BlogWeight LossPegan Diet: Definition, Food List, Recipes

Pegan Diet: Definition, Food List, Recipes

Mariia Roza
Written by Mariia Roza on June 17, 2021
Medically reviewed by Dr. Olena Avdiievska

Table of contents

Developed by Mark Hyman, the pegan diet has gained popularity in recent years. Its name and some of its principles are controversial and widely discussed by nutritionists and dietitians all over the United States. What makes it so popular, and is it worth trying? Let’s find out together with the Unimeal experts!

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What is a pegan diet?

In his multiple interviews, Mark Hyman, MD, explains that he came up with the idea of the pegan diet when he was eating out with two friends, one of whom was a vegan and another a paleo diet follower. They started a discussion about which of the diets were more beneficial for health. By listening to all the advantages of his friends’ two diametrically opposite eating systems, Mark understood that he must be a “pegan” then, combining some principles of the paleo and the vegan diets in his own eating patterns. 

He saw that the vegan and the paleo diet have much more in common between themselves than any of them with a traditional American diet.

Paleo and vegan diets have much in common
Paleo and vegan diets have much in common

The core reason why he decided to write The Pegan Diet: 21 Practical Principles for Reclaiming Your Health in a Nutritionally Confusing World was that in a modern world, most of the eating systems are something like religion or politics. You either believe some dietitian approaches, or you deny them. So, Doctor Mark Hyman’s idea was to develop a concise system that would incorporate the best parts of various diets so that Americans know what they should eat to lose weight and improve their health.

The pegan diet plan 

According to Mark Hyman, the pegan diet, combining fundamental principles from paleo and vegan diets, reduces inflammation and balances blood sugar. It supports optimal health thanks to whole nutrition-dense food. The thing is, the major focus of the pegan diet is on vegetables and fruits, while animal protein can be consumed only in moderation. As the diet is rich in seeds and fish, it also fills you with healthy unsaturated fats, omega 3, 6, and other nutrients.

The restricted consumption of heavily processed foods like sugar or processed oils, as well as the minimized consumption of dairy and gluten, should also prevent inflammations.

Mark Hyman also offers to minimize the consumption of products considered healthy by most nutritionists. For example, he offers to refrain from gluten-free grains and legumes. According to Mark, these products may increase blood sugar. All in all, Mark Hyman’s diet can be described as the cleanest diet you’ve ever tried. With this being said, the author himself states that pegan is more liberal compared to its parents: Paleo and vegan diets.

The main principles of the pegan diet

Even though Mark Hyman states that his diet is not dogmatic, most of his recommendations are quite strict.

For example, you should eat only whole foods that have undergone little to no processing. Artificial coloring, flavoring, preservatives should be avoided. In some interviews, Mark Hyman states that these additives can affect the blood sugar level and stimulate inflammations. 

Vegetables and fruits should compose 75% of your daily ration. You should opt for low-glycemic(1) plants to minimize your blood sugar response and get the most from nutrient-dense but low-calorie products. 

Those who have normalized their weight and blood sugar can have some small amounts of starchy vegetables like sweet potato or winter squash and, occasionally, some lentils.

Even though pegan is not a protein-rich diet and is plant-based mainly, animal protein should also appear in your meals. However, you should choose only grass-fed pasture-raised meat. As Mark Hyman says in his interview with Rachel Ray on her Youtube channel, “factory-farmed meat is not good for you, it’s bad for animals, and it’s bad for the planet. So you have to know where your food comes from.”

You should also consume fish with low mercury content. As a rule, these are wild-caught fishes, like salmon and sardines. 

Foods to avoid on a pegan diet

One of the main counterarguments to the pegan diet is that it’s highly restrictive and in some cases, there is no scientific evidence proving that such restrictions are necessary. See below the list of products you should avoid while on a pegan diet:

The Pegan diet prohibits some food groups
The Pegan diet prohibits some food groups
  • Dairy. All cow dairy is abandoned, though goat milk products are permitted in limited quantities, as well as some grass-fed butter.
  • Gluten-containing grains.
  • Gluten-free grains should be eaten just occasionally.
  • Legumes should be limited due to their potential to increase blood sugar. However, low-starch legumes, like lentils, may be permitted in small quantities.
  • All kinds of refined or not refined sugar (like agave syrup, honey, or maple syrup) should be minimized. 
  • Refined or highly processed oils, like canola, soybean, sunflower, or corn oil, should be avoided.
  • Conventionally farmed meats or eggs are under restriction.
  • Alcohol should be minimized. However, Doctor Hyman himself sometimes can have a tequila shot (which is considered a paleo-friendly spirit).

Mark Hyman is strictly against products that contain lactose and gluten. However, these foods are unadvisable only for those with lactose or gluten intolerance. 

The pegan diet shopping list

Shopping while on a pegan diet can be much more challenging than you’ve got used to. First of all, you will have to choose local farmer markets and organic shops, as you rarely find foods with traceable origin in large supermarkets. Moreover, in a supermarket, you have more chances to compare the prices. Organic grass-fed meat or wild-caught salmon might cost twice the price of average factory-produced products. This might be painful and would definitely make your wallet lose some weight.

The food pyramid of a pegan diet

  • Non-starchy vegetables, herbs, and spices as a basis
  • Healthy fats: 3 to 5 servings
  • Protein: 4 to 6 servings of animal protein and up to 1 cup of legumes
  • Fruits and starchy vegetables: up to 1 cup of low-glycemic fruits and half a cup of legumes
  • Gluten-free grains: half a cup to one cup

Stick to this pyramid when you go shopping, think of the recipes you will use, plan your meals beforehand, and never go shopping on an empty stomach.

