Are you a true vegan who wants to incorporate the principles of the Paleo diet, but without consuming any animal products whatsoever?
If so, this article is for you!
The “Pegan” diet—a Paleo-vegan hybrid of the Paleo approach and traditional veganism—is becoming increasingly popular in health media. However, it is almost always presented as a combination diet, and not as Paleo approach for vegans. In other words, the Pegan diet “rules” of many health “gurus” are not actually vegetarian, making it impossible for true vegans to follow.
For example, Dr. Oz’s version of the diet is a vegetable-based menu that includes small portions of meat.[i] CNN reports that a Pegan diet should contain no more than 25% animal proteins.[ii] We call this kind of meat-vegetarian combo a “hybrid” Pegan diet, but not a true Pegan diet.
For a true vegan, eating animal products is impossible. The good news is, there is an alternative approach that truly vegetarian Pegans can use: the true Pegan diet.
The vegan approach
A vegan is someone who does not eat animal products, period. So, no dairy, no eggs, no seafood, no poultry, and certainly no meat. Many vegans also eschew products related to animals in any way, such as honey (from bees) and gelatin (from animal bones).
So for a vegan interested in the Paleo approach, eating meat in the style of the aforementioned hybrid Pegan diets (which include some meat) would be a huge leap, and anathema to their principles.
This article will describe ways that vegans can adhere to Paleo principles without consuming animal products of any kind.
Now, to clarify, we are not advocating veganism. In fact, we believe that meat and eggs from humanely, naturally raised animals can and should be part of everyone’s diet. A recent study of contemporary hunter-gatherers (recognized as a reference standard for modern human nutrition) has shown these societies have high protein consumption from animal sources[iii] and not a single vegan society among the 229 pre-agriculture peoples studied.[iv] We believe humans were meant to eat meat.
However, we recognize that some people choose a true vegan diet for reasons beyond evolutionary arguments about digestion. If you adhere to veganism for religious or cultural reasons, or because of your personal ethics and beliefs regarding animals and/or spirituality, you may be curious as to how you can adopt Paleo principles without including any animal products.
So for vegans whose personal principles prevent them from consuming animal products, here is the right Pegan approach.
A truly vegan, Pegan diet
What follows is what a real Pegan diet is like for vegans to follow. A true Pegan approach is an anti-inflammatory way of eating for vegans that eliminates inflammatory foods and ingredients.
What’s out: As with a Paleo approach, on a Pegan diet you should not eat any gluten, processed or junk foods, sugars, refined oils, or dairy. Animal products are also out for Pegans.
A key difference between a Pegan plan and traditional vegan diets is that no grains are allowed on a true Pegan diet. This means no rice, wheat, corn, barley, oatmeal, triticale, teff, and so on. This is probably a big change for most vegans since grains are usually a major component of any truly vegan diet. (Read more about why you should cut the grains from your diet!)
This also means no pseudo-grains, which is also probably a change for many vegans. So, no quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat or wild rice should be eaten while on the Pegan plan.
What’s in: Good news, there is still a lot you can eat! Focus on naturally high-fat foods such as avocados, cold-pressed and organic olive or coconut oil, seeds, and nuts. Eat lots of colorful and varied vegetables (root vegetables, leafy greens), low-sugar fruits (such as berries), and vegan sources of protein (more on these below).
The focus is on eating mostly whole (“as found in nature”), fresh, organic foods that have a low glycemic load, while still getting adequate protein, which is critical for muscle growth, appetite control, and overall health.
Here’s a twist: legumes—long a staple on traditional vegetarian diets—are allowed, but only in small amounts and with specific preparations. This means only minimal amounts of beans, lentils and tofu should be eaten on a true Pegan diet (more on this below).
A caution: As previously mentioned, we believe everyone can benefit from animal products and the traditional Paleo diet. However, if you are going to try the truly vegan, Pegan approach for personal reasons, we recommend you pay close attention to the signals your body sends you. You need to be aware of the limitations of a vegan diet.
Here’s the bottom line: Eating a junk-food vegan diet is a huge mistake, and if you are not going to make the effort to eat from a wide variety of plant foods and vegetarian protein sources, the Pegan diet is not right for you. Long-term vegans who maintain good health eat an intentional variety of whole foods (vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and so forth) and frequently supplement their diets with vitamins.
Getting enough vitamin B12 is of particular concern, and there are many great references for vegans out there about avoiding vitamin deficiencies on an animal-free diet. Note that it can take years for certain vitamin deficiencies to develop, so if you choose to forgo all animal products, you must be consistently vigilant about eating properly.
It’s critical to do the true Pegan diet right. A true Pegan diet works well for someone who has already eaten a healthy vegan diet with success for some time, and who knows how to get enough vitamins and protein from a vegan diet.
