There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition or the “perfect diet.” Ask 10 people on the street, “How should we eat?” And you’ll get 10 different answers—guaranteed. Nevertheless, if we simply consider the essential “ingredients” every human body requires, the Pegan Diet checks off every box—blending the “best” of both worlds of the Vegan and Paleo diets, united.
What Is the Pegan Diet? While the Pegan (Paleo + Vegan) diet may sound like an oxymoron, it’s not. Instead, it is an “olive branch”—bridging the gap between two seemingly completely different eating mentalities (Paleo and Vegan) that are actually more alike than we think.
Based on the principles of eating “real food,” the Pegan diet is an approach that strips away the moralistic identities, stereotypes and food rules many people within the Paleo and Vegan food worlds create, instead encouraging us all to simply be…human.
Do as humans do and eat as humans were designed to eat, including:
- Tons of Fresh Vegetables (the main stars of your plate)
- Anti-Inflammatory Fats & Oils
- Raw Nuts & Seeds
- Some Fresh Fruits & Starchy Roots and Tubers
- Sustainably Raised Proteins
The Pegan diet recognizes that, although we live in modern-day Halo Top ice cream and Chic-Fil-A drive-thru times, the human body’s essential dietary needs have really not changed since the beginning of time. Just like plants have always needed water, sunlight, and rich soil to survive, and just like a Ferrari needs premium gasoline in the tank to go, the human body needs four main macronutrients for “thrival” (thriving + survival):
Preferably, all jam-packed with the best vitamins and minerals of course.
Pegan Diet Foods
What are the best sources of each of these macronutrients or food groups, the primary, least processed, sustainable versions?
Carbohydrates (Portion: ½ to ⅔ of your plate) – Dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, squashes, asparagus, green beans, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets, plantains, fresh fruits,(organic as much as possible, especially the “dirty dozen”). If grains and beans are desired, soaked and sprouted beans and Jasmine white rice.
Proteins (Portion: ¼ to ⅓ of your plate) – Organic, pastured, grass-fed and wild caught chicken, fish, beef, eggs, broths and organ meats.
Fats (¼ to ⅓ of your plate) – Coconut oil, ghee, avocado, coconut butter, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, raw grass-fed full fat dairy products (if dairy is tolerated, like yogurt, kefir, and grass-fed butter), raw (soaked) nuts and seeds.
Seriously, Even Animal Protein?! – Yes, even animal protein—complete sources of protein make up condiment-sized portions (about ¼ to ⅓ of the average Pegan plate for at least 1-2 meals per day, if not 3).
Obviously, the elephant in the room when it comes to Paleo and Vegan debacles is protein. Paleo people say, “Bring on the steak, bacon and eggs!” right? Whereas Vegan people say, “Meat causes cancer, makes me feel heavy and hurts the animals!” C’mon, can the two really see eye-to-eye?!
The Pegan diet preaches neither of these things. Instead, it says, stop arguing so much about who is right and who is wrong, and look to human body health and science.
The Pegan diet acknowledges that both Paleo and Vegan have benefits. Like a character strengths assessment for discovering your personal best strengths, it encourages humans to maximize the pros or top strengths of both Vegan and Paleo in order to feel, look, move and live your best life.
Vegan Diet Pros
Colorful – The primary foundation of the Vegan dietary philosophy is based on veggies. Before there were Tofurkey, 5-fruit smoothie bowls and Vegan donuts, there was dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, eggplant, carrots, beets, parsnips, herbs, leeks, Brussels sprouts, squashes and beyond. Taste the rainbow.
Nutrient Dense Whole Foods – The traditional Vegan diet also acknowledges the importance of cutting out the Standard American Diet and building your diet on real, nutrient-dense (real) foods. Not just avocado toast, canned beans, Amy’s frozen dinners, Vegan tamales, and granola, but real, whole foods including veggies, PLUS healthy fats (olive and avocado oils, olives, coconut) and moderate amounts of soaked and sprouted nuts, seeds and beans.
Sustainability – Eat from the earth, love the animals and reconnect to the land. Tis the Vegan “way of life.” A traditional Vegan diet is keen to the GMO, hormone, antibiotic and pesticide laden farming practices of the modern day, and aims to support farmers and get back to “being human”—eating and connecting to the earth as it should be.
