There’s a new trendy diet in town, folks — the pegan diet.
The word pegan has seen a 337 percent increase in searches on Pinterest since last year and has seen a steady climb in searches within the last six months.
It was born when Dr. Mark Hyman, New York Times best-selling author, coined the term — a mashup of paleo and vegan — in a blog post that detailed his own diet.
What is a pegan diet?
In short, a pegan diet incorporates pieces of the paleo and vegan diets.
A vegan diet is refraining from eating all animal products or byproducts — no meat, eggs, cheese, yogurt and sometimes gelatin. A paleo diet is a nutritional plan that mimics how people used to eat in the Paleolithic era 2.5 million years ago. So dieters eat unprocessed foods consisting mostly of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grass-fed meats and fish.
More: Ready to trade in your burger for a vegan tofu sandwich? Start slow
How does pegan differ from vegan and paleo diets?
Although vegan and paleo diets may seem like they’re at odds — one advocates for removing dairy, meat and fish while the other encourages eating meat and fish — the root of both of those lifestyles is ultimately the same: eating whole foods and plants.
The purpose of the pegan diet is to get people to eat whole foods that are fresh and organic and increase their vegetable intake.
There’s also an emphasis on the quality of foods you’re eating — the pegan diet encourages participants to eat organic products.
What are you supposed to eat?
Basically most of your diet will be comprised of vegetables, good fats and nuts and seeds.
The physician explained that 75 percent of the diet should be fruits and vegetables while avoiding eating dairy and gluten.
But if you must eat dairy, the diet advises to reach for sheep- or goat-based dairy products. Maria Marlowe, a nutrition health coach and author who operates her own nutrition health coaching practice in New York City, said this is because goat and sheep’s milk are easier to digest than cow’s milk, but it’s preferable to avoid all dairy.
Hyman said that meat is not necessarily harmful and has good health benefits. It just depends on how much you’re eating and what kind you’re eating. The doctor, who is also director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, suggests eating meat sparingly and eating only grass-fed and sustainably raised meat.
Basically, eat meat as a side dish, not the main course.
Those on a pegan diet should also eat healthy fats like those found in nuts, avocados, coconut oil and even saturated fat from organic meat products.
And like most diets — sugar should be avoided or eaten only as a treat.
More: Full guidelines of the pegan diet
Is the pegan diet safe?
Desiree Nielsen, a registered dietitian who runs her own nutrition consulting practice and hosts “The Urban Vegetarian,” a Canadian cooking show, doesn’t recommend the pegan diet because of how restrictive it is — she actually advises against all diets that are restrictive. However, she does believe that the pegan diet is a great way to transition into a healthier and more plant-based lifestyle.
“There isn’t one right way to eat,” said Nielsen. “I think it’s a wonderful diet to be inspired by. Eat more plants; eat more whole foods — those are wonderful messages to incorporate, but I think for many of us living by a restrictive rule-focused diet may not be healthy for our body or our minds.”
What are the benefits?
Although the pegan diet may not be right for everyone, it does have proven benefits for some.
“I grew up eating a standard American diet, which led to a slew of health problems,” said Marlowe. “Eating the pegan way helped me lose 20 pounds, get rid of digestive issues, have more energy and overall improve my health.”
Nielsen said that as a vegan, trying out the pegan diet left her hungry, and she suffered from low blood pressure and headaches. She said the pegan diet doesn’t advocate for a lot of legumes, which is where plant-based eaters would mostly get their protein from and it relies some on animal protein, which vegans can’t eat.
“It’s a great transition towards a more plant-based diet for meat eaters,” advised Nielsen. “It will increase intake of valuable phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables that help you fight inflammation. It will also help you move away from a hyper-processed and packaged eating pattern, which many of us consume in North America, which is not healthy for us.”
Liz Josefsberg, a certified personal trainer and nutrition exercise specialist at her own consulting firm and former director of brand advocacy for Weight Watchers, tried the pegan diet for 30 days and said that though she struggled a bit in the beginning, she ended up enjoying the journey and the ultimate results, including losing six pounds with little effort.
“My stomach? Noticeably flatter. My skin? Bright and clear. My cravings for cheese — and even my desire to have a glass of wine — diminished,” wrote Josefsberg in a blog post. “I also noticed I had a real clarity of mind and much more energy than usual.”