The Pegan Diet: Pros, Cons and Sample Menu

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on March 16, 2022
Last updated on April 20, 2022

According to experts, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all method to living a healthy lifestyle. Individualized eating programs that address the full person are necessary for success. Consult your healthcare professional or a qualified dietitian before beginning a new food plan, especially if you have an underlying health issue.

The Pegan Diet - Pros, Cons and Sample Menu

Although the paleo and vegan diets appear to be diametrically opposed, a new diet proposes that they can coexist as a unified eating plan. The Pegan diet (paleo + vegan) mixes our ancestors’ supposedly meat-centric diet with plant-based eating. Mark Hyman, MD, a celebrity functional medicine doctor, devised the diet.

What Is the Pegan Diet, and How Does It Work?

To follow a Pegan diet, you should fill 75 percent of your plate with plant-based meals and the remaining 25% with lean, sustainably sourced meats. Dr. Hyman claims that eating this manner can lower the risk of chronic disease, reduce inflammation, and improve overall health.

The Pegan diet has slowly gained popularity among individuals looking for “clean,” healthy dietary recommendations since its debut in 2014. However, the Pegan diet has been chastised for omitting or nearly omitting dairy, grains, and beans, which many nutritionists say are essential elements in a well-balanced diet.

There’s a lot to appreciate about the Pegan diet, which emphasizes unprocessed, whole foods, responsibly produced meats, and nutrient-dense vegetables. The diet, on the other hand, restricts nutrient-dense foods such as dairy, grains, and legumes, all of which have well-documented health advantages that you may not want to forego.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A PEGAN DIET?

Although it may appear that the two diets will never meet, they are actually rather compatible. Our forefathers’ ‘paleo’ diet included a startling variety of plants. It’s more about what they have in common than what they don’t, according to Dr. Hyman, a “emphasis on real, whole, fresh food that is sustainably raised” to balance health and environmental concerns. It’s obviously not for you if you’re giving up meat for ethical reasons.

It’s a yes to lots of vegetables (excluding corn and white potatoes) and high-welfare protein (organic, pasture-raised beef and eggs, wild-caught or sustainably farmed seafood, but not as the main course). Every meal has a minimal amount of carbs as well as healthy fats such as almonds or avocado. Grain (except quinoa), dairy (unless grass-fed butter and ghee), and sugar are all out.

This ‘food as medicine’ approach to eating is intended to help us live longer, reduce inflammation, and halt global warming. To help identify foods that induce ‘FLC’ (Feel Like Crap) syndrome, there is an elimination phase. This is the diet for you if you struggle with veganism and want to do your part for your body and the environment.

What Can You Consume?

Peganism, unlike some diets, has no set restrictions regarding what to eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Rather, it gives a broad overview of nutritional advice based on a few fundamental ideas.

Choosing healthy foods with a low glycemic load; eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (roughly three-quarters of your daily intake); avoiding chemicals, additives, pesticides, and GMOs; getting plenty of healthy fats like omega-3s and unsaturated fat; and eating organically and locally are the main tenets of a Pegan diet.

What You Should Know

The Pegan diet does not specify when meals or snacks should be eaten. It also doesn’t give advice on how much to eat every day or what portion sizes to choose.

While following the Pegan diet, you are not required to perfect any specific cooking style or acquire any specific products (such as vitamins or meal replacements), you may choose to purchase Dr. Hyman’s book and/or additional Pegan cookbooks. There are also a few food products on the market, such as Pegan protein bars.

You may benefit from supplementing if you are unable to satisfy your vitamin needs through food alone. Consult your doctor or a certified dietitian if you’re unclear whether you require dietary supplements.

What Should You Eat

  • Meats that have been grass-fed and/or grown in a sustainable manner
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Eggs
  • Fish

What to Avoid Eating

  • Products derived from milk
  • Grains
  • Beans
  • Sweets

Grass-Fed and/or Sustainably Raised Meats

The Pegan diet emphasizes choosing meats like beef, chicken, and lamb—and other, more unusual ones like ostrich or bison—that have been grass-fed, sustainably raised, and locally sourced. However, it’s important to note that meat makes up only a minority of the food you’ll eat. Experts instruct pegans to “eat meat as a side dish or condiment.”

Fruits and Vegetables

Unlike paleo’s rules about which fruits or vegetables our ancestors may have eaten, peganism doesn’t discriminate. All types of produce are allowed on the diet—though experts encourage choosing those with low glycemic load, like berries or watermelon, when possible.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds provide additional fiber, protein, and micronutrients on a Pegan diet. They’re also a source of monounsaturated and omega-3s, which are healthy fats.

