Cordain Answers to Reporter on “Pegan” Diets

paleoslideElizabeth BizWest asks:

1. Are you following a strictly Paleo or Vegan-Paleo (Pegan?) diet and can you say something about the best way for someone to address the contradictions between the two if they are vegan?

2. What are the primary challenges people face for the combination of these 2 diets?

3. Do you or people in general follow this diet on a temporary or a permanent basis and why?

4. I’ve read that it’s more the modern preparation of foods like legumes and pseudo-grains like buckwheat and quinoa than the foods themselves that puts them off-limits for Paleo dieters — true?

5. Is going to a Pegan diet becoming more of a trend (as opposed to vegans and vegetarians being very opposed to considering some of the directives of a Paleo diet) and if so, why?


Dr. Mark J. Smith on the “Pegan” Diet


Hi Elizabeth,

I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

I wish I knew for sure what kind of diet you follow — I originally intended for this article to focus on a combined Paleo/Vegan diet but I’m not finding a lot of info on it locally.  But here goes anyway:

I suspect that the reason you have not found much on a combined Paleo/Vegan Diet is because it doesn’t exist.  Our scientific studies of contemporary hunter gatherers showed that there were no vegans amongst the 229 world wide hunter gatherers we tabulated (see my website and read this paper: Cordain L, Brand Miller J, Eaton SB, Mann N, Holt SHA, Speth JD.  Plant to animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in world wide hunter-gatherer diets.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,  2000, 71:682-92)

1. Are you following a strictly Paleo or Vegan-Paleo (Pegan?) diet and can you say something about the best way for someone to address the contradictions between the two if they are vegan? 
I try to follow a contemporary Paleo Diet with about 90 % compliance.  As I mentioned above, no pre-agriculture peoples ate vegan diets, in fact whenever and wherever possible they always sought out animal foods, because of a concept called optimal foraging theory in which they attempted to maximize the calories hunted or gathered compared to the calories expended to obtain the food.

2.  What are the primary challenges people face for the combination of these 2 diets?

By definition a Paleo diet involves eating animal food (fish, eggs, shellfish, meat, organ meats, poultry, game etc.), whereas people following vegan diets deliberately avoid animal food.  Hunter gatherers avoided vegan diets because of optimal foraging theory.  However, vegan diets practiced indefinitely, eventually become lethal because of the lack of vitamin B12, long chain omega three fatty acids, iodine, iron, zinc, and other nutrients.  If contemporary people attempt a vegan diet, they must supplement their diet with these necessary nutrients.  All hominins studied to date were omnivorous — that is, they ate both plant and animal foods.  At my website, I have blogged extensively on this topic:
//thepaleodiet.com/vegetarian-vegan-diets-nutritional-disasters-part-1/
//thepaleodiet.com/vegetarian-vegan-diets-nutritional-disasters-part-2/
//thepaleodiet.com/vegetarian-vegan-diets-nutritional-disasters-part-3/

2.  What are the primary challenges people face for the combination of these 2 diets?
I don’t believe that such a contemporary combination of these two diets does not exist.  If it did, the greatest challenge would be to avoid nutritional deficiencies — please read my three blogs listed above on vegan diets — otherwise you will not see the contradiction you are trying to create.

3.  Do you or people in general follow this diet on a temporary or a permanent basis and why? 
I personally know of no-one trying to follow a Paleo diet with only plant foods.  Such a diet without supplementation would rapidly cause nutritional deficiencies.

4.  I’ve read that it’s more the modern preparation of foods like legumes and pseudo-grains like buckwheat and quinoa than the foods themselves that puts them off-limits for Paleo dieters — true? 

No, actually its the opposite, greater processing and higher cooking temperatures (eg.  pressure cooking reduces the absolute amounts of various anti-nutrients that tend to produce adverse health effects.)

5.  Is going to a Pegan diet becoming more of a trend (as opposed to vegans and vegetarians being very opposed to considering some of the directives of a Paleo diet) and if so, why?

Again, I am unfamiliar with this concept or even the word (Pegan) that you propose.  I  have been involved with the contemporary Paleo Diet movement since its very get-go in the late 80’s and early 90s and even coined the term “The Paleo Diet” with my first book in 2002.

Cordially,
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

About Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor Emeritus

Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor EmeritusDr. Loren Cordain is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 20 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain’s scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. He is the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets and has lectured extensively on the Paleolithic nutrition worldwide. Dr. Cordain is the author of six popular bestselling books including The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook, The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, summarizing his research findings.

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“5” Comments

  1. “It’s huge right now on daytime TV talk shows” is the key concept here. The term Pegan is simply a pander to potential audiences that want to embrace all things vegan as well as potential audiences that want all things paleo. It is a nonsense term that only serves the purpose of marketing, in my humble opinion. I wish the good Dr. Hyman would simply be honest and talk about a high produce, low dairy, low carb diet that includes lower meat proportions. But that would be too mundane for marketing purposes. To be fair, it would be great if people didn’t require a catch phrase for something to capture their attention for more than one minute at a time.

  2. Hi, Mark. Just to clarify; Pegan is a term made up by Dr Mark Hyman. It is not actually a vegan diet. He espouses a mostly plant based diet using paleolithic principles, but does include meat. However, he suggests that the meat should make up a small proportion of your plate and be used like a condiment or “condimeat” as he calls it. He believes that we are natural omnivores, but that we need a large amount of vegetable matter from root veg, leafy greens, colored veg and fruits, nuts and seeds. I’m not sure whether he advocates occasional use of traditionally prepared legumes and pseudocereals. He suggests that we should eat small amounts of fish, eggs, grass fed meat, etc.

    Obviously gluten, processed foods, sugars, and vegetable seed oils are out. It is a fairly low carb high fat diet, incorporating things like avocados and nuts. I can’t remember where he stands on dairy. So it is still a paleo diet, but with a lot of emphasis placed on plants and some de-emphasis on animal products. He wouldn’t be advocating huge steaks on a regular basis, but definitely not vegan.

    • Hi Catriona, The post was actually by Dr. Cordain and at the time of writing it, had not seen Dr. Hyman’s concept of combining components of Vegan and Paleo. Consequently, at the top of the post, we linked to an interview I did with Heath Squier on The Primal Show where I discuss Dr. Hyman’s original article he wrote in January 2015 where he first coined the term “Pegan”. His outline is essentially about an 80-90% compliant Paleo diet on the high end of the plant to animal subsistence ratio that Dr. Cordain’s research paper outlined (Cordain L, Brand Miller J, Eaton SB, Mann N, Holt SHA, Speth JD. Plant to animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in world wide hunter-gatherer diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000, 71:682-92).

  3. The term Pegan was coined by Dr. Mark Hyman. He noted that the Paleo & vegan approaches shared the basic concepts of Eat Real Food, avoid dairy, and eat a lot of veggies. Hyman eats meat, fish & eggs but as “condiments,” not as full servings. He focuses on Real Food with a low glycemic index. He skips dairy, all grains, and added sugars. He advocates eating veggies, lentils, some fish, some eggs, nuts, avocados, berries, and coconut oil. This is the so-called “Paleo-vegan” or “Pegan” diet and it’s huge right now on daytime TV talk shows.

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