A vegan diet is a way of eating that’s free of all animal products. Lots of people have moved toward a more plant-centric way of eating in order to lower their impact on the environment and to feel better.
But can cutting out meat (and eggs, and Jell-O) also help you cut weight? Here’s what we know about using a vegan diet for weight loss.
OK, it’s time to see some proof that a vegan diet can help you lose weight. Here’s what the science shows.
Yes, vegan diets are linked to weight loss
There’s research (we’re talking randomized, controlled studies) to back up the idea that vegan diets promote weight loss.
A 2020 review found that for folks with overweight, low fat vegan diets led to greater weight loss compared to a traditional omnivorous diet.
A 2013 study compared the results of a low fat, low glycemic vegan diet to no dietary changes 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 consume on a daily basis.
That’s because vegan and plant-based diets tend to be lower in calorie-rich foods like butter, cheese, and meat. Plus, they’re usually packed with fiber-rich foods which can help you feel full longer.
Vegan diets aren’t necessarily more effective than other diets
When studies control for the restricted calories, though, vegan diets don’t seem to have any extra weight loss benefits. A 2009 study randomized peeps with diabetes to either a low fat vegan diet or a conventional diet for those with diabetes.
At the end of the 74-week study, both diets offered similar weight loss results. The vegan diet was more effective in reducing blood sugar and cholesterol levels, though.
Another 2018 study found no significant difference in weight loss between a portion-controlled diet and a low fat vegan diet over a 20-week period.
Research suggests that eating a healthy vegan diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
If you want to try out a vegan diet, that’s great! Just remember that it isn’t your only path to weight loss.
Vegan diets aren’t right for everyone
A vegan diet might not be the best choice for you, even if it can help you lose weight. If you’re going from a diet filled with ultra-processed foods to a vegan diet high in fruits, veggies, nuts, and beans, you’ll likely lose weight.
But that’s not directly related to cutting out meat. Remember that you don’t have to go completely vegan to reap the weight loss benefits of plant-based diets.
Simply limiting the animal products you consume and eating more plant foods (especially veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds) can encourage healthy weight loss. It can also improve other aspects of your health as well.
That’s because plant-based eating patterns are usually higher in fiber-rich foods, which are filling, and lower in calorie-rich foods. (This isn’t always the case, but it’s typical.)
“Vegan” doesn’t necessarily mean “healthy”
Following a vegan diet doesn’t automatically lead to weight loss. If you eat lots of ultra-processed vegan food (like fast food, vegan “meat” substitutes, vegan mac & cheese, and vegan sweets) you can actually gain weight.
Plus, eating more calories than your body needs — even if those calories come from healthy vegan-friendly foods like coconut yogurt, avocado, nut butters, and grains — will cause you to gain weight or make it more difficult to lose weight.
No matter what type of diet you choose, make sure you get an appropriate amount of calories for your individual needs and to eat mostly whole, nutrient-dense foods.
Even though the vegan diet has been linked to health benefits and some people thrive on this dietary pattern, it’s not the right choice for everyone.
The vegan diet cuts out all foods that include animal products. It’s extremely restrictive. Just like any other diet that cuts out a number of foods, it may be difficult to stick to long-term.
If you have a history of disordered eating or experience an eating disorder, you may want to steer clear of any restrictive diet, including a vegan diet.
Be aware of common nutrient deficiencies
A vegan diet may be deficient in nutrients that are concentrated in animal-based foods (like protein, B12, zinc, omega-3 fats, iodine, iron, and calcium). Developing a deficiency in any of these nutrients can negatively impact your health and lead to serious complications.
Following a vegan diet that’s deficient in nutrients during pregnancy can lead to complications like low birth weight, neurological disabilities, and fetal malformations.
Parents who have nutrient deficiencies caused by a vegan diet may have low amounts of B12, vitamin D, DHA, and calcium in their breast milk. That could lead to neurological disabilities as well.
Vegan diets need to be carefully planned to prevent nutrient deficiencies. You may also need to take supplements to make sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs.
It’s possible for vegan diets to be healthy and cover your bases nutritionally. However, it will take some work to make sure you’re getting enough of certain nutrients, like:
It’s technically possible to get enough nutrients in a vegan diet by eating nutrient-dense foods and fortified vegan products. But if you’re following a vegan diet, you should consider taking supplements to make sure you’re getting the right nutrition.
Here are a few tips to safely promote weight loss using a vegan diet.
- Load up on plant-based protein. Adding a source of plant-based protein like beans, lentils, seeds, and tofu to meals and snacks can help keep you feeling full.
- Steer clear of ultra-processed vegan food. Just because a product is vegan doesn’t mean it’s a nutritious choice. Limit your intake of ultra-processed vegan foods like candies, 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 veggies and fruits. Veggies and fruits are chock full of important nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Add fresh or cooked fruits and veggies to meals and snacks to boost your nutrient intake.
- Eat enough calories. Even though creating a calorie deficit is important for weight loss, it’s not a good idea to follow very-low calorie diets. They can be bad for your health and lead to changes in your bod that can make weight maintenance difficult in the future.
Looking to get started? Here’s an example of a healthy full day of eating while following a vegan diet.
Rolled oats made with cashew milk topped with fresh berries, almond butter, unsweetened coconut flakes, chia seeds, cacao nibs, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Vegan Protein Salad made with tempeh, tofu, chickpeas, hemp seeds, and arugula. This delish meal packs a whopping 40 grams of plant-based protein per serving!
Slow cooker Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry served with some brown rice and cooked broccoli.
Apples slices with natural peanut butter and cinnamon. Yum!
Although a vegan diet could be helpful for weight loss, you do not have to follow any particular diet in order to lose weight safely and effectively.
If you’re not feeling going veg, that’s okay! Simply adding more plant-based foods into your diet like veggies and fruits, cutting back on ultra-processed foods, limiting added sugar, and getting more exercise can help you lose excess weight without significantly altering your diet.