Eggs

Eggs are another suitable protein for pegans. This breakfast food classic helps provide vitamin B12, which may run low in a limited-meat diet.

Fish

Though fish isn’t the star of a Pegan diet, it has its place in this eating plan. Dr. Hyman states that low-mercury fish like sardines, herring, and anchovies are acceptable seafood.

Dairy Products

You won’t be eating dairy on a Pegan diet, so that means no cheese, cow’s milk, or ice cream. Dr. Hyman believes cow’s milk contributes to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Grains

In line with the paleo philosophy, peganism shuns almost all grains. That means wheat, oats, barley, bulgur, and many others. Dr. Hyman’s theory is that grains increase blood sugar and can cause inflammation—but some research shows the inverse. Limited consumption of certain low-glycemic grains, such as a half-cup serving of quinoa or black rice, is occasionally acceptable on the diet.

Beans

You don’t have to swear off beans entirely on a Pegan diet, but Dr. Hyman urges caution with them, saying that their starch content can raise blood sugar. Up to one cup of beans (or, preferably, lentils) is permitted per day.

Sweets

Like many other “clean eating” diets, the pegan diet keeps sweets to a minimum as an occasional treat.

Shopping List Example

Plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables provide the majority of calories in a pegan diet. You’ll stay away from most grains and legumes, as well as processed foods and sugars. The shopping list below contains ideas for getting started on a pegan diet. Please keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive shopping list, and you may find that other foods work better for you.

  • Leafy dark greens (kale, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, collard greens)
  • Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots)
  • Fruits with a low glycemic index (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, watermelon, grapefruit, apples)
  • Meat from grass-fed cows (sirloin, lean ground beef, bison, elk, ostrich)
  • Poultry that is organic (chicken, turkey)
  • Mercury-free fish (salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies)
  • Fats that are good for you (avocados, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, olive oil)
  • Dairy-free soy products with added nutrients (milk, yogurt)
  • Grain with a low glycemic index (quinoa, black rice)
  • Lentils
  • Egg

Meal Plan Example

Your meals will be primarily plant-based because the Pegan diet is 75% vegan. Only grass-fed, organic, and sustainably sourced meat and poultry are available to strict adherents of this plan. It is, however, entirely up to you to make that decision.

The three-day meal plan that follows provides ideas on what to eat on the Pegan diet. It’s important to note that this meal plan isn’t all-inclusive. There may be other meals that are more fit for your likes, preferences, and budget if you choose to follow this eating plan.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: 1/4 cup low-carb, sugar-free granola; 1/2 cup sliced strawberries; 1 cup soy or coconut yogurt
  • Lunch: 1 cup Chicken, Vegetable, and Ginger Soup
  • Dinner: 1 1/2 cups zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) with pesto tossed with roasted tomatoes and wilted spinach and topped with Easy and Zesty Grilled Shrimp (omit sugar)

Day 2

  • Breakfast: California Summer Vegetable Omelet (no cheese); 1 High-Protein Shake With Berries
  • Lunch: 1 1/2 cups Quick Roasted Tomato Soup With Fennel; 1/4 cup Lemon-Herb Lentil Dip with 3 ounces carrot sticks; 7 walnuts
  • Dinner: 5 ounces Baked Salmon With Almond Flaxseed Crumbs; 1 cup Cauliflower Rice; 3 ounces spring mix greens with olive oil

Day 3

  • Breakfast: 1 serving Peanut Butter Cup Chia Pudding (use dairy-free milk alternative)
  • Lunch: 1 1/2 cups Kale and Cranberry Green Salad (omit feta); 1/4 cup sardines with a serving of grain-free crackers
  • Dinner: 3 ounces grass-fed steak (grilled or pan-seared); 1/2 cup Lemony Roasted Low-Carb Broccoli; 1 baked sweet potato

Advantages and Disadvantages

Pros

With its emphasis on nutrient-dense whole foods, the Pegan diet offers some advantages.

Full of fruits and vegetables – Many of us are aware that consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables is healthy for us, yet studies show the majority of Americans are still deficient in this department. A Pegan diet will certainly help to fill any gaps in your five-a-day target, providing much-needed fiber and micronutrients.

Low glycemic index – The glycemic index is a system that measures how individual foods raise blood glucose. The Pegan diet encourages followers to get educated about which foods help to stabilize blood sugar. This can be positive, especially for those with diabetes, pre-diabetes, and other insulin-related conditions.

