The newest – and healthiest – eating protocol may, in fact, be the Pegan diet (and nope, that's no typo!)
Coined by Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, the Pegan diet unites two vastly different ways of eating on opposite ends of the spectrum: vegan, which eschews meat and animal products of all kinds, and paleo, which embraces them.
We promise – there's a logic behind this.
Hyman's thinking is to help folks unite nutrient-dense plants and vegetables with small quantities of equally nutrient-dense meat. The resulting diet, which Hyman outlines in detail in his book, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, requires that one eat mostly plants (and minimal fruit), stay away from sugar in all forms whenever possible, avoid or limit dairy and gluten, choose organic whenever possible, and supplement with "condi-meats," or small quantities of high-quality meat or fish, for their essential nutrients.
Intrigued? Here are five reasons why you should give the Pegan diet a try right now.
1. Nutrient-rich veggies should be the building blocks of your diet – but often, they aren't.
We all remember the food pyramid that encouraged Americans to bulk up the majority of their plates with carbs like rice, pasta, and bread. Luckily, we've changed our tune – these high-glycemic foods are super low in nutrients.
“You don’t need grains at all,” writes Hyman in his book. “You can get the nutrients they contain from other less problematic foods.”
While most healthy eaters today know that vegetables should make up the bulk of their plates, Hyman notes that many paleo dieters instead "use the Paleo philosophy as an excuse to eat too much meat and too few plant-based foods."
Transitioning towards a Pegan diet fixes this by dialing down the proportions of meat and dialing up the veggies. This adds necessary vitamins and antioxidants to our diets, not to mention fiber.
"Our prehistoric ancestors had a huge amount of healthy plant fiber in their diets (100 to 150 grams a day vs. 8 to 15 grams a day, which is the modern average)," writes Hyman. "Our healthy plant fiber intake doesn’t come anywhere close.”
2. Protein deficiency is a myth, but fatty acid deficiency isn't.
One of the first things well-meaning friends say when you share you’re enjoying a plant-based diet is, “Oh! But how will you get enough protein?”
But the truth is that most people manage to get enough protein just from eating enough calories. That said, vegan diets can position people for other deficiencies.
“Vegans get lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats with none of the baggage that comes with feedlot meat,” explains Hyman. “But even a perfect vegan diet won’t provide enough DHA and EPA, which are important omega-3 fatty acids. Neither will it provide enough iron, zinc, copper, or vitamin D.”
While he notes that it's certainly possible, with supplements and good planning, to get all of the nutrients you need on a vegan diet, adding a bit of grass-fed beef or wild fish in addition to all those veggies is a great way to balance things out.
"The right meat can—and should—be an essential part of the average American’s diet," writes Hyman, noting that there are no "good scientific or health reasons to avoid good-quality, organic, grass-fed, sustainably raised meat in the context of an overall healthy diet.”
3. Choosing ethical meat may be one of the best ways to change the tides of meat production.
Many people choose to eat a plant-based diet for ethical reasons – a position that certainly makes sense in the modern developed world.
“Most of the meat consumed in America and other developed countries, sadly, comes from factory farms, where animals are subjected to cruel, unsanitary, and often unimaginable conditions,” explains Hyman. “These industrial behemoths contribute to climate change, pollute the environment, and, in some cases, abuse their workers."
But instead of avoiding meat entirely, some point to another solution: demanding ethical meat.
Marissa Landrigan, a former vegetarian and the author of "The Vegetarian’s Guide to Eating Meat," outlines her decision to turn away from vegetarianism in her book, noting that she hoped to support the farmers who were raising animals ethically and humanely and thus help them find their place in the market.
This approach has already worked in the U.S. In 2015, following consumer demand for more humane eggs, McDonald's vowed to transition its entire egg supply to cage-free. The frenzy of other restaurants and retailers that followed in McDonald's footsteps essentially resulted in a marketplace devoid of caged eggs: no one was buying them, so they weren't being produced anymore.
Choosing to abstain from meat entirely certainly reduces some of the damage of the meat industry, but seeing as many Americans will continue to eat meat, no matter what, there's an argument for forcing the market to change and cater to demands for ethical meat.
4. The Pegan diet encourages people to eat real food.
In his book, Hyman explores the ways in which it’s possible to adhere to the letter of either a vegan or a paleo diet while still eating unhealthily: French fries, white bread, and table sugar are all vegan, while recipes for processed Paleo bread, cakes, and other snacks can be found all over the Internet.
That said, Hyman notes, "the best versions of both diets are built on the same foundation: Eat real, whole food.” And that's what the Pegan diet is all about.
“Vegan and Paleo diets focus on foods that don’t raise our blood sugar, plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, healthy protein and fats, and no crap," Hyman writes. By combining the two and adding certain anti-inflammatory principles from his functional medicine background, Hyman created a reset of both diets that bring them back to their roots.
5. The Pegan diet is easy to maintain.
Any diet that requires you to cut out great swaths of foods you love is difficult to maintain over the long term. But the Pegan diet is different.
By building each plate on a base of foods that don't spike your blood sugar, the Pegan diet makes it easier not to give into cravings. And seeing as the Pegan diet allows more variety than a purely plant-based diet, it tends to be easier for many people to stick with.
Moderation – with Peganism, as with anything – is the key to success. This dietary philosophy could easily become a lifelong lifestyle for anyone.
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