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What Is the Pegan Diet? Experts Share the Pros and Cons of the Mostly Plant-Based Lifestyle

Hint: It’s a combination of “paleo” and “vegan.”

You’ve heard of all the most popular diets of the moment: vegan, flexitarian, keto, plant-based, paleo, Mediterranean, Whole30. But is peganism (yes, you read that right) on your radar?

The pegan diet—a combination of eating vegan and paleo—is one of the latest eating plans touted as being great for your health. Created by bestselling author Mark Hyman, M.D. and detailed in his book, the pegan diet emphasizes plants over anything else: Most of each plate will be vegan, while a quarter of your diet is meat and eggs.

“It’s not one of the more well-known diets that have been around for many years,” explains Selvi Rajagopal, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine and a dual-board-certified medical weight management specialist. But “it does have similarities with some of the eating patterns that have been studied more.”

Dr. Hyman claims the diet can spur weight loss, balance blood sugar, and lower inflammation, leading to overall better health. However, the plan also has its skeptics, and it’s very restrictive. Here’s everything you need to know about the pegan diet, according to experts.

What is the pegan diet?

Again, the pegan diet combines veganism with paleo. Think of it more as a plant-focused paleo or a modified version of vegetarian eating, since vegans can’t eat any animal products. Pegans, meanwhile, can.

Fruits and vegetables (plus nuts and seeds) should make up about 75% of your pegan diet, says Jerlyn Jones, R.D.N., L.D., a registered dietitian based in Atlanta. The remaining 25% of your plate can be filled with eggs, meat, poultry, and fish. Oils high in healthy fats (like coconut and avocado oils), plant-based dairy alternatives, and minimal amounts of black rice, legumes, and quinoa are also fair game. Whenever possible, emphasize non-starchy veggies (like broccoli instead of potatoes), low-glycemic foods, and organic meat.

You’ll also have to cut some foods out of your diet, Jones notes: Most grains, including oats and wheat, aren’t fair game. Plan to ditch all dairy products, too. And since this diet is inspired by paleo, processed foods are also off-limits.

What are the benefits of the pegan diet?

The pegan diet is similar to other dietary plans with proven benefits, Dr. Rajagopal notes. It’s akin to the Mediterranean diet in that it emphasizes whole foods and healthy fats, but differs because grains and dairy are excluded. For certain patients, that could be its biggest selling point.

“We know that diets that are overall lower in grains or carbs in general can be helpful for folks who have issues with blood sugar,” Dr. Rajagopal continues. “That can help with lowering their glycemic numbers.” In doing so, cutting back on grains can also help lower triglycerides, which can contribute to the hardening or thickening of the arteries, increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.

Ask yourself: “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?”

“There are always health benefits to eating more fruits and vegetables, which are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants,” Jones adds; these nutrients can help protect against inflammation, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Pegan eating also “possibly” aids weight loss, she says, “because it focuses on eating whole foods and few high-sugar and highly processed foods.”

Other potential health benefits of the pegan diet, including lower blood pressure, haven’t been observed in clinical studies, Dr. Rajagopal notes, since so little research has focused specifically on this eating plan. The jury is still out, at least on a clinical level.

What are the drawbacks of the pegan diet?

Jones is skeptical of any diet that “eliminates or severely restricts” entire food groups or macronutrients, including, in this case, carbohydrates. “Even if you take a multivitamin, you’ll still miss some critical nutrients,” she says. Dr. Rajagopal expresses similar concern over dairy, since it offers plenty of health benefits to those who can process it.

If you’re allergic to any of the diet’s key foods, like nuts or seeds, you could struggle to get enough healthy fats, Dr. Rajagopal continues. Type 1 diabetics should also exercise caution when starting any low-carb diet, she says, because it could lead to dangerously low blood sugar if not monitored.

And although it’s not quite as restrictive as keto, the pegan diet requires a lot of forethought—and money, Jones explains. “Limiting food choices or following rigid meal plans can be an overwhelming, frustrating task,” she warns. “With any new diet, always ask yourself: ‘Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?’ If the answer is no, the plan is not for you.”

There just isn’t the same amount of research backing the pegan diet as there is for other, more well-known eating plans, including the Mediterranean diet, Dr. Rajagopal explains. In the end, both experts suggest meeting with a registered dietitian or medical professional who specializes in nutrition—they can help point you in the direction of an ideal eating plan, pegan or otherwise.

Additional research by Bryce Edmonds.

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