If you are looking for an effective way to lose weight, it is worth considering a plant-based diet for weight loss. Scientists are increasingly convinced that vegetarian and vegan diets can be a particularly effective approach in the fight against obesity, as stated in a review recently published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine (opens in new tab).
There are several reasons why carefully planned vegan and vegetarian diets can help you drop a number or two. To begin with, the basic principle of weight loss is a caloric deficit, and plant foods are generally low in caloric density. They are also rich in dietary fiber. Fiber keeps your appetite under control and regulates blood sugar levels. Vegan and vegetarian diets may also have beneficial effects on gut health and inflammation levels—two factors that can contribute to excess body weight.
At the same time, not every diet based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help you shed unwanted pounds with ease. To maximize the fat-burning potential of your vegan or vegetarian diet, some adjustments may be necessary. Here we discuss how to follow a plant-based weight loss diet for the best possible results, with advice from registered dietitian Rosie Martin.
If you want to switch to a plant-based diet but aren’t sure where to start, check out our article on a plant-based diet for beginners for helpful tips and advice. And if you struggle to get enough protein, supplementing with the best vegan protein powder can help you easily increase your intake.
1. Avoid highly processed foods
Highly processed foods tend to have low nutritional quality, even if they are labeled vegan and marketed to health-conscious customers. Many assume that all plant-based products are good for you. However, when these foods undergo extensive processing, they are usually stripped of healthy nutrients, including dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. Typical examples include foods rich in simple carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice, as well as ready meals, canned soups, and some meat substitutes.
Highly processed foods are also comparatively higher in calories. “People eat a similar weight of food every day; if a lot of that food is energy-dense vegan convenience food, then a lot more energy will be taken in, along with sugar, salt and saturated fat,” says Martin. “If a lot of that food is instead whole, low-energy-dense plant foods, then we can eat more, fill our stomachs and feel satisfied, but we’ll have taken in a lot less energy and a lot more fiber, water, polyphenols, and antioxidants that are beneficial for health and weight management.”
Rosie Martin is a UK Registered Dietitian and Health Coach. She worked as an NHS Dietitian for four years in various roles in emergency and community hospitals. She continues to do so in her role as an employee health and wellness dietitian for NHS staff.
So, if you want to follow a plant-based diet for weight loss, emphasize fresh produce and minimally processed foods. For example, make sure most of your carbs come from whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, and quinoa. For more great examples, check out these seven healthy low-carb grains to include in your diet.
2. Eat more non-starchy vegetables
If you want to follow a plant-based diet for weight loss, it’s a good idea to cut down on starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes, squash, carrots and beets. It is true that these foods are packed with essential nutrients and can provide many benefits to our health. At the same time, they are extremely rich in starchy carbohydrates. Although they are a type of complex carbohydrate that helps keep our metabolism in check, eating too many starches can hinder your weight loss efforts.
Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and carbohydrates and extremely high in dietary fiber. These include leafy greens such as kale, spinach and lettuce, as well as broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, leeks, celery and cucumbers.
“Fiber is the key to helping us feel physically full as well as feeding our beneficial gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria play a critical role in weight management,” says Martin. “When they break down fiber, they produce substances called short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These SCFAs help regulate our hunger hormones, control our blood sugar levels, help us feel happier, and even support our immune system.
Try to include non-starchy vegetables in every meal and aim to fill at least half of your plate with them. In this way, you will significantly reduce the caloric density of your diet, while getting a significant amount of dietary fiber.
3. Get enough high-quality protein
When following a plant-based diet for weight loss, make sure you’re getting enough high-quality protein. Cutting back on energy-dense vegan foods like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds helps reduce the total caloric value of your diet. At the same time, these foods are particularly rich in protein. Without enough of them, it can be harder to get enough of this all-important nutrient. One solution to this problem is to include more of the best vegan protein sources in your diet, such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Another is to increase your intake with the best vegan protein powders.
There are several reasons why protein is good for weight loss. One of its main roles is to build and maintain our muscle mass. The more muscle we have, the higher our metabolism and the more calories we burn on a daily basis. Protein may also help boost your energy levels and curb your hunger, making you feel fuller for longer, according to a review in Frontiers in Endocrinology (opens in new tab) diary.
4. Prepare your food in advance
When life gets hectic, many of us find it difficult to stick to a healthy diet. We may struggle to find the time to cook a nutritious meal from scratch, or we may not have the energy to spend long hours in the kitchen.
One of the downsides to following a plant-based diet for weight loss is that it can be time-consuming, especially if you have to peel and chop your vegetables. To avoid the temptation to grab takeout and stay on the go no matter what the circumstances, keep some ready meals and snacks in the fridge at all times. For example, develop a habit of meal prep and cooking in batches on certain days of the week. Another good idea is to always have a healthy sweet treat ready when you’re craving something sweet.
5. Keep it balanced
Keeping your plant-based diet balanced and flexible is another important aspect to consider when trying to lose weight. “Eating this way will maximize fiber and beneficial plant compounds, increase gut bacterial diversity, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce energy intake without leaving you hungry, and help you reach your optimal weight.” , explains Martin.
What could this mean in practice? “An easy way to plan your diet is to imagine a circle representing your entire diet over the course of a day or week,” she advises. “Aim to cover half your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables such as apples, berries, broccoli, bananas, beetroot, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber and dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach.
“Fill a quarter with healthy whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, oats and whole-wheat bread. Fill the last quarter with high protein plant foods like beans, lentils, tofu and tempeh. Round out your meal with a small amount of healthy fat such as seeds or avocado.”
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer medical advice.