Simple – The Vegan diet is not rocket science. Eat real foods, mostly plants, is the motto. What’s so bad about that?
Paleo Diet Pros
Balanced – The Paleo diet is founded on balanced nutrition—eating proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in just right amount that your body needs to thrive.
Nutrient Dense Whole Foods – Like Vegan, Paleo is ALL about real, nutrient-dense whole foods. Before there was Paleo pizza, pancakes, cookies, crackers, french fries and chips, there was real, whole foods.
Sustainability – “Support your local farmers and sustainable agriculture!” Paleo advocates cry. – Reach for pastured, grass-fed, organic animal meats and even grass-fed raw dairy; organic, GMO-free produce; non-hydrogenated, non-industrial fats and oils.
Simple – You can’t get much simpler than just eating real food. Meat and fish, nuts and seeds, veggies, some starch, a little fruit, no sugar, lots of water. Spice it up with herbs and spices of choice and bada bing, bada boom, dinner is served.
Not Restrictive – Aside from cutting out the usual culprits, i.e. the standard american diet, Paleo eating is all about finding the best approach for your body—for some, that’s higher carb, others higher fat, and still others, somewhere in between.
Paleo also has a substitute for practically every old staple favorite, with anti-inflammatory ingredients if you cook and eat mindfully. While some folks run into the obstacle of building their new Paleo diet (or Vegan diet for that matter) on nothing but fun foods, you can integrate Paleo pizza, pancakes and chicken tenders into your plate with an emphasis still on veggies, healthy fats and sustainable proteins. Even moderate amounts of properly prepared rice and beans (soaked and sprouted) can be included.
Vegan Diet Cons
Low Veggie Intake – Despite the word “veg” in its name, many people’s Vegan and Vegetarian based diets still neglect vegetables, opting for fruit, grains, beans, soy, and nuts and seeds as the base of meals. Translation: no color, antioxidant, vitamin and mineral rich foods (only 1 in 10 Americans eats the recommended number of veggies—CDC, 2017).
Soy Consumption – Soy is considered an essential protein source for Vegetarian and Vegan diets, however, most forms sold in stores are highly processed (read: man-made) versions of the real, fermented type.
Soy contains phytoestrogens (plant components) that are structurally similar to the estrogen that we produce in our bodies. Phytoestrogenic plants can affect our own hormones by altering the levels of estrogen in our bodies relative to other sex hormones, disrupting the body’s hormonal balance and often resulting in a decrease in estrogen production and an increase in androgens—hello PMS, acne, mood imbalances breast cancer and inflammation.
Soy also inhibits the absorption of other nutrients, thanks to the phytates and lectins on its shell. While it may be tempting to argue that cultures all over the world have been consuming soy for centuries with no side effects, soy in America agriculture today is the most frequently genetically-modified crop and it usually comes housed with a host of endocrine-disrupting pesticides.
Processed Foods – The standard American diet still carries over into Vegan fare, including seed oils, sugar, refined flour, corn, additives, and grains. These foods comprise over 50% of the total calories consumed each day by people in the industrialized world. Think: packaged and processed Tofurkey, Seitan, frozen dinners, Wheat Thins, Kashi Krunch, pretzels, energy bars, oatmeal, ice cream bars, ramen noodles, and more.
Not only are they almost completely devoid of the nutrients our bodies (and our gut bacteria) need to function at their peak, but when consumed in excess they promote weight gain, inflammation, gut dysfunction, and contribute to nearly every modern disease you can think of.
Check the ingredients: if you don’t know what sodium dioxide is, or any other chemical, neither does your body.
Identity – For some, being Vegan becomes an identity. Like being a “punk,” a “plastic,” a jock, a mathlete, or anything else in high school. Being Vegan is more than just what you eat, for some, it’s who you are.
Sweets & Treats – Vegan pancakes, Vegan cupcakes, Vegan cookies, Vegan ice cream, Vegan chocolate, Vegan _____ (fill-in-the-blank). As long as it’s Vegan, it’s all good. Think again.
B-Vitamin & Zinc Deficiencies – After about 3-5 years of feeling good on a Vegan or Vegetarian diet, many people hit a wall—fatigue, bloating, dry skin, brain fog, skin breakouts, allergies, headaches, a slow metabolism.
