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When Paleo and Vegan Diets Combine = The Pegan Diet

Posted by Edna B. Wilson on

Our food ought to be enjoyable to prepare and eat. And it ought to nourish us. But it’s not and it doesn’t. Many of us struggle with food, seeing food as an enemy to be avoided, tamed, or overcome.

We go from one diet to another, looking for a fix to lose weight or just to feel better. Many of us get stuck in cycles of gaining and losing weight that never really end. There are always new diets to follow that promise to help us lose weight fast, lower our cholesterol, or build muscle and lose fat.

Tired of the yo-yo weight syndrome, many of us vow to learn more about healthy eating and to make better food choices but even our best efforts are thwarted. There are many research studies done on different diets – the Atkins Diet, Paleo Diet, Elimination Diet, Detox diet, and 30 some other diets 1 - but often the research is faulty and confusing. Reading about what’s nutritious or good for us is equally confusing, and often intentionally misleading. 2

Weight loss isn't easy. Paleo and vegan diets offer benefits, but they work better when combined.

Though I never tried a series of fad diets per se, my weight and health fluctuated for years. My method of losing weight was to work out a lot – running several miles 3 to 4 days a week and going to the gym the other days – often 7 days a week. Running a lot kicks in the feel-good hormones and suppresses my appetite so I don’t eat as much. Of course, since I burned lots of calories I’d eat whatever I wanted and could still easily to fit into my shorts, sun dresses, and capris. This system was great as long as it was warm enough to run outside and stay active, but as soon as the seasons changed I’d get a cold or sinus infection, which would slow me down. And the weight would slowly come back on.

Once I started seeing an acupuncturist and went to an alternative, integrated health care center, things started to change. At that point, I didn’t realize I was an emotional eater; always eating when I was upset or angry or things didn’t work out the way I thought they would in my relationships. I had allergies, a compromised immune system, IBS, and a lot of stress.

Allergy testing showed that I was allergic to a multitude of foods I didn’t even suspect I was allergic to: wheat, milk, peanuts, sunflower seeds, dairy in general, and white flour. I’d been tested once before and had taken an allergy pill for years for allergies to hay, horses, dust, and cats. Little did I know that allergies change as you age, and things you were once allergic to you learn to tolerate. There’s not a hard and fast rule about allergies.

The next step was to eliminate all the foods I was allergic to, find alternative food choices, and if I wanted, slowly introduce the old foods back into my meals. I took out wheat, milk, and also anything with copious amounts of processed sugar, like cereal, diet soda, bananas, orange juice, doughnuts, and hot chocolate.

Gradually the sugar spikes slowed, my foggy thinking cleared, and I had more energy. I considered becoming a vegetarian, but that seemed too extreme and I needed the energy that meat provided. I’d never heard of the Paleo Diet, much less a Paleo diet for vegetarians. In retrospect, either diet would have provided better food choices then what I was eating at the time.

The Paleo Diet + Vegan Diet = PEGAN

In its simplest terms, the Paleo or “caveman” diet 3 guidelines say we ought to only eat foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate: meat, fish, eggs, fruit, and vegetables. Processed foods, sugars, grains, legumes, and most dairy products are not allowed. A vegetarian or vegan diet has fruits, grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables at the center of its diet. Vegans don’t eat any animal byproducts, although vegetarians may eat eggs, fish, and dairy.

Some people, like Anne Hathaway and her husband, decided to become vegetarians when they got married. However, while filming a movie in 2014 that left her exhausted, she starting eating fish and shifted to a low carbohydrate diet. “I just didn’t feel good or healthy,” Hathaway recalled of her vegan days. 4

Characteristics of a Healthy Diet5

So where do they meet? The two camps – Paleo and vegan – agree on some parameters and have some major similarities. “Although they may sound completely at odds, the truth is Paleo and vegan diets have more in common with each other than either have with the standard American diet,” says Mark Hyman, M.D 6., director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.

“The foundational principles of both diets – real, whole, fresh food in its natural state free of processed ingredients, refined carbohydrates, and additives—are the same," Hyman explains. "Designed correctly, both a Paleo and vegan diet can provide health benefits like weight loss, lowered cholesterol, and reverse diabetes." To really boil it down for you, it's made up of eating fresh food in its unadulterated state. "When people get back to these foods, they lose weight, regardless of whether they are Paleo or vegan," Hyman says. Focusing on the basic nutrition principles combines the best of both diets.

