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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau, ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
December 11, 2022
Stating that dieting and weight loss can be overwhelming is an understatement. There are a million different diets out there, all of which promise to yield fast and effective results. In fact, sifting through all of the available information and weeding out fad diets from ones that work is a full-time job in itself.
Instead of focusing on all of the diets that should be avoided (there's a lot!), let's focus on one that may be worth your time, a vegan diet. Following a plant-based diet for weight loss can definitely be done, and if you focus on eating healthy whole foods, you'll find that not only can you lose weight, but eating plant-based also makes re-gaining the weight back pretty difficult to do.
No diet is perfect, though, and the vegan diet does have its own set of unique challenges. We'll discuss everything related to following a vegan diet for weight loss in this article, so you can determine if it's right for you.
This article will discuss:
A vegan diet may mean different things to different people, which can make it confusing when discussing the topic.
Therefore, let's first define what a vegan diet means when we discuss it in this article.
You might be surprised how many people claim to eat vegan, only to then mention they eat plant foods and eggs, or milk, or fish.
If your diet consists of anything other than plant foods, you are not following a vegan diet. There are plant-based diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, that do include some animal products. These are great, but they're not vegan.
This is a significant distinction as the main argument against a vegan diet is there is an abundance of plant-based protein and a lack of animal-based nutrients. You can see a similar comparison when looking at plant protein powder vs. whey protein powder.
That said, this article focuses on true veganism.
Some may make the claim that a vegan diet only contains whole foods. There's an argument to be made that it should, but this article considers processed vegan foods as part of a vegan diet.
Is a vegan diet plan for weight loss a good way to lose weight? Yes!
Any diet, like counting macros and the 80 20 rule diet, can be used to lose weight as long as you follow it correctly, and this includes vegan diets¹. While various diets may have certain benefits in the short term, studies show that in the long term, any diet for weight loss is equally effective. So long as you are persistent, you should be able to hit your weight loss goals².
That said, there are several unique benefits that a vegan diet provides, which can make reaching and maintaining a healthy weight more obtainable. Here are 2 pros to following a vegan diet.
A vegan diet can make weight loss easy as most plant foods are also nutrient-dense foods. This refers to low-calorie foods that are packed with nutrition in the form of vitamins and minerals.
Alternatively, compare this to "empty calories," which are foods containing a lot of calories with little nutritional value. These are generally foods with added sugar or processed ingredients.
However, not every plant-based food is necessarily healthy for you. One of the leading causes of obesity is sugar, a plant-based food. Therefore, don't think there isn't a chance you'll gain weight when eating vegan. Like with all diets, weight gain and weight loss are dependent on the foods you eat.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that isn't able to be fully broken down in your digestive system. There are two main types of fiber:
Increasing your fiber intake is an awesome way to feel full for longer while also improving your digestion system³. In addition, increased fiber intake can help with weight loss, mitigate heart disease and control blood pressure, decrease the risk of certain cancers, build a strong gut biome, and control sugar and cholesterol levels.
Large amounts of fiber are found in many plant foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans and legumes, which happen to be one of our favorite veggie protein sources.
In general, vegans tend to be at a lower body weight, but this doesn't necessarily mean following a vegan diet for weight loss is easier or more effective.
This is where one of the most prominent fallacies of the vegan diet vs. omnivore diet lies. Generally speaking, the best vegan diet for weight loss focuses on eating natural, whole foods and those that are minimally processed. This is then compared to your typical "American diet," which tends to include foods such as pizza and bacon cheeseburgers.
In reality, what's causing the difference isn't so much vegan vs. non-vegan, but rather processed foods vs. unprocessed foods. In other words, if you followed an omnivore diet but only ate fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and high protein low fat foods, you would also lose weight easily! Alternatively, if you follow a vegan diet but only eat processed vegan junk food, you're going to struggle to lose weight.
In addition, you can still eat all of the healthy vegan foods but then also add some lean animal protein, like these muscle building foods. Remember, a vegan diet does not hold the monopoly on kale and spinach! But for whatever reason, people tend to make better food choices when on vegan diets for weight loss.
Vegan diets are packed with great health benefits. At the same time, there are a few drawbacks we'd like to discuss. If you're brand new to veganism or are a veteran vegan looking for some more information on it, here are a few cons to consider.
