There’s nothing cuter than a shih poo—except maybe a maltipoo. Or a puggle. Or a goldendoodle (We like dogs, sue us). Case in point: hybrids can be pretty great, and (luckily) they’re not limited to Very Good Boys. Enter, the pegan diet, a mix of the popular paleo and vegan eating plans.
Hold up, aren’t paleo and vegan diets total opposites? Kind of—the paleo dietprioritizes meats while vegans nix animal products altogether.
But the two eating plans do have some common ground: They both hinge on the idea of skipping the processed food aisle and eating closer to nature (a.k.a., eating more whole foods, lots of fruits and veggies, and less pre-packaged stuff)—and the idea of produce-forward eating is definitely gaining a following.
Now that we’ve established peganism as a real thing, here’s everything else you need to know:
OK, what is the pegan diet?
Some quick background on the pegan diet: It’s relatively new, and first became a thing in 2014 after Mark Hyman, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, referenced it in a blog post describing his own diet.
In the same blog post, Hyman pointed out that Lebron James had recently tried a paleo diet, and Rich Roll, a man who completed five Iron Man marathons in seven days (y tho?), followed a vegan lifestyle—so he thought merging the two, while still considering one’s own personal needs, seemed like a good idea.
The pegan diet has a few rules (you know, as most diets do). Mascha Davis, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticsbreaks it down like this: Eat five or more cups of vegetables, four servings of carbohydrates, three servings of proteins, two servings of healthy fats, and one dairy substitute every day. (Easy to remember: 5-4-3-2-1.)
You’ll spread this out over three meals a day, plus two snacks. Also, meat and fish can be part of the diet, but only small amounts, and you’re allowed one “cheat day,” along with two desserts and two alcoholic drinks per week. Sounds pretty doable, right?
Here’s where it gets hard: You’ll have to skip dairy and some grains, make more plant-based meals, and avoid all of that pre-packaged goodness you might turn to for convenience, which is all pretty time consuming, to say the least.
“It might work for health-conscious individuals who enjoy whole foods and are motivated to improve their diet, as well as spend the time it takes to meal prep and select whole, unprocessed foods,” says Davis. But, like any diet, it might not be sustainable for most people long-term, she adds.
The pegan diet menu
That 5-4-3-2-1 method sounds pretty easy, but, like we said before, pegans follow a fairly strict list of foods they can and cannot eat. Here’s a more detailed look at how it shakes out:
PLANTS: EAT ‘EM ALL!
A majority of the pegan diet consists of fruits and veggies, like apples, grapefruit, and peaches, along with pretty much every vegetable—as long as it’s within or below the 55 to 69 glycemic index range, says Brigitte Zeitlin, M.P.H., R.D., a dietitian at B Nutritious. You can check out the Harvard Medical School’s list of foods’ ranking on the glycemic index to see if your favorite produce makes the cut.
PROTEIN: GO. FOR. IT.
Roughly 25 percent of a pegan diet contains lean animal protein, such as chicken, eggs, fish, and lean beef. As a nod to its paleo heritage, that protein should be grass-fed and free of antibiotics.
FATS AND GRAINS: HEALTHY AND WHOLE, PLEASE.
Heart-healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and most nuts are good to go, says Zeitlin. And whole grains like oats, quinoa, amaranth, millet, and wild rice are also up for noshing—basically, anything that doesn’t contain gluten (more on that later).
STARCHY VEGGIES: SADLY, NO.
That means beets, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, and parsnips are out; they’re too high on the glycemic index for this diet, says Zeitlin.
DAIRY, SUGAR, SOY, AND LEGUMES: NAH.
If you’re following the pegan diet to a T, you can forget about yogurt, granola, edamame, and peanuts, says Zeitlin. These foods are all off limits because they can be hard to break down, which can cause gas, bloating, and sometimes constipation, she says.
GLUTEN: HARD PASS.
The only grains pegans avoid are ones that contain gluten—so any form of wheat is off limits. That means your beloved pasta—even the whole-grain kind—is a no-go, along with varieties like spelt, semolina, barley, and rye.
Cool, but will it help me lose weight?
It’s a hard… maybe? The pegan diet is loaded with fiber-packed vegetables and satiating fats, helping you feel fuller longer, which can also help you lose weight, says Pam Bede, R.D., sports dietitian for Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition. That’s because you’ll feel less inclined to fill up on sugary treats that make your blood sugar surge and crash, she says. Plus, you can eat a ton of vegetables without overdoing it calorie-wise, and those fiber-rich snacks help quiet hunger pangs.
But really, any diet will help you lose weight if you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning, says Davis, so the most important part of any meal plan is liking it enough to stick to it. “You have to enjoy it and be able to maintain the diet to sustain the weight loss,” says Davis.
Before you start priming yourself (and your grocery list) for this trendy eating strategy, you should know that you might feel highly restricted when you get started, says Bede. She says she wouldn’t recommend it to athletes or super-active people because they might accidentally skimp on workout-boosting protein, calcium, and iron or other nutrients you need to keep your body running at its peak.
And honestly, even if you’re not training for a marathon, the pegan diet can still do a few not-so-great things to your body:
- Slashing dairy can deprive your body of so much calcium and vitamin D that you may need to start supplementing with vitamins.
- Cutting way back on carbs can cause glucose cravings (hello, cookies and cake!), which can lead to you eating all the carbs.
- Nixing legumes and not eating enough meat can limit muscle-building protein and energizing iron in your diet, which can really eff-up your workouts.