The pegan diet is a style of eating inspired by two of the most popular diet trends — paleo and vegan.
According to its creator, Dr. Mark Hyman, the pegan diet promotes optimal health by reducing inflammation and balancing blood sugar. However, some components of this diet remain controversial.
This article reviews everything you need to know about the pegan diet, including its potential health benefits and drawbacks.
The pegan diet combines key principles from paleo and vegan diets based on the notion that nutrient-dense, whole foods can reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and support optimal health.
If your first thought is that going paleo and vegan simultaneously sounds nearly impossible, you’re not alone.
Despite its name, the pegan diet is unique and has its own set of guidelines. In fact, it’s less restrictive than either a paleo or vegan diet by itself.
Major emphasis is placed on vegetables and fruit, but intake of small to moderate amounts of meat, certain fish, nuts, seeds, and some legumes is also allowed.
Heavily processed sugars, oils, and grains are discouraged — but still acceptable in very small amounts.
The pegan diet is not designed as a typical, short-term diet. Instead, it aims to be more sustainable so that you can follow it indefinitely.
The pegan diet, while based on principles from both paleo and vegan diets, follows its own rubric and is designed to be sustainable over the long term.
The pegan diet focuses strongly on whole foods, or foods that have undergone little to no processing before they make it to your plate.
Eat Lots of Plants
The primary food group for the pegan diet is vegetables and fruit — these should comprise 75% of your total intake.
Low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, such as berries and non-starchy vegetables, should be emphasized in order to minimize your blood sugar response.
Small amounts of starchy vegetables and sugary fruits may be allowed for those who have already achieved healthy blood sugar control prior to starting the diet.
Choose Responsibly Sourced Protein
Although the pegan diet primarily emphasizes plant foods, adequate protein intake from animal sources is still encouraged.
Bear in mind that because 75% of the diet is made up of vegetables and fruit, less than 25% remains for animal-based proteins. As such, you’ll have a much lower meat intake than you would on a typical paleo diet — but still more than on any vegan diet.
The pegan diet discourages eating conventionally farmed meats or eggs. Instead, it places emphasis on grass-fed, pasture-raised sources of beef, pork, poultry, and whole eggs.
It also encourages intake of fish — specifically those that tend to have low mercury content like sardines and wild salmon.
Stick to Minimally Processed Fats
On this diet, you should eat healthy fats from specific sources, such as:
- Nuts: Except peanuts
- Seeds: Except processed seed oils
- Avocado and olives: Cold-pressed olive and avocado oil may also be used
- Coconut: Unrefined coconut oil is permitted
- Omega-3s: Especially those from low-mercury fish or algae
Grass-fed, pasture-raised meats and whole eggs also contribute to the fat content of the pegan diet.
Some Whole Grains and Legumes May Be Consumed
Although most grains and legumes are discouraged on the pegan diet due to their potential to influence blood sugar, some gluten-free whole grains and legumes are permitted in limited quantities.
Grain intake should not exceed more than a 1/2 cup (125 grams) per meal, while legume intake should not exceed 1 cup (75 grams) per day.
Here are some grains and legumes that you may eat:
- Grains: Black rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, teff, oats
- Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans
However, you should further restrict these foods if you have diabetes or another condition that contributes to poor blood sugar control.
The pegan diet is made up of 75% fruits and vegetables. The remaining 25% is divided primarily among meats, eggs, and healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds. Some legumes and gluten-free whole grains may be allowed in limited quantities.
The pegan diet is more flexible than a paleo or vegan diet because it allows occasional intake of almost any food.
That said, several foods and food groups are strongly discouraged. Some of these foods are known to be unhealthy, while others may be considered very healthy — depending on whom you ask.
These foods are typically avoided on the pegan diet:
- Dairy: Cow’s milk, yogurt, and cheese are strongly discouraged. However, foods made from sheep or goat milk are permitted in limited quantities. Sometimes grass-fed butter is allowed, too.
- Gluten: All gluten-containing grains are strongly discouraged.
- Gluten-free grains: Even grains that don’t contain gluten are discouraged. Small amounts of gluten-free whole grains may be permitted occasionally.
- Legumes: Most legumes are discouraged due to their potential to increase blood sugar. Low-starch legumes, such as lentils, may be permitted.
- Sugar: Any form of added sugar, refined or not, is usually avoided. It may be used occasionally — but very sparingly.
