Increasingly more people are going vegan to lose weight and improve their health. Here is what you need to know about the vegan weight loss diet so you can succeed.
What is the Vegan Diet?
People on a vegan diet do not eat anything which comes from animals. This means no meat, cheese, milk, eggs, butter, gelatin, and anything else that comes from animals. It is simple: if it comes from an animal, vegans don’t eat it (Note that some vegans do make exceptions for honey).
But I want to emphasize that vegan is NOT a diet. Veganism is a lifestyle based on the moral conviction that using animal products is wrong. Because food is such a big part of lives, the diet aspects of veganism get the most attention, but vegans also avoid using products like leather or products which were tested on animals.
Since veganism is not a diet, simply avoiding animals products does not mean you will lose weight or see health benefits. In fact, there are plenty of fat vegans. And vegan food isn’t always healthy. Consider the fact that Oreos, Fritos, and 7-11 Apple Snack Pies are all vegan. You’ll also find lots of vegan processed food which is pure junk.
So, if you are going vegan to lose weight, it would be more accurate to say you are going on a “plant-based diet.” However, we’ll stick with the term “vegan diet” here.
Health Benefits of the Vegan Diet
As mentioned above, simply avoiding animal products does not mean you are going to lose weight or get healthier. There is plenty of unhealthy vegan food out there! However, statistics overwhelmingly show that people following a vegan diet are thinner, have lower BMI, and drastically lower rates of heart disease (which is the #1 killer in America right now). Here are just some of the figures showing the benefits of a vegan diet:
- Heart Disease: Vegetarians have a 32% less chance of heart disease. Since vegans don’t eat cheese, a source of cholesterol, they are at even lower risk of heart disease. (Source)
- Obesity: Meat eaters are 9 times more likely to be obese than vegans. Vegans also overwhelmingly have much lower BMIs than meat eaters. On average, vegans are 10-20 pounds lighter than meat eaters (Source 1, Source 2)
- Mortality: Vegetarians have a 12% lower risk of dying than meat eaters. Vegans fare even better with a 15% lower risk of death than meat eaters. (Source)
- Cholesterol: Compared to meat eaters, vegans have 34mg and 23mg lower cholesterol levels, for men and women respectively. Adjusted for BMI, this is a 13% and 17% difference. (Source)
- Diabetes: Vegans have half the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as meat eaters. (Source)
Why the Vegan Diet is Good for Weight Loss
Again, I want to emphasize that the vegan diet can be unhealthy and can even cause weight gain, especially if you are just eating vegan processed food and spaghetti all day. But, compared to a typical omnivore diet, a typical vegan diet is good for weight loss because of these reasons:
1. Lower in fat, cholesterol and calories
While there are certainly some health benefits of eating organic, grass-fed meat in moderation, most Americans are eating way too much meat. Meat is loaded with saturated fat, cholesterol and a lot of calories. And all that protein which you may think you need? Depending on factors like muscle mass and whether you are working out, the body only absorbs about 20-30 grams of protein at a time, which means the remainder gets stored as fat. Consider that a 100gram serving of chicken has about 25 grams of protein. That’s a lot of protein which is getting turned into fat.
By comparison, typical vegan sources of protein are low in fat, have no or very little saturated fat and cholesterol, and are often much lower in calories. Because vegan foods are much higher in fiber, they make you feel full for longer so you don’t need as many calories to feel full. And, contrary to common belief, it is easy to get enough protein on the vegan diet.
|Protein Type (Per 100 Grams)||Calories||Fat||Cholesterol|
|Beef, 85% lean||250||15g (6g sat fat)||90mg|
|Chicken||219||13g (3.5g sat fat)||78mg|
|Turkey||104||2 (0g sat fat)||43mg|
|Tofu||70||4 (1g sat fat)||0mg|
|Lentils||116||0.4g (0.1g sat fat)||0mg|
|Chickpeas||164||2.6g (0.3g sat fat)||0mg|
2. No Hormones
One of the big problems with eating meat and animal products is that steroid hormones are often used in production. The manufacturers give the animals hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and their synthetic versions to make cows grow faster and produce more milk. The FDA has ruled these “safe,” but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that hormones which are designed to make cattle gain weight rapidly are also going to affect humans too.
Numerous studies and organizations, including the World Health Organization, have acknowledged the link between hormones in meat and obesity. Of course, you could just opt for organic meat, but wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to just go vegan for weight loss instead? (Source)
3. Vegan Diet Creates Food Awareness
In my opinion, the main reason why the vegan diet is good for weight loss is because it creates food awareness. When someone goes vegan, one of the first changes they notice is that grocery shopping takes a lot longer because you have to spend so much time reading food labels to see if there are any animal ingredients inside. It doesn’t take long before you figure out that virtually all processed foods are loaded with junk like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, and MSG — all of which are linked to weight gain and obesity.
I’m sure you don’t need any study to tell you that food awareness helps people make better food choices. In case you do, consider this study which found that reading food labels equates to a lower BMI. This was particularly evident in women: women who read food labels weighed nearly 9 pounds less than those who don’t!
How to Lose Weight On Vegan Diet
I’m not going to lie: going on a vegan diet to lose weight can be really tough. Food is a big part of our lives and changing your diet means you might find yourself feeling isolated in social situations – like at Thanksgiving when your entire family is chowing down on turkey and you are stuck with plain mashed potatoes. But, then again, going on any diet for weight loss is going to be tough at first.