And many times, a blood panel and other lab tests reveal these symptoms are related to deficiencies, specifically Vitamin B12 and Zinc—two essentials missing in most Vegan and Vegetarian diets since animal protein and organ meats are the richest sources of both. In fact more than 50% of all Vegan and Vegetarians are deficient in one or both of these.
B12 is also known as the energy vitamin and plays an important role in all things metabolism. Zinc is responsible for keeping your gut lining strong and digestion in tip-top shape, as well as regulating your metabolism.
Without these two foundational substances, “holes” or “leaks” in the foundation of health, energy, immunity, skin health, metabolism and digestion happen. While you can find these two vitamins and minerals in some plant sources (like beans and spinach), they are not nearly as absorbable as animal proteins due to anti-nutrient components that bind to the vitamins and minerals themselves, making them harder to digest.
Blood Sugar Imbalances – A steady diet of acai fruit bowls, fruit juices and smoothies, grain-based diets, bars, shakes, fruit and low fat intake sends the body on a blood sugar roller coaster since its primary source of fuel is carbohydrates.
No food is innately bad, but when we lean too far right or left, away from balance, an imbalance can occur. Blood sugar imbalance symptoms range from feeling angry when hungry, low energy, cravings for sugar or caffeine, dependence on coffee to function, insatiable appetite, wired and tired at night, episodes of bingeing, shakiness or headaches before meals. Fat and protein are essentials to keep symptoms at bay.
Constipation & Bloating – Gas, bloating and constipation—“What gives?! I am eating healthy!” You cry.
Answer: often times, leaky gut. Grains, beans, and nuts all contain substances called anti-nutrients—specifically lectin and phytates. These components help plants and grains survive weather and predators in the wild, but when consumed in copious amounts, they wreak havoc on our gut lining.
Imagine if you were to swallow a pinball from a pinball machine—what would happen? It would ping around in your gut. The same thing happens with higher consumptions of foods that are unabsorbable. In addition, since Vegan and Vegetarian diets are often lacking in B-Vitamins, Zinc and amino acids (found in proteins), intestinal permeability (leaky gut), IBS symptoms and low stomach acid production are common. Stomach acid, in particular, is essential to promoting healthy digestion.
Poor Detoxification, Fatty Liver & Gallbladder Dysfunction – Low-fat diets can trigger gallbladder and liver dysfunction—inhibiting digestion and detoxification pathways. Your gallbladder is an organ that stores bile made from the liver (bile is a fluid that helps you digest fat).
When you eat healthy fats with a meal, your gallbladder releases stored bile to break down the fat so that your other fat-digesting enzymes can do their job. If you eat plenty of healthy fats, like coconut oil, fatty fish, avocados, ghee and olive oil, your gallbladder empties out pretty often. But what if your diet is mainly wheat, rice, beans, nuts, and corn, and contains almost no other sources of fat?
Unfortunately, the bile sits around in the gallbladder growing more and more concentrated. Eventually, cholesterol and other substances start to collect and may form painful gallstones, as well as put you at risk for toxic burden, low energy, and digestive difficulties.
Paleo Diet Cons
Low Veggie Intake – Similar to a Vegan diet, Paleo peeps aren’t much better. Bring on the eggs and bacon, maybe an iceberg or romaine lettuce wrap with turkey, and some broccoli or Brussels sprouts with dinner—still on the low side of veggies.
Conventional Meats – Tyson farm-raised chicken and organic, pastured chicken are two totally different birds. Conventional meats are the types of proteins associated with inflammation and disease in some studies. We eat what our animals eat and if our animals ate rat feces and diets equivalent to the standard American diet, we also eat Kibbles & Bits.
Additionally, many conventional meat production methods use antibiotics and hormones to promote animal growth and speed up the production time. Antibiotics are associated with alterations in gut microbiota destruction, leading to inflammation and increased risk for disease.
Ironically, most people never think that the same agents that fatten up meat animals (antibiotics, grains) will likely also cause weight gain in humans. Synthetic hormones are also associated with inflammation including colon and breast cancer, as well as insulin resistance (blood sugar imbalances).
While the U.S. government may claim both methods of animal production are “safe,” many other countries have banned such practices in meat production hinting at potentially one more reason the U.S. is the least healthy of all developed nations.
