I love testing the latest diet trends in order to figure out what works for me—and which crazes may actually stand the test of time. So when I read about the paleo-vegan, or pegan, diet—which not only seems impossible but also claims to be the healthiest diet out there—I figured I had to give it a shot.
Hold Up, What Is Pegan?
If you’re wondering how a pegan diet is even possible, you’re justified.
At first, I just didn’t comprehend how paleo and vegan could possibly fuse together. The paleo ‘caveman’ diet emphasizes lots of proteins like meat and fish, but vegans completely avoid animal products—even eggs!
Bear with me, though—the diet actually makes a lot more sense than you might think. The brainchild of Mark Hyman, M.D., founder of The Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and one of the most prominent functional medicine experts in the country, the pegan diet combines the best of the paleo and vegan philosophies.
First, you cut out dairy, processed foods, vegetable oils, and added sugar, and carefully limit grains, legumes, starches, and alcohol. Instead, you fill your plate with plants—mostly vegetables, some healthy fats, and a little fruit. You can have meat and eggs, but instead of making them the focal point of your meal, think of them more as condiments. (Hyman also recommends they’re organic and sustainably raised.)
Make sense? Here are the Spark Notes:
- No dairy, processed foods, sugar, or gluten
- 75 percent plant-based
- Lower in carbs, higher in healthy fats
- Limited use of quality animal proteins
Getting Started on Pegan
I’ve eaten mostly whole, unprocessed foods for years now, I felt confident that I could eat like Dr. Mark Hyman for a month without much issue and decided to put pegan to the test.
However, there were certainly a few non-pegan-friendly indulgences—like milk in my coffee—I groaned about having to give up. I also worried that cutting down on animal protein would leave me unsatisfied and hungry. Not to mention, I expected nixing most packaged foods would force me to spend more time grocery shopping and cooking than usual.
On day one, I walked into my kitchen pouting that I would have to put coconut milk in my coffee instead of the real stuff. However, after adding a few tablespoons straight from the can and taking a sip, I was very pleasantly surprised by the hint of coconut flavor and slight sweetness of my coffee!
Unsure how to make creative meals that also happened to be made up of at least 75 percent plants, though, my joy didn’t last. For the first few days, I ate pretty much nothing but salads. I visited the farmers’ market for fresh greens and swapped in different nuts and seeds, but grew bored quickly. I missed Greek yogurt with nuts and berries and took the loss of cheese—my favorite snack—pretty hard.
My overall protein and calorie intake had definitely taken a hit, and I felt generally hungry and unsatisfied.
On the verge of going salad mad on day three, I hopped onto Pinterest to search for inspiration and found plenty of fresh ideas, like egg salad made with cream avocado, homemade veggie burgers, and easy grill packets of protein and veggies. Finally excited, I hit the grocery store and stocked up on staples like veggies, burgers, eggs, tons of fresh fruits and veggies, and buckets of avocados and nuts.
Within just a few days of turning it all around, I woke up feeling lighter and more focused, and noticed less achiness in my joints. I think cutting out dairy really did the trick here. I had regularly used butter, milk, cheese, and yogurt, and my pegan experience was the first time I’d truly given them the boot.
After a week or so, I found a vegan protein shake recipe for breakfast that was a total game-changer.
The Perfect Pegan Morning Shake:
- 1 scoop Vanilla Garden of Life Raw Organic Plant Protein
- 6 oz. water
- 1 Tbsp almond butter
- 5 strawberries
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 giant handful power greens (spinach, kale, and baby chard)
- ice cubes, as desired
Yes, I did continue to eat salads often, but I started making my own dressings with fresh herbs (like basil and chives), lemon, garlic, and even Dijon mustard to keep things interesting.
The more creative I got with my meals, the more I enjoyed myself. I threw foil packets of shrimp and summer squash on the grill for quick meals and experimented with a dozen different varieties of cauliflower rice. As the weeks continued, just two ounces of grilled chicken became really satiating—and I couldn’t believe I used to eat six ounces at a time.
The Pegan Verdict
The weeks flew by, and suddenly I found myself a month into living the pegan life. And I felt really good. My stomach? Noticeably flatter. My skin? Bright and clear. My cravings for cheese—and even my desire to have a glass of wine—diminished. I also noticed I had a real clarity of mind and much more energy than usual.
I had always been intrigued by the idea of being vegetarian or vegan, but the seeming difficulty of the task always scared me off. Without feeling extreme, the pegan diet helped me realize that I could eat a delicious, satisfying diet that incorporated plenty of veggies without having to shun meat all together.
Thing is, though, I really didn’t miss eating a lot of meat after I cut back. In fact, I came to think I’d been overeating animal protein before going pegan. Without having to spend so much effort breaking down animal proteins all day, my body felt energized.
I also really enjoyed finding new plant-based snacks and yummy recipes. Sugar snap peas with hummus, macadamia nuts with baby carrots, and mini eggplant ‘pizzas’ have become go-to’s.
Oh, and did I mention I lost about six pounds without even trying in those 30 days? I couldn’t believe how different I looked after such a short period of time. But as great as the added perk of weight loss, was, how I felt remained the true prize.
Though I often return to my usual eating habits (hi, cheese) and staple recipes after completing different diet experiments, I’m going to continue eating pegan-style from here on out.
Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry, as well as a member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on.