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Does the vegan diet work for weight loss? Here's everything you need to know

There are endless reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

Does the Vegan Diet Work for Weight Loss? | Juniper

There are endless wonderful reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle. For many followers, it's an ethical decision — they want to play their part in ending animal suffering and contribute to a more sustainable future.

For others, it's about the potential health benefits of cutting down on red meat. Some even find they save money on their grocery bills when eating primarily plant-based foods, which is certainly a benefit amidst the current cost of living.

But, is adopting a vegan diet actually helpful when trying to lose weight?

After all, there is no shortage of vegan influencers on social media, claiming that following a plant-based diet is the secret to staying lean and healthy for life. However, most ways of eating have both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to weight loss, and vegan diets are no exception.

So, if you've ever Googled "vegan diet weight loss," read on to learn more about what it involves, and whether it's an effective strategy for losing weight.

What is the vegan diet?

As far as diets go, veganism is up there with the most well-known.

In fact, some would argue that it's not a diet at all, but a philosophy or a way of life.

With the term dating back to the 1800s, veganism is a close relative of vegetarianism. But, as well as abstaining from eating meat, vegans don't consume any animal-derived products, including dairy products and eggs.

It's estimated that 79 million people are vegan globally and 2.5 million of those are in the UK alone [1][2]. And, with increasing urgency around food sustainability as well as global health, that number is on the rise [3].

What can and can't you eat on a vegan diet?

You'll often hear the term 'plant-based foods' used in relation to vegan diets.

That's because the majority of what you'll be eating is derived from plants, including fruit, veggies, seeds, grains, and legumes.

A typical day on a plate for someone on a healthy vegan diet might look like a fruit salad for breakfast, a tofu stir-fry for lunch, and a lentil bolognese for dinner.

As you can imagine, meats of all kinds are strictly off-limits on a vegan diet, including poultry, beef, pork, fish, and seafood.

Vegans also take things a step further than their vegetarian counterparts, in that they avoid animal byproducts (or, anything where animals have been involved in the manufacturing process).

This includes dairy-based products like cheese, butter, milk, cream and yoghurt, as well as eggs, honey, and some types of sugar.

Many foods that you wouldn't necessarily think of are animal byproducts, including mayonnaise (due to the egg yolks) and crumpets (thanks to the milk,  and sometimes butter). This can make it tricky to stick to, if you're not 100% committed!

The benefits and risks of eating a vegan diet

As it's quite 'all or nothing', adopting a vegan diet isn't a decision that should be taken lightly. If your primary goal is to reach a healthy weight, there are also a range of pros and cons that should be considered before jumping on the bandwagon.

The benefits of a vegan diet

Beyond the ethical benefits, here are some of the advantages you might see from following a plant-based diet.

No calorie counting

Unlike some other strategies for losing weight, going vegan does not have to involve tracking everything you eat.

Many instead choose to eat intuitively — listening to their body and consuming whatever they're craving, (so long as it's plant-based). This can provide a liberating sense of food freedom, as well as giving back time and headspace.

However, in some cases, this can also be a downside — as some people (especially those who have less weight to lose) find that they do actually need to track their caloric intake to see the weight on the scales shift.

Some plant foods tend to be surprisingly high in calories too, such as healthy fats like avocados and nuts — so portion control can still be necessary.

Eat the rainbow

The reality is, most of us aren't eating enough fresh produce in general.

With meat off the table, many people find that they naturally consume more vegetables, fruits, and legumes instead. This can be great for your overall health, as these plant-based foods tend to be packed with minerals, vitamins, and other valuable micronutrients.

They also tend to have a high nutritional value but a low caloric density — meaning they'll keep you full for longer, and give you more bang for your buck.

Some people also find that by eating less saturated fat via meat and dairy products, they experience improved health markers such as lower blood pressure and reduced heart disease [4].

Boost your fibre

Many plant-based foods also happen to be high in fibre, including whole grains (such as bread and pasta), black beans, and other legumes.

This can play an important role in weight loss, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, fibre-rich foods help keep you full for longer, meaning you're less likely to find yourself reaching for the snack drawer just hours after lunch [5]. It also helps to keep you 'regular' in the bathroom, which means you're less likely to experience constipation to hold onto water weight.

The risks of a vegan diet

While switching to a vegan diet may help encourage healthy eating, it's not a silver bullet for weight loss. Here are some potential disadvantages to keep in mind.

Lack of protein

Meats and other animal products like eggs are some of the easiest and most convenient protein sources.

By eliminating these foods from their diets, many people find it challenging to meet their daily protein target. This can make it challenging to maintain or gain muscle mass, which is essential for your metabolic health and overall longevity [6].

Of course, there are other plant-based sources of protein you can turn to, such as tempeh, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and vegan protein shakes.

However, it requires a diligent approach to ensure you're getting ample protein while following a vegan diet.

Nutritional deficiencies

Equally, there are some nutrients and vitamins that are most easily consumed through animal-based products.

For example, many people turn to dairy foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt as their primary source of calcium. It's also not uncommon to become deficient in iron when they stop eating red meat on a vegan diet.

If you're falling short of your intake of these crucial micronutrients, you may find that you lack the energy to fuel your lifestyle — especially if you're working out.

This is why it's so important to work with a healthcare provider or nutrition expert when making a big change, such as switching to a vegan diet. Fortified foods can also help prevent nutritional deficiencies.

Overreliance on carbs

The vegan diet eliminates many sources of fat and protein, leaving one macronutrient to do most of the heavy lifting — carbohydrates.

While carbs play an important role in our daily diets (such as being a convenient energy source), they also tend to have a high caloric density. This means it's easy to gain weight if you go overboard.

While plant-based food options are increasingly available in cafes, restaurants and bars (especially in bigger cities), many vegans find themselves turning to easy, high-carb processed options such as hot chips when they have no other options.

Does eating vegan help with weight loss?

At the end of the day, there's no guarantee that you'll lose weight on a vegan diet. However, this is also true of other ways of eating, including low-carb diets and raw food regimes.

Ultimately, if you eat as many calories as you consume (or more), you're unlikely to lose weight  — and this is true whether you eat meat or not.

That said, if eating less meat and more plant-based foods makes you feel healthier, fuller and more energetic, then this way of eating can certainly contribute to weight loss.

And the best part is, you don't necessarily even have to become a strict vegan to reap the benefits.

Tips for losing weight on a vegan diet

Whether you've been vegan for a long time and are struggling to lose weight or are simply plant-curious, here are some strategies to help you on your journey.

Learn about plant-based nutrition

Eating a balanced diet becomes trickier when you go vegan, so education is key.

By understanding how to fill the gaps in your diet, you can mitigate the risk of under consuming protein and developing nutritional deficiencies.

The good news is, you don't have to go through this process alone. By joining Juniper's Weight Loss Programme, you can gain unlimited nutritional support from dietitians, to help you create a meal plan that works for you, your preferences and your lifestyle.

Consider the big picture

Some argue that weight loss is a simple equation of calories in vs calories out — and while there's some truth to this, it isn't the whole picture.

There are many factors that can influence your ability to lose weight or even lead to weight gain, including your metabolism and hormones. If you've never managed to shift those stubborn pounds, there may be other factors you need to address on a cellular basis.

By combining highly effective weight loss medications with lifestyle support, Juniper helps you lose weight and keep it off while eating the foods you love. To get started, check your eligibility here.

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