Even if your protein source says “natural” or “hormone free,” don’t believe everything you hear. The word natural is an unregulated term that means nothing more than, at one time, the meat, or other food sources (like Tropicana Orange Juice, or wheat bread) was natural.
Processed Foods – Packaged and processed foods exist in Paleo fare too. Paleo bars, shakes, jerky, crackers, and chips often take the place of real, whole foods because, after all, the label says Paleo.
The result? Not only can basing our diets on processed foods lead to nutrient deficiencies and low energy, but also sets the stage for digestive difficulties. Dry foods—like nuts, crackers, chips, bars, and jerky—without enough hydrating foods—like veggies, fresh fruits and water—can “dry out” the digestive system, leaving out hydrating fiber to push food through your gut.
Identity – Paleo is not your name, but like any diet, it can also become an identity (with morals attached). Want to try a chocolate chip cookie your grandma made, or eat some rice with your sushi? Only if you want to also feel guilt! Paleo identity sometimes takes on a life of its own, and regardless of how you feel when you eat certain foods, if the label says Paleo, you’re on board.
Sweets & Treats – Paleo pancakes, Paleo cupcakes, Paleo cookies, Paleo ice cream, Paleo chocolate, Paleo _____ (fill-in-the-blank). As long as it’s Paleo, it’s all good. Think again.
Nut Gut – Nuts and seeds are staples for most Paleo (and Vegan) diets. Bring on the almond butter, sun butter, almonds, pistachios, cashew butter, trail mix, almond flour bread, almond flour pizza crust, almond flour crackers, and everything in between.
However, eat too many nuts, and constipation is a common side effect. “I don’t get why I am bloated, gassy or constipated all the time,” #saidManyNutAddicts. Hello nut gut!
Nuts, like grains and beans, contain difficult to digest lectins and phytates on their outer shells (to protect them from predators and weather in the wild). When we ingest them frequently—and in larger quantities (such as more than a tablespoon or two of nut butter, or a closed handful of nuts for most folks)—it can lead to problems.
Accidental Dieting – Are you eating enough? When a person goes Paleo, many old staples of their standard American diet get the boot…as do many of the calories and energy dense foods they were eating.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of under-eating when you cut out bread, cereals, pasta, cheese, and other foods that may not have been providing you with nutrients, but more energy. Failing to replace these foods with nutrient and energy-rich food sources, like enough starchy tubers and root veggies, enough healthy fats and moderate portions of sustainable proteins can be easy to do.
The result? Low energy, feeling hungry all the time or complete loss of appetite, amenorrhea, unwanted weight gain or a slowed metabolism, and feeling like “Paleo is not working!”
Coffee Gone Water – Coffee is like water for some in the Paleo community—especially Bulletproof coffee, or “butter coffee.” Who needs to spend time cooking breakfast when you can start the day with a cup of Joe with a big dollop of butter and MCT oil to get going?
The problem? Missing out at least ⅓ of nutrients for the day (where are the greens?!). Not to mention, many folks run into caffeine dependence—training your blood sugar, insulin, energy and cortisol hormone levels to run off (and need) coffee to function or “feel normal.”
What happens when you don’t have it? Not feeling like “yourself”—no energy, headaches, sleepiness or fatigue, dragging at the gym or work, brain fog and beyond. Drinking coffee is not a bad thing, but dependence on coffee is.
Tummy Troubles – Just because a food is healthy doesn’t mean it’s healthy for your body—right now. While recovering from a former lifetime of eating the standard American diet, many people discover they are also in recovery—in their gut health.
Bloating, constipation and gas are still their norm—even though they are eating healthy! “What gives?!” they cry. Although the Paleo diet is a real food diet, if you have certain underlying gut problems—like bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, bacterial imbalance (Dysbiosis), leaky gut, food intolerances, parasitic, fungal and/or yeast infections—then the standard Paleo diet alone will probably not be the ultimate cure all, for helping reverse these conditions.
Often times people with gut issues discover they cannot tolerate certain inflammatory or pathogenic bacteria enticing foods like FODMAPS , nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, chili powder, etc.), histamine foods (vinegar, fermented foods, cured meats, cheese, citrus, avocado, nuts, smoked fish) or other pro-inflammatory foods (egg whites, nuts, shellfish, dairy). No, you won’t be sensitive to all these, but Paleo diets don’t always take gut issues into account.