Pegan diet - is it right for you?
  • Very low glycemic load – Low amounts of all types of sugar, flour and refined carbohydrates
  • Meals high in vegetables – At least 50-70% of your diet ought to be veggies.The deeper the colors and the more variety, the better. This provides a high phytonutrient content that is protective against most diseases.
  • Low in pesticides, antibiotics and hormones - No GMO foods.
  • No chemicals – No additives, preservatives, dyes, MSG, or artificial sweeteners.
  • High in good quality fats – Use omega 3 fats. Good quality fats come from olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut, wild salmon, tallow, ghee, lard, and avocados.
  • Protein – Controls appetite and muscle synthesis.
  • Eat local, organic, and fresh foods – Whenever possible, buy from your farmers market.
  • Fish and Animal products – Any animal products should be sustainably raised or grass fed. Choose fish like sardines, herring, and anchovies or other small fish with high omega-3 fats and avoid tuna, swordfish and Chilean sea bass because of the high mercury load. Meat ought to be 25% or less of what’s on your plate, not the focus. Grass-fed beef has more cholesterol-neutral stearic acid and contains protective omega-3 fats and vitamins A and D that raises glutathione 7
  • Avoid dairy – Both diets agree cow products aren’t good for you. Drink goat or sheep milk products. Coconut, rice, hazelnut, and almond milk are also good choices.
  • Avoid gluten –.Alternative flours like brown rice, coconut, and quinoa are easier to digest.
  • Limit legumes – Beans are a good source of fiber, protein, and minerals but they are too starchy. Lima beans, green beans, lentils, and peas are healthy choices, but need to be limited to one cup or less a day.
  • Eat fermented foods – High in essential probiotics, fermented foods can keep your gut healthy and help fight illness.

Some prominent Paleo Diet experts advocate a general shift to a more plant-based diet. Dr. Mark Hyman is among them. Advocating a blend of Paleo and Vegan lifestyles, the Pegan diet is a delicious mix of two dietary worlds, and provides numerous nutritional benefits. It emerged in response to criticisms about the heavy emphasis on animal proteins that some Paleo dieters advocated, and despite the name, is not a vegan diet. Rather, it strictly limits the amount of animal products consumed to 25% of your diet. All fruits and vegetables with a glycemic index of 55 to 69 are also perfect fits. Some grains, like oats, wild rice, amaranth, and pretty much any grain except wheat, barley, and rye make the cut.

In short, the Pegan diet is a leaner, meaner version of the Paleo diet. It fixes some of the nutritional issues with its Paleo predecessor and ups the fiber content in your diet, while focusing on sustainable nutrition.

Tantalizing Pegan Recipes to Try

If you think you’ll be missing out with your new food plan that combines the best of the Paleo diet and vegan diet into the Pegan diet, think again. Vegetarian Paleo dieters can enjoy most of the animal protein recipes in this diet, as well, as many focus on fish instead of meat (although not all).The following recipes are full of flavors and spices and while they sound quite decadent, they’re all actually quite healthy.

Mini Balsamic Mushroom Caps8


  • 20 baby bella mushroom caps
  • 1/2 small onion (white or yellow)
  • 1 roma/plum tomato
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 2.5 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of thyme
  • 2 teaspoons of rosemary (or basil, or both)
  • dash of salt and pepper


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Dice onions, spinach, and garlic into tiny pieces. Sautee garlic and onions in 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil for 5 minutes, add spinach and cook for another minute. Set aside.
  • Using a small knife, take your baby bella mushroom caps, cut off stems and scoop out the center to create bowl shapes.
  • Make asauce with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and herbs. Dip mushroom caps into sauce and place on a foil-lined cooking sheet.
  • Dice tomatoes into pieces. Add to the onion and spinach and mix well. With your hands or small spoon, stuff each mushroom bowl with the diced veggies. Use any excess balsamic sauce to drizzle on top.
  • Sprinkle salt and pepper, if desired, over the tops of the appetizers before cooking.
  • Cook 15 minutes, let cool and serve. Makes 20.

Mini Cauliflower Crust Pizza Bites 9


  • 1½ cups food processed and drained cauliflower
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • 1½ tablespoons ground flax seed (for flax eggs)
  • ⅔ cup water (for flax eggs)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • black pepper to taste


  • pizza sauce
  • spinach
  • mushrooms


  • Preheat oven to 420º and place a pizza stone inside to preheat.
  • In a small bowl, combine flax and water and mix using a fork. This is your flax egg mixture.
  • Add cauliflower to a food processor and pulse until ground. Pick out the larger, unprocessed pieces. Squeeze excess water from processed cauliflower using cheesecloth.
  • Combine all ingredients into a large bowl including the cauliflower. Add in flax eggs and stir. Remove pizza stone from oven and cover with parchment paper. Form 2" pizza crusts and place onto pizza stone.
  • Pre-bake the crusts for 15 minutes.
  • Remove, add sauce and toppings. Bake for 8-10 more minutes until cheese is melted or toppings are cooked.

Pumpkin Pie Yogurt Parfait 10


  • ¼ cup pumpkin purée
  • 6 ounces vanilla coconut milk yogurt
  • ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tbs. pumpkin seeds
  • drizzle of honey


  • Stir the pumpkin purée and the pumpkin pie spice into the yogurt.
  • Top with pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of honey.

Delicious food can be healthy, too.


There are many ways to explore the Paleo and vegan worlds of food. Fermentation Fest 11 is held from October 2 through October 11 in Reedsburg, Wisconsin to educate and celebrate all things related to fermenting. World Vegetarian Day 12 is actually not just one day, but celebrated several days throughout the world during October, and starts in Bulgaria this weekend. And finally, if you want to try Alaskan fish broth with all the nutrients and flavor of wild salmon and halibut, check out our sampler pack. 














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