Pegan diet recipes

Recently, Mark Hyman has presented a new book of recipes. However, you can always make up some recipes yourself by simply combining paleo and vegan principles. Here are some examples of pegan recipes.

Green shakshuka

Green shakshuka
Green shakshuka

You will need:

  • 1 cup of kale
  • 1 cup of spinach
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cilantro and parsley

How to cook:

  • Preheat the frying pan and pour some olive oil in it.
  • Dice onions and finely chop garlic. Put them into heated oil and fry until golden brown.
  • Add spinach and kale into the pan. Stir for 1 minute until the volume of leafy greens is decreased several times.
  • Pour eggs into the pan, one at a time, making three separate portions. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Put the lid over the pan and reduce the temperature. 
  •  When the eggs are almost ready, sprinkle them with chopped cilantro and parsley.

Mullet with fresh mint

Mullet with fresh mint
Mullet with fresh mint

You will need:

  • 4 bowelled and descaled mullet fishes
  • 100 g of finely chopped mint leaves
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 100 ml of organic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Recommended to serve with broccoli or cauliflower puree

How to cook:

  • Preheat the oven to 65 C.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan and fry mullet, 4 minutes on both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay the fish out on the plates and put them into the oven.
  • Meanwhile, finely chop garlic.
  • Pour vinegar into a small saucepan and add one tablespoon of olive oil. Add garlic and mint leaves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
  • Boil in low heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring all the time.
  • Take the plates with the fish out from the oven and pour them with the sauce. Serve immediately.

Salmon with a salty crust

Salmon with a salty crust
Salmon with a salty crust

You will need:

  • 1 fresh salmon of about 1,2 kg
  • 2 kg of coarse salt
  • Juice from 3 lemons
  • 100 ml of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

How to cook:

  • Preheat the oven to 250 C.
  • Bowel the salmon, but leave its head.
  • Put the salmon into the baking pan and cover all of it except for the tail, with salt (the layer of salt should be at least 1 cm).
  • Put the salmon into the oven for 40 minutes.
  • Before serving the fish, take off the crust. It will come off with the skin adhered to it.
  • Make a sauce for the fish. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir well and serve next to the fish.

Pros and cons of the pegan diet

Mark Hyman says that the pegan diet was created as a lifestyle, not as a short-term diet. But is it truly sustainable for life? What is more, is it worth it? Check out the pros and cons of this eating system and see for yourself.

Pros

  • If we compare the pegan diet to its parents: paleo and vegan diets, we can state that it is less restrictive.
  • The pegan diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It also restricts the consumption of overly processed foods which makes it beneficial for your health.
  • It eliminates gluten and lactose so that it will suit people with gluten or lactose intolerance.
  • It is based on plants with a low glycemic index, so it won’t stimulate insulin production and will help normalize blood sugar levels.
  • It can help you lose weight, as the lower insulin response can lower your hunger urges. What’s more, the fiber contained in plants makes you feel full for longer.
  • Controversial advantage: Some people prefer restrictive diets, as they are somehow easier to follow. When they eliminate some food groups from their diets, they don’t have to think about what to eat or how to calculate their portions. Instead, they can just follow the strict rules.
  • Controversial advantage: The pegan diet states that you should opt for grass-fed sources when you consume meat. According to Mark Hyman, this makes the diet more sustainable for the environment.

Cons

  • Too harsh restrictions are not always necessary. 
  • In his interviews, Doctor Mark Hyman often uses moralizing language, dividing foods into “good” and “bad”, telling that some foods “poison your body,” etc. The latter leads to the next weak point.
  • Being an ultimate “clean diet,” the pegan diet can lead to orthorexia(2), the morbid obsession with healthy eating. 
  • The pegan diet is quite expensive. Buying grass-fed meat, wild salmon, and organic veggies can make a tiny black hole in your family budget.
  • As a highly restrictive eating system, the pegan diet is hardly sustainable for life.

Summing up

Pegan diet is not a keto, however, it is still relatively moderate in carbohydrates. This surely helps control blood sugar levels, hunger urges, and lose weight, just like any low-carb diet

It is true that people are confused and fed up. In his diet, Mark Hyman wanted to create a system that would combine basic nutrition principles the science has right now. However, in his interviews, he sometimes makes statements with no scientific basis. 

For example, in his interview for The Chopra Well YouTube channel, he said that “eating ultra-processed foods makes you more susceptible to Covid and dying from Covid”. 

Hold on, what? 

This is what makes me so confused about his dietary approach! He combines not only paleo and vegan diets but also scientific knowledge with some unprovable and freckles statements.

Mark Hyman constantly repeats in his interviews that “food is your medicine.” What’s more, he repeatedly uses moralizing language, stating that “not clean” products are poisonous and lead to diseases. 

However, he forgets that not everything natural is superior, and not everything processed is poisonous. And eating is not a black-and-white process. 

Sources

  • Vega-Lopez S., Venn B. J., Slavin J. L. (2018, October). Relevance of the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for Body Weight, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients. DOI: 10.3390/nu10101361
  •  Scarff J. R. (2017, June). Orthorexia Nervosa: An Obsession With Healthy Eating. Federal Practitioner. PMID: 30766283