What is the Pegan Diet?

Imagine if there was ONE diet that could reverse disease, optimise health, promote longevity, focus, energy and brain performance, as well as support a healthy climate. For many, Dr Mark Hyman’s Pegan Diet comes close to achieving just that. Although he created the diet in 2014, it has recently sparked a lot of interest. Let me give you the low-down of what it’s all about.

Basic Principals

Dr Hyman, after being party to a debate between two doctors on the topic of Paleonism and veganism, came to realise there were many similarities between the two diets: both leaned into fruits and vegetables, and encouraged good fats, nuts and seeds. The differences, however, were the fat and protein source, and of course – the ideologies.

Dr Hyman felt that if people could look beyond the differences and use the following core principles as the foundation to a diet, then perhaps the combination of the two diets would work to support optimal health in a sustainable way. 

Principle 1: Food is medicine

Dr Hyman has always been an advocate for food as medicine. He sees it as the number one tool for promoting vibrant health (and I couldn’t agree more). He writes that the richer your food is in nutrients, phytochemicals, plant medicines and beneficial compounds, the more it supports your biology, your microbiome, immunity, detox systems, hormones and brain – creating a healthier you.

Principle 2: Personalisation

We all have unique biochemistries. Some people thrive on vegan diets and others do not. The same applies to the Paleo Diet – or any other diet for that matter – which is why Dr Hyman says it’s important to listen to your body, not your ideology.  

A Way of Eating

Dr Hyman combined aspects of the Paleo Diet (good fats, limited refined carbs, limited sugar) with aspects of the vegan diet (lots and lots of fresh, healthy veggies) and formulated the Pegan Diet using the fundamentals of good eating that many other healthy diets follow: 

  • Eat a whole food diet.
  • Eat lots of plants, especially those rich in phytochemicals.
  • Eat healthy fats, nuts, and seeds.
  • Don’t eat food that spikes your blood sugar.
  • Avoid processed food.

He stresses that when eating animal foods, the animals should be reared in a humane and sustainable manner. This is to reduce damage to the planet and to produce better-quality, nutrient-dense protein.

 “Chronic illnesses, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, you name it are related to our ultra-processed diet…. ultra-processed industrial food destroys the environment, the climate, and our health. It’s a pattern that’s leading to catastrophic consequences for humanity and the planet.” Dr Mark Hyman

Foods to eat

Dr Hyman suggests that vegetables and fruits should fill roughly 75% of the plate and if you are eating meat, it should be thought of as a topping or a side dish, instead of the main course.

Vegetables: Low-glycemic (non-starchy) veggies make up the bulk of the diet.

Fruit: The greater the variety, the better.

Nuts: Eat lots of almonds, pistachios, walnuts and other nuts (except peanuts). Vanessa can you offer an explanation why, too much saturated fat?

Seeds: Flax, chia, pumpkin and other seeds also get the thumbs-up.

Fish: Choose low-mercury options like sardines, herring, and anchovies.

Meat: Grass-fed beef, pork, and poultry are emphasised.

Eggs: An inexpensive source of vital nutrients and protein.

Some oils: Olive, avocado oil and coconut oil have heart-healthy fats. Occasionally grass-fed butter and ghee.

Foods to avoid

Dairy: Avoid milk, yoghurt, butter, and cheese – particularly if it’s made with cow’s milk. Organic sheep or goat’s milk, yoghurt and kefir are allowed in small quantities, and if they do not cause the body any discomfort. 

Grains: Gluten is strongly discouraged, but small amounts of gluten-free whole grains are okay.

Legumes: Starchy legumes (including peanuts) are a big no, but lentils are good.

Sugar: Use it sparingly and avoid sweetened products.

Some refined oils: These include canola, sunflower, corn, and soybean oil.

Processed foods: Stay clear of anything made with lots of artificial additives.

In short, the Pegan Diet is a 75% plant-rich diet which combines principles of the Paleo and vegan diets, it:

  • Is gluten-free.
  • Encourages non-starchy vegetables.
  • Encourages grass-fed organic meats and low-mercury fish.
  • Limits fruit to low-glycemic berries.
  • Opposes refined sugar and processed foods.
  • Opposes cow’s milk, but is not completely dairy-free.

My take on the Pegan Diet…

I agree with many of the diet’s key principles. Like Dr Hyman, I believe in food as medicine and I encourage my clients to be mindful that every time they plate or plan a meal, they must remember that the purpose of food is to nourish the body, lower blood sugar levels and keep unhealthy inflammation at bay. I too advocate for a whole food diet and appreciate the importance of listening to your body. So in short, I am a big fan and I encourage you to read Dr Hyman’s book, The Pegan Diet, which offers a guided practical approach to the diet with a variety of recipes and a clear goal of the role food plays in our bodies and in the health of our planet.


Photograph by Brooke Lark

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