Looking for a healthy way to eat that isn’t too extreme? Try the Pegan Diet…
We humans are fickle creatures – always looking for a quick fix or the latest fashion, and this doesn’t necessarily bode well for our health. It seems there is a “hot” new diet trend practically every day, and most of them are passing fads that disappear as quickly as they arrived. Dietary changes that make a real difference are the ones that we stick with long-term. If a diet does promise “quick results,” it is likely not particularly good for you! After all, it takes time for your body to adjust and respond to a new nutrition or exercise plan.
While countless diet fads have come and gone, most of the ones that stick around are those that people are able to stick with and see results from over time. Personally, I’m not a fan of most “diets”, as I think what really matters is simply eating healthy foods, and avoiding the unhealthy ones – simple as that. However, once in a while, one comes along that catches my attention, and this is the case with the so-called “Pegan Diet.”
A long-time Primal/Paleo fan, I also know that eating meat is an iffy proposition for many reasons in today’s world – encompassing both problematic environmental impacts, as well as potential health risks. Both of these issues largely stem from the unsustainable practices of raising meat animals in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), but to raise all meat in a more ethical and sustainable way would be impossible with the amount of meat we consume as a nation today.
This is why I favor Primal eating – but with a heavy lean towards vegetable sources, and less dependence on meat. This is exactly what the Pegan Diet model promises.
The “Pegan” Diet is a combination of the Vegan and Paleo diets, and the term was coined by functional medicine doctor, Mark Hyman, in his new book, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?.
As with most successful “diets,” you should consider this a whole-life eating plan, rather than a short-term diet.
Want to try it? Here are the basic principles of the Pegan Diet, according to Hyman’s book:
1. Stay away from sugar.
That means a diet low in anything that causes a spike in our insulin production—sugar, flour, and refined carbohydrates. Think of sugar in all its various forms as an occasional treat, that is, something we eat occasionally and sparingly. I tell people to think of it as a recreational drug. You use it for fun occasionally, but it is not a dietary staple.
2. Eat mostly plants.
As we learned earlier, more than half your plate should be covered with veggies. The deeper the color, the better. The more variety, the healthier. Stick with mostly nonstarchy veggies. Winter squashes and sweet potatoes are fine in moderation (½ cup a day). Not a ton of potatoes! French fries don’t count even though they are the No. 1 vegetable in America.
3. Easy on fruits.
This is where there could be a little bit of confusion. Some Paleo champions recommend eating mostly low-sugar fruits like berries, while some vegan advocates recommend all fruit equally. I find that most of my patients feel better when they stick to low-glycemic fruits and enjoy the others as a treat. Stick with berries, and watch the grapes, melons, and so on. Think of dried fruit as candy, and keep it to a minimum.
4. Stay away from pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and GMO foods.
Also, no chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes, artificial sweeteners, or other junk ingredients. If you don’t have that ingredient in your kitchen for cooking, you shouldn’t eat it…
5. Eat foods containing healthy fats.
I’m talking about omega-3 fatty acids and other good fats like those we find in nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados. And yes, we can even eat saturated fat from fish, whole eggs, and grass-fed or sustainably raised meat, grass-fed butter or ghee, and organic virgin coconut oil or coconut butter.
6. Stay away from most vegetable, nut, and seed oils.
This includes canola, sunflower, corn, grapeseed, and especially soybean oil, which now accounts for about 10 percent of our calories. Small amounts of expeller or cold-pressed nut and seed oils like sesame, macadamia, and walnut oils are fine to use as condiments or for flavoring. Avocado oil is great for higher-temperature cooking.
7. Avoid or limit dairy.
…Dairy doesn’t work for most people, so I recommend avoiding it, except for the occasional yogurt, kefir, grass-fed butter, ghee, and even cheese if it doesn’t cause any problems for you. Try goat or sheep products instead of cow dairy. And always go organic and grass-fed.
8. Think of meat and animal products as condiments or, as I like to call them, “condi-meat”—not a main course.
Vegetables should take center stage, and meat should be the side dish. Servings should be 4 to 6 ounces, tops, per meal. I often make three or four vegetable side dishes.
9. Eat sustainably raised or harvested low-mercury fish.
If you are eating fish, you should choose low-mercury and low-toxin varieties such as sardines, herring, anchovies, and wild-caught salmon (all of which have high omega-3 and low mercury levels). And they should be sustainably harvested or farmed. Check out www.cleanfish.com and www.foodthebook.com to learn more about your fish options.
10. Avoid gluten.
Most gluten comes from Frankenwheat, so look for heirloom varieties of wheat like einkorn. Eat wheat only if you are not gluten-sensitive, and even then, only occasionally. Dr. Alessio Fasano of Harvard, the world’s top gluten expert, has done research showing that gluten damages the gut—even in non-gluten-sensitive people who show no symptoms.
11. Eat gluten-free whole grains sparingly.
They still raise blood sugar and can trigger autoimmunity. All grains can increase your blood sugar. Stick with small portions (½ cup per meal) of low-glycemic grains like black rice, quinoa, teff, buckwheat, or amaranth. For type 2 diabetics and those with autoimmune disease or digestive disorders, a grain- and bean-free diet may be key to treating and even reversing your illness.
12. Eat beans only once in a while.
Lentils are best. Stay away from big starchy beans. Beans can be a great source of fiber, protein, and minerals. But they cause digestive problems for some, and the lectins and phytates they contain may impair mineral absorption. If you are diabetic, a high-bean diet can trigger spikes in your blood sugar. Again, moderate amounts (up to 1 cup a day) are OK.
13. Get tested to personalize your approach.
What works for one person may not work for another. This is called bio-individuality, and it is why I recommend that everyone eventually work with a functionally trained nutritionist to personalize their diet even further with the right tests. If you’re interested in getting tested and coached by one of my nutritionists, visit www.foodthebook.com/diet for more information.