Everyone’s digestive system is unique, and—while some vegetarians thrive—not everyone does well on a vegan diet. If you feel lethargic, foggy, or generally unwell on the Pegan (or any vegan) diet, we recommend eating some animal foods (try initially adding organic, cage free eggs) and speaking to a medical professional about possible nutritional deficiencies if you still feel unwell.
All about Pegan protein
Nevertheless, it is possible to eat healthfully and go Pegan! To get enough protein and nutrition on a Pegan diet, choose from the following options.
Sprouted legumes: Like bean sprouts (which are typically the sprouts of the mung bean), many legumes can be sprouted. This means they are soaked in water for several hours, and then repeatedly rinsed until they develop a tail-like protrusion (a small shoot). The soaking softens the outer shell or coating of the seed (the hull), which allows the spout to grow.
Sprouted beans are more edible than non-spouted legumes. Sprouting also enhances the bioavailability of the nutrients in the legumes and can reduce the levels of anti-nutrients that make beans unacceptable on purely Paleo diets.[v]
Legumes such as lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, and lima beans can all be sprouted. The soaking of legumes and seeds has been used for centuries in traditional cultures throughout the world. You can sprout them yourself or buy sprouted legumes at most grocery stores (look for them near the bean and alfalfa sprouts).
On a Pegan plan, we recommend no more than one cup of sprouted legumes per day.
Sacha inchi protein powder: The so called “Incan peanut,” sacha inci is an Amazonian superfood derived from the seeds of the inedible Plekenetia volubilis fruit, which has been cultivated for centuries by indigenous peoples in South America.
Sacha inchi seeds can be eaten roasted (although not raw), or be made into an oil or powder. The powder contains lots of protein and Omega-3s (which is of special interest for vegans, since there are few plant sources of this important nutrient), and is 100% vegan and Pegan. It is highly digestible and contains all nine essential amino acids. Sacha inchi Pegan® Protein Powder is a versatile ingredient that can be used in smoothies, baking, bars, or desserts. It’s also the protein base of our delicious Cinnamon Raisin Roll flavored Pegan® Protein Bars.
Sachi inchi also provides generous amounts of iron and calcium, which are sometimes difficult to obtain in sufficient quantities on a vegan diet.
Pea protein: Pea protein can be made into a protein powder that is highly digestible and bioavailable. With its light and complementary flavor, it’s a versatile, plant-based source of protein that is perfect for smoothies, or simply mixed with almond milk or coconut water.
Botanically speaking, peas are legumes. However, (like peanuts and green beans) these legumes don’t come with the same level of cautions as dried beans (kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, and so on).
First, green pea lectins appear to be much less toxic than those found in other beans.[vi] Peas also have more protein than grains, fewer anti-nutrients and phytates, and a good mineral profile. Peas and pea protein are a great protein addition to a Pegan diet.
Roasted peanuts: Like peas, peanuts are technically legumes but they behave differently in the body than other legumes. For example, peanuts have a much lower glycemic load (and therefore are lower on the glycemic index) than most beans. Peanuts are full of protein, heart-protecting resveratrol, fiber, and anti-oxidants (especially when roasted). We recommend eating peanut-based protein from dry-roasted, organic peanuts.
Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds represent a vegan protein powerhouse, with high levels of amino acids. They also provide good amounts of the minerals zinc, copper, magnesium, potassium, iron and manganese[vii]. You can enjoy the seeds as a snack, or pumpkin seed protein powder—which is also the main protein component of our delicious Ginger Snap Cookie Pegan® Protein Bar.
Organic sprouted tofu (women only): Women practicing the Pegan diet can eat tofu made from sprouted soybeans (versus whole soybeans, which is what “regular” tofu is made from). Sprouted beans are better because they are more nutritious and easier to digest, compared to non-sprouted beans or seeds. Sprouted tofu can be harder to find (Wildwood® organics is one US manufacturer). Try calling around to health food stores and specialty health markets to get this item.
Since over 90% of the soy grown in the US is genetically modified, make sure the soy you eat is non-GMO. Look for the “USDA Organic” seal (which precludes GMO ingredients), or the Non-GMO Project label.
However, we recommend men avoid tofu and other soybean-based products. This is because soy products contain isoflavones: phytoestrogens that may mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. In men, excess estrogen may lead an increased risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease, and low libido.
To counteract the effects of excess estrogen, men should boost their intake of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy and Brussels sprouts. Cruciferous vegetables work to naturally block estrogen production. There are also other natural ways men can enhance testosterone levels at the same time.
Both men and women should avoid processed soy products (such as soy hot dogs, soy bologna, soy turkey, chocolate-covered soy nuts, and so on) which tend to have fewer nutrients and unhealthy filler ingredients.
Fermented soy products (women only): A true Pegan diet can include whole, organic, fermented soy foods, such as tofu, miso, tempeh, natto and soy sauce, most of which are now available in everyday grocery stores. Like sprouting, fermentation makes foods more digestible and increases the bioavailability of nutrients.
