Fad diets remain as popular as ever. And in these crazy COVID times when we’re all trying to stay as healthy as possible, confusion is rampant about how best to eat for optimal health. In his latest book, The Pegan Diet (Little, Brown Spark, 2021), Mark Hyman, M.D., a 13-time New York Times bestselling author and leading authority in functional medicine, offers a solution. Using a food-is-medicine approach, Hyman explains how to take the best aspects of the paleo diet and the vegan diet to create a roadmap that is not only good for your brain and your body, but also good for the planet. We caught up with him to learn more.
What was your inspiration to write this book?
There is no one perfect diet. Instead, there’s a set of principles that work for everyone. I decided to give this set a name (the Pegan Diet) as a way to say we can combine the best of many different dietary approaches into a way of eating that works for everyone.
If we take the best of a paleo diet (low starch, low sugar, combined with quality protein and fat) plus the best of a vegan diet (a lot of colorful plant foods), we essentially have a diet that is inclusive, nutrient-dense and good for the planet. My main goal was to create a sustainable, optimal human diet that anyone can follow, regardless of their dietary, philosophical, social and cultural preferences. I think the reason it struck a chord with so many people is that it is not just a diet; it’s a way of life. And it’s not about deprivation or being perfect 100 percent of the time. It’s about choosing nutrient-dense foods 90 percent of the time and finding what works for you.
Paleo and vegan seem SO far apart on the food spectrum. Do these diets have similarities that mesh?
Many dietary philosophies, including paleo and vegan, have far more in common than most people realize, and far, far more in common than the standard American diet, otherwise known as the SAD diet. In fact, paleo and vegan camps are identical except for one thing: where to get protein. Animal products or beans and grains? That’s it. Both promote a plant-rich, whole-foods diet low in starch and sugar, processed foods, additives, hormones, GMOs and—except for a small group of extreme low-fat vegan fans—rich in good fats. They both even eschew dairy.
What are some of the top health benefits of following the Pegan Diet?
It is inclusive and works for anyone—paleo, keto, raw food, vegan. It’s also not meant to be a deprivation diet. It’s about eating well most of the time and not beating yourself up for enjoying life. Above all, it values quality. We have the ability to change our health every single day with what we put on our fork, and this diet takes advantage of that.
Regarding meat, you write that “It’s not the cow, it’s the how.” Please explain this.
Most people think they need to become vegan if they want to eat a climate-supportive diet. Yes, we should all avoid feedlot beef for its health, climate and environmental impacts. But regeneratively raised beef actually improves carbon sequestration through natural grazing practices. Studies show that end-to-end in the carbon cycle, regeneratively raised cows reduce carbon emissions by 170 percent. Without animals as part of a holistically managed farm system, you can’t build a robust ecosystem with strong soils. No soil means no food, and that means no humans. Considering the fact that we’ve lost one-third of our topsoil already and have only 60 years before ruining the rest, we should be pretty interested in protecting and rebuilding our soils.
Learn more about the Pegan Diet in Mark Hyman’s new book, The Pegan Diet: 21 Practical Principles for Reclaiming Your Health in a Nutritionally Confusing World