As a health coach, it is my job to help guide my clients to find the best way of eating for them. A common response is, “Well, what works for you? How do you eat?” I struggle with this because I don’t want them to be subliminally influenced by my choices, but also because it never quite had a label. I have created some sort of hybrid diet that my body happens to thrive on. Lots of vegetables, nuts/seeds, good fats, some fruits, no dairy, minimal grains if possible, and mindfully sourced protein from both animals and plants.
It’s not quite paleo, and it’s not quite vegan. I had been calling it Plant-Based Paleo…but only in my own head.
Imagine my surprise when holistic physician and public health figure Dr. Mark Hyman — a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and contributor to the Katie Couric Show — posts an article to his website saying that he is Pegan a kind of hybridized version of paleo and vegan. Ha! I now feel strangely validated.
This is a strange combination, no doubt. Vegan diets have proven to help manage cholesterol, diabetes, weight loss. Paleo diets seem to do the same thing. Yet one says eat only plant-based foods, no meat or animal products. The other says to go crazy on meat, but watch dairy and grains. After reading dozens of studies on vegan and paleo diets, even I could get confused.
But I focus on this: Both schools of thought believe in low glycemic load (minimal sugar and other refined carbs), high fruits and veggies, low chemicals and preservatives, lots of good quality fats, enough protein, and ideally organic and local.
I have tried to be 100% vegan and vegetarian, and my body does not feel good that way. I have some clients who do great with this format! I am just not one of them…and you may not be either. I need some animal protein to function best. But I can’t be 100% paleo, because that much red meat or animal protein in general is hard on my system. I need a balance.
My balance, and that of Dr. Hyman, is Pegan.
Basically his/my idea is this: Focus on the glycemic load.
This can be done on any diet. Focus on protein and fats, and minimize sugar and refined carbohydrates to keep blood sugar stable and energy high.
Eat the right fats.
Stay away from most vegetable oils like canola, corn, soybean, etc. Focus on omega-3 fats, nuts, coconut, avocados, and yes, sometimes saturated fat from grass-fed organic meat.
Eat mostly plants.
The greener the better. This should be 75% of your diet, and most of each plate at every meal. I usually make two vegetable dishes per meal, like this arugula fennel salad with chickpea fritters or these kale stuffed sweet potatoes.
My take is that it’s for growing calves into cows, not for human consumption. Plenty of alternatives exist if you’d like a replacement.
Avoid gluten, limit gluten-free grains.
Whether you believe this fad, have a gluten sensitivity, or not, we’d all feel better if we depended less on bread products and focused instead on complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, nuts, and leafy greens.
Eat animal products on the side.
Do not make meat the main course! Vegetables, lentils, and good fats should be the main attraction, then serve organic, mindfully-sourced meat products as a side dish. Portion control is the name of the game!
Sugar is an occasional treat.
Sugar is not something we need to add to coffee, sprinkle over cereal, hide in condiments, and then also enjoy in dessert. I enjoy coconut, local honey, or maple syrup as delicious sweetening options.
Now this seems like a lot of rules to manage, but it is manageable. And remember, I got here after years of experimentation and trial and error. Mostly error. This happens to be what works for me, and what works for Dr. Hyman. Maybe these are the “rules” you end up following, but allow this to let you get excited to explore different ways of eating that appeal to you and create your own hybrid. Ultimately, you must decide what works best for you. Your answer is out there, maybe not in a pretty package or its own book series, so go ahead and create your own word — like Pegan — if you have to.