- Refined oils: Refined or highly processed oils, such as canola, soybean, sunflower, and corn oil, are almost always avoided.
- Food additives: Artificial colorings, flavorings, preservatives, and other additives are avoided.
Most of these foods are forbidden due to their perceived impact on blood sugar and/or inflammation in your body.
The pegan diet discourages several foods and food groups. However, it is somewhat flexible. Limited amounts of banned foods may be allowed occasionally.
The pegan diet may contribute to your health in a number of ways.
The strong emphasis on fruit and vegetable intake is perhaps its best trait.
Fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutritionally diverse foods. They’re full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds known to prevent disease and reduce both oxidative stress and inflammation (
Because the pegan diet emphasizes nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, it may help prevent disease, promote heart health, and reduce inflammation.
Despite its positive attributes, the pegan diet also has some downsides that are worth considering.
Although the pegan diet allows for more flexibility than a vegan or paleo diet alone, many of the proposed restrictions unnecessarily limit very healthy foods, such as legumes, whole grains, and dairy.
Proponents of the pegan diet often cite increased inflammation and elevated blood sugar as the primary reasons for the removal of these foods.
Of course, some people do have allergies to gluten and dairy that can promote inflammation. Similarly, certain people struggle to control blood sugar when consuming high-starch foods like grains or legumes (
In these cases, reducing or eliminating these foods may be appropriate.
Furthermore, arbitrary elimination of large groups of foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies if those nutrients aren’t carefully replaced. Thus, you may need a basic understanding of nutrition to implement the pegan diet safely (
Lack of Accessibility
Although a diet full of organic fruits, vegetables, and grass-fed, pasture-raised meats may seem great in theory, it may be inaccessible for many people.
For the diet to be successful, you need significant time to devote to meal prep, some experience with cooking and meal planning, and access to a variety of foods that may be quite expensive.
Additionally, due to the restrictions on common processed foods, such as cooking oils, dining out may be difficult. This could potentially lead to increased social isolation or stress.
The pegan diet unnecessarily restricts several healthy food groups. It may also be expensive and time consuming.
The pegan diet emphasizes vegetables but also includes sustainably raised meats, fish, nuts, and seeds. Some legumes and gluten-free grains may be used sparingly.
Here is a sample menu for one week on the diet:
- Breakfast: Vegetable omelet with a simple green salad dressed in olive oil
- Lunch: Kale salad with chickpeas, strawberries, and avocado
- Dinner: Wild salmon patties with roasted carrots, steamed broccoli, and lemon vinaigrette
- Breakfast: Sweet potato “toast” topped with sliced avocado, pumpkin seeds, and lemon vinaigrette
- Lunch: Bento box with boiled eggs, sliced turkey, raw veggie sticks, fermented pickles, and blackberries
- Dinner: Veggie stir-fry with cashews, onions, bell pepper, tomato, and black beans
- Breakfast: Green smoothie with apple, kale, almond butter, and hemp seeds
- Lunch: Leftover veggie stir-fry
- Dinner: Grilled shrimp and veggie kabobs with black rice pilaf
- Breakfast: Coconut and chia seed pudding with walnuts and fresh blueberries
- Lunch: Mixed green salad with avocado, cucumber, grilled chicken, and cider vinaigrette
- Dinner: Roasted beet salad with pumpkin seeds, Brussels sprouts, and sliced almonds
- Breakfast: Fried eggs, kimchi, and braised greens
- Lunch: Lentil and vegetable stew with a side of sliced cantaloupe
- Dinner: Salad with radishes, jicama, guacamole, and grass-fed beef strips
- Breakfast: Overnight oats with cashew milk, chia seeds, walnuts, and berries
- Lunch: Leftover lentil-veggie stew
- Dinner: Roast pork loin with steamed veggies, greens, and quinoa
- Breakfast: Veggie omelet with a simple green salad
- Lunch: Thai-style salad rolls with cashew cream sauce and orange slices
- Dinner: Leftover pork loin and veggies
The pegan diet emphasizes a vegetable-heavy diet that also includes protein, healthy fats, and some fruit. Grains and legumes are included, but less frequently.
The pegan diet is based on paleo and vegan principles — though it encourages some meat consumption.
It’s rich in many nutrients that can promote optimal health but may be too restrictive for many people.
You can give this diet a try to see how your body responds. If you’re already paleo or vegan and are interested in modifying your diet, the pegan diet may be easier to adjust to.