Hello Pegan: Hunter-Gatherer Meets Veganator

Feel great, lose weight, live healthy: Achieving optimum health through the foods we eat.

Some people say going vegan is a healthier way to eat, while others say paleo is. Some say don’t eat meat, while others say don’t eat grain. Which is right?

Paleo vs. vegan: both have a lot in common but mainly differ on protein sources. Choosing either one means a dramatic lifestyle shift. But lately, we’ve been hearing about a “pegan” way of eating – a combination of paleo and vegan. So what’s the story behind these food trends? Let’s take a closer look.

Goodness Grown by Mother Earth

The term “vegan” was created by Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society in 1944. He formed the word using the first two and last two letters of the word “vegetarian” as a statement against vegetarians who ate dairy products. Veganism is considered to be an extreme version of vegetarianism. However, there have been ancient societies in India and along the Mediterranean where flesh-avoidance was and still is a common practice.

A vegan diet is rich in fruits, nuts, vegetables, and grains with an emphasis on being organically sourced. All animal foods and animal produced foods are not part of the vegan diet such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. Also avoided are animal derivatives used in food production such as gelatin, casein (milk protein) found in some dairy substitutes like vegie cheese, and carmine food coloring made from bugs (checked your yogurt label lately?). Vegans get their protein from plant-based foods such as soybeans, almonds, quinoa, spirulina, lentils, and chickpeas.

A true vegan will not only consume non-animal foods but also does not use any products made from animals like furs and leather belts and shoes. Some go as far as not to wear or use any wool products.

Gimme Meat to Eat

It’s been suggested that the paleo diet can make modern man healthier. The term “paleo” refers to the Paleolithic age, some 20,000 years ago, when early man was nourished by the food he hunted and gathered. Animals, fish, and eggs were on the menu and was their main source of protein —good thing since protein helped sustain them during hunts that could last for days before bagging a meaty dinner.

Fruits, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens were plentiful during the growing season depending on the region where our Paleolithic ancestors lived. Those in colder climates ate more animal protein than their sub-tropical counterparts. They lived off whatever the land would provide, eventually learning to dry foods to last through long winters.

Going paleo means avoiding all processed foods, dairy, legumes, sugar, and grains. Meats are to be grass-fed and fish wild-caught. Poultry and eggs should be pasture-raised. For less strict paleoists, grass-fed butter and ghee are allowed in the diet. Permissible sweets include limited amounts of raw/organic honey, stevia, erythritol, monkfruit, maple syrup, and date and palm sugars.

Crop cultivation and raising barnyard animals didn’t appear on the scene until around 10,000 years ago. These “convenience foods” allowed a larger population quicker access to a more bountiful food supply —sort of like today’s fast-food drive thru. Some say the dawn of agriculture initiated the altering of nutrient-rich, healthful eating.

Along Comes Pegan

Only recently has the term “pegan” popped-up in healthy eating circles. The name “pegan” was coined by Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine and champion of peganism. A pegan diet combines key principles from both vegan and paleo diets and is based on consuming nutrient-dense, whole foods that can reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and support optimal health.

So how does pegan differ from paleo and vegan? Unlike paleo, pegan allows for the consumption of certain grains like quinoa, teff, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth —exotic grains that don’t contain gluten, are not genetically modified, and have not been refined into food-like substances. These grains belong to a group called “ancient grains.” As for vegan, the difference is obvious, pegan allows for animal sourced good eats including your breakfast bacon. There are also some vegetables to abstain from such as iceberg lettuce, white potatoes, white button mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, and vegetables with a high glycemic load.

Eating pegan style means consuming mostly organic plant-based foods accompanied with small amounts of clean animal protein. Getting a daily dose of high-fiber, complex carb veggies helps support our microbiome, which is essential for maintaining good health. Visualize a plate that’s ¾ full of vegetables and fruit and ¼ full of animal protein along with a dash of healthy fat, and you’re looking at a typical pegan meal.

What’s interesting about a pegan diet is that it is science-based and surprisingly dispels some long-held food myths. Here are just some of those myths to ponder from Dr. Hyman’s book, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat:

Myth #1: Red meat is unhealthy and causes cancer and heart disease – Apparently neither meat nor its fat is the source of saturated fat that clogs our arteries and causes heart disease. Instead, meat is a great source of protein and nutrients and can be protective to the cardiovascular system. Turns out the killer kind of saturated fat comes from high-glycemic carbohydrates like potatoes, bread, and cereal according to a comprehensive study published in the Food & Nutrition Research journal in 2016.

Myth #2: Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast – Well, not exactly. Oatmeal, including steel cut oats, although good for reducing cholesterol, has a high glycemic load, spiking blood sugar and insulin levels which means you’ll be setting yourself up to overeat the rest of the day, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2014. It’s best to start your day with protein and fat.

Myth #3: Egg whites are healthier to eat than whole eggs – The yolk is the most nutritious part of the egg as it contains all the ingredients to start new life. Whole eggs not only taste better, they are more filling than egg whites. Several studies indicate eating cholesterol doesn’t necessarily raise blood cholesterol and eating eggs doesn’t cause heart attacks. The findings were published in 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Myth #4: Carbs and sugar don’t cause heart disease, fat does – We now know that sugar in all its forms, not fat, is the leading cause of heart disease as indicated in multiple studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 and Annals of Internal Medicine in 2014.

Eating the pegan way promotes a “food is medicine” lifestyle that can help prevent or even reverse chronic diseases. It is also touted to help achieve optimal weight and healthful living. It’s definitely worth checking into if you’re thinking about a healthier way to eat through smart and informed food choices. A great place to start is to read the interesting articles at drhyman.com.