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Going pegan — a combination of vegan and paleo diets

Greens and other vegetables are key to the “pegan” diet, which also permits meat or fish in small doses.

Greens and other vegetables are key to the “pegan” diet, which also permits meat or fish in small doses. | Stock.Adobe.com

Just when I figured out the vegan diet, there’s a new eating lifestyle making its way into households across the country: The pegan diet — which is part paleo and part vegan.

“Before ‘pegan’ even became a term, I used that with my patients who wanted to be vegan and wanted to be paleo, so it’s the concept of combining the two,” said Karen Raden, a registered dietitian and certified clinical nutritionist at the Raden Wellness Center.

The term “pegan” was first coined by Dr. Mark Hyman, author of “Food: What the Heck Should We Eat?” The pegan diet recommends plant based whole foods and healthy proteins. But unlike vegans, who avoid anything that comes from an animal, pegans may eat meat or fish in small doses.

“The pegan diet is heavy on the veggies and plants, but if you’re going to add in different proteins like meat or fish, the concept is that it be clean or organic, so it’s all about the source,” said Tamara Mannelly, a health coach and co-founder of the website www.ohlardy.com which shares resources and recipes for eating and healthy living.

“Some people who are paleo — which is a diet based on what people may have eaten during Paleolithic times — they may incorporate a lot of meat, so what a pegan diet will do is it puts more focus on the veggies and whole foods, while still allowing some meat and fish. It’s very do-able as a lifestyle.”

Jenniffer Weigel | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Jenniffer Weigel | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

While there is no “one diet fits all,” Raden said the best way to find out what your body needs is to get tested to see if you have any nutrient deficiencies.

“You can have food sensitivity testing, micro-nutrient testing, blood work,” Raden said. “You can also try eliminating certain foods to see how your body reacts but you want to be careful not to go to extremes. People want to do quick things at the beginning of the year to just lose weight, but I think we need to be thinking through it as much as we can for long term success, because not only is the yo-yo diet not great for physical health but it also takes its toll psychologically. But I do think people can make a lifestyle out of a pegan diet.”

Here are some tips for going pegan:

Avoid sugar and flour

“A lot of people splurged on sugar over the holidays, so when you’ve been eating a bunch of sugar, your body craves it more and the way to cut that is to wake up and have protein and healthy fat in the morning,” Raden said. “Don’t start your day with white flour or white sugar.”

Raden suggests sugar alternatives such as monk fruit, erythritol or stevia.

Eat healthy fats

Both Raden and Mannelly suggest buying foods without additives, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, dyes, chemicals, pesticides or hormones and bringing in foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

“This can be nuts, seeds, avocados, whole eggs, and then [low mercury] fish, or meat from clean, grass fed or organic sources,” said Mannelly.

Eliminate Dairy

There are many alternative milk options for those who have reactions to dairy.

“Hemp milk, almond milk, rice milk, cashew milk and oat milk are all good alternatives,” Raden said. “But be careful with the flavored varieties because they can have a lot of added sugars.”

Pile on the greens

“Kale, broccoli, spinach, all greens are so important for the phytonutrients,” Raden said.

“With your vegetables, really try to eat all the colors of the rainbow,” Mannelly said. “Even iceberg lettuce has nutrients. Is it as much as kale? No, but if it’s between that or a bowl of spaghetti or a box of cereal, of course iceberg is a better option.”

Be smart about your “empty” calories

“If you just wake up and have rice cereal and then gluten free bread with jam for lunch, then gluten free cookies as a snack, that doesn’t work,” Raden said. “That’s too many starches and not enough nutrients.”

Added Mannelly: “You could drink root beer everyday as your main beverage and be vegan. I love a good root beer but you’re not giving your body the nourishment that it needs to function optimally.”

Remember everyone is different

“My husband and I cut out grains for 90 days — I felt terrible and he felt great. So when I started adding it back in, it gave me more energy, where for him, he immediately got itchy and phlegmy and was puffy in the face,” Mannelly said. “Our bodies are all so individually designed in what they can handle and we wouldn’t have known that had we not gone through an elimination process.”

Jenniffer Weigel is the director of community relations for the Sun-Times and has a lifelong interest in wellness and related topics. She’s a frequent contributor to the Wednesday Well section.