Eating is the most important act we perform every day. It’s an act that connects us to nature, ecological cycles, biological functions, and, of course, one another. We are part of a great web of nature that provides the raw materials for creating a vibrant, healthy life.
21 practical principles for reclaiming your health in a nutritionally confusing world provides a road map, guiding you toward a personalized approach to eating in a way that is good for you, your family, your community, and the planet. And, more importantly, that is delicious, nourishing, and joyful.
Principle 1: Use Food as Your Farmacy
Every level of your health is impacted by what you eat. You can eat to build muscle, build healthy bones, gain energy, balance your hormones, fix your gut, boost your immunity, improve heart health, and everything in between. Next time you chomp down on something, ask yourself if you are fine with it becoming part of you for the long term. If not, don’t eat it and seek out the best-quality ingredients instead (and by the way, taste and quality go together).
Principle 2: Eat the Rainbow
Try to include one color from each color category most days of the week. For example, have blue and red berries in your smoothie, leafy greens with your lunch, purple carrots and orange and yellow bell peppers at dinner. Eating the rainbow is your gateway to using food as medicine.
Principle 3: Follow the 75 Percent Rule
Fill 75 percent of your plate with non-starchy veggies. People get nervous when they hear this, but it’s important to note that vegetables should take up 75 percent of your plate by volume, not calories. Even if you loaded up two plates with non-starchy veggies, that would not make up the bulk of your calories if you’re eating them with fats and protein. A few handfuls of greens can easily cover a plate.
Principle 4: Eat the Right Beans, Whole Grains, Nuts, and Seeds
A handful or two of nuts and seeds every day is great. Soak raw nuts overnight and lightly toast them to improve digestion. Snack on almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pistachios, Brazil nuts, unsweetened nut butters, and nut milks with minimal ingredients and no added sugars.
Eat non-starchy beans. Lupini beans, lentils, peas or snow peas, black-eyed peas, mung beans, and traditional non-GMO and organic soy products are my favorites. The maximum serving is half a cup per day. Soak dried beans for a few hours or overnight or cook them with kombu in a pressure cooker or large pot. Avoid excessive amounts of kidney beans, lima beans, and baked beans, which are starchier.
Principle 5: Eat Your Meat as Medicine
Meat can be a health food. After decades of reviewing the science, it is clear that grass-fed, regeneratively raised meat, cooked in the right way and combined with medicinal spices in the context of a plant-rich, whole foods, unprocessed diet, is not only not bad for your health—it might be beneficial, providing the most nutrient-dense protein available, rich in omega-3 fats, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and bioavailable forms of vitamins and minerals. Quality is vital in every aspect of eating, and especially with meat.
Meat should not be the star of the show. While we need the right amount of protein for our age and activity level (ranging from a minimum 0.8 grams/kg to 1.6 grams/kg or more for certain athletes), the Pegan Diet is not a high-protein diet. Its mainstay is plants. Meat is the side dish.
Avoid high-temperature cooking, grilling, frying, smoking, or charring. Instead, focus on low-temperature methods of cooking like baking, roasting, and poaching. Use a lot of spices, and eat wild and regenerative foods when possible.
Principle 6: Be Picky About Poultry, Eggs, and Fish
Eat pasture-raised chicken, turkey, duck, and eggs when possible. Organic is the next-best thing. Switch up your proteins. Mark recommends two 4-ounce servings a day of animal protein. Another way to think about this is a palm-sized piece of meat or protein per meal. And he typically recommends eating eggs two to three times a week. Some people feel great eating eggs more often.
Stick with low-mercury fish, three times a week. Eat wild fish and seafood. Mark’s favorites are wild salmon, either canned or fresh, and small, low-toxin fish like sardines, anchovies, herring, and mackerel. For seafood he recommends clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp, and scallops. When you can’t find wild fish, eat fish farmed with sustainable, restorative, or regenerative practices. Check
Principle 7: Have Fats with Every Meal
Don’t fear fat; instead, eat the right fats with every meal. Fat won’t make you fat, unless you eat it with starch and sugar like most Americans. Eat 3 to 5 servings of fat per day, and eat fats mostly with vegetables. Unless it is trans fat, it won’t cause heart disease.
favorite fats are avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, and traditional oils like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil. Small amounts of butter, grass-fed ghee, and coconut or MCT oil are fine for most of us. If you’re eating a high-fat diet and are curious about how it’s affecting your body, Mark recommends looking into the NMR particle-size cholesterol test.
