Tech + Health

The Pegan Diet: Should You Try This Paleo-Vegan Hybrid?

06.30.15 9:15 AM ET

By Carey Rossi for Life by DailyBurn

If you thought meat-loving paleo folks couldn’t have less in common with vegans, it may be hard to believe the latest trend catching the eye of nutritionists and high-profile doctors nationwide. Yes, the pegan diet (paleo plus vegan) has arrived. The idea: By taking the best of popular paleo and vegan plans, you get a surprisingly sustainable way of eating. (Even renowned wellness expert Dr. Mark Hyman recently declared himself a pegan.)

“By combining the principles of these two diets and reducing their specific dietary restrictions, you get a diet that’s better balanced in regards to macronutrients, and easier to follow than a strictly paleo or vegan diet,” says Caroline Cederquist, MD, creator of bistroMD and author of The MD Factor.

“A better description is probably a very clean, modified paleo diet.”

Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, says, “Some of the problems with paleo and vegan diets are that they are difficult to follow.” For instance, people trying to go paleo tend to miss their grains, while vegans often have a hard time getting enough protein. “This approach is very sustainable for the average person,” Kirkpatrick says.

Pondering going pegan? Here’s what you need to know about this two-in-one eating plan.

The pegan diet focuses primarily on fruits and vegetables—specifically, filling 75 percent of your diet with plants, and rounding out the other 25 percent with animal protein and high-quality fats. “The pegan diet is a somewhat odd combination because the foundation of vegan diets is a belief of not consuming any animal products,” says nutritionist and chef Beth Saltz, MPH, RD. “A better description is probably a very clean, modified paleo diet.” Though the rules of the pegan diet are still evolving, these are the basic dos and don’ts of eating pegan as recommended by Dr. Hyman:

Fruits and Vegetables: Both vegan and paleo diets place an emphasis on plant-based foods, since they’re a tremendous source of the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to remain healthy. They should make up 75 percent of your diet. (Check out these 9 Healthy Dinner Recipes for Meatless Monday.)

Meat: Taking a clue from paleo, protein should come from grass-fed and antibiotic-free animals—in other words, organic. Animal protein like chicken, beef, fish, and eggs should only make up approximately 25 percent of your diet.

High-Quality Fats: Olive, coconut, and avocado oils, in addition to avocados, nuts, and other sources of omega-3 fats, are staples of the paleo diet and tend to be a part of good vegan diets, too. However, you’ll want to steer clear of peanuts, which are a legume, and limit the amount of saturated fats found in grass-fed or sustainably raised animals.

Healthy Grains: Vegans often rely on grains for energizing B vitamins. Reach for gluten-free, whole grains, such as quinoa, when you’re on a pegan plan.

Lentils: A nutritional powerhouse and great source of meatless protein, small beans like lentils are allowed in limited portions. Other beans or legumes like pinto and peanuts should be avoided.

Dairy: Shunned by vegan and paleo dieters alike, dairy has no place in the pegan eating plan, since many people have a hard time digesting it.

Soy: This vegan diet staple is a no-no in the pegan and paleo camps. Why? Research links the bean to disrupting hormones and it also tends to be genetically modified.

Sugar: As with most healthy diets, sugar should be viewed as a treat and used sparingly. Too much of the sweet stuff has been linked to obesity and disease, so cutting back will do your body good.

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By encouraging people to stick with plant-based foods and limit sugar, there’s no doubt that the pegan diet is good for your health. Sticking to this hybrid plan has the potential to provide benefits such as lower cholesterol and a decreased risk of diabetes, Dr. Cederquist says.

Yet, if weight loss is your main goal, you might want to seek out a plan featuring more protein, Cederquist says. “The nutritional balance I have found to be most effective for weight loss is a reduced calorie diet with 35 to 40 percent of the calories coming from protein.” She points out that protein is essential in helping to maintain lean muscle mass, which is instrumental in helping to burn excess calories and fat. “Without enough protein, your body will lose muscle mass and in turn be less effective at losing weight,” Dr. Cederquist says.

That being said, peganism is a very viable way to eat. “Basically, it sounds very healthy and eliminates a lot of problem foods,” Saltz says. The only tenement of peganism she disagrees with is the idea of limiting beans. “Beans are extremely healthy one-ingredient foods, high in fiber and an inexpensive protein source,” Saltz, who teaches healthy cooking classes in Los Angeles, says. “My advice is go full steam ahead if you want to try the pegan diet, but do not exclude beans.”

Ready to give the pegan diet a go? Saltz designed the sample meal plan below to guide you in creating your own meals, if peganism is something you want to try. Bon appetit!

DAY 1

Breakfast: Salad with veggies tossed with oil and vinegar, topped with a poached or hard-boiled egg
Lunch: Lentil soup and a side of fruit
Snack: Celery or apple with almond butter
Dinner: Stir-fry with chicken
Dessert: Mixed berries

DAY 2

Breakfast: Chia pudding made with nut milk topped with almonds and berries
Lunch: Big spinach salad topped with salmon
Snack: Hard-boiled egg and carrots
Dinner: Sweet potato, zucchini noodles, and meatballs
Dessert: Banana with almond butter

DAY 3

Breakfast: Smoothie made with spinach, avocado, blueberries, and nut milk
Lunch: Veggie chili
Snack: Carrots with hummus
Dinner: Burger wrapped in Swiss chard, with sides of quinoa and steamed broccoli
Dessert: Chia pudding

DAY 4

Breakfast: Frittata with veggies
Lunch: Salmon with sides of steamed spinach and quinoa
Snack: Homemade trail mix with dried mango, dried bananas, walnuts, almonds, and raisins
Dinner: Roasted spaghetti squash with Bolognese sauce
Dessert: Smoothie made with coconut water, mixed berries, and banana

DAY 5

Breakfast: Sweet potato hash with two eggs
Lunch: Veggie salad topped with a large scoop of tuna salad
Snack: Smoothie with almond butter, banana, cherries, nut milk, and cacao
Dinner: Fajita lettuce wraps with sides of baked potato, broccoli, and black beans
Dessert: Mixed berries with mint