I have to admit I was a bit thrown when Dr. Oz said “and the great news is that So-and So (can’t remember her name) is going to be going to school for nutrition!”. The audience applauded. This sweet young lady had just finished explaining how to incorporate snacks and alcohol into your “Pegan” diet. For some crazy reason I was assuming she was an “expert”and already educated in nutrition? Ya’ll know I am not a huge fan of the Dr. Oz Show, but when flicking through the channels yesterday to find an update on the upcoming snow storm hitting New England, the headline caught my eye: The Pegan Diet. Apparently, I missed this new diet when it came out a few years ago. I couldn’t resist (especially because I need to be informed of these things when someone asks me a question about the latest diet trends, which they inevitably do). I had to watch it. In case like me, you were unaware of this diet, I thought you might be interested to learn some of the details, and more importantly, be able to be informed before you start something like this.
So the Pegan diet attempts to combine the popular “Paleo” diet with a “vegan” diet. The Paleo diet is based on eating like the people did back in the Stone Age and avoiding any “modern” foods. The diet is based on eating meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts with no grains, beans, dairy or processed foods. Vegan diets eliminate all animal products but do include beans, nuts, lots of grains, healthy fats like oils and of course fruits and vegetables. But combining these two diets feels like an oxymoron to me……either you are vegan and don’t eat animal products, or you do eat them and so then you are not at all a vegan, right? Apparently, from what I read, the thinking is that following a vegan diet is too difficult for those who like to eat meat, and following a paleo diet has too many rules. The Pegan Diet is supposed to feel easier I guess? Easier if you are ok without ice cream. Seriously, the Pegan Diet has even more confusing rules if you ask me. Meat is ok but should only be used as a “condiment”. Dairy is not ok. Beans are ok but only in limited amounts (half cup) and grains are also allowed but limited to “low-glycemic” grains (do you really want to think about glycemic index?) and also limited to half a cup (do you know anyone who only eats a half cup of pasta?). Anyway, you get it.
There’s more. According to the Dr. Oz show, you can modify the diet (I think he is calling it the Pegan 365 Diet) by including alcohol and “snacks”. The catch is that only 2 drinks a week are allowed (so you can participate in Happy Hour with your friends even though you are dieting. They don’t want you to feel isolated). And the examples of snacks they gave on the show included a large plate of cucumbers (this is new?), non-dairy yogurt with berries (so creative) and a frozen dairy free yogurt pop (that might be good), oh, and black bean brownies (don’t knock it till you try it I guess). The point is that it is still a diet, and that means restrictive.
Yes, like with all diets, you WILL lose weight. I estimated the calories to be around a 1000 a day, more or less depending upon your dieting skills. No magic here, any diet will cause some weight loss with that little calorie intake. Besides the low calorie level, there are many nutritional inadequacies. These are clearly spelled out in this excellent critique of the diet (click on the link) by the true experts in Today’s Dietitian
There are some good things I did see on the show, and there are some good aspects to the diet. I absolutely loved some of the recipes and meals demonstrated. One was a vegan chili stuffed pepper that looked really yummy and is certainly a healthy dish providing lots of fiber and nutrients (I would melt some cheese on it myself). There was also a salad with arugula greens and roasted asparagus and what looked like roasted artichokes topped with chick peas and a dressing made of olive oil I think. That also looked great and would be even better with some grated Parmesan or grilled fish on top. Healthy and yummy, and nothing is wrong with that. The diet also focuses on whole foods, avoiding processed foods and things like that. I agree that cooking with real food is not only healthier but surely tastes much better. I would gladly pit my mom’s homemade minestrone soup against any canned version. Or my husband’s homemade cinnamon rolls against Cinnabon’s. Yes, I am all for whole, real foods…..but let’s face it, sometimes you just want a Snickers Bar. Or a Ritz cracker with peanut butter. Or more than 2 glasses of wine a week.
The bottom line is if you want to try a diet like this just know it is probably not a life-long way to live. Our bodies just are not wired to live in such a restrictive state. If you are one of those people who really can’t give up your dieting and you decide to try this, I hope you learn something from it. Maybe you will discover some new ways to cook, or learn that you actually do like vegetables. But please don’t judge yourself if you can’t stick to this and please consult with an expert (Registered Dietitian) or ask your doctor about supplements you may need (such as vitamin D, calcium, iron) which are not adequately provided by this diet.
Finally, what rubs me the wrong way is how gullible some people think we are when it comes to falling for the next popular diet. It seems all you need is a catchy name. So I was trying to come up with something good (that is, if I had to invent a diet). All I could come up with was The “Happivore Diet”. The rules would be simple: Eat what makes you happy. Eat what makes you feel good. Listen to your body. Learn from your mistakes in eating, or drinking ; ) Care about your body and your health. Learn to cook. Keep trying new foods, especially vegetables and fruits. Learn about nutrition in a sane way (what you need to be your best). Respect your uniqueness (if you feel like you are addicted to sugar and can’t have it in the house, you know yourself best). If you need the structure of a meal plan or certain diet plan, do what you need to do for yourself. If you don’t want to eat animal products and prefer to eat vegetarian, do what is best for you and live in a way that fuels your passion and beliefs. Most important, never give up on your quest for health, physical, spiritual and mental health. And remember, YOU are the true expert in your own life.
And there is nothing bad about eating more than a half cup of pasta.