Tempeh in particular is a great place to start. It’s a chewy, meaty-type of soy product that works well with many cooking techniques, and it can be grilled, steamed or added to soups, salads or stir-fries. (If you are up for some culinary adventures, note that regional Asian cuisines boasts a wide variety of other fermented soy-based condiments you can try! Look for them in Asian food markets.)
Supplements: All vegans—even vegans who do not follow the Pegan approach—need to be careful about getting enough of the vitamins and minerals that are only found in animal foods (such as vitamin B12), or are difficult to get in sufficient and/or bioavailable amounts from plant foods alone. These include iron, Omegan-3 and DHA fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin A, iodine, calcium, and zinc. We recommend taking a daily vitamin supplement to cover your bases, and educating yourself on balanced vegan nutrition (since this topic is beyond the scope of this article, here’s a good place to start).
Pegan® Protein Bars: For true vegans, it can be tough finding protein-rich snacks that don’t have dairy (whey) or egg-based protein sources. That’s why we formulated our new Pegan® Protein Bars. Created with true vegans/Pegans in mind, they only contain plant-based protein, plus high levels digestion-enhancing prebiotic fiber and natural no-calorie sweetener.
Flavored only with natural, easy-to-recognize ingredients such as cinnamon and raisins, these take-anywhere, delicious bars are perfect for vegans and Paleo fans who happen to be allergic to dairy and/or eggs. By the way, we’ve made sure they are soft, creamy, and yummy—unlike some of the “other” bars out there, which are dry and gritty. Pegan® Protein Bars are the perfect Paleo, gluten-free, soy-free, vegan, 98% organic food solution!
Other protein sources: The above is not a comprehensive list of vegan and Pegan sources of protein; others include artichoke hearts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, almonds, spirulina, tahini, cashews, and kale.
Now as any vegan knows, the key is to eat from a diverse selection of plant protein sources, since each contains a different amino acid profile. The idea is to get different amino acids from different plants sources, every day… variety is key!
Sample Pegan Diet
Kickstart a Pegan lifestyle with these nutrition suggestions. Aim to eat 1500 to 2000 Calories and 120g protein or more per day, with the following macronutrient ratios: 40% protein, 40% fat and 20% carbs. (Note that calorie and protein recommendations will vary with muscle mass, body weight, and intensity of activity; these numbers are approximations.)
- Organic berries or fruit: Blueberries, Raspberry, Apples, Banana (under-ripe)
- Coconut or Almond Milk and or Yogurt
- 1 Scoop of Organic Sacha Inchi Seed Protein (Pegan Protein Powder) 24g Protein
- 1 Cup Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds (Recommend: GoRaw) (12g protein plus healthy Fats)
- Paleo/Vegan Coconut Flakes w/Almond or Coconut Milk
Calories: approximately 400 to 600
- Pegan Protein Bar (20g Protein)
Calories: 170 to 210
- Whole Avocado / Nuts / Vegetables
- Focus on low glycemic fruit for something sweet (Blueberries/Apples/Raspberries)
Calories: approximately 400
- Flavored Kale (1 Bag) 10g Protein / 280 Calories
- Paleo Thin Crackers (Vegan) made by Julian Bakery (70 calories per serving)
- Coconut Wraps (paleo/vegan wraps) place vegan patties and veggies into a coconut wrap for an awesome, easy-to-make dinner
- Always consume steamed veggies with dinner
- Make sure to include protein in each meal from avocados,[viii] nuts and/or seed proteins.
- If you love pasta, try making zucchini pasta or use Paleo Noodles (paleo/vegan). These high-fiber noodles are available in fettuccine, angel hair and rice (fiber rice) and are made from konjac plant fiber.
- Another favorite is vegan cauliflower pizza crust (check out Pinterest for recipes). Add our new Paleo Cheese (vegan/paleo)—it melts and taste like real cheese! (coming October, 2016).
- Dessert: dark chocolate 80% (ideally, sweetened with monk fruit or organic stevia)
Calories: approximately 400 to 800
As you are eliminating many foods from your diet this allows you to consume more food from healthy fruits, veggies and other sources. The Pegan diet is a low sugar style of eating that focuses on low glycemic foods that all promote optimal health and can reduce inflammation within the body. As you can see you can easily get enough calories, fats, carbs, and protein by following this plan.
Tips: Cook with plantain or cassava flour. To make bread, use Pinterest for amazing recipe ideas that work with a true Pegan template. Don’t be confused by other Pegan sites or recipes that integrate animal proteins. Our Pegan plan is a true vegan diet with no animal products whatsoever.
The Pegan lifestyle
Contrary to what many health “gurus” suggest, it is possible for vegans to adopt a Paleo approach without eating animal products. Although we believe humans were made to eat animal products, it is possible for vegans to go Pegan and still get enough plant-based protein and nutrition. However, a true Pegan (Paleo and vegan) approach must include a conscientious effort eat healthfully and optimally.