With the number of vegans quadrupling between 2006 and 2018 in the UK alone, according to research by The Vegan Society, the vegan diet has quickly become one of the most popular diets today.
There are various examples as to why this is, such as addressing animal cruelty, reducing our impact on the environment alongside improving our own personal health and weight loss.
Today, this Plato Weight Management blog will focus on the latter two, improvement of health and weight reduction!
We’ll speak about:
- What is the vegan diet
- Pros of the vegan diet
- Cons of the vegan diet
- Vitamin B12 and the dietary sources for it
- Protein and the vegan dietary sources for it
- Vitamin D and the dietary sources for it
- Calcium and the dietary sources for it
- Iron and the dietary sources for it
- Omega-3 fatty acids and the dietary sources for it
- Why Vegan can be a good diet for weight loss
- Most common mistakes made on a vegan diet for weight loss
What is the vegan diet
So, to begin with, what exactly is the vegan diet?
Well, the vegan diet is a plant-based diet that includes vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds.
The primary difference between vegans and vegetarians is that vegetarians only avoid meat, whereas vegans also abstain from all animal-sourced products such as eggs, dairy and honey.
I think it is also relevant to note that I personally am not a vegan, so I will be providing completely unbiased information concerning the diet.
Now, as the vegan diet is very restrictive, it is understandable for those who are sceptical about whether the diet is healthy or not.
Well, guys, let’s break the potential health consequences down into pros and cons.
Pros of the Vegan Diet
In 2019, a study involving 48,000 adults by Tong et al. compared the health status between those who ate meat, those who ate fish and dairy excluding meat and those who ate neither (so vegetarians and vegans). They found that per 1,000 people, Vegans and Vegetarians had ten fewer heart disease cases.
However, the same study found that per 1,000 people, Vegans and Vegetarians had three more cases of stroke. So vegan and vegetarian diets may have a lower risk of heart disease but could have a higher risk of stroke.
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In addition, another study conducted in 2003 by Oxford University found that meat-eaters had the highest BMIs while vegans had the lowest (within the healthy BMI range), along with vegetarians somewhere in the middle.
This is relevant as a lower body mass index means better cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, which are major risk factors for heart disease.
Cons of the Vegan Diet
However, another con is that fractures may be more common in vegans due to possibly lower calcium levels coupled with vitamin B12 deficiency.
Moreover, a 2009 study by Tonstad et al., investigating the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, found that vegan diets were associated with nearly a half reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes than the risk associated with meat-eating diets.
Furthermore, a plant-based diet is naturally high in fibre, a crucial food source for beneficial gut bacteria.
A fibre-rich diet promotes a diverse and stable microbiome, which supports the immune system and maintains a healthy gut that helps to avoid conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Disease, diverticular disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Finally, cutting out animal products through a vegan diet will significantly reduce your saturated fat intake, that remember is a type of bad fat, which is beneficial as saturated fat is associated with a higher risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and overall mortality.
Vegan diets emphasize heart-healthy unsaturated fats and “good” carbohydrates, allowing for a higher intake of fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
However, it’s important to note that society is ahead of research when it comes to the vegan diet. There are doubts about its potential nutrient deficiencies, and only now are researchers looking into the long-term benefits and risks.
So let’s now talk about the potential nutrient deficiencies from veganism.
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Vitamin B12 and the dietary sources for it
Starting with vitamin B12.
This is because plant foods do not supply vitamin B12, so vegans are more at risk of deficiency unless they include fortified foods (so foods that have nutrients added that don’t naturally occur in them) or alternatively, take a supplement.
Although we should always be supplement-weary and to check them with your doctor first guys along with the appropriate intake amount and whether or not you are even deficient in any vitamins or minerals in the first place.
Recommendations for vegans to achieve an adequate intake of vitamin B12 would be to include fortified plant milk and yoghurts as well as fortified breakfast cereals into your diet.
A very low vitamin B12 intake may lead to anaemia, which corresponds to the blood’s lower ability to carry oxygen around the body due to less red blood cells, leading to fatigue, weakness and breathlessness, and presenting difficulties concerning exercise.
In addition, low B12 levels may also impair the nervous system.
Protein and the vegan dietary sources for it
Secondly, protein is a macronutrient that may be inadequate as a result of a vegan diet.
An adequate protein intake is important as it boosts metabolism and helps you to retain as much muscle as possible while dieting (along with the necessary resistance training, of course).
In addition, a higher protein intake actually increases levels of the satiety, or fullness, hormones (cholecystokinin and peptide YY) while reducing your levels of the hunger hormone Ghrelin.
We want about 30% of our daily calories to come from protein while undertaking a weight loss regimen. Examples of foods that contain protein to incorporate into a vegan diet include tofu, pulses, quinoa, nuts, seeds, buckwheat and oats, in addition to various vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli.
