Is Pegan the Latest Fad Diet?
Have you seen the latest headlines reporting that a Pegan diet is now the best way to lose weight? The media is abuzz with the results from the study published last week claiming that people on vegetarian diets (and particularly vegans) see greater weight loss compared to those following meat-eating diets, including the low-carb Atkins diet.
The media got wind of these results and decided to put a fun spin on things: since the thought of giving up meat makes most people shudder (for a good reason), then let’s cherry pick the “best of” Paleo and vegan diets to create the newest fad diet: Peganism. Almost overnight, the Pegan diet started dominating headlines and newsfeeds, proclaiming itself the “ultimate” way to lose weight (and basing these claims off a study which had nothing to do with “Peganism”, I might add).
As a former-vegan-gone-Paleo, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about this new Pegan diet craze in an effort to clear up some of the confusion.
What the Heck is Peganism?
The term “Pegan” (Paleo-Vegan) was coined by Dr. Mark Hyman, although to date there appears to be no official standard as to what constitutes “Peganism” (other than what Dr. Hyman has laid out on his website).
In a nutshell, here’s the tenets of the Pegan Diet (vs. Paleo):
• Low glycemic load — Like Paleo, Pegans focus on restricting sweeteners and other refined carbohydrates.
• Focus on plant foods — Low glycemic vegetables and fruits dominate the Pegan plate, making up 75% of the diet.
• Healthy fats — Like Paleo, Pegans avoid refined, industrial vegetable and seed oils, while focusing on healthier fats derived from foods like seafood, coconut, avocados, and grass-fed meats.
• Ditch the dairy — Like Paleo, Pegans avoiding eating dairy products, which are a well-known source of inflammation and allergies.
• Use meat and animal products sparingly — Pegans consume less meat than those following Paleo. Instead of the main course, meat is used as a condiment and veggies make up the main “meat” of the meals.
• Grains & Beans are in the green — Unlike the Paleo diet, Pegans allow gluten-free, whole grains and legumes in their diets, but are encouraged to use them cautiously as they can contribute to inflammation and blood sugar problems. Gluten-containing grains are NOT allowed on the Pegan diet. As for the beans – apparently no soy or peanuts are allowed, and lentils are “best”.
• Gettin’ nutty — Pegans are encouraged to eat more nuts and seeds for protein than is recommended on the Paleo diet.
Is Pegan Better Than Paleo?
In a day and age where fad diets come and go more quickly than fashion trends, it can be frustrating to know what to eat when you’re trying to achieve lasting weight loss. If you’re already on the Paleo path, then you’re well ahead of the game. The Paleo diet is popular because it’s tried and true. While some people like to proclaim that the Paleo diet is a “fad”, I like to remind these folks that humans have been eating this way for 2.5 million years, and that Paleo was the original diet of mankind.
But clearly I’m biased, since I follow the Paleo diet myself and I’ve written previously about how my veggie-based diet nearly killed me and 7 reasons why I think a vegan diet is dangerous. I’m going to try and shed my bias here and list the pros and cons of the Pegan diet, in an effort to bring clarity to the question: Pegan or Paleo?
Pros and Cons of the Pegan Diet
• Sustainability — I love the Pegan emphasis on sustainability, a passion shared by many folks in the Paleosphere. Of course sustainability only counts when it’s put into practice…
• Gluten-free — Pegans are GF, which is wise considering that gluten is a trigger for many inflammatory conditions.
• Dairy-less — Like Paleoites, Peganites opt for dairy-free, which makes sense considering that the vast majority of adults have some degree of dairy intolerance.
• Low-glycemic — I think we can all agree that it’s a good idea to restrict sugar intake, and the extra-focus on low-glycemic veggies and fruits is another tenet shared with Paleoites.
• No junk — Pegans and Paleoites unite their voices in harmony as they ‘just say no’ to processed foods.
• Fat is friend — Paleo and Pegan peeps appear to have similar taste in what constitutes a good fat.
• Less animal protein — Is this a pro? I don’t know. Perhaps some people feel better digesting less animal protein…but I’m gonna guess that these folks may have an underlying issue with low stomach acid production (hypochlorhydria) or something else going on. In any case, the jury is still out on this one…(refer to “Essential Protein” below).
