THINKING ABOUT GOING PEGAN?
Move over Atkins, Weight Watchers and the Zone diets. There is a new diet kid on the block. It’s hot and everyone wants a piece of it. It’s called the “Pegan” diet and it is fighting its way towards the dietitian Hall of Fame. But will it make it?
American doctor Mark Hyman is the brain behind it and he is confident it will. “If you focus on what you eat, your body’s natural appetite control systems kick into gear and you eat less,” Dr. Hyman claims in a blog on his website.
The Pegan or Paleo-Vegan diet is a combination of the Paleolithic diet and veganism. So, let’s meet the strange pair before we mix and match them.
What is the Paleolithic diet, also known as the Paleo diet or Caveman diet? Translated from ancient Greek, the expression literally means the Old Stone Age diet. Hence, the proposal behind it becomes clear. Eat what Fred Flintstone would have eaten in real life.
Why on earth would we do that? Because the Paleo diet’s supporters say humans have been hunters and gatherers for over two and a half million years. But we got off track with the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago, when we began food cultivation. And this isn’t long enough for our bodies to adapt to eating certain foods.
So, modern Fred Flintstone would eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts, and turn his back on grains, legumes, dairy products, processed oils, refined sugar, salt, even coffee and alcohol. Above all, he would avoid all processed foods. Fans of the Paleo diet claim our metabolism’s inability to cope with new types of food has led to the current rise of diabetes, heart diseases and obesity.
In 2013, the Paleo diet was the most Googled searched term for weight loss. But the diet is not without controversy. A year later, U.S. News & World Report ranked it last on its annual “best diets” list. “If the cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either,” its experts concluded alluding to a significant change in nutritional content in meat and plants since the dawn of men.
The British Dietetic Association was equally harsh. It placed the Paleo diet among the five worst celebrity-endorsed diets, saying it risks being "unbalanced, time consuming, socially isolating" and so "a sure-fire way to develop nutrient deficiencies."
Veganism, on the other hand, is more than just a diet. Its father, Donald Watson, who co-founded the Vegan Society in England in 1944, defined it as “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.” It’s a noble, but all-consuming cause. Going vegan should be a gradual process paired with a lot of research.
After saying goodbye to all meat products and eggs, a freshly converted vegan is on a lookout for alternative sources of protein. Nutritionists recommend for example organic soy, lentils, beans, quinoa and seitan. Although, the healthiest sources of soy are miso, tempeh, tofu, soy milk and edamame, scientists are yet to give us the verdict on possible effects of soy on cancer development.
A European Journal study shows that vegan calcium-rich foods such as kale, bok choy, almonds, soybeans, figs and navel oranges proved to be twice as strong as non-vegan sources of calcium such as milk and dairy products. So they protect us from bone fracture with half an intake. Soy, leafy greens, and most fortified foods are also high in vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium.
Vegan diet is high in dietary fibre, magnesium, folic acid, vitamins C and E, iron and phytochemicals. But, it doesn’t provide enough saturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc.
Although the first vegan cookbook hit the shelves in 1910, it took a century for veganism to achieve mainstream acceptance. In 2007, two percent of Brits identified themselves as vegan.
In 2010, the European Parliament adopted its first vegan food-labelling guideline. A year later, Europe’s first vegan supermarkets appeared in Germany. Influenced by veganism, the British market for tofu and vegan meat substitutes soared to £786.5 million in 2012.
Now that we know what the Paleo and Vegan diets are, it is even more difficult to imagine how to merge them. But, followers of the Pegan diet or “Peganism” claim that opposites do attract.
The Pegan lifestyle endorses the vegan plant-based approach pairing it with the nourishing addition of high quality meat and eggs. Pegan food must not be genetically engineered and should preferably be organic. The emphasis is on quality meat and fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, olive and coconut oils. Like Paleo, the Pegan diet avoids gluten, as well as inflammatory oils such as canola, sunflower, corn and the controversial soybean.
So, instead of a big juicy steak, Fred Flintstone will partake in several vegetable dishes and a smaller portion of steak or fish, preferably salmon, on the side.
Going Pegan is a great detox, supporters claim. Eating whole foods and reducing the glycemic load will help our liver cleanse itself. A gluten-free diet can also improve our digestion. And highly pigmented plant foods are rich in cancer fighting antioxidants that protect our cells from environmental toxins. Eating high quality pasture meats can be expensive, so going Pegan and reducing meat intake is good for our wallet.
It sounds magical. Yet, the British Nutrition Foundation disagrees. “It isn’t a good idea to cut out specific food groups, unless you have to do so due to a diagnosed medical condition,” said Beth Hooper, a nutrition scientist with the organization, who questions the reasoning and scientific evidence behind the Pegan diet.
Pegans avoid vegetable oils’ unsaturated fats while encouraging omega-3 fats and saturated fats found in meat and coconut oil. This, British nutritionists stress, goes against UK and European evidence-based guidelines. “Eating too much saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol levels and therefore the risk of cardiovascular disease,” Hooper warned.
So, if we really want to see some serious results from the Pegan diet like weight loss and health improvement, we have to stick to it. Much like vegan, Pegan is a lifestyle that requires commitment, endurance and patient research of an ever-growing body of studies that may yet overrule it. Is that something Fred Flintstone would be prepared to do?
By Ivana Miloradovic