Principle 8: Avoid Dairy (Mostly)
Dairy is not an essential food group. It is likely harmful for most people. Do not consume low-fat or reduced-fat dairy products. They typically contain sugar and additives and may increase weight gain. Is a glass of milk better than soda? Yes. But that’s not saying much. If you love dairy, choose grass-fed heirloom A2 cow dairy or goat or sheep dairy. Grass-fed butter, ghee, and unsweetened grass-fed sheep and goat yogurt, kefir, and cheese are fine from time to time if you tolerate dairy. If you’re lactose intolerant, sensitive to dairy, or have digestive issues, avoid dairy completely.
Principle 9: Eat Like a Regenetarian
Look for the new regenerative organic certified (ROC) label. ROC involves three areas: soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. End food waste. Start a compost pile. Buy only what you need. Eat your leftovers and learn to make WIIF meals (whatever is in the fridge).
Limit your use of plastics. All of the plastics we throw out are contributing to environmental pollution. Ninety-one percent of plastic is not recycled, even much of what’s put in recycling bins. Instead, use glass containers. Take reusable coffee cups to your favorite coffee shop. Pack utensils with you. It might seem frivolous, but it’s important.
Principle 10: Treat Sugar Like a Recreational Drug
Remember, sugar is a recreational drug. It is not a necessary food group. If you want to enjoy safe forms of sugar, that’s fine. A little bit of honey in your tea or coffee is fine. Some dessert once or twice a week is totally fine too.
Eat sugar at the end of whole food, nutrient-dense meals (the Pegan Diet) to blunt its harmful effects. However, if you know a little sugar will become a slippery slope for overeating, or will trigger addictive behavior, stay away. It may take time to make you metabolically resilient. Try sweetening meals with whole fruit.
Throw out your Splenda, NutraSweet, and Equal. If you have to ask whether X is safe (other than what’s noted above), the answer is no.
Principle 11: Don’t Rely on Coffee and Alcohol
Prioritize plain filtered water above all other beverages. Add electrolytes if you’re working out vigorously or after something like hot yoga.
Caffeinated tea and coffee are okay if you don’t get the jitters or adverse reactions. Green tea has the most benefits.
Limit alcohol to one glass of wine or one cocktail three to four times a week. Mark recommends skipping beer since it typically contains gluten and a big load of carbohydrates (hence the familiar “beer belly”).
Principle 12: Leverage Personalized Nutrition for Optimal Health
The Pegan Diet Principles are the foundation for everyone. Eat whole, nutrient-dense food, low-glycemic food, plant-rich food, good fats, and high-quality protein. Often just this alone will improve your health dramatically. If you still feel off and want to take it further, follow the next steps.
Do an elimination diet for 21 days. If you’re just getting started on your health journey, remove wheat, gluten, dairy, and sugar. If you’ve already taken these out of your diet, try removing soy, grains, beans, nightshades, eggs, and caffeinated beverages. Reintroduce each food one at a time to see if any symptoms come up. If they do, you might need to temporarily remove that food from your diet. If you’re still feeling lost after the elimination diet, consider getting a food sensitivity test.
Get the right tests. Ask your doctor to run an NMR lipid test, fasting insulin and glucose, and hemoglobin A1c. Also ask your doctor to run nutrient testing to see if you’re deficient in critical vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
Principle 13: Cleanse, Detox, and Reset Wisely
Follow the “Eat This” approved foods for 10 days. Remove the “Don’t Eat That” foods. Follow the 12- or 14-hour window. Eat your last meal at least 2 hours before bed, and give yourself at least 12 or 14 hours between dinner and breakfast.
Set up a sleep schedule. Commit to a bedtime daily. Turn off electronics at least 45 minutes before bed and spend the time before you sleep on active relaxation, such as taking a hot Epsom salt bath or practicing yoga, deep breathing, or meditation.
Principle 14: Assess the Risks and Benefits of a Vegan Diet
Eat a whole foods, plant-based diet following the Pegan Principles. Regardless of whether you’re vegan or not, most of your plate by volume—75 percent is the goal—should be non-starchy vegetables. Eat green leafy vegetables, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, and other non-starchy veggies.
Manage insulin and hunger by eating good fats. Eat avocados, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil.
Add a protein shake. Try a pea-, pumpkin-, or hemp-based protein powder. Add a BCAA (branched-chain amino acid) supplement to build muscle. Some protein powders already have a full amino acid profile.
Principle 15: Eat for Gut Health
Weed. Follow the Pegan Diet, and remove all sugars, artificial sweeteners, starchy foods, gluten and wheat, and processed foods. You may need a functional medicine practitioner if you have bad bacterial or yeast overgrowth or parasites.
