If you’re interested in healthy eating, it might feel like every year, there’s a new, buzzy way to eat that’s being touted as the best way to lose weight and feel your best.
One that’s been flying under the radar for several years that has recently gained traction again is the ‘Pegan’ diet. But what is this diet exactly, and is it something that’s actually recommended by nutrition experts?
Here’s what pros have to say about the eating style.
WHAT IS THE ‘PEGAN’ DIET
The Pegan diet was created to blend the principles of Paleo eating with the vegan diet — two seemingly incompatible eating approaches.
“The Paleo diet eliminates dairy, legumes and grains, while the vegan diet excludes all meat and animal products,” explains Laurel Jakubowski, a registered dietitian. “This diet is a somewhat flexible middle ground focused on consuming foods in their whole form with plenty of vegetables, protein and healthy fats.” The Pegan diet has been praised by high-profile figures like Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Oz, which has added to its visibility as an eating style.
Despite it’s strange name, there are some pretty convincing reasons this diet has caught on.
- It prioritizes plant foods.
“As a dietitian, I actually agree with several main ideas in this diet: Focusing on whole plant foods with incorporation of healthy, whole fats (Think: avocado instead of refined vegetable oil) as well as adequate protein,” Jakubowski says.
Most of all, she agrees with the emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables — two things most people could use more of. “Americans struggle to eat enough fiber and potassium, so the focus on increased fruits and vegetables is a significant plus,” adds Jane Pelcher, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
- It may have health benefits.
The diet encourages nuts and omega-3 rich foods while eliminating processed foods and reducing added sugar. “This is fantastic for lowering the risk of diabetes, renal disease and cardiovascular issues,” Pelcher notes.
Like most highly specialized diets, there are also some downsides to Peganism:
- It’s restrictive.
Among the food groups the Pegan diet recommends removing or limiting are dairy, grains and legumes. “I would definitely not recommend taking out grains as an entire food group,” Jakubowski says. “Even if an individual finds themselves wanting to eat gluten-free, there are plenty of healthy grains that do not have gluten and can help bulk up plant-based meals to make them more hearty.”
Jakubowski also would prefer to keep beans and legumes in a well-rounded diet. “They are a major source of plant-based protein that is low in fat and high in fiber, iron and phytochemicals that have been linked to numerous health benefits.”
Pelcher notes dairy is an important source of calcium that people could be missing out on if they remove it from their diet completely.
- It’s not easy to implement.
“Individuals will need to spend a fair amount of time on meal planning, grocery shopping and learning how to cook in order to follow this diet,” Pelcher says. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but there are ways to eat healthy that require less of a time investment.
Plus, it’s a pretty pricey way to eat. “The Pegan diet is not ideal for individuals on a tight budget since it focuses on purchasing fresh, local, sustainable and organic foods, which usually comes with an expensive price tag. Keep in mind that frozen, canned and non-organic produce is just as nutritious as its fresh counterpart!”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Overall, dietitians have mixed feelings about this way of eating. “I would not recommend this diet in its entirety, but I would definitely recommend the overall reduction of animal proteins and increase in plant-based meals to almost everyone,” Jakubowski says.
“Those who want to lose weight could see success if they focus on whole foods and eliminate more processed foods, and individuals wanting to reduce their animal product consumption could take pointers from this diet as well. Focusing on fruits and vegetables at meal times could greatly increase individuals’ fruit and vegetable consumption, which has exponential ability to improve overall health.”
For her part, Pelcher does not recommend the diet because it’s expensive and restrictive. “The fear-inducing information about beans, gluten and dairy may cause dieters and individuals with eating disorders to create unhealthy relationships with harmless and nutritious foods,” she points out.
But there are some things the diet promotes that she agrees with: “I would recommend beneficial components of the Pegan diet such as increased intake of fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts as well as reduction of added sugars and elimination of processed foods. Almost everyone can improve his or her health by adopting those components.”