Vegan diets are entirely plant-based, which means they include no meat, eggs, or dairy products. Many animal-based foods are high in fat and calories so that eliminating them may help some people lose weight.
In this article, we look at the link between veganism and weight loss, including what foods to eat and if there are any risks. We also list some tips for people looking to lose weight with a vegan diet.
Research has found that people who follow a vegan diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI). This could mean that a vegan diet helps with weight loss, or that a person who eats vegan is more likely to make other weight-conscious decisions.
However, a handful of studies have directly measured the effects of a vegan diet on weight loss, suggesting that a vegan diet may help a person to lose weight.
A 2016 study compared weight loss over 6 months among people who followed vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous diets. The results showed that people on a vegan diet lost more weight than other groups. They also decreased their consumption of saturated fats.
A 2016 review of studies examined 96 studies of vegan and vegetarian diets, and concluded that plant-based diets were more effective for weight loss compared to omnivorous diets.
Vegan and vegetarian participants also had other health improvements, including lower cholesterol and a lower risk of cancer.
As with all weight loss plans, one of the biggest concern is often whether or not a person will stick to it. Many people stop their diets after a few days or weeks, and some regain the weight they have lost because they go back to old eating habits once the diet is over.
It might seem difficult to plan out a vegan diet. However, a 2015 study found that people were no more likely to quit a vegan diet than they were to give up on other diets.
The study also found that vegans who did not fully adhere to their diet still lost more weight than omnivores who did not fully adhere to other weight loss diets.
Vegan diets eliminate many foods high in fat, cholesterol, calories, and saturated fat.
Many processed or pre-packaged foods contain animal products, so vegan diets help people to eat fresh, whole foods instead.
Research has documented a number of health benefits that have been associated with vegetarian and vegan diets, including:
- lower rates of cancer
- reduced risk of ischemic attack or a “mini-stroke“
- lower cholesterol
- lower blood glucose
- lower risk of diabetes
- decreased risk of cataracts
However, vegan diets may also present some health challenges. Animal products naturally contain vitamin B-12, so a person following a vegan diet will need to find other sources, such as:
- fortified cereals
- fortified plant milk, including soy, almond, and oat
- nutritional yeast
- some meat substitutes
Vegans may also become deficient in iron, vitamin C, calcium, vitamin D, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids if they do not consume enough foods with these nutrients.
The following foods can prevent nutritional deficits while helping a person feel satisfied on a vegan diet:
- Soy, quinoa, and tempeh, which are vegan sources of protein.
- Soy and almond milks, which are rich in vitamin D.
- Nuts and seeds, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
As with any other diet, one key to successful weight loss as a vegan is to consume fewer calories than are burned through exercise and daily activities.
To maximize weight loss and ensure good health while on a vegan diet, a person can try:
- Being mindful of oils and seasonings. A low-calorie vegetable can become a high-fat when cooked in oils.
- Relying less on processed foods. Cheese and meat substitutes are processed foods and tend to be high in calories and sodium. So, people should eat as many fresh, whole foods as possible.
- Eating healthy-fat vegan foods, such as avocados. Although higher in fat and calories than some other fruits, avocados can help vegans stay full longer and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Increasing physical activity. Exercise is vital for good health, but being more active overall is a great start. Taking breaks from sitting at a desk, walking during a lunch break, and parking far away from the stores can help fit in extra steps during a busy day.
- Taking up an active hobby. Gardening and cooking can increase physical activity while helping a person discover new vegan foods.
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Eating big portions in 2 or 3 sittings can lead to overeating and bloating. Eating snacks and smaller meals can keep a person feeling full and promote metabolism.
Can a vegan diet cause weight gain?
Any diet can cause weight gain, including a vegan one. It is possible to replace meat or dairy products with high-calorie processed foods that can put on weight.
It can be easy to rely on heavy vegan carbohydrates or carbs, such as pasta and bread, for regular meals. While carbs are important, it is essential to vary them with protein sources, such as beans, homemade vegan burgers, and tofu scrambles.
Also, as veganism grows more popular, there are increasing amounts of vegan junk food available, including cakes, candies, and ice cream. While it is fine to enjoy a treat every once in a while, a person on a vegan diet should be mindful that just because something is vegan does not mean it is healthy.
A vegan diet takes planning and careful attention to nutrition. This can be a good thing since it helps people think about the foods they eat and make positive choices.
Many processed foods, meat, and dairy products are high in calories and low in other nutrients, so making the switch to veganism may help some people lose weight by eliminating these foods.
Anyone starting a vegan diet for weight loss should ensure they get adequate protein, iron, and vitamin B-12, and they may wish to speak to a doctor or nutritionist first.