Can Going Vegan Really Help You Lose Weight?
By Krissy Brady; image from Getty
What you need to know before giving up cheese.
Thanks to the low-kilojoule, nutrient-dense nature of plant-based foods, you’ll up your fibre and nutrient intake. But will a vegan diet do your waistline a solid, too?
Science says yes. A 2016 published in the Journal of General Medicine found that people who follow a vegan diet see better results than dieters on other weight-loss plans, losing an average of 2.5kg more in the short-term. Of course, there’s more to shedding kilos than breaking up with animal-based products.
Here’s how to decide if going vegan is your ticket to a slimmer future.
Vegan Weight-Loss Benefits
Ditching animal-based eats means eliminating cholesterol and many sources of saturated fat from your repertoire, which in itself can help promote a healthy body weight and body mass index (BMI), says dietitian Alyssa Cohen.
Plus, relying on nutrient-dense whole foods automatically slashes your kilojoule intake—and not just because it involves ghosting the processed stuff. Plant-based foods contain a much higher concentration of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients than animal-based foods, but most of their weight comes from water, so you can enjoy a higher volume of grub without over-drafting your kilojoules.
“Since you can only fit so much food in your gut at any meal, filling up on plant-based foods to satisfaction nearly always means consuming fewer kilojoules than you would filling up on animal-based foods,” says dietician Dr Tom Hritz. Vegan foods are also very high in fibre, which can slow down the digestive process, helping you to feel fuller and go longer between meals without being hungry, he adds. And more fibre helps to promote bowel regularity, helping you beat the bloat.
Plus, the fact that eating more fruits and veggies keeps your blood sugar stable—ultimately eliminating junk food cravings before they start—is just icing on the cake (which you won’t be tempted to eat).
Vegan Weight Loss Fails
While a vegan diet can promote weight loss, it may also result in weight gain if you’re not careful. “It’s important not to wrap a health halo around any particular diet because there are still foods that may fit that diet that aren’t the most desirable choices,” says Cohen. After all, slap chips fried in a vegetable-based oil are technically vegan, as are potato chips, and many other kilojoule-laden snack foods.
Anyone beginning a vegan diet should consider working with a dietician to ensure they’re scoring adequate nutrition. “Some animal-based foods are high in important nutrients we all need. And when you avoid them it can be challenging (though, not impossible) to get them from plant-based foods,” says Hritz. Getting enough protein on a plant-based diet, which is key for maintaining lean muscle mass and revving your metabolism, can be especially tricky. You may also fall short on vitamin B12, iron, calcium and vitamin D, all of which are found in animal products, and deficiencies like these may cause excess weight to stick around. Actually, a 2015 published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that, compared to normal-weight individuals, obese adults had 5 to 12 percent lower levels of vitamins A, C, D, E, calcium and magnesium.
“Sometimes, vegan diet beginners may be drawn towards eating more carbs and starchy vegetables in order to feel full, especially if their diet isn’t adequate in good sources of protein,” says dietician Nina Eng. Excessive intake of both can lead to weight gain and problems with blood sugar control, which can trigger mad junk food cravings.
But just because it’s challenging to score certain key nutrients through a vegan diet doesn’t mean you’re weight-loss goals are doomed, says Cohen. Like with any weight-loss strategy, planning is paramount to success.
The Bottom Line
Straight-up, shifting your focus to plant-based nutrition and protein to lose weight isn’t a bad thing. But you don’t have to go to extremes to reap the weight-loss benefits of a plant-packed diet. Simply incorporate more plant food sources into your day. “It’s also becoming popular to choose one or two days per week to go vegetarian or vegan, which is a great way to add variety to your routine,” says Cohen. And that can help you shed kilograms to boot. If you do decide that going vegan is for you, consider gradually making the transition to avoid the derailments that can come from quitting your cheese toastie addiction cold turkey.
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