Vitamin D and the dietary sources for it
Additionally, another vitamin that may be lacking is vitamin D, which has an important role in the health of our bones, teeth and muscles.
Vitamin D may be made by the action of sunlight on the skin in addition to some dietary sources of vitamin D for vegans, which include mushrooms along with fortified soy milk, cereals and almond milk.
Calcium and the dietary sources for it
Next, we have calcium that is typically associated with bone health and optimal muscle and nerve function.
A vegan diet can indeed adequately provide your calcium requirements; just be sure to be including the right foods such as tofu, fortified milk and yoghurt, as well as kale, nuts and seeds.
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Iron and the dietary sources for it
Furthermore, Iron deficiency is actually the most common nutrient deficiency in the world.
Iron is an essential mineral for transferring oxygen in your blood, from the lungs to the tissues, boosting the immune system, aiding cognitive ability whilst also supporting healthy skin, hair and nails.
Although you can indeed get all the iron you need from a vegan diet because there are lots of plant foods containing it, I just want you to be conscious of its requirement.
Good plant sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, among many others.
Omega-3 fatty acids and the dietary sources for it
And finally, we have omega-3 fatty acids. These important fatty acids are referred to as essential because we have to obtain them from our diet.
They’re crucial for the brain, hormonal balance, nerves, eyes and the immune system.
There are three main types of omega-3 fats, which are known as (eicosapentaenoic acid) EPA, (docosahexaenoic acid) DHA and (alpha-linolenic acid) ALA. The most active forms of EPA and DHA are typically found in fatty varieties of fish.
Therefore, for a vegan diet, we will need to obtain these omega-three fats alternatively from ALA via plant foods, including chia hemp and flaxseeds as well as walnuts.
Now that we’ve spoken about the potential nutrient deficiencies associated with the vegan diet, can vegan be beneficial while dieting?
Why Vegan can be a good diet for weight loss
Guys, a good diet is all about return on investment.
You want to aim for a diet that is low in calories but high in nutrients. A vegan diet is beneficial for weight loss as you should naturally eat fewer calories since plants are lower in calories per serving than animal products.
Foods like leafy greens, whole grains, fruits, and beans can be just as filling while having a lot fewer calories than meat, cheese, and eggs. In addition, vegetables are low in calories while providing a robust profile of vitamins and minerals.
Most common mistakes made on a Vegan diet for weight loss
Probably the most common mistake regarding weight loss that people make on the vegan diet is thinking everything vegan is healthy.
Not all plant-based products are good for you. There is also a lot of plant-based junk food on the market today, and many dieters mistakenly think that it is okay to eat unlimited amounts of plant-based treats.
For instance, packaged foods labelled “vegan” can actually be highly processed and packed with refined carbs, sugar, and even artificial additives. Many of these processed vegan foods have little nutritional value and should be regarded as an indulgence.
If you’re going vegan for weight loss, ensure you always check the nutritional label for calories, number of carbs etc, as you should with any foods you aren’t familiar with.
Another factor to be aware of is that vegan diets can be too high in healthy fats. Some of the healthiest vegan foods, like avocados, nuts, and seeds, are extremely high in calories—and consuming them in excess can lead to quick weight gain.
To read our blog about how to read nutrition labels for weight loss, please follow the link here.
Remember, one gram of fat, whether good or bad, contains nine calories compared to one gram of protein, for example, which contains four calories.
We definitely do not need to restrict the diet further; just be mindful to stay within the necessary caloric range regarding macronutrients for weight loss. When dieting, 30% of your daily calories should come from fat, while 40% should come from carbs.
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In summary, vegan diets can be an effective tool for weight loss, as demonstrated. However, it is pretty restrictive, and if your only motivation for it is
weight loss, then you do run the risk of yo-yo dieting as a result which usually causes you to gain back everything you lost.
Losing weight is all about finding a sustainable lifestyle that you can maintain long-term. We can still obtain a lot of the health and weight management benefits from a more plant-based diet without the need to cut out or eliminate food groups altogether.
Although, if you are interested in pursuing it, I recommend to start small and decide from there how you feel regarding it. For instance, since we all eat 21 main meals per week, why don’t we start by making our breakfast completely plant-based and then gradually move on to lunch and dinner?
It’s important to listen to your body throughout your entire weight loss journey instead of keeping your eyes on the scale alone.
If you are concerned about deficiencies or experiencing any symptoms as a result of any diet, please schedule an appointment with your doctor.
If you are interested in undertaking one of our evidence-based and results-backed Plato Weight Management programs, please make sure to check what program may be suitable for you at this link or contact us here!
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