• Blurry lines — Being that “Pegan” was born out of a cherry picking from the ‘best of’ Paleo and vegan, it’s not quite clear as to the exact boundaries this diet encompasses. If it’s confusing, then people will cherry pick their favorite parts of the Pegan diet, potentially ignoring other important components which could lead to dietary deficiencies.
• Whole grains/legumes — A lot of people have a whole lotta problems with the anti-nutrients contained in whole grains and beans. These anti-nutrient chemicals can trigger leaky gut and inflammatory diseases in susceptible individuals. Grains and legumes can also contribute to blood sugar dysregulation.
• Macronutrient ratio — While the king Pegan Dr. Hyman claims that Peganism provides an ideal macronutrient ratio, I’m unclear how eating 75+% plant matter would provide anything but a macronutrient ratio skewed towards the carbohydrate side of things. Does that mean a low-carb Pegan diet is out of the question?
• Get fat — Will Pegans get enough essential fats in their diets? Not if they don’t make a specific effort to include them, as plants won’t provide the fats that the body needs to survive and thrive (surthrive).
• Bioavailability — Back to the anti-nutrients contained in grains & beans (that are also found in nuts & seeds)…These anti-nutrients bind-up vitamins and minerals so that our bodies can’t absorb or use them. Vegans are at risk for deficiencies of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin A, calcium, zinc, and iron, as plant-based foods contain less of these nutrients which are also less bioavailable compared to animal-based foods. Pegans could potentially face similar vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
• Essential protein — There are certain amino acids that the body needs to stay alive, and these are the “essential amino acids. The fact of the matter is that the body doesn’t use plant-derived proteins as efficiently as proteins derived from meat (the bioavailability of vegan protein sources is low). Laboratory evaluations indicate that vegan diets are commonly deficient in the essential amino acids lysine, methionine, tryptophan, and threonine, as well as the antioxidants glutathione and taurine. Pegans could potentially face some of the same issues with protein deficiencies.
To Pegan or to Paleo? That is the Question.
As far as studies that claim proof that vegetarian/vegan diets expedite weight loss, I encourage you to take these results with a grain of salt. (Wait, is salt Pegan?) You can literally find research to support any argument or diet that you are trying to ‘prove’. Correlation does not imply causation…which means just because two things are related, does not mean that one was caused by the other. For example, the study which seemed to spark the recent Pegan craze was an analysis of 12 previous studies, which compared weight loss among vegetarians, vegans and non-vegetarians over an average of 18 weeks. The non-meat-eaters lost more weight than the carnivores. Is this surprising? People also lose weight when they starve themselves, take laxatives to the point of dehydration, or otherwise are unable to absorb nutrients through their guts into their bodies. My point is: just because a diet regimen gives quick results, does not mean that it will contribute to long-term health. And shouldn’t long-term health and safe weight loss be the ultimate goal?
So is Pegan the New Paleo?
So to wrap this Pegan party up, I’d like to take the official stance that Pegan is NOT the new Paleo. While it’s definitely a major improvement to the Standard American Diet, I am left with concerns and questions (as discussed above in the con list). Overall I don’t think it’s healthy to adhere to any one view point with such fervor that it locks us into a mindless habit or redundant routine. Even a Paleo diet can become unhealthy if the same foods are eaten repetitively, without considering the importance of food rotation and diversity to maximize exposure to the various vitamins and minerals contained within different foods. Thus I would like to propose a new fad diet: Rotatitarianism.
A Rotatitarian focuses on rotating nutrient-dense, seasonal, whole foods through their diet in an effort to break free from mindless eating habits. ;)
All in all, at the end of the day, it’s up to you. Try out Pegan for awhile, and then try Paleo on for size. Or vice versa. Listen to your body telling you what it needs to SURTHRIVE, because ultimately most individuals need to continually personalize their diet depending on their current state of health, and their unique and changing physiology. Having said that, I do trust thousands of years of history (the Paleo diet), more than a few decades of research…oh and the fact that my vegan/vegetarian diet almost killed me…but there I go gettin’ all biased again. ;-)
I’d love to hear YOUR THOUGHTS on the Pegan vs. Paleo diet debate. What way are you swinging? Leave a comment below!
Swing on…in good health,
Kinsey Jackson, LMP, MS, CNS®