Since January, I’ve made some major changes in the way I eat. I was not feeling poorly before, but when I had health issues come up and discovered I was estrogen dominant, I decided to jump in and try to make as many natural alterations to my diet and lifestyle as I could to help. While my diet had always been “healthy” (since there is no real definition for that, I’ll define it as low in processed foods and high in vegetable intake), I learned that for optimal hormone health, there were certainly changes I could make that appeared promising to be able to make a difference.
Since my personal issues originate with insulin resistance, that’s where I started my research. My first googling led me to Mark Hyman.
Who is Dr. Mark Hyman?
Mark Hyman is, among other things, the Director for the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. Functional medicine is a form of alternative medicine which focuses on interactions between the environment and the gastrointestinal, endocrine, and immune systems. He has written several books, but the two that I checked out of the library immediately were The Blood Sugar Solution and Eat Fat, Get Thin.
In The Blood Sugar Solution he talks about preventing not just diabetes, but other diseases as well, with a focus on balanced insulin levels. Dr. Hyman describes the seven keys to achieving wellness-nutrition, hormones, inflammation, digestion, detoxification, energy metabolism, and a calm mind.
In Eat Fat, Get Thin he elaborates more on those pillars, as well as what an optimum health diet looks like, which he calls the Pegan diet.
What is the Pegan diet?
A “Pegan diet” is a term originally coined by Mark Hyman in his 2014 blog, and described in his Eat Fat,Get Thin book. It is named because of it’s core attributes of combining the best parts of a paleo diet and the best parts of a vegan diet.
The core takeaways of a Pegan diet are this:
- No dairy, processed foods, sugar, or gluten
- 75 percent plant-based
- Lower in carbs, higher in healthy fats
- Limited use of quality animal proteins
What can I eat on a Pegan diet?
I decided to learn more and give it a try. If I could better balance my blood sugars, then I would also be improving my body’s response to insulin (which is also closely tied to estrogen). After reading his book in detail and researching the term online, here is the general outline for what the eating style consists of:
- Non starchy vegetables. Dr. Hyman says these should make up 75% of your diet and includes anything that has a glycemic index of between 55 and 69) like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, leeks, broccoli, mushrooms, etc.
- Minimal low-glycemic fruit (I mostly go for berries)
- High quality fat sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olives.
- Sustainable and grass-fed animal protein, in the portion of a side dish or condiment.
- Legumes, in limited portions (1/2 c- 1 c per day)
- Gluten-free grains, sparingly (less than 1/2 c per day)
What is off limits on a Pegan diet?
- No processed foods.
- No sugar.
- No dairy. Avoid all cow’s milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and other animal dairy products should be avoided. Vegan, plant-based milk products and yogurts are fine.
- No gluten.
How do I feel eating a Pegan Diet?
Being that I was plant-based for a solid year, I hadn’t really had animal protein in a long time. I first was wondering if I could still avoid it completely, but quickly found that it wasn’t sustainable because of hunger and satiety reasons.
Also, in my consult with female hormone expert Ali Damron, she was pretty straight forward with me that for hormonal reasons, it would really do me a lot of good to add in high quality grass-fed beef a couple times a week. I also chose to cut out all beans because in my particular case, they were not a good fit.
I’ll be honest, at first it was a struggle to eat meat again. It did not sound appealing and left me feeling uneasy. However after a week or two, my body adjusted and now I tolerate beef, chicken, and low-mercury fish just fine.
So- how do I feel?
Really fantastic. Again, I was not feeling poorly before, but still, within two weeks, I noticed positive changes. I have zero bloating. I go to bed feeling the same way I feel when I woke up which was (still is) mind-blowing to me. No need to ever unbutton my top button. Also, my energy is high and stable.
While it is taking some adjustment to get used to no dairy (not being able to just grab a pizza on a Friday night was a bummer), I don’t feel super limited in my choices.
One thing I’ve noticed as well is my hunger has completely changed. I seem to becoming what a lot of “Keto” followers refer to as “fat adapted” and as a result, my natural eating schedule has adjusted. I typically have a 14 hour fasting window overnight and do not feel the need to eat or snack frequently. I eat substantial meals 2-3 times per day, usually between the hours of 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM.
Real Life Pegan Meals
So what does this look like in real life? It looks like a cart overflowing with produce every week. It looks bright and colorful. And I’ll be honest, it looks like more time spent on food prep. However, it tastes delicious! Here are some of the meals I’ve been enjoying:
Grass-fed burger topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions, garlic dill pickle kraut, roasted Brussels sprouts, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado.
Romaine lettuce, shredded purple cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, green onions, oven “fried” chicken, buffalo sauce, and The New Primal ranch dressing.
Slow cooker butter chicken over cauliflower rice with cilantro.
Grain-free breakfast porridge with blueberries.
Lettuce, carrots, orange bell pepper, celery, purple onion, avocado, cilantro, rotisserie chicken, and pumpkin seeds topped with great day dressing.
Pulled pork in a Raw Wrap with guacamole, spinach, sliced jalapenos, and salsa.
Two eggs scrambled with mushrooms, onions, and kale with Sumo citrus and blueberries.
Honey Mustard Salmon with Roasted Vegetables from Eat What You Love.
Additional Pegan diet resources:
What is the Pegan Diet from Mind Body Green
Pegan = Paleo + Vegan from Dr. Mark Hyman
Understanding the Pegan Diet from Today’s Dietitian
I hope this was been a helpful peek into the Pegan diet. It’s been a positive shift for me, but I still am a firm believer that a “healthy” diet is very individualized.
If you have any questions, I am happy to answer them to the best of my ability. Just leave them in the comments!