Pegan is the “new black,” but what is it exactly? Find out all you need to know below….
Diet Overwhelm: Paleo vs. Vegan vs. Vegetarian
When it comes to diets, or rather lifestyles of eating, people can get pretty adamant about what they believe—especially with the “Big 3” (paleo, vegan, vegetarian).
Sure you have your Fruitarians…and your Gluten-free camp…and your low-fat diet diehards…and your ketogenic-enthusiasts…but there is something about the “Big 3” lifestyles (Paleo, Vegan and Vegetarian) that have become more than just prescriptions for a particular diet….
They’ve become identities.
I get it.
I have tried all three.
And, throughout my various seasons, when following the guidelines for each, I felt a moral obligation and connection to the food I ate. If anyone (especially a nutritionist) tried to convince me I was dead wrong, I clung more tightly to my beliefs, and dove hard into the dietary rules for each.
My diet gave me a sense of achievement and euphoria.
Feelings of “cleanness” or proud accomplishment went hand in hand with my decline of turkey sandwiches (vegetarian days), drinking green juice (my vegan attempts) and fear carbs in any form (strict, un-informed paleo days).
Houston We Have a Problem
Little did I realize, by being dogmatic about a “one-way-or-the-highway” approach to my food (and my own identity wrapped up in my food choices), the more consumed and obsessed I became with food…
And the more imbalanced I became….
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to nutrition and the foods you eat.
Every BODY is different. And every BODY’s preferences are different too.
- Some BODIES thrive upon a little more carb. Others, a little more fat.
- Some can digest red meat well…while others get an upset stomach just thinking about it.
- Some people love crunchy things…others crave sweets.
- And on and on.
There’s a host of factors that contribute to both your body’s “sweet spot” with certain foods and your personal preferences.
However, if there is ONE thing that is true amongst all human beings, it is this:
All human bodies thrive upon four macronutrients for optimal function:
- Proteins (the basic building block of your cell structure and brain function)
- Carbs (especially fruits and veggies)
- Healthy fats (your body’s preferred source of fuel)
- And water
Like a car that runs off of gasoline—not water; And like a plant that only thrives when it’s fed water and sunshine (not gasoline)…
Your human body needs all four macros for optimal health.
Generally, all foods contain bits and pieces of proteins, fats and carbs (Yes, even broccoli has some protein in it).
But to get the BIGGEST bang for your nutrient buck, comes when we eat straight from the source of each macronutrient and we consume a balance of each.
When we don’t get the first-line of proteins, fats, or carbs, your body does some funky things.
It attempts to turn other food sources into what it’s really needing and craving…
Not eating protein? Your body says, “Ok, I guess I will try to absorb as much protein as I can from this broccoli…or these beans and rice…”
Not eating enough fat? Your body turns to sugar and glucose (carbs) for its sole energy needs (and since carbs don’t last as long as fats do for energy, your body will “crash”, crave sugar or get headaches when it runs out of fuel—demanding more sugar).
Not eating enough carbs? (Even veggies and fresh fruits) Your body does make ‘glucose’ (energy) from protein and extracts energy from ketones (fats), however, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common and digestion can also suffer (since carbs help smooth things along in the digestive tracts thanks to dietary fiber).
Bottom line: We need all four macros (protein, carbs, fats, water) for optimal function!
Between the “Big 3,” protein (animal protein) is obviously the most controversial, and also the most misunderstood, macro.
The vegans and vegetarians say “Nay!” and the cavemen say “Yay!”
So who is right?
Bottom line: No one is “right or wrong”—rather science and biology of the human body is non-biased and simply confirms that protein is an essential building block of all cellular function, and while there is protein in foods like broccoli and beans, protein from plants lacks one or more essential amino acids, making it “incomplete” whereas protein from animals contains all essential amino acids—the purest and “most complete” source of protein. These 9 essential amino acids (proteins your body needs from food, including: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine), are responsible for healthy mood, lessened anxiety, healthy hormones and digestion.
When we rely solely on plants for our protein, amino acid imbalance can become a problem over time. Just like when we rely solely on chicken breast for our carb intake, constipation and vitamin/mineral deficiencies can become a problem.
In addition, while plants and legumes, again, do have some protein in them, many plants contain anti-nutrients—making plant-based protein sources less digestable. “Anti-nutrients,” like phytate and lectins, compose the outer shell of rice, beans, nuts, corn, and wheat. These compounds that bind to vitamins and minerals, making them unabsorbable, is largely as a defense mechanism. In the wild, a plant’s antinutrients help repel pests, bugs and other predators so the seeds are able to live on and reproduce. But when we eat them—and base our diet on them—what do you think happens to our own digestion and ability to absorb the foods we eat?
The result from not consuming protein? Poor digestion and gut health; Increased anxiety; Low energy; Hormonal imbalances; Decreased muscle synthesis (firing) and recovery from workouts; and Mood disturbances.
The same can be said, again, if a person is not eating enough plants (veggies, fruits) and fats.
While you CAN survive on an imbalanced diet for some time…Over time, this can lead to some pretty big nutrition and health deficiencies.
Enter: The problem—imbalance (when we neglect one food group entirely).
The bottom line: Your body needs (and deserves) a balance of all food groups for optimal function.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT?
Meet the “Pegan” Nutrition Philosophy—a newer dietary approach aiming to declare “peace” between a divided world of paleo-diehards, vegan activists and vegetarian dogmas alike.
Essentially, a “Pegan” philosophy combines the best of both practices for optimal balance and quality foods: Nutrient-rich and easily digested plants make up the base of the approach, with quality, humanely-raised and free-from-toxin meats and animals serving as the “condiments” or supplement to a nutrient-dense plate.
Here are the basic principles:
- Eat the Big 3. Base your plate on veggies, proteins and healthy fats. Limit the glycemic load (sugar) from sweets and grains.
- Eat mostly plants – lots of low glycemic vegetables and fruits. This should be 75 percent of your diet and your plate. I usually make 2 to 3 vegetable dishes per meal.
- Eat healthy fats. Stay away from most vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, corn, and especially soybean oil, which now comprises about 10 percent of our calories. Reach for omega 3 fats, nuts, coconut, avocados, nuts (not peanuts), seeds, olive oil and yes, even saturated fat from grass fed or sustainably raised animals.
- Limit Dairy –Try goat or sheep products, or grass-fed full-fat dairy sources (less processed).
- Eat gluten-free whole grains sparingly– Often difficult to digest due to the antinutrients on the outer shell of the wheat protein; they also still raise blood sugar and can trigger digestion issues in some (rice, quinoa, steel cut oats); Be in touch with how your body does respond
- Eat beans occasionally – Lentils, chickpeas and pre-soaked whole beans.
- Eat meat or animal products as a condiment, not a main course. Read The Third Plate by Dan Barber or Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolf to understand how shifts in our eating habits could save the environment and ourselves. Vegetables should take center stage, but meat is still a crucial part of a balanced diet, and if anything, is a side dish.
- Think of sugar as an occasional treat – in all its various forms (i.e., use occasionally and sparingly).
Want an idea of what to eat with a “Pegan” approach to your plate?
Click here to download a Pegan Food List