Seed. Eat probiotic-rich foods like tempeh, sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi. Or take a daily probiotic.
Feed. Eat prebiotic- and fiber-rich foods such as garlic, onions, avocado, and green leafy vegetables. If you have severe bacterial overgrowth, introduce these foods slowly. Lightly cooking vegetables makes them easier to digest. Steam, sauté, or stir-fry instead of eating them raw.
Principle 16: Eat for Longevity
Focus on fixing insulin resistance. A fasting blood sugar level of 100 to 125 mg/dL or a hemoglobin A1c between 5.7 and 6.5 percent is considered prediabetes. Ideal blood sugar is 70 to 85 mg/dL. Ask your doctor to test your fasting insulin, which should be less than 5 μIU/dL, and 1- and 2-hour levels after a 75gm glucose load, which should be less than 30 μIU/dL. Your doctor may not be used to ordering this, but if you suspect you are not in tip-top metabolic health, insist on this test. If your markers are abnormal, take action now. Remove all sugars and refined starches from your diet, including bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. Stress also causes insulin resistance, so learn to chill with meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques. Get moving and lifting. High-intensity interval training, short bursts of maximum-intensity exercise like sprinting, and muscle building with weights or your body weight are key to optimizing your metabolic health and preserving and building muscle.
Focus on disease-fighting foods. Follow the Pegan Diet and take extra care to incorporate loads of disease-fighting and protective foods. Mark’s favorites include green leafy vegetables and polyphenol-rich foods like cranberries, blackberries, wild or organic blueberries, pomegranate, and green tea; in fact, deeply colored plant foods should be the majority of your diet. The compounds in colorful plant foods are essential for longevity. Also include foods that help boost stem cells, repair DNA damage, and support immunity like turmeric, vitamin C–rich foods.
Incorporate time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting. Do a 12-hour fast every day. Don’t eat after dinner, and leave 12 hours until breakfast. And try a 16-hour fast twice a week or more if it works for you. Mark also recommends a 24-hour fast once a month, especially if you are overweight, overfat (thin on the outside but fat on the inside), or metabolically unhealthy.
Principle 17: Eat to Boost Mood
Balance your blood sugar. Don’t skip meals, and eat a palm-size portion of protein, healthy fats, and plant foods with every meal. Imbalanced blood sugar alone is enough to make someone feel depressed, anxious, forgetful, and scattered.
Eat brain-boosting foods. Focus on fats from fish, berries, fiber-rich foods, nuts and seeds, and green tea if you can tolerate caffeine.
Dig deeper. Work with a practitioner to figure out if you have nutritional deficiencies, which are common with brain disorders. Consider supplementing with a good multivitamin that includes B6, folate, and B12, and also consider taking vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 fats.
Principle 18: Make Healthy Eating Affordable
Stick to real, whole foods. Processed and packaged foods will cost you more in the long run in terms of poor health and medical bills. If you stick to vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and some high-quality animal foods, you’ll save money.
Take time to plan your meals and track your spending habits. These two habits are underrated when it comes to saving money on food. Master five recipes that are affordable and that you can revisit every week.
Principle 19: Feed Your Kids What You Eat
Feed kids what you eat. Your kids should eat what you eat. They do not need to eat off the kids’ menu. Look at what kids in other countries (like Japan and France) eat for school lunches compared to school lunches in America. You’ll be shocked.
Start babies at six months with mashed fruits and veggies. Avocado is one of the best first foods for babies. You can make your own baby food at home without all of the funky ingredients.
Involve your toddlers and older kids in meal prep and planning. Make grocery shopping, cooking, and mealtimes fun and positive. The more kids engage in food prep and food choices, the healthier they will be.
Principle 20: Make Healthy Habits Stick
Make your choice every single day and identify your “why.” Why is optimal health important to you? “Why” is more important than “how” and “what.” Use this “why” as the guiding light that will keep you focused on your goals.
Use friend power. Don’t underestimate the ability of a group of people or even one person to support you. Find people who want to get healthy or who have achieved what you want to achieve.
Start small. You don’t have to go dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, or run 10 miles a day overnight. Start where you feel comfortable and build up slowly.
Principle 21: Start the Pegan Diet Today
Eat a variety of colorful plant foods throughout the day. Eat a palm-size amount of animal- or plant-based protein per meal. Add a serving or two of healthy fats to each meal. Avoid foods with labels and ingredients that you can’t pronounce. Avoid conventional dairy, gluten, and sugar. Don’t be too hard on yourself.