To a carnivore, adopting a vegan diet – no meat, no fish, no dairy and no eggs – sounds like a dramatic step. However, plant-based eating and particularly in this month ‘Veganuary’ is trending. Should we all be jumping on this growing trend and making a dietary change? Is a vegan diet the best way to lose weight? We guide you through all you need to know.
The vegan diet is an example of a plant-based diet. A vegan diet includes only foods that are from plant sources, such as vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruit. The vegan diet doesn’t include any animal products at all, including honey, dairy and eggs.
People choose to go vegan for a number of reasons. Advocates of plant-based eating say vegans typically are slimmer, have lower levels of cholesterol and blood pressure and have a reduced risk of mortality from diseases like heart disease and cancer. Concern about the environment, treatment of animals, taste, social pressure, scaremongering documentaries and health reasons are all contributing to the swelling numbers turning away from food sourced from animals.
Most research looking into plant-based eating patterns has focused on the vegetarian and the Mediterranean diets. The Mediterranean diet has a foundation of plant-based foods and includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt a few times a week. Meat and sweet treats are eaten less often. The Mediterranean diet has been shown in both large population studies and randomised clinical trials (the strongest level of scientific evidence) to help manage weight, reduce risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain cancers (specifically colon, breast and prostate cancer), depression and, in older adults, promote better mental health and longevity. It seems that plant-based diets like the Mediterranean diet act through multiple pathways, including better glycaemic control, lower inflammatory activity and altered neurotransmitter metabolism achieved via a positive change in gut bacteria.
Recent studies looking at vegan diets such as the Adventist study and the EPIC Oxford study have been done on larger populations; however, they have the limitations of being longitudinal studies (show correlation, no causation) and include groups that have healthier eating patterns than the majority of the general public, which could have led to bias. There is a great need to have more higher quality research that is longer term to fully understand if vegan is indeed better; however, the current data suggests we can’t draw such strong conclusions.
So, although the research definitely shows that we could have a healthier population if we included more plant-based foods in our diets, the evidence doesn’t yet say that being vegan is the only way and the best way not only for weight loss but also for general health.
Technically, a diet of fizzy drinks, sweets, biscuits, lots of vegan pizza and fries is still vegan. Yet I’m sure you would agree that following a diet like this is neither good for you or the environment.
This minor (or maybe not to minor) detail is what determines if you lose weight if you start following a vegan style of eating. It’s all about quality. Well, actually when it comes to weight loss it is also about energy balance. At the end of the day, week or month in simplistic terms to lose weight you need to consume less energy than you burn.
In theory, following a vegan dietary pattern should help with keeping your calories lower as plant-based foods are typically higher in fibre which is one nutrient that keeps you fuller for longer however this it is not a given that all vegan diets are high in fibre.
It is very easy to get your calorie balance wrong if you also load up on nut butters, avocado and vegan cheeses. When done right, a vegan diet can be super nutritious and can contribute to a healthy weight, lifestyle and environment — but the emphasis here, being on the word right. Without proper planning and know-how, it’s very easy to get a vegan diet wrong.
Plant based eating and vegan diets are on the rise. Although the research is yet to show that being vegan is the only way for health and weightloss – what we do know without a doubt is that we could have a healthier population and could help the environment if we included more plant-based foods in our diets. When done right, a vegan diet can be super nutritious and can contribute to a healthy lifestyle and healthy environment.
However, pushing everyone down the vegan road or just following a vegan diet for weightloss or because its trending is just not cool, achievable or practical for most. Personally, a plant-based diet that includes a small amount of high-quality animal-based proteins and fats is what works best for me.