The good news is that it is getting easier to go vegan. In the 1970s, only about 1% of Americans were vegetarian. By 2013, surveys found that 13% of Americans were vegetarian and 7% were vegan. This means you can find vegan options in restaurants and supermarkets, and even some vegan fast food (which you will want to avoid if your goal is to lose weight). More importantly, with so many people going vegan, you will find support – something that is crucial to any weight loss plan.
1. Go Vegan Gradual or All at Once?
Going on any type of diet is a big change and it will take some adjustment. And you will probably make a few slip-ups and mistakes along the way. Because of this, a lot of people recommend going vegan gradually. The idea is that there will be less pressure, and one change at a time is doable.
Personally, I am not a fan of the gradual approach to going vegan, especially if your goal is to lose weight. Yes, making changes is scary – but it is exciting too. You will get a burst of adrenaline and feel good about your decision to go vegan for your health and body. By the time the adrenaline wears off, you will have already adjusted to the new diet. If you don’t think you will be able to handle giving up all of your favorite foods at once, you might want to allow yourself a “cheat” food like ice cream until you get into the habit of having soy ice cream on stock.
How to Go Vegan Gradually:
- Get rid of one animal product per week
- Make one meal per day vegan (like making your breakfast vegan)
- Make one day per week vegan (like following Meatless Mondays)
- Eat vegan in the morning and afternoon (as prescribed in Vegan Before 6)
*If your reason for going vegan is to lose weight, then eliminate the worst animal products from your diet first, such as red meat and bacon. Or, if you want to veganize one meal per day, then choose the meal which is usually the unhealthiest, such as eating a vegan sandwich instead of fast food for lunch.
2. Don’t Count Calories – Just Eat Real Food
One of the great things about the vegan weight loss diet is that you don’t need to count calories. Studies repeatedly show that counting calories does not work. It fact, counting calories can make you fatter!
The reason that counting calories for weight loss doesn’t work is because:
- It makes diet seem like a chore
- It is virtually impossible to count calories accurately
- A calorie is NOT just a calorie
About this 3rd point, we now know that the calories from a Little Debbie snack cake are not the same as those from an apple. Consider this example: 1oz of peanuts have 161 calories and 14 grams of fat. That seems like a lot! But, studies show that we only absorb a fraction of the calories and fat (for evidence, just look at your poop after eating a bunch of peanuts). Across the board, we absorb fewer calories and fat from whole foods than processed foods.
Instead of counting calories on the vegan weight loss diet, just eat real whole foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. And allow yourself a vegan treat like soy cream or cookies occasionally so you don’t feel deprived. They usually have fewer calories and fat than the non-vegan junk food, so you don’t have to feel as guilty about it.
3. Be Cautious about the “Substitution Approach”
You will find no shortage of vegan alternatives to meat and dairy products in supermarkets like Whole Foods. This makes it very easy to go vegan because you can just use veggie chicken in place of real chicken in your pot pie recipe, or veggie beef crumbles in place of real beef on family taco night. Be careful about taking this “substitution approach” to the vegan diet for weight loss though.
Vegan products are processed foods and ultimately aren’t good for you. However, compared to their animal-sourced counterparts, they are usually a lot better for weight loss. For example, Tofutti vegan cream cheese has 60 calories and 5grams of fat compared to 104 calories and 10 grams of fat in dairy cream cheese. Beyond Meat’s Beef-Free crumbles have 90 calories and 4.5 grams of fat compared to 135 calories and 8 grams of fat in 85% lean beef.
Even though mock meats and other vegan alternatives might be a lot better for weight loss than animal products, they still shouldn’t make the bulk of your new diet. You should replace meat and dairy products with real foods, meaning foods which don’t come in a package with a long list of chemical ingredients, like legumes, nuts, whole grains, and fresh vegetables.
But processed foods can be really helpful during the transition period to the vegan diet before you master the art of making your own burgers from lentils or marinating tofu so it actually has flavor. So go ahead and use some of the mock meats and dairy products in your recipes, but eventually the goal should be to eat real foods.
You can find a list of the best and worst vegan processed foods here.
Advice for Using the Vegan Diet for Weight Loss
Here are a few tips which can help you successfully lose weight on the vegan diet.
- Get some vegan cookbooks: These are great for inspiration about what to cook! Check out these best vegan cookbooks of all time.
- Try one new recipe per week: This is how you can gradually expand your repertoire of vegan recipes and also gradually stock up your pantry with vegan items.
- Eat protein with every meal: I’m not recommending this because the vegan diet is lacking in protein (it isn’t). Rather, you should include a protein in each meal because protein helps you stay full for longer.
- Read the ingredients on everything: Even if the product says “vegan” on it, you should still read the ingredients. You’d be surprised how much junk is in seemingly-healthy vegan packaged food. Food awareness is important for weight loss!
- Stay up on health: You will need to take a B12 supplement and be careful you are getting enough calcium, iron, and (in winter) vitamin D. It is a good idea to have blood work done to look for nutrient deficiencies.
- Eat greens at least once per day: Ideally, you should eat them at least twice per day because this is your best natural vegan source of iron and calcium, as well as other minerals.
- Eat nuts and seeds: These are full of protein, amino acids, omega 3, zinc, and some are even loaded with calcium and iron. You can put them on top of salads, in your morning cereal, into pancakes, on ice cream, or use nut butters in smoothies.
Have you lost weight on the vegan diet? Let’s hear about it!
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