The biggest concern that exists with a vegan diet concerns plant protein. This can actually be broken down into two issues:
The first issue of quality exists as the protein from most plants are incomplete proteins. An incomplete protein is one that is either missing one of the essential amino acids or lacks a sufficient amount to be utilized.
To get around this, vegans will use what's called complementary proteins. These are two sources of incomplete proteins that are missing different amino acids. As a result, they will help fill in each other's gaps.
While new research has shown that the cumulative intake throughout the day is what matters most, it's still an issue to be aware of⁴. Because even if you're getting in all your complementary proteins, it is much harder to do it compared to those who eat meat.
When looking at the percentage of plant food that's protein, it's evident you will need to make a significant effort to consume enough protein. That doesn't even take into account that the protein from plants has far less bioavailability. In other words, your body is unable to digest and absorb all of it.
This is an issue with weight loss as high protein diets are one of the top diets to support weight loss. Not only can protein help fill you up, but it can also mitigate muscle loss from being in a caloric deficit. If you're following a vegan diet, consider supplementing your diet with a pea protein powder, hemp protein powder, or other plant-based protein powder.
Ultimately, though, getting enough protein on a vegan diet is very doable. In fact, these top 10 vegan bodybuilders are proof that you can get enough protein by eating plant based. It will likely just take some added effort in the beginning.
Another major concern is the lack of creatine in long-time vegans.
Creatine supplements have become the most studied and effective sports supplement on the market. However, most people don't understand that we actually consume creatine naturally. Well, meat eaters do.
Creatine is found in high doses in animal products such as red meat and fish. In addition, our body can synthesize some creatine internally. In fact, creatine is necessary for normal muscle function and brain health.
There's also good reason to believe that creatine helps maintain muscle mass during times of a calorie deficit. For example, creatine has been proven to help mitigate muscle loss in athletes with injuries who may be bedridden⁵.
When testing blood levels of vegans and comparing them to those who follow an omnivore diet, studies show that vegans have significantly lower creatine levels. As a result, research indicates that vegans actually have more significant responses to creatine supplementation as they experience a greater increase in creatine levels5.
The good thing is although these are issues to deal with when following a plant-based diet for weight loss, there are easy ways to deal with them. Buy supplements, and consider following a vegan bodybuilder meal plan, which will teach you the best foods to eat and prepare together.
You can purchase a quality vegan protein powder, like pea proteins and hemp proteins, to get around the protein issue and reach your daily protein intake. Look for a peanut and brown rice protein mix for a supplement that's high in nutrients.
When it comes to the creatine issue, you can buy a quality creatine supplement in both pill and powder form.
Lastly, you could always use a vegan meal delivery service to ensure you eat a well-rounded diet packed with protein. Luckily for you, we spend the time to find you the Best Vegan Meal Delivery Services on the market.
When following a vegan diet to lose weight, all whole foods will help you hit your goals. There are a few foods that stand out from the vegan crowd, though, and we're about to highlight those so you can begin including them in your diet.
Here are our 7 favorite foods to focus on when losing weight on a vegan diet.
Whole grains are a fantastic source of fiber. They will help fill you up and keep you satisfied. We've already discussed the slew of benefits of eating adequate amounts of fiber, so there is no need to go over that again here. That said, here are some of our favorites.
Technically, quinoa and buckwheat are high protein seeds, but they're used similarly to whole grains. Therefore, we wanted to give them their own section, so there's no confusion.
Out of these, quinoa has gained more attention in the U.S. and is often used as a rice alternative. Packed with vitamins and minerals, both are great if you're going vegan for weight loss.
Avocados are probably the best source of healthy fats in a plant-based diet. Not to mention they taste good - maybe too good! Because of their delicious fat, they also pack a lot of calories, so stick to eating half of one per day.
That shouldn't be too hard as they're also one of the most expensive fruits you can buy (yes, it's a fruit!)
Legumes and beans tend to be overlooked in the Western world. However, when you look at Latin and Asian cultures, these plant foods are consumed frequently. In fact, legumes make up the base of a good portion of Indian cuisine, while you can find foods like hummus in the Middle East.
Some of our favorite beans include kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and pinto beans.
Legumes and beans are usually pretty cheap and easy to make, making them great for a quick snack or use as part of your meal. We like to prep a bunch over the weekend to include in our meal prep recipes.
