The pagan diet is a style of eating inspired by two of the most popular diet trends — paleo and vegan.
According to its creator, Dr. Mark Hyman, the pegan diet promotes optimal health by reducing inflammation and balancing blood sugar. However, some components of this diet remain controversial.
This article reviews everything you need to know about the pegan diet, including its potential health benefits and drawbacks.
What Is the Pegan Diet?
The pegan diet combines key principles from paleo and vegan diets based on the notion that nutrient-dense, whole foods can reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and support optimal health.
If your first thought is that going paleo and vegan simultaneously sounds nearly impossible, you’re not alone.
Despite its name, the pegan diet is unique and has its own set of guidelines. It’s less restrictive than either a paleo or vegan diet by itself.
Major emphasis is placed on vegetables and fruit, but the intake of small to moderate amounts of meat, certain fish, nuts, seeds, and some legumes is also allowed.
Heavily processed sugars, oils, and grains are discouraged — but still acceptable in very small amounts.
The pegan diet is not designed as a typical, short-term diet. Instead, it aims to be more sustainable so that you can follow it indefinitely.
Foods to Eat
The pegan diet focuses strongly on whole foods or foods that have undergone little to no processing before they make it to your plate.
Eat Lots of Plants
The primary food group for the pegan diet is vegetables and fruit — these should comprise 75% of your total intake.
Low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, such as berries and non-starchy vegetables, should be emphasized to minimize your blood sugar response.
Small amounts of starchy vegetables and sugary fruits may be allowed for those who have already achieved healthy blood sugar control before starting the diet.
Stick to Minimally Processed Fats
On this diet, you should eat healthy fats from specific sources, such as:
- Nuts: Except peanuts
- Seeds: Except for processed seed oils
- Avocado and olives: Cold-pressed olive and avocado oil may also be used
- Coconut: Unrefined coconut oil is permitted
- Omega-3s: Especially those from low-mercury fish or algae
- Grass-fed, pasture-raised meats and whole eggs also contribute to the fat content of the pegan diet.
Foods to Avoid
The pegan diet is more flexible than a paleo or vegan diet because it allows the occasional intake of almost any food.
That said, several foods and food groups are strongly discouraged. Some of these foods are known to be unhealthy, while others may be considered very healthy — depending on whom you ask.
These foods are typically avoided on the pegan diet:
- Dairy: Cow’s milk, yogurt, and cheese are strongly discouraged. However, foods made from sheep or goat milk are permitted in limited quantities. Sometimes grass-fed butter is allowed, too.
- Gluten: All gluten-containing grains are strongly discouraged.
- Gluten-free grains: Even grains that don’t contain gluten are discouraged. Small amounts of gluten-free whole grains may be permitted occasionally.
- Legumes: Most legumes are discouraged due to their potential to increase blood sugar. Low-starch legumes, such as lentils, may be permitted.
- Sugar: Any form of added sugar, refined or not, is usually avoided. It may be used occasionally — but very sparingly.
- Refined oils: Refined or highly processed oils, such as canola, soybean, sunflower, and corn oil, are almost always avoided.
- Food additives: Artificial colorings, flavorings, preservatives, and other additives are avoided.
Most of these foods are forbidden due to their perceived impact on blood sugar and/or inflammation in your body.
The pegan diet may contribute to your health in several ways.
The strong emphasis on fruit and vegetable intake is perhaps its best trait.
Fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutritionally diverse foods. They’re full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds are known to prevent disease and reduce both oxidative stress and inflammation.
The pegan diet also emphasizes healthy, unsaturated fats from fish, nuts, seeds, and other plants that may have a positive impact on heart health.
Furthermore, diets that rely on whole foods and contain few ultra-processed foods are associated with an improvement in overall diet quality.