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July 17, 2023

The Vegan Diet and Weight Loss

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The vegan diet has been gaining popularity in recent years. According to recent polls, approximately 1.5-2% of the adult U.S. population report following a vegan diet (1,2). The vegan diet is a type of vegetarian diet, but in addition to meats and fish, eggs, dairy, and all other animal products are also avoided. This includes honey, gelatin, certain food colorings, some types of alcohol, and all other animal products. It can be rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, phytonutrients, and unsaturated fats (4). Animal proteins are replaced with other protein sources, such as tofu, legumes, nuts, and chickpeas. Additionally, there are now plentiful non-dairy options like coconut, soy, and almond milk that vegans can use to replace dairy. Like other diets, the vegan diet requires planning and food preparation. While the vegan diet is currently only followed by a small percentage of the population, it is gaining popularity and offers

some significant health benefits, including weight loss.

Should you encourage patients to adopt a vegan diet?

Encouraging patients to adopt a vegan diet can offer numerous health benefits and promote a more sustainable lifestyle. People choose to follow the vegan diet for various reasons ranging from health benefits (2,4) to concerns regarding animal cruelty to the environment (3). According to a literature review published in 2014 in Nutrients, the vegetarian diet seems to confer protection from cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and total mortality. Compared to the vegetarian diet, the vegan diet seems to offer additional protection against obesity, diabetes mellitus type 2, and hypertension (2). While there are health benefits to following the vegan diet, special consideration has to be made to ensure that adequate levels of protein, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc are also consumed.

While the vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate when well-planned, there are some risks and considerations that clinicians should be aware of. These might include nutrient deficiencies, lack of protein adequacy, knowledge for planning and preparation, potential energy imbalances, and social and practical challenges.

When advising patients on the vegan diet, clinicians should take an individualized approach to provide guidance, ensure nutritional adequacy, and help address any potential risks or deficiencies associated with the diet. Regularly monitoring nutrient levels and overall health is essential to ensure optimal outcomes while following a vegan diet.

Tips for losing weight on a vegan diet

When considering the vegan diet in the context of obesity, several expert tips can guide individuals toward successful weight management:

  1. Focus on Whole Foods: Encourage individuals to prioritize whole, unprocessed plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These nutrient-dense options are lower calorie density and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, supporting weight loss and overall health.
  2. Portion Control: Emphasize the importance of portion control, even when consuming plant-based foods. While vegan options can be healthy, overeating can hinder weight management goals. Encourage patients to practice mindful eating paying attention to hunger and fullness cues.
    The caloric intake for someone with obesity on a vegan diet will vary depending on age, gender, weight, height, activity level, and individual goals. However, in general, a safe and effective weight loss approach is creating a calorie deficit of approximately 500-1000 calories per day. This gradual calorie reduction can lead to a sustainable weight loss of about 1-2 pounds per week.
  3. Optimize Protein Intake: Ensure adequate protein consumption by incorporating various plant-based protein sources such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and plant-based protein powders. Protein aids in satiety, preserves lean muscle mass, and supports weight loss efforts.
  4. Healthy Fats: Educate individuals about incorporating healthy fats into their diet, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils in moderation. These fats provide satiety and contribute to overall satisfaction in meals.
  5. Balanced Macronutrients: Encourage a balanced macronutrient distribution, including complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats in appropriate proportions. This balance supports sustained energy levels, promotes fullness, and aids in weight management.
  6. Mindful Snacking: Promote healthy snacking habits by suggesting fresh fruits, raw vegetables, nuts, or homemade plant-based snacks. Encourage patients to be aware of portion sizes and choose nutrient-dense snacks contribute to their daily calorie intake.
  7. Regular Physical Activity: Emphasize the importance of regular physical activity and a vegan diet for weight management. Encourage patients to engage in activities they enjoy, whether walking, cycling, dancing, or participating in fitness classes.

Other health benefits of a vegan diet

Beyond obesity, the vegan diet offers a wide range of health benefits that have been extensively researched and documented. The vegan diet promotes several positive health outcomes by emphasizing plant-based foods and excluding animal products. Firstly, it tends to be rich in fiber, which aids in digestion, promotes a healthy gut microbiome, and helps regulate blood sugar levels. Additionally, a well-planned vegan diet is typically lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, improving heart health and reducing risk of cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, the abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes in a vegan diet provides a wealth of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that support a robust immune system, reduce inflammation, and protect against chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and age-related macular degeneration.

The vegan diet’s emphasis on whole, plant-based foods provides numerous health benefits, making it a promising approach for weight loss and overall well-being. By adopting a vegan lifestyle, individuals can benefit from a diet that is naturally low in calorie density, rich in fiber, and devoid of harmful saturated fats and cholesterol. The abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds offers diverse nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that support weight loss, improve metabolic health, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. However, it is crucial to approach the vegan diet for obesity treatment with careful planning, considering individual nutrient requirements for each patient. With its potential to promote sustainable weight loss, improve health markers, and contribute to a more sustainable world, the vegan diet presents a compelling path towards combating obesity and fostering holistic well-being.

Learn more about nutrition as it relates to obesity: Blog

  1. How many adults in the U.S. are vegetarian and vegan? How many adults eat vegetarian and vegan meals when eating out? Accessed 1/25/2018.
  2. Lap Tai Le and Joan Sabaté. Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts. Nutrients. 2014 Jun; 6(6): 2131–2147. Published online 2014 May 27. Accessed 1/25/2018.
  3. Carlsson-Kanyama A., Gonzalez A.D. Potential contributions of food consumption patterns to climate change. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2009;89:1704s–1709s.
  4. Craig, Winston J. Health effects of vegan diets1,2,3 Am J Clin Nutr May 2009. Vol. 89 no. 5 1627S-1633S.

Article written by:

Headshot of Katherine Duncan, MD in front of a white background wearing a white coat with a blue shirt

Katherine Duncan, MD