‘Pe­gan’ diet could be next big thing

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Rasha Ali

There’s a new diet in town, folks: the pe­gan diet.

The word “pe­gan” has seen a 337 per­cent in­crease in searches on Pin­ter­est over the past year, with a steady climb in searches in the past six months.

It was born when Dr. Mark Hy­man, New York Times best-sell­ing au­thor, coined the term – a mashup of pa­leo and ve­gan – in a blog post that de­tailed his own diet.

What is a pe­gan diet?

In short, a pe­gan diet in­cor­po­rates pieces of the pa­leo and ve­gan di­ets.

A per­son on a ve­gan diet refrains from eat­ing all an­i­mal prod­ucts or byprod­ucts – no meat, eggs, cheese, yo­gurt and some­times ge­latin. A pa­leo diet is a nutri­tional plan that mim­ics how peo­ple used to eat in the Pa­le­olithic era 21⁄ mil­lion years ago. So di­eters eat un2 pro­cessed foods con­sist­ing mostly of veg­eta­bles, fruits, nuts, grass-fed meats and fish.

How does pe­gan dif­fer?

Al­though ve­gan and pa­leo di­ets may seem they’re at odds – one ad­vo­cates for re­mov­ing dairy, meat and fish while the other en­cour­ages eat­ing meat and fish – the root of both of those life­styles ul­ti­mately is the same: eat­ing whole foods and plants.

The pur­pose of the pe­gan diet is to get peo­ple to eat whole foods that are fresh and or­ganic and in­crease their veg­etable in­take.

There also is an em­pha­sis on the qual­ity of foods you’re eat­ing – the pe­gan diet en­cour­ages par­tic­i­pants to eat or­ganic prod­ucts.

What are you sup­posed to eat?

Plants. Most of your diet will be made up of veg­eta­bles, good fats and nuts and seeds.

The physi­cian ex­plained that 75 per­cent of the diet should be fruits and veg­eta­bles while avoid­ing dairy and gluten.

But if you must eat dairy, the diet ad­vises reach­ing for sheep- or goat-based dairy prod­ucts. Maria Mar­lowe, a nu­tri­tion health coach and au­thor who op­er­ates a nu­tri­tion health coach­ing prac­tice in New York City, said this is be­cause goat and sheep’s milk are eas­ier to di­gest than cow’s milk, but it’s prefer­able to avoid all dairy.

Hy­man said that meat is not nec­es­sar­ily harm­ful and has health ben­e­fits. It de­pends on how much you’re eat­ing and what kind you’re eat­ing. The doc­tor, who is di­rec­tor of the Cleve­land Clinic Cen­ter for Func­tional Medicine, sug­gests eat­ing meat spar­ingly and eat­ing only grass-fed and sus­tain­ably raised meat.

In short, eat meat as a side dish, not the main course.

Those on a pe­gan diet should also eat healthy fats such as those found in nuts, av­o­ca­dos, co­conut oil and even sat­u­rated fat from or­ganic meat prod­ucts.

And, as with most di­ets, sugar should be avoided or eaten only as a treat.

Is the pe­gan diet safe?

De­siree Nielsen, a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian who runs a nu­tri­tion con­sult­ing prac­tice and hosts “The Ur­ban Veg­e­tar­ian,” a Cana­dian cook­ing show, doesn’t rec­om­mend the pe­gan diet be­cause of how re­stric­tive it is – she ad­vises against all di­ets that are re­stric­tive. She does be­lieve that the pe­gan diet is a great way to tran­si­tion into a health­ier and more plant-based life­style.

“There isn’t one right way to eat,” said Nielsen. “I think it’s a won­der­ful diet to be in­spired by. Eat more plants; eat more whole foods – those are won­der­ful mes­sages to in­cor­po­rate, but I think for many of us, liv­ing by a re­stric­tive rule­fo­cused diet may not be healthy for our body or our minds.”

What are the ben­e­fits?

Al­though the pe­gan diet may not be right for ev­ery­one, it has helped some peo­ple.

“I grew up eat­ing a stan­dard Amer­i­can diet, which led to a slew of health prob­lems,” said Mar­lowe. “Eat­ing the pe­gan way helped me lose 20 pounds, get rid of di­ges­tive is­sues, have more en­ergy and over­all im­prove my health.”

Nielsen said that as a ve­gan, try­ing out the pe­gan diet left her hun­gry, and she suf­fered from low blood pres­sure and headaches. She said the pe­gan diet doesn’t ad­vo­cate for a lot of legumes, the source of most of the pro­tein for plant-based eaters, and it re­lies some on an­i­mal pro­tein, which ve­gans can’t eat.

“It’s a great tran­si­tion to­wards a more plant-based diet for meat eaters,” Nielsen said. “It will in­crease in­take of valu­able phy­to­chem­i­cals from fruits and veg­eta­bles that help you fight in­flam­ma­tion. It will also help you move away from a hy­per-pro­cessed and pack­aged eat­ing pat­tern.”

Liz Josefs­berg, a cer­ti­fied per­sonal trainer and nu­tri­tion ex­er­cise spe­cial­ist, tried the pe­gan diet for 30 days and said that though she strug­gled a bit in the be­gin­ning, she en­joyed the jour­ney and the re­sults, in­clud­ing los­ing six pounds with lit­tle ef­fort.

“My stom­ach? No­tice­ably flat­ter. My skin? Bright and clear. My crav­ings for cheese – and even my de­sire to have a glass of wine – di­min­ished,” Josefs­berg wrote in a blog post. “I also no­ticed I had a real clar­ity of mind and much more en­ergy than usual.”

WAL­MART

Or­ganic pro­duce is rec­om­mended as part of a pe­gan diet.

AN­THONY SOUF­FLE/AP

Di­eti­tians rec­om­mend sheep or goat dairy prod­ucts be­cause they’re eas­ier to di­gest than milk from cows.

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