By Chef Cindi Avila, originally published at thedailymeal.com
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a vegetarian. I, myself, don’t eat meat, but I am also not one to preach about what others eat and right now lots of people seem to be eating the so-called “pegan” diet. Pegan is a word, and way of eating, that blends vegan food with food in the paleo diet. It actually recommends about 75% fruits and veggies and 25% lean animal proteins. It says no to dairy and carbs. It’s no secret I’m not a fan of the paleo diet. Since we live in modern times with access to modern food and modern medicine why eat like a caveman? However I found a few things interesting about the pegan diet so I decided to talk to a group of experts to find out their thoughts.
First up is NYC Gastroenterologist Dr. Prem Chattoo of Hudson River Gastroenterology. He is a fan and has actually recommended the diet to several patients. Here’s our exchange: Have you tried the pegan diet? If so, what benefits came from it? Yes. I decided to try the pegan diet last year when I felt like I was plateauing on the South Beach Diet. There are multiple benefits. In my case, I felt that I needed to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into my diet because, although I was managing my weight with a low glycemic diet, it tended to be very meat/protein centered. I believe that the pegan diet is worth trying because it strikes what seems to be the perfect meat/protein to fruits/vegetable balance. What are your favorite types of vegetables to integrate into your diet? My favorite pegan veggies are portobello mushrooms, artichokes, eggplants and kale. These tend to be my favorites because while they are very filling they are also low in starch and glycemic index so they do not spike your blood sugar. What are your favorite types of meats to integrate into your diet? Why are these your favorite? Shredded chicken breast, grass fed beef, and salmon.
Keep in mind, that in the pegan diet, meat is supposed to be integrated as more of a side dish/condiment and these meats are my favorite because they tend to work really well in that role. The portion size should be no larger than the size of your palm. What do you think is the hardest part about eliminating sugars and carbs from your diet? The hardest part about eliminating sugars and carbs is that because sugars and carbs are in readily available and hidden in many processed food items, our bodies have been conditioned over time to crave them. The role of the pegan diet is to reverse and retrain the body to function without sugars and processed carbs. Are there any bodily changes that occur from going paleo to pegan or vegan to pegan? There may be some. Going from paleo to pegan may improve overall cholesterol levels. Going from vegan to pegan may increase your vitamin B12 levels which increase energy levels. What do you think is the best choice of diet? Paleo, vegan or pegan? Pegan, because having fruits and vegetables as 75% of your daily food intake is likely to reduce the daily caloric intake of many of us and the pegan diet integrates a wonderful balance between meat and fruits/veggies.
THE NUTRITIONAL HEALTH COUNSELOR
Next on my list of experts is Nutritional Health Counselor Cindy Kasindorf, founder of Joni Juice. What’s interesting is she says some people, including herself may have the name pegan all along. Here’s my conversation with Cindy: Have you tried the pegan diet? If so, what benefits came from it? Why is it worth trying? Interestingly enough, I lived by the pegan diet before even knowing that there was a title to this method of eating. Many studies have shown that we are much better off eating mostly a plant based diet and eliminating dairy, soy, sugar and processed foods. With a pegan diet, you are eating 75% plant food and there is also room for high quality lean animal protein and healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil. Some of us do best when having some high quality animal protein in our diet. Filling your plate with mostly vegetables and a smaller portion of lean animal protein is a great way to combine food so that it is easily digested and provides both the macro and micro nutrients. It also allows for a diet which is less restrictive so that there are more options and it is easier to stick with it. What are your favorite types of vegetables to integrate into your diet? Why are these your favorite? All green and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, cauliflower and cabbage. Studies have shown that Cruciferous vegetables can help prevent cancer. I also love beet, asparagus, squash, and artichoke. What do you think is the hardest part about eliminating carbs and dairy from your diet? I think the psychology of it and making that switch is the hardest part. Our culture strongly encourages us to drink lots of milk and eat lots of simple carbs. To replace carbs I recommend quinoa and to replace milk/dairy I suggest almond milk. I also love coconut based ice cream as a splurge treat.
THE PHYSICAL THERAPIST
Another interesting side benefit of eating pegan may also have to do with your metabolism, that’s according to Karena Wu, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy. Wu, who helps keep everyone from professional athletes to the average gym goer in shape. Wu says, “Eating pegan will help with becoming healthier and more fit because of the lack of ingredients that retain water and ideally because you are enjoying the list of items with minimal flavor additives. It should kick up the metabolism and reduce water and true fat. The diet should also stimulate the digestive and cellular systems more because of the processing required in digestion and bowel movements, from the increase in fiber and energy, from the true, healthy, whole foods that nourish the system.”
THE PRIVATE CHEF
NYC Chef Mark Bailey is also a fan. As a private Chef he noticed some clients requesting a pegan menu. That’s when he decided he would give the diet a shot himself to lose a few pounds. How’d he do it? “I integrated lots of broccoli, green beans and asparagus into my pegan diet. These veggies compliment meat very well and are quite filling,” said Chef Bailey. “For the meats, I ate fish, chicken and turkey because they can be prepared quickly and are lighter than say beef or pork.” Lime and tequila shrimp/chicken kabobs, veggie frittata and fajita lettuce wraps are Chef Bailey’s go-to pegan dishes. THE
So this all sounds great right? Well not so fast. NYC vegan restauranteur Pamela Elizabeth, owner of NYC’s Blossom Du Jour and Blossom on Columbus (among other restaurants that carry the Blossom name) isn’t a big fan. She still believes vegan is best. “I wish the pegan diet did not promote meat consumption and did promote the importance of eating healthy carbs.” Elizabeth goes on to note that “While encouraging people to eliminate dairy from their diet, and promoting the intake of large amounts of vegetables daily is absolutely beneficial. I still stand by the vegan diet 100% though. It isn’t only good for the body, it’s good for the planet and for farm animals.”
THE KING OF FROZEN YOGURT
Going Pegan also means giving up dairy. Many would argue that would mean a lack of calcium and a lack of some of America’s favorite sweet treats including 16 Handles CE-Yo Solomon Choi. Choi says diets like all the ones mentioned here are one of the reasons they are now catering to those who want to eat dairy and those who don’t. They always have two dairy-free options on tap and are even working on new flavors like Strawberry Lemonade Sorbet and a Yo Soy Chocolate flavor, both 100% dairy-free (available late summer/early Fall). Some people still want their dairy too so there are lots of options for everyone.
The moral of the story is whether you are pegan, paleo or vegan it’s still a personal choice. You know what is right for you and your body, label or not! I personally think the name pegan sounds a little silly, but if like Cindy Kasindorf you already eat this way who needs labels?
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