The Diet Bottom Line
When it comes to diets and nutrition, there is no one size fits all approach to which rules or guidelines you follow, but if you ask your body what it needs and wants to thrive upon, chances are (if it could speak), it would cry balance!
The Pegan diet philosophy is just that. Pegan aims to negate the cons of both Paleo and Vegan extremes while leveraging the pros that each dietary philosophy brings to the table. The result should be a win-win.
Above all, the Pegan diet is really no diet at all, at least the way we define diet in modern culture as being about weight loss, fat loss, and restrictive focus. Instead, the Pegan diet upholds the true meaning of the Latin word dieta which means: a way of life. Pegan stands for the way of life humans used to eat—before any labels, Paleo and Vegan cupcakes, Instagram and diet books existed at all.
The two primary questions to ask yourself when considering whether Vegan, Paleo, Pegan or my favorite of all, Just Eating Real Food, is right for you?
- How does my body feel?
- What signs and symptoms of imbalance and nutrient deficiency—if any—am I experiencing in my own skin? Such as hormone imbalances, fatigue, bloating, constipation, brittle nails or hair, etc.
The answers to both of these questions can then help you decide the essential nutrients that may be missing in your former die-hard Paleo or Vegan ways—letting go of the identity or rules you may have wrapped up in either, and instead consider the simplicity of just eating a balance of real food.
Pegan Meal Plan
What could a day in the life of eating Pegan look like for you? Let’s try 7!
Remember these 4 things:
- Build your plate around your veggie superstars
- Add in 1-2 servings of healthy fats
- Add at least a condiment-sized portion of protein with MOST meals
- Avoid inflammatory foods as much as possible (most grains, foods that make you feel bloated, gassy or constipated, processed and packaged foods)
|Veggie Scramble (1-2 pastured eggs or egg yolks) with spinach, mushrooms and yellow squash in coconut oil
Handful fresh berries
|Collard green wrap with tuna + avocado oil mayo
Rainbow carrot “fries”
|Butternut squash + coconut milk soup with ground bison
Spinach salad with oil & vinegar
|Chia seed + collagen protein banana pudding
1-2 slices organic turkey
Roasted zucchini & yellow squash with avocado oil
|Herb crusted salmon
Sauteed Rainbow Chard
|Green Smoothie (coconut milk, grass-fed beef protein, ½ banana, ½ avocado)
|Berrylicious Salad (Greens + Shredded Chicken + Strawberries + Coconut Butter + Pecans)
|Pastured Chicken Thighs
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Japanese Sweet Potato with Olive Oil drizzle
Body Boosting Tea (chai tea + 1 tbsp. MCT oil + collagen peptides + cinnamon + vanilla)
|Leftover Chicken (from Day 3)
Brussels Sprouts (From Day 3)
Carrot Fries (from Day 3)
|Spaghetti Squash with Avocado Basil Pesto
Grass-fed Ground Beef
Roasted Broccoli with Nutritional Yeast
|Bone Broth with 1 tbsp. Ghee + Collagen (blended)
|Leftover Spaghetti Squash with Paleo Mayo, Greens & Turkey
|Cabbage “Stir Fry” with Shrimp, Carrots, Red Bell Pepper, Mushrooms & Coconut Aminos
|Portobello Mushrooms + 1-2 Pastured Eggs + Avocado
Asparagus Spears with Olive Oil
|Canned Wild Salmon
Roasted Veggies (from stir fry last night)
Paleo Honey Mustard
|Veggie Plate (Beets, Carrots, Chard) with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds & Lemon Garlic Dressing
|Cherry Vanilla Smoothie (cherries, coconut milk, greens, avocado, Equip Foods vanilla beef isolate or Prime Plants protein powder, cinnamon)
|Leftover Veggie Plate Veggies
Homemade Chick-pea Hummus (Soaked and sprouted)
|Ground Turkey & Veggie Burgers
Rainbow Chard (pan sauteed in ghee)
I have a number of recipes and suggestions on my site, Dr. Lauryn, including a pumpkin muffin, and simple Paleo swaps for the standard American diet so, make sure you check them out if you need more ideas.