High protein nuts and seeds are great to have on hand for a quick snack or to add to a meal for some texture and taste. In addition, many nuts and seeds pack a huge amount of vitamins and minerals, while some even contain decent amounts of protein.
In addition, they require no meal prep time, as you can eat them as is! Some of our favorites include chia seeds, hemp seeds, pistachios, and cashews.
Just be careful you don't get carried away with eating them. While they're healthy fats, they still deliver a ton of calories. If you're not careful, you could easily exceed your daily caloric intake.
Be mindful when you incorporate nuts into your diet. If you're a person who finds it hard to eat just a few, you might be better off buying small packets.
These 4 vegetables and 1 fruit are five ingredients you can use to make delicious flavors naturally. Of course, you can also use herbs and seasonings on a vegan diet, but these foods will also bring healthy calories and a slew of vitamins and minerals.
Worth noting: We recommend these foods for everyone, not just those following a weight loss vegan diet. So tasty and good for you!
Sweet potatoes are delicious and packed with vitamins and minerals. They're also amazing for fat-loss diets as they're satisfyingly sweet.
If you find you're in a position where you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, eating a sweet potato is the healthiest way to get it done. Failing that, a semi-nutritious protein cookie is guaranteed to hit any vegan's sweet tooth!
So, can you lose weight on a vegan diet? Yes! As long as you focus on eating the whole foods we just discussed and following these weight loss tips.
Notice you're basically following the same general rules with an easy vegan diet plan for weight loss that you stick to when trying to losing weight on an omnivore diet.
We don't suggest following a vegan diet to lose weight fast. Instead, slow and steady will make it much more likely you'll stick with it in the long run. This means you should first figure out how many calories you need per day to maintain, and then aim for a minimal calorie deficit to start.
You will need to figure out your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), which is the number of calories you burn daily. If you were aiming for weight maintenance, you'd eat this amount.
However, to lose weight, you need to be in a small calorie deficit. Target a moderate 300-500 calorie deficit daily.
We already touched on this above, but high-protein diets are awesome for weight loss. Try to get at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. And, going even higher will likely produce even better results. Spread this out evenly throughout the day.
Similar to following a traditional diet, vegans should space out their food throughout the day. While technically "it doesn't matter," this is a very simplistic attitude to have toward food timing and preventing yourself from getting overly hungry.
We definitely don't think you need to freak out about it if you eat a meal a little too early or late. But timing your meals might make weight loss easier. One of the main benefits comes from mitigating any poor food choices that result from cravings, which often strike when you're feeling extra hungry.
Water should be your primary source of hydration when you follow any weight loss plan, including a vegan diet. Water is essential to maintain your energy levels as well as optimal muscle function, making it necessary for everything from feeling energized to tackling your workout split. When you become dehydrated, you can face a plethora of adverse side effects, all of which can make weight loss more difficult.
More importantly, water doesn't have any calories! One of the biggest mistakes you can make when losing weight is to waste calories on other liquids. We don't know about you, but when we have minimal calories, we want to save as many as we can for food!
This includes not drinking juice. Fruit juice takes all of the juice out of the fruit, yet excludes the pulp. The pulp is where a lot of the vitamins are found in fruits, meaning you forgo a lot of the healthy stuff but still consume the calories.
In addition, the pulp can help control any spikes in blood sugar. For example, when you drink a cup of fruit juice, you take in the equivalent of 3-4 oranges. That's a lot of sugar.
Therefore, you are way better off eating an orange and drinking a big glass of water. You get more vitamins while feeling full and staying hydrated. The only other drink you'll likely want to consider is a filling and nutritious protein shake.
Similar to any diet, there isn't necessarily some magical easy vegan diet for weight loss floating out there. Losing weight on a vegan diet is really just like losing weight on any other diet.
To lose weight on a vegan diet requires time, effort, and consistent good choices. If you do that, you will lose weight. And, interestingly, studies have shown that for some people, a healthy vegan diet may even work better than omnivore diets6.
This means it may work very well for you, while not at all for others. If it does work for you, then awesome! If it doesn't, there are plenty of other diets to try.
Interested in switching to a plant based diet but worried about losing muscle mass in the process? Check out our Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Bodybuilding Diet, which shows you how to build and maintain muscle following a vegan diet.
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