Focus on sustainability – The paleo diet often receives criticism for its negative environmental impact. If everyone ate meat at every meal, the planet would face disastrous results of land degradation, air pollution, and water overuse. Peganism helps to mitigate this impact by encouraging the purchase of sustainably raised meat—and scaling back consumption in general.

Less restrictive than other diets – Let’s face it: It can be tough to commit 100% to paleo or veganism. Because of its middle ground between the two, the Pegan diet offers more balance and flexibility.

Cons

Like every diet, Peganism also has its drawbacks. Be aware of these concerns if you are considering the Pegan diet.

Conflicting evidence on nutrition – Expert points to a number of studies that back his belief that the food groups of dairy and grains are harmful, contributing to heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes. But there is no consensus among nutrition experts that this is true. In fact, dairy and grains have proven benefits for health.

Difficult in social situations – Though a Pegan diet may be less restrictive than fully committing to paleo or veganism, it still comes with major provisions about what you can and cannot eat. If you opt out of eating dairy, grains, and legumes, you may find yourself unable to enjoy many foods offered at social or family gatherings. It may also require you to get creative to prevent boredom or burnout.

Potential nutrient deficiencies – There’s always a risk of becoming deficient in certain key nutrients when you cut out major groups of food. Depending on exactly how you follow a Pegan diet, it’s possible you might not take in enough vitamin B12, iron, or calcium.

Cost – A Pegan diet doesn’t require you to purchase any particular costly products, but following it to the letter by buying high-end meats and farmer’s market veggies could add up financially.

While eating sustainably raised ostrich or locally sourced kale sounds great in theory, it may not fit everyone’s budget or resources.

Is the Pegan Diet a Good Fit for Your Lifestyle?

A Pegan diet lacks balance when compared to federal guidelines for a balanced diet because it excludes grains, legumes, and dairy products. For a well-balanced diet, the USDA’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating a range of nutrient-dense foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein sources, low-fat dairy products, and healthy fats. 6

Because a Pegan diet does not limit how much you can eat in a day, it does not necessarily conflict with the USDA’s daily calorie, macronutrient, or micronutrient requirements. You should be able to achieve these requirements with careful planning while keeping adhering to the diet’s authorized foods list.

Dairy, grains, and legumes are recommended as part of a healthy, balanced diet by the USDA. If you decide to go Pegan, you may need to make a determined effort to organize your meals for variety and to ensure that you’re receiving enough calcium, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin D.

Health Advantages

Both plant-based and paleo diets, according to Dr. Hyman, have similar health benefits. Plant-based diets have been shown to help treat and prevent a variety of chronic diseases, as well as promote weight loss.

Paleo diets have also been linked to weight loss and the treatment of chronic diseases, while more research is needed to determine any long-term health impacts.

However, there is little evidence that combining these two programs and restricting certain food groups improves health outcomes over a well-balanced diet. Despite the fact that dairy has a negative reputation due to its high saturated fat content, a large-scale study published in 2016 found that dairy fat is not linked to the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Health Hazards

While there are no known health dangers linked with the Pegan diet because it is still a relatively new eating pattern, limiting dairy and whole grains may cause vitamin shortages. Cow’s milk is high in calcium, protein, potassium, and vitamin D, all of which are essential components for overall health.

Whole grains are also high in fiber, as well as vital vitamins and minerals. A groundbreaking study published in 2016 found that consuming whole grains reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and all-cause death. According to study, not eating enough of them can cause thiamine, folate, magnesium, calcium, iron, and iodine deficits.

Beans, too, have numerous advantages and are often regarded as a healthy food due to their high fiber, protein, and phytonutrient content. Beans, in fact, are an excellent plant-based protein source for many vegan diets. When beans are removed from a 75 percent plant-based diet, followers risk not getting enough protein, fiber, and other essential elements.

Summary

While you won’t have to count calories or time your meals if you go Pegan, you may miss out on vital nutrients by avoiding healthful foods like whole grains, dairy, and beans. There are also more balanced diets to consider, such as the flexitarian diet or the Mediterranean diet, if you’re seeking for an eating plan that decreases inflammation and promotes excellent health.

Remember that following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you, and that many diets, especially long-term diets, simply do not work. While we do not advocate for fad diets or unsustainable weight reduction approaches, we do give the facts so you may make the best selection for your nutritional needs, genetic profile, budget, and goals.

If losing weight is your aim, keep in mind that being your healthiest self isn’t the same as losing weight, and there are many other ways to achieve health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle choices all have an impact on your overall health. The best diet is one that is well-balanced and appropriate for your lifestyle.

References

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