If you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear someone mention the Paleo diet is meat. Lots of meat. And, when you think vegan, you probably think of animal loving hippies that would rather starve than eat a piece of bacon if their lives depended on it!
So how is it possible that Pegan – i.e. Paleo meets vegan, a diet made up by functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman – is even a diet at all, let alone one that provides a practical, satisfying, and nourishing way of eating?
Truthfully, Paleo and vegan have much more in common that you might think. Meshed together, they create an ideal framework for a diet that supports vibrant health, as well as the health of our planet and more humane treatment of animals.
How are Paleo and vegan similar?
True Paleo and vegan diets are both, at their core, plant based diets. They prioritize eating a ton of non-starchy veggies, and a wide variety of other plant based foods. Loading up on plants is essential to our health and well-being, as plants provide us with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients that support healthy functioning and prevent chronic disease.
Similarly, both Paleo and vegan diets are, in their purest forms, whole foods based diets which exclude processed foods. This makes them nutrient dense and devoid of the refined carbohydrates and highly processed unhealthy fats that pave the way to chronic disease for so many people consuming them.
Paleo and vegan diets also both exclude dairy products, which, for many people, may lead to chronic inflammation. Dairy, along with gluten, is one of the most common food allergens and intake has been linked to type 1 diabetes, acne, asthma, certain types of cancer, and digestive issues.
But what about the meat?
Believe it or not, I consider the philosophies of Paleo and vegan when it comes to meat to be more of a commonality than not. Why? Because the goal is to support a healthy planet and happy, humanely treated animals. Where vegan does not include animal products at all, Paleo focuses on small to moderate amounts of sustainably and ethically raised animal proteins including meat, poultry, eggs, and fish. And while some animal and environment advocates insist that raising farm animals is nothing but harmful to the environment, in fact, proper animal agriculture allows the animals to work synergistically with plants and soil to maintain healthy, fertile crop lands and higher plant yields. (For a more detailed explanation of this relationship between farm animals and land conservation, check out this TED talk).
Putting it all together – Pegan 101
By this point we’ve established that the pegan diet is a whole food, plant based, nutrient dense way of eating that works to promote animal and environmental welfare. Pegan takes the best of both Paleo and vegan and combines them into a framework for a nourishing and sustainable way of eating. To follow a pegan diet, follow these guidelines:
- Eat more plants. Load up on non-starchy veggies (seriously, the more the merrier, you cannot overdo this), and low glycemic fruits. Aim to make 3/4 of your diet veggies and fruits.
- Include high quality animal protein – organic, grass fed, and pasture raised – in small portions (consider it to be a side dish with plants as the main course).
- Focus on high quality fats. Fats from grass fed butter or ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds are all good. Avoid vegetable oils (which are high in pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats) and man-made trans fats.
- Include gluten free whole grains (like quinoa, wild rice, and gluten free oats), as well as legumes/beans, in small amounts. Beans and grains may not be tolerated well by some people (especially those with autoimmune issues or diabetes), so experiment to find what works best for you.
- Eat nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy fats, but they are also good sources of plant based protein!
- Avoid dairy and gluten. Both dairy and gluten, as mentioned previously, are common food allergens that are not tolerated well by many people. If you are not sure if you are sensitive to dairy or gluten, you can experiment with an elimination diet to see if they are affecting you.
- Limit sugar. Even natural sources, like honey and maple syrup, are best in moderation.
- Opt for fresh, local, and organic whenever possible. This helps to limit your exposure to pesticides, ensure nutrient quality, and support environmental sustainability and local economy (both of which are perks of being a conscious eater, in my opinion).