What do you get if you cross a vegan diet with a paleo diet? And is it even possible? One involves animal protein and the other avoids it at all costs. Welcome to the Pegan Diet, a portmanteau coined by US physician Dr Mark Hyman. He came up with the concept after being caught in the middle of a discussion between a paleo devotee and a follower of the vegan diet. Dr Hyman realised his own healthy way of eating was a combination of the two, fusing a wealth of plants (vegan) with high-welfare meat, fish and eggs (AKA paleo). This month, he brings it all together in his latest book The Pegan Diet: 21 Practical Principles for Reclaiming Your Health in a Nutritionally Confusing World, out 25 February, £14.99
What is the Pegan Diet?
It may sound like never the twain shall meet, but the two diets are surprisingly compatible. The 'paleo' way our ancestors ate contained a surprising number of plants. 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.
It’s a yes to abundant veg (except corn and white potatoes), and to high-welfare protein (organic, pasture-raised meat and eggs, wild-caught or sustainably farmed fish, although it shouldn’t be the main proportion of your meal). There are limited carbs as well as healthy fats with every meal such as nuts or avocado. Out are grains (apart from quinoa) and dairy (other than grass-fed butter and ghee) and sugar.
This ‘food as medicine’ way of eating is designed to help us live longer, lower inflammation and slow climate change. There’s an elimination phase to help identify foods that cause ‘FLC’ (Feel Like Crap) syndrome. If you struggle with veganism, and want to do your bit for your body and the planet, this is the diet for you.
Now Dr Hyman has put everything you need to know about following a pegan diet into a book, which launches later this month. The Pegan Diet: 21 Practical Principles for Reclaiming Your Health in a Nutritionally Confusing World , £14.99, includes meal plans, shopping lists and 30 recipes.
What's in the Pegan Diet book?
First, you'll find 21 principles to follow while on the Pegan Diet, such as encouraging your kids to eat what you eat as opposed to processed 'children's food', how to eat for gut health, how to eat to boost your mood and how to make healthy habits stick. Dr Hyman is big on the idea of personalised nutrition - tailoring your diet to suit what makes you feel your best, something he encourages his own patients to do.
You begin your pegan journey with the elimination diet, which encourages you to cut out certain trigger foods that can cause headaches bloating and brain fog. "Certain foods cause an array of symptoms, or what I call FLC (feel like crap) syndrome, " he says. "Bloating, eczema, allergies, fatigues, brain food, headaches, autoimmune disease, and systematic inflammation. They can include gluten, wheat, dairy, soy, grains, beans, nightshades, eggs, sugar, and caffeinated beverages. These are not problematic for everyone, but the key is to identify if they are a trigger for you."
You reintroduce them one at a time, wait 24-hours to see if you react. "If you know that other foods bother you, then stop those too. If you’re unsure where to start, remove gluten, wheat, dairy, and sugar first,' he advises. It's a long process, but according to Dr Hyman it's the "gold standard to personalise [your] diet".
After your three-week elimination phase, you're given a road map for following the plan. You are instructed to simply "eat a variety of colourful plant foods throughout the day, add a serving or two of healthy fats to each meal." Avoid conventional dairy, gluten and sugar, he adds, food with labels (crisps have labels, avocados don't, for example), anything with ingredients you can't pronounce such as additives and preservatives and to stick to the periphery of the supermarket – the inner aisles can be a labyrinth of processed foods. Don't be too hard on yourself, he adds, and follow his Pegan Cheat Sheet.
You're shown how to prep food the Pegan Diet way, with advice on how to cook vegetables to make them tasty (no flavourless mush here), and the importance of neither overdoing or undercooking your protein. The recipes are divided up into breakfast, soups and salads, mains, sides, snacks and desserts, with meals including quinoa berry bake, chai pancakes with coconut whipped cream, creamy lemon and basil soup, spicy grain-free steak tacos and black bean brownies.
What does an independent expert think? If you can look past the lengthy guidelines and catchy name, it has substance, says nutritional therapist Daniel O’Shaughnessy. “It’s actually a very healthy diet," he says. "It offers up the best bits of Paleo and veganism while giving people extra flexibility. Think of it as a type of flexitarianism . “If you’re trying veganism and aren’t coping, then this is the diet for you.”
Being low-sugar and rich in plant-based nutrients and anti-inflammatory omega-3s, it also offers up benefits that stretch into the long-term. And indeed lowering inflammation and living long are two of the Pegan Diet's main aims. “It’s not designed for weight loss (although, you’ll shed the pounds), but more for health and longevity,” Daniel adds, “Everything is in moderation and nothing is extreme such as zero carbs or animal foods.”