Is the pegan diet the healthiest way to eat ever or just a funny portmanteau?

By Renee Cherry
Updated March 25, 2021
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You no doubt know of at least one person in your life who's tried out either the vegan or paleo diets. Plenty of people have adopted veganism for health- or environment-related reasons (or both), and the paleo diet has attracted its own sizable following of individuals who believe our cave-dwelling ancestors had it right.

While it may not boast the same level of popularity as the vegan or paleo diets, a spinoff of the two has gained traction in its own right. The pegan diet (yes, a play on the words paleo + vegan) has emerged as another popular eating style. Its premise? The ultimate diet actually combines the best elements of both eating styles.

What is the pegan diet?

If the vegan and paleo diets had a baby, it'd be the pegan diet. Like the paleo diet, peganism calls for the inclusion of pasture-raised or grass-fed meat and eggs, lots of healthy fats, and restricted carbs. Plus, it borrows the plant-heavy, non-dairy elements of veganism. As a result, unlike the paleo diet, peganism allows for small amounts of beans and gluten-free whole grains. (Related: 5 Genius Dairy Swaps You've Never Thought Of)

Wondering where this nutrition lovechild came from? It was Mark Hyman, M.D., head of strategy and innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and author of FOOD: What the Heck Should I Eat?, who first coined the term in an effort to describe his own diet. "The pegan diet combines what is best about both of these diets into principles that anyone can follow," says Dr. Hyman. "It focuses on a mostly plant-rich diet because I do think that plant foods should take up the majority of the plate by volume, but it also includes animal protein, which can also be part of a healthy diet." (Related: The Best Thing About the Top Diets of 2018 Is That They Aren't All About Weight Loss)

And what does that look like, you ask? Dr. Hyman describes a day of pegan eating as, for example, pasture-raised eggs with tomato and avocado for breakfast, a salad loaded with vegetables and healthy fats for lunch, and meat or fish with vegetables and a small amount of black rice for dinner. And for anyone who wants tips and additional recipe ideas, Dr. Hyman recently released the pegan diet book titled The Pegan Diet: 21 Practical Principles for Reclaiming Your Health in a Nutritionally Confusing World (Buy It, $17, amazon.com).

Is the pegan diet worth trying?

As with any diet, the pegan diet has its strengths and weaknesses. "It takes good parts of both diets and fuses them together," says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., owner of Nutrition à la Natalie. On one hand, this diet calls for consuming vegetables in abundance, a habit that research links to a whole host of health benefits. As mentioned, those on the diet are also encouraged to pasture-raised or grass-fed meat and eggs in moderation. These are both sources of protein, and animal products contain a type of iron that's more easily absorbed by the body than the iron in plants. As for healthy fats? Research links monounsaturated fats to a lower risk of heart disease, and they can help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. (Related: The Paleo Diet for Beginners)

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Still, the pegan diet might steer you away from eating foods that are likewise beneficial. "Personally, I wouldn't tell someone that this is what they should follow," says Rizzo. Starches and dairy are part of a healthy diet, assuming that you don't have an intolerance, she says. "There are ways to get calcium and protein if you cut out dairy, but you have to become more aware of where those things come from," she says. (Want to cut dairy regardless? Here's a guide to the best calcium sources for vegans.) Cutting back on grains could also end up costing you. "Whole grains are a huge source of fiber in your diet, and most Americans don't get enough fiber as it is," says Rizzo.

Is peganism the healthiest way to eat? Debatable. Regardless, it's a welcome reminder that you don't have to eat within the confines of an existing diet (paleo and veganism are both restrictive diets at their core) with laser focus in order to eat healthfully. If you're not one for diet rules, you can always embrace the gray area — it's called the 80/20 rule and it tastes great.

Comments (1)

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