What is the Pegan Diet?

What is the Pegan Diet?

The pegan diet is a mash-up of two popular styles of eating: vegan and paleo. With the vegan diet’s strict adherence to animal-free eating and paleo’s reputation for being meat-centric, it might seem like these two eating styles are opposites. And yet, the pegan diet attempts to blend the best of both worlds. How does it work, and is it sustainable? Let’s take a look.

More About the Pegan Diet

The pegan diet borrows its plant-based philosophy from the vegan diet and its love of meat from the caveman-inspired paleo diet. If you need a refresher, the paleo diet attempts to model what those living 2.6 million years ago in the Paleolithic era ate: vegetables, fruits, fish, meat and nuts. It excludes dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, oils, salt, alcohol and coffee. Veganism, on the other hand, allows only the consumption of plant-based foods and prohibits the eating of animal-based foods. The main principle of the pegan diet is its emphasis on whole foods and its limitation of processed foods. Specifically, the pegan diet encourages its followers to make 75 percent of their diet plant-based, with the remaining 25 percent of foods coming from animal sources.

Anything Else I Should Know?

Yes. While the pegan diet’s emphasis on plant foods is a good one, it also includes other strict parameters that aren’t proven to benefit health. For example, gluten is not allowed on this diet—and not because of legitimate health conditions like celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Instead, gluten is restricted for a few less-scientific reasons. For starters, milling technology hadn’t yet been invented in the Paleolithic era, so grains weren’t part of caveman diets. It’s also shunned for other reasons which are unproven in the published nutrition literature. Gluten-free grains, however—like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and amaranth—are allowed, but recommended to be eaten infrequently and in small amounts.

Dairy is prohibited on the pegan diet and legumes are severely limited as well. This diet also advocates for buying organic produce and other products and eating grass-fed, pasture-raised sources of animal foods. Pegan followers are also advised to limit additives, pesticides, preservatives, and artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners as much as possible. By limiting these elements, the pegan diet emphasizes eating “clean”—a trendy buzzword for a way of eating that has no concrete definition and thus no research-documented impact on health.

The Research

While research has been conducted on the benefits of consuming more fruits and vegetables, fiber and healthy fats, quality research on the health effect of the pegan diet is limited or nonexistent. We have have not been able to find any randomized controlled trials—the gold standard for research—demonstrating the specific benefits of adopting the pegan diet.

Conclusion: The Pegan Diet Adds to Confusion

The pegan diet gets a few things right with its emphasis on eating more fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins. But the idea that everyone can or should avoid dairy, grains and legumes is not realistic nor is it supported by scientific evidence. There is also no evidence to support the idea that people without a gluten allergy or intolerance should avoid gluten. Pegan’s emphasis on minimally processed and organic foods isn’t practical for many people who can’t afford all-organic diets, and also requires that followers have a more-than-typical amount of time available for cooking and planning meals—a luxury many people don’t have. The concept of this diet, combined with its number of restrictive rules, will likely make it hard to follow long-term and add to confusion about what to eat and why.

This article includes contributions from Ali Webster, PhD and Kris Sollid, RD.