One of the leading influencers in nutrition and a functional medicine doctor, Mark Hyman, coined this term to describe a combination of the recently popular Paleo and Vegan Diets. It essentially takes the best of both diets. Paleo, with its limitations on grains, sugar, dairy, legumes and beans, is a great way to maintain a low-glycemic diet. Vegans, on the other hand, are able to get a much higher dose of fiber, nutrients, minerals, vitamins through a primarily plant-based diet.
But there are drawbacks to both. Paleo lovers tend to overeat animal protein, when realistically our Paleolithic ancestors did not eat nearly as much as we do, while many Vegans still find themselves deficient in protein and vitamins, like the B12 found in animal foods.
Mark is famous for his guidance to, “Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.” and this still holds true for the Pegan Diet.
The Rules of Peganism
One of the most important things to remember when following any good diet is to get the portions right and that plants will always take centre stage. The Pegan diet is primarily a plant-based diet, with limited amounts of sugar, high-glycemic fruits, dairy, animal protein, whole-grains and beans, while toxic foods are meant to be avoided.
It allows you to eat all food groups, but in the right portions. Half your plate should be made up of, mostly non-starchy, vegetables, while meat and animal products should be side dishes. Fruit should be primarily low-glycemic like apples, berries, kiwis, and watermelon. Healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, are recommended, from nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados; this even includes some saturated fat from fish, whole eggs, and grass-fed or sustainably raised meat, grass-fed butter or ghee, and organic virgin coconut oil. You should limit: 1) sugar or insulin spiking foods (like refined carbs), 2) dairy except for a little bit of yogurt, kefir, cheese and ghee, preferably from goats or sheep products because its easier to digest than cow, 3) whole grains, which can raise blood sugar and should be eaten in small ½ cup portions, and 4) starchy beans, which are also insulin-spiking, though lentils are moderately better.
What to Avoid
You should completely avoid 1) toxic foods, such as pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and GMO foods, and anything you can’t pronounce, like chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes, artificial sweeteners, or other junk ingredients, 2) vegetable, nut, and seed oils, like canola, sunflower, corn, grapeseed, and especially soybean oil, which are mostly refined, and 3) gluten which is gut-damaging. Gluten, the protein in wheat, barley and rye, is unfortunately most often found in a genetically modified form of wheat that lacks nutrients and is most likely sprayed with the highly dangerous herbicide, glyphosate. The wheat our ancestors ate (like spelt or einkorn) did not do damage to the gut the way it does to us now, and was a much more nutritious grain. Fish should be sustainably raised or harvested low-mercury, high omega-3 fish, like sardines and wild caught salmon, which are unfortunately hard to find in India.
Essentially Peganism is a low-glycemic diet, that allows you to get protein, amino acids, nutrients, vitamins and minerals by ensuring you still have variety in your diet, without overdoing foods that will spike your blood sugar or make your blood pH overly acidic. By eating mostly plants, you’ll be eating more alkaline foods than we are used to in the modern day diet, hence creating more balance in your blood’s pH levels.
The Pegan diet is a call for “clean, organic eating.” It accounts for toxicity and the harm we are doing to the soil, sea and animals we eat. Perhaps Mark should modify his quote to be, “Eat CLEAN, NON-TOXIC Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”
And the real bottom line - No one diet works for everyone. Our unique bio-individuality requires us to find the diet that works just for us, and this is where Certified Health Coaches can guide you to find the right path.
Stocking Your Pegan Pantry
Since 70-80% of your diet is going to be plant-based, expect to be shopping primarily in the produce aisle. Here are 7 rules to create your Pegan Pantry.
Buy vegetables in a variety of colours, such as leafy greens, broccoli, red cabbage, carrots, yellow peppers, bitter gourd, and cucumbers. Limit starchy vegetables, like pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
Fruits should be primarily low-glycemic. Think apples, not bananas. (Though tropical fruits in the hot summer are ok in moderation).
Stock up on good fats to cook with. Living in India, that means grass-fed ghee and organic coconut oil.
Get even more good fats with avocados, till (sesame) oil as a condiment, whole eggs and a small amount of sustainably raised, organic meat if you need it.
If you want dairy, grab some organic yogurt and goat cheese for easy digestion.
Choose only whole grains, like steel cut oatmeal (not instant), millet, red rice or amaranth.
Stock up on lentils and less starchy beans, like green peas and chickpeas.