The vegan diet has long been praised for its health benefits and emphasis on plant-based eating, but following the diet can be a challenge and some people don’t feel optimal staying vegan. The Paleo diet is more flexible, but it can sometimes be hard to know what counts as Paleo and what doesn’t and from what I’ve seen the Paleo diet has some processed meats like bacon and does not have limits on portions.
The Pagan diet combines the best of paleo and vegan into one easier healthier diet plan. The diet is centered on fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats — plus meat in small, condiment-size portions and small amounts of gluten-free grains and legumes. Dairy is out (an occasional sheep’s or goat’s milk yogurt is ok or even better make your own coconut keifer or yogurt), as are gluten and added sugars.
Here are the characteristics of the Pagan Diet:
- Very low glycemic load– low in sugar, flour and refined carbohydrates of all kinds.
- High in vegetables and fruits. The deeper the colors, the more variety, the better. This provides a high phytonutrient content protective against most diseases. Try to eat more lower glycemic fruit such as berries when it comes to fruit.
- Low in pesticides, antibiotics and hormones and probably no or low GMO foods.
- No chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes, MSG, artificial sweeteners and other “Franken Chemicals” that you would never have in your pantry.
- Higher in good quality fats– omega 3 fats for all. Good quality fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. Although some, such as Drs. Esselstyn and Ornish still advise very low fat diets for heart disease reversal.
- Adequate protein – for appetite control and muscle synthesis, especially in the elderly.
- Ideally organic, local and fresh foods – should be the majority of your diet.
- If animal products – are consumed they should be sustainably raised or grass fed.
- If you are eating fish – you should choose low mercury and low toxin containing fish such as sardines, salmon, herring and anchovies or other small fish and avoid tuna, swordfish and Chilean sea bass because of the high mercury load.
- Dairy – Both the paleo and vegan don’t allow dairy and for good reason. While some can tolerate it, for most it contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer and may increase (not decrease) the risk of osteoporosis. Cow dairy protein is very large and the body does not digest it well. It’s also goes hand in hand with gluten intolerance.
- Grains– For millions of Americans gluten creates inflammation, autoimmunity, digestive disorders and even obesity. But do all grains cause a problem? Even though we started consuming grains recently in our evolutionary history, they can be part of a healthy diet, but not in unlimited amounts.
- Any grains can increase your blood sugar. And if you eat any flours made from grains, you might as well be drinking a soda the way they convert to sugar in the body which in turn converts to the bad fat (visceral).
- Stick with small portions (1/2 cup at a meal) of low glycemic grains like black rice or quinoa.
- That said, for type 2 diabetics wanting to get off insulin and reverse their diabetes and those with autoimmune disease, a grain- and bean-free diet could be a good experiment for a month or two to see how it impacts health.
- Beans– Beans are a great source of fiber, protein and minerals. But they do cause digestive problems for some and if you are diabetic, eating high amounts of beans in the diet can trigger spikes in blood sugar. Again, moderate amounts are ok – meaning about ½ a cup per day. Some are concerned that beans contain lectins that create inflammation or phytates that impair mineral absorption. Best to monitor your symptoms when you start eating beans.
- Meat – All meat is not created equally. Your typical commercial meat increases inflammation, compared to grass fed beef that has more protective omega 3 fats and vitamins A and D? There is a lot of controversy in this area for sure. Eating sustainably raised, clean meat, poultry and lamb and other esoteric meats such as ostrich, bison or venison as part a healthy diet is not likely harmful and is very helpful in reducing triglycerides, raising HDL (or good cholesterol), lowering blood sugar, reducing belly fat, reducing appetite, raising testosterone and increasing muscle mass. On the other hand, eating a lot of meat puts pressure on the planet – more water use, more climate change, and more energy inputs. Eat meat as a side dish or condiment, and only consume grass fed and sustainably-raised.
- Eggs– For years we were taught that cholesterol is bad, that eggs contain cholesterol so they must be bad, so we all suffered through years of egg white omelets, leaving the vitamins, nutrients and brain fats like choline in the garbage. Now eggs have been cleared and don’t have any impact on cholesterol and are not associated with increased risk of heart disease. They are a great low cost source of vital nutrients and protein.
- Fish– If you are worried about mercury in fish as you should be then choose small, omega 3 fat rich fish such as sardines or wild salmon. If you are a vegan and don’t want to eat fish that’s cool but it’s critical to get omega 3 fats, and not just ALA (or alpha linolenic acid) found in plants. You need pre-formed DHA which is what most of your brain is made from. The good news – you can get it from algae.
- Everyone needs Vitamin D3 and most people are deficient. And omega 3 fats are hard to get for most. Supplements (or a regular sardine diet) are essential. And for vegans, Vitamin B12 is also critical.
- Make sure you know your food intolerances. Getting tested (IgG Panel) for food intolerance is key in knowing what foods are causing inflammation in the body.
Don’t worry about focusing on how much you eat, if you focus on what you eat, your body’s natural appetite control systems kick into gear and you eat less. It’s all about quality!
Here’s a summary of what that looks like.
- Focus on the glycemic load of your diet. This can be done on a vegan or paleo diet, but harder on a vegan diet. Focus on more protein and fats. Nuts (not peanuts), seeds (flax, chia, hemp, sesame, pumpkin), coconut, avocados, sardines, olive oil.
- Eat the right 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. Focus instead on omega 3 fats, nuts, coconut, avocados and yes, even saturated fat from grass fed or sustainably raised animals.
- Eat mostly plants– lots of low glycemic vegetables and fruits. This should be 75 percent of your diet and your plate. Make 2 to 3 vegetable dishes per meal.
- Focus on nuts and seeds. They are full of protein, minerals, and good fats and they lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
- Avoid dairy– it is for growing calves into cows, not for humans. Try goat or sheep products and only as a treat. And always organic.
- Eggs are a good source of protein – Eggs are full of vitamins and minerals. Serving is 1-2 eggs. Boiled eggs also make a quick easy snack.
- Avoid gluten– Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye and barley and is an inflammatory food.
- Eat gluten-free whole grains sparingly– they still raise blood sugar and can trigger autoimmunity. Best choices are quinoa, oats (GF), black or wild rice. Grains can be helpful for those who have chronic fatigue because of the complex carbs.
- Eat beans sparingly– lentils are best. Stay away from big starchy beans such as lima or kidney beans. Try to stick to half a cup or less per day.
- Eat meat or animal products as a condiment, Vegetables should take center stage and meat should be a side dish. Eat a small amount of meat (about 3 ounces) with your vegetables.
- Think of sugar as an occasional treat – in all its various forms (i.e., use occasionally and sparingly). No artificial sweeteners.
Source: Dr. Mark Hyman