about what they have in common rather than their differences - a “focus on real, whole, fresh food that is sustainably raised” to balance health and environmental needs and concerns. If you're giving up meat for ethical reasons though, it's obviously not for you.
What can you eat on a pegan diet?
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Lots of fruit and veg: the greater the variety, the better, to increase your phytonutrient intake. They should form 75 per cent of your diet and plate, says Dr Hyman.
Grass-fed and sustainably sourced meat: rich in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A and D and of course, protein. Meat should be viewed as a side-dish rather than the main event on this diet.
Low mercury fish such as sardines and wild salmon: rich in omega 3s. Dr Hyman specifically singles out sardines and wild salmon because they’re less likely to be contaminated by mercury emitted by coal-burning power plants and factories. Dr Hyman notes that mercury overload can be risky for children and women around childbearing age. Sardines are also a great source of vitamin D3.
Seeds: such as flax, chia, hemp, sesame and pumpkin which contain protein, minerals and good fats.
Nuts: except peanuts.
What can’t you eat (or eat a lot of)?
Dairy: The main reasons for this are tolerance-related (most people in Dr Hyman's experience can’t tolerate dairy) and lack of evidence surrounding dairy’s benefits. In his Got Proof blog, Dr Hyman highlights studies that indicate that it can contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer and increase (not decrease) the risk of osteoporosis.
Wholegrains with gluten in them: Another controversial one, included in the ‘avoid’ list because of the spikes in blood sugar that they can cause and their association with digestive disorders. Small portions (half a cup at a meal) of low glycaemic grains like black rice and quinoa are fine eaten sparingly though (as they still raise blood sugar).
Beans: Another one to eat sparingly due to their fibre content which can cause digestive problems in some. Dr Hyman recommends limiting your portion to one cup a day. Lentils are best.
Sugar: Again, best to have as an occasional treat.
As you’ve probably gleaned from the above, the diet’s pretty restrictive. And, as Daniel highlights, it can take a little getting used to. “In the initial stages, there will be some planning needed. Some may fret over eating out, but it can be done easily - you just have to forgo the bread basket and high carb dishes.”
Another factor is cost. Grain-free and dairy-free alternatives aren’t cheap.
The low-grain aspect is certain to divide opinion too, especially in light of new findings published in the Lancet Medical Journal highlighting the wide-ranging health benefits of eating high-fibre foods (such as wholegrains). “Going grain-free doesn’t suit everyone and there are some marvellous benefits that some grains and legumes give us,” says Daniel. That being said though, he explains that due to the high volume of plant fibre consumed on a pegan diet, you’re unlikely to need a fibre supplement. Those worried about losing out on calcium due to avoiding dairy can also substitute it with vegan sources such as sesame seeds and certain fruits.
Finally, critics of eating pegan have expressed concerns about how people might interpret the guidelines. Originally designed to be adapted to your own needs, it’s feared that those who try it might adhere to them too strictly. It’s also been called confusing and due to its stance on dairy, gluten and grains, said to fuel the abundance of mixed messaging when it comes to healthy diets.
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If you can look past the lengthy guidelines and catchy name, it has substance. “It’s actually a very healthy diet,” Daniel says. It offers up the best bits of Paleo and veganism while giving people extra flexibility.
Being low-sugar and rich in plant-based nutrients also offers up benefits that stretch into the long-term. “It’s not designed for weight loss (although, you’ll shed the pounds), but more for health and longevity.” He adds, “Everything is in moderation and nothing is extreme such as zero carbs or animal foods.” Other benefits that you’re likely to experience are feeling less bloated, clearer skin, better digestion and fewer cravings due to its high protein content.
The bottom line
If you’re interested in veganism, but don’t want to go completely meat-free, this could offer a viable alternative provided that the guidelines are adapted to suit your particular needs and lifestyle. It is pretty tricky though and so won’t be for everyone, with its stance on grains sure to ruffle a few feathers in light of new findings. That being said though, because some gluten-free grains are included, it is less restrictive than a traditional Paleo diet.
If you’re a pegan novice, Daniel recommends taking up one or two of the principles to start with such as limiting sugar or processed foods. His other top tips include:
- Download an app such as Myfitnesspal to track your food and ensure that you’re hitting your RNI of vitamins and minerals.
- Keep it unprocessed and avoiding too many gluten-free alternatives as they can be high in preservatives.
- Use Pinterest for recipes. It’s a great resource for culinary inspiration.