Q My brother-in-law seems to follow every new diet that comes along. Last weekend he told me he was a Pegan. Is there any validity to this diet or is it just another fad? — HW, Winterville
A Before I retired and was actively helping patients find the “right” eating approach to meet their health and personal needs, most like your brother had tried many fad diets. Sooner or later they realized there are no magic bullets to achieve weight loss or blood sugar control but there are proven ways to prevent and/or manage weight and chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension. They quit buying every new diet book that promised a cure to their health problem and sought help from a nutrition expert.
Nutrition counselors all have their own style of working with patients. I always tried to help patients follow a diet that appeals to them, realizing that there is “no one size fits all.” Based on established science-based principles, a registered dietitian nutritionist’s job is to help their patients learn to recognize the benefits and downsides of each new diet that comes along. Then the patient can decide, in consultation with their physician if they have a chronic disease, if a diet that intrigues them is health promoting for them.
In my view, the Pegan diet has more downsides than potential benefits. Jordan Campbell, a senior ECU dietetic student will now explain why:
The Pegan diet was introduced in 2014 by a prolific diet book author. His Pegan diet is a cross between the paleo and vegan diet which at first thought are completely opposite. This diet borrows the vegan’s plant-based philosophy and combines it with the paleo or caveman inspired love for meat. It doesn’t sound plausible to be both vegan and paleo.
The diet’s creator said his diet has changed people’s lives, from regaining their youth to beating diseases. We searched the medical and nutrition literature to find studies to prove the validity of his claims and didn’t find any.
There are some good things. The Pegan diet recommends that 75 percent of the food you eat be fruits and vegetables. It focuses on the consumption of organics. The controversy continues if there are health benefits from eating organics that justify the added expense, but that’s not a bad choice.
The diet allows for small portions of meat — way more than on a vegan diet but way less than on paleo. The emphasis is on eating grass-fed, pasture-raised sources of beef, pork, poultry and whole eggs. Again, it’s not clear that eating grass fed animal are better for your health.
The Pegan also encourages intake of fish — specifically those that tend to have low mercury content like sardines and wild salmon. There are plenty of other fish that have a low mercury content. You can check the safety of the fish you like at the Environmental Protection Agency website (www.epa.gov).
The author wants you to stick to minimally processed fats like nuts, but not peanuts; seeds but not processed seed oils; avocado and olives; unrefined coconut oil and omega-3s, especially those from low-mercury fish or algae. None of these are bad for you to do, but there is so much more you can enjoy eating.
Eating most grains and legumes is discouraged on the Pegan diet due to their potential to influence blood sugar, but gluten-free whole grains and legumes are permitted in limited quantities (half cup for grains and 1 cup for legumes). The OK ones include black rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, teff, oats, lentils, chickpeas, black beans and pinto beans.
Again, the author doesn’t give a good rationale for eliminating some healthy and affordable foods from your diet. The diet prohibits consuming sugars of any kind. Having no sugar, though not a bad thing, is unrealistic. Just about every nutrition expert agrees most of us eat too much sugar and should eat less of it.
Probably the biggest downside to this diet is the exclusion of wheat and dairy. Although vegans typically do not consume any type of dairy, they enjoy alternatives such as almond or soy replacement products. Vegans who carefully plan their diet to ensure they get all the nutrients they need, make sure they obtain adequate calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and protein from other sources.
Excluding wheat and grains is the biggest head turner since they are a traditional staple food in most Americans daily eating. In fact, MyPlate (from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) recommends 1 out of 4 sections on your plate at every meal should be some type of whole grain like whole wheat bread, brown rice, or whole grain pasta.
Surprisingly it’s not just whole grains the Pegan diet excludes but also non-gluten grains like quinoa, oats and amaranth. Again, it might be just as healthy to limit but not eliminate carbohydrates to manage blood sugar.
The Pegan diet, then, has good qualities and downsides. It promotes eating fruits and vegetables. But it also leaves out lots of great and healthy foods.
To answer your question, I think it’s safe to safe to say that the Pegan diet is more of a fad than away of eating most people could or should follow for a lifetime.
Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.