Going vegan—whether it’s for the planet, your health, or both—is a little different than deciding to do keto, try intermittent fasting, or (for some reason) go carnivore.
While most people follow a vegan diet out of a combination of environmental, ethical or health concerns, there may be some benefit for those looking to lose weight as well.
The potential benefit of a vegan diet on weight loss shouldn’t quite come as a surprise. Vegan diets limit a lot of foods that are typical in the standard American diet.
This, often, means that the typical American going vegan will eat less food because less food options are available to them and, in turn, may eat fewer calories too.
The foods you can eat on a vegan diet also tend to be high in fiber, which is a gut-filling food. High-fiber foods are also often high in water (think: fruits and vegetables). They may require more chewing, which slows down overall eating, and reduces hunger hormones.
Another interesting benefit: Fiber rich foods may “trap” some foods in the digestive process. This means that some calories are not processed in the small intestine before they move into large intestine.
In the large intestine, they continue to move material through the colon and on the way they are fermented by the bacteria in the colon. The products of fermentation (among them short-chain fatty acids) can also affect hormones related to feeling full.
“A whole food plant-based diet can be very satiating and filling with fewer calories than a standard American diet,” says Spencer Nadolsky, DO an obesity physician with RPHealth.com.
A 2015 meta-analysis backs this up. The research found that those in the vegetarian diet groups lost significantly more weight than those in the non-vegetarian diet groups. More specifically, those subcategorized to the vegan groups lost even more than those eating a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet.
While this data is promising when it comes to weight loss, not all health experts suggest a vegan diet as the best approach for weight loss.
“I don’t typically recommend that people focus on weight loss when following a vegan diet (or other eating styles) because I think it minimizes the other things like enjoyment and satisfaction and puts weight loss above them,” says Willow Jarosh, M.S., R.D. of Willow Jarosh Nutrition in NYC.
It is important to keep in mind that vegan diets can be rather restrictive. Jarosh continues: “When people are likely already making their pool of options smaller to focus on weight loss, a vegan diet likely minimizes the pool of choices even more.”
This isn’t to say vegan diets are not healthy or impossible to follow. However, to make sure you’re giving your body the nutrition and vitamins needed for optimal health, it takes a good amount of planning and prep.
The key with any eating style for weight loss—weight management or just improving your health—is following something that can be maintained for life.
One last note: It’s important to remember that vegan food can be highly processed— vegan cookies, donuts, French fries, soda, the Impossible or Beyond Burger and fried tofu are all, technically, vegan.
Vegan junk food is still junk food.