How it works and meal plan

A vegan diet is a diet free of all animal products. Many people have moved to a more plant-based diet to reduce their impact on the environment and feel better about themselves.

But can giving up meat (and eggs and jelly) also help you lose weight? Here’s what we know about using a vegan diet for weight loss.

OK, it’s time to see evidence that a vegan diet can help you lose weight. Here’s what the science shows.

Yes, a vegan diet is associated with weight loss

There is research (we’re talking randomized controlled trials here) that supports the idea that vegan diets promote weight loss.

A 2020 review found that in people who were overweight, a low-fat vegan diet resulted in greater weight loss compared to a traditional omnivore diet.

A 2013 study compared the results of a low-fat, low-glycemic vegan diet to no diet at all. After 18 weeks, the vegan diet group lost significantly more weight than the control group. And that’s not surprising. Vegan diets tend to reduce the number of calories you eat on a daily basis.

That’s because vegan and plant-based diets tend to contain fewer high-calorie foods like butter, cheese, and meat. Plus, they’re usually packed with high-fiber foods that can help you feel fuller for longer.

Vegan diets are not necessarily more effective than other diets

However, when studies control for restricted calories, vegan diets appear to have no additional weight loss benefits. A 2009 study randomized people with diabetes to either a low-fat vegan diet or a conventional diet for people with diabetes.

At the end of the 74-week study, both diets provided similar weight-loss results. However, the vegan diet was more effective at lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Another 2018 study found no significant difference in weight loss between a portion-portioned diet and a low-fat vegan diet over a 20-week period.

Many studies show that people who eat a plant-based diet (like vegetarian and vegan diets) tend to weigh less and have less body fat than people who eat an omnivorous diet.

Research suggests that a healthy vegan diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

If you want to try a vegan diet, that’s great! Remember, this isn’t your only path to weight loss.

Vegan diet is not suitable for everyone

A vegan diet may not be the best choice for you, even though it can help you lose weight. If you transition from a diet high in ultra-processed foods to a vegan diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans, you’ll likely lose weight.

But that has nothing to do with not eating meat. Remember, you don’t have to be fully vegan to reap the weight loss benefits of a plant-based diet.

Simply limiting your consumption of animal products and eating more plant-based foods (especially vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds) can promote healthy weight loss. It can also improve other aspects of your health.

That’s because plant-based eating habits tend to be higher in high-fiber foods that fill you up and lower in high-calorie foods. (This is not always the case, but it is typical.)

“Vegan” does not necessarily mean “healthy”

A vegan diet does not automatically lead to weight loss. If you eat a lot of ultra-processed vegan foods (like fast food, vegan “meat” substitutes, vegan mac & cheese, and vegan candy), you can actually gain weight.

Eating more calories than your body needs — even if those calories come from healthy vegan foods like coconut yogurt, avocado, nut butters, and grains — will cause you to gain weight or make it harder to lose weight.

Regardless of what type of diet you choose, make sure you’re consuming an appropriate amount of calories for your individual needs and eating mostly whole, nutrient-dense foods.

Although the vegan diet has been associated with health benefits and some people benefit from this eating pattern, it is not the right choice for everyone.

The vegan diet avoids all foods that contain animal products. It’s extremely restrictive. As with any other diet that cuts out a number of foods, it can be difficult to stick to over the long term.

If you have a history of eating disorders or suffer from an eating disorder, you should steer clear of a restrictive diet, including a vegan diet.

Watch out for common nutrient deficiencies

A vegan diet may lack nutrients that are concentrated in animal foods (such as protein, B12, zinc, omega-3 fats, iodine, iron, and calcium). Developing a deficiency in any of these nutrients can adversely affect your health and lead to serious complications.

A nutrient-poor vegan diet during pregnancy can lead to complications such as low birth weight, neurological disabilities and fetal malformations.

Parents with nutrient deficiencies due to a vegan diet may have low levels of B12, vitamin D, DHA, and calcium in their breast milk. This could also lead to neurological disabilities.

A vegan diet must be carefully planned to prevent nutrient deficiencies. You may also need to take supplements to ensure you are getting the nutrients your body needs.

It’s possible for a vegan diet to be healthy and cover your bases nutritionally. However, it will take some work to ensure you’re getting enough of certain nutrients, such as:

  • B12
  • iodine
  • zinc
  • iron
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • zinc
  • calcium

It is technically possible to get enough nutrients on a vegan diet by eating nutrient-dense foods and fortified vegan products. However, if you follow a vegan diet, you should consider taking supplements to ensure you are getting the right nutrition.

Here are a few tips to safely promote weight loss on a vegan diet.

  • Load up on plant-based protein. Adding a plant-based protein source like beans, lentils, seeds, and tofu to meals and snacks can help keep you feeling full.
  • Stay away from ultra-processed vegan foods. Just because a product is vegan doesn’t mean it’s a nutritious choice. Limit your intake of ultra-processed vegan foods like candy, cookies, and fast food.
  • Limit meat substitutes. Vegan meat substitutes can be loaded with sodium, refined grains, and other not-so-great ingredients. Try making your own vegan-friendly protein sources like black bean burgers.
  • Eat your vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits are packed with important nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals. Add fresh or cooked fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks to boost your nutrient intake.
  • Eat enough calories. While creating a calorie deficit is important for weight loss, following very low-calorie diets is not a good idea. They can be bad for your health and lead to changes in your body that can make it harder for you to maintain your weight in the future.

Ready to get started? Here is an example of a healthy full day vegan diet.

breakfast

Cashew milk oatmeal with fresh berries, almond butter, unsweetened coconut flakes, chia seeds, cacao nibs and a pinch of cinnamon.

Having lunch

Vegan protein salad made from tempeh, tofu, chickpeas, hemp seeds and rocket. This delicious meal packs a whopping 40 grams of plant-based protein per serving!

dinner

Slow cooker sweet potato and lentil curry served with brown rice and cooked broccoli.

snacks

Apple slices with natural peanut butter and cinnamon. Yummy!

Although a vegan diet might help you lose weight, You don’t have to follow a specific diet to lose weight safely and effectively.

If you don’t feel like going vegetarian, that’s fine! Simply adding more plant-based foods like vegetables and fruits to your diet, cutting back on ultra-processed foods, limiting added sugars, and getting more exercise can help you lose excess weight without making significant changes to your diet.

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