Vegan Diet for Weight Loss: What You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on September 13, 2017Written by Ashley Marcin

Is weight loss possible?

If you’re looking to shed some pounds, you may have considered trying a vegan diet. Vegans don’t eat meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products. Instead, they eat things like fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, as well as plant-based milks, other nondairy products, and meat alternatives.

Although some people choose the vegan lifestyle out of ethical concerns for animals, the diet itself can have some health benefits. According to , being vegan may even help you lose a significant amount of weight.

How exactly? More research is needed, but it’s thought that going vegan may lead to reducing the number of high-calorie foods you consume. With a vegan diet, you may end up replacing such foods with high-fiber alternatives that are low in calories and keep you fuller longer.

But is this approach healthy?

Cutting out some of the main food groups in your diet may seem unhealthy. And unless you carefully pay attention to your nutrition, it can be.

Some worry, for example, about getting enough protein or other essential nutrients, like vitamin B-12. This vitamin is found naturally only in animal products, and if you become deficient, it may result in anemia. Vegans need to supplement their diet with vitamins, vitamin-fortified cereals, and fortified soy products to avoid deficiencies.

Others may have trouble with yo-yo dieting after going vegan. What does this mean? It’s when you go through cycles of losing weight and then regaining all or more of that weight, possibly after having trouble sticking to vegan-only foods. This type of dieting is associated with some serious health consequences, like an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Regardless of these and other possible pitfalls, you can eat a vegan diet healthily and lose weight. The key — as with all diets — is focusing on nutrient-dense foods versus empty calories. For vegans, these foods would include things like:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • beans and legumes
  • nuts and seeds

Limit or avoid vegan processed foods that contain these added ingredients:

  • fats
  • sugars
  • starches
  • sodium
  • food additives

Tips for weight loss

Women generally need to eat each day to maintain weight. To lose weight, this number drops to around 1,500 calories a day. Men generally need to eat each day to maintain their weight and around 2,000 calories a day to lose weight.

A junk-food calorie doesn’t equal a whole-food calorie as far as nutrition goes. Even if you stay below your calorie goal, filling up on all Nutter Butter cookies, which happen to be vegan, is very different from filling up on buckets of fresh produce.

There are many factors that affect weight loss, including:

  • age
  • height
  • current weight
  • diet
  • physical activity levels
  • metabolic health
  • other medical issues

Although you can’t control all of these factors, you can control your diet and exercise. Regardless of the type of diet you choose, you should follow these guidelines for healthy eating.

1. Time your meals

Grazing throughout the day isn’t good for weight loss. Timing your meals is essential to boosting your metabolism and promoting healthy eating habits.

In general, try eating meals at the same time each day to get your mind and stomach into a predictable pattern. Munch on a larger breakfast in comparison to the other meals in your day. This may mean shifting your lunch a bit earlier and eating a smaller dinner.

If you’ve exercised, try eating within 45 minutes of finishing. This will help feed and repair your muscles.

When shouldn’t you eat? Within two hours of bedtime. Consuming calories too close to bedtime is associated with weight gain and sleep disturbances.

2. Watch your portions

Portion sizes matter with any of the foods you eat — vegan or not. The United States Department of Agriculture’s suggests that average women and men get the following number of servings of these foods each day:

Food groupServings for womenServings for men
grains69
vegetables3+4+
fruits23
dairy or dairy alternatives2–32–3
meat and beans 5 ounces6 ounces
fats/oils5–66–7

Here are examples of single servings of different foods in each group for vegans:

grains• 1 slice bread
• 1 cup cold cereal
• 1/2 cup cooked cereal, pasta, or rice
vegetables• 1 cup raw leafy greens
• 1/2 cup raw or cooked veggies
• 3/4 cup vegetable juice
fruits• 1 medium piece whole fruit, such as an apple, banana, orange, or pear
• 1/2 cup chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
• 3/4 cup no sugar-added fruit juice
dairy• 1 cup nondairy milk
meat and beans• 1/2 cup cooked dry beans
• 1/2 cup tofu
• 2-1/2 ounces soy burger
• 2 tablespoons peanut butter
• 1/3 cup nuts
fats• 1 tablespoon oil
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1/2 medium avocado
• 1 ounce nuts
• 2 tablespoons nut butter

3. Make sure you’re getting enough protein

Current recommendations for protein intake are around per day, or around of body weight. This means a 150-pound woman should consume approximately 61 grams of protein each day. A 175-pound man should consume around 72 grams each day.

When you break this down into calories, there are about per gram of protein. So the woman in this example would need to get 244 calories from protein each day, and the man would need to get 288 calories from protein.

Good sources of include:

FoodServing sizeGrams of protein
tempeh1 cup31
soybeans1 cup29
seitan3 ounces21
lentils1 cup18
beans, such as chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans1 cup15
tofu, firm4 ounces11
quinoa1 cup8
textured vegetable protein (TVP)1/2 cup8
peanut butter2 tablespoons8

4. Pass on “healthy” drinks

Before you sip that store-bought smoothie, consider how many calories it might contain. Even so-called healthy drinks and energy mixes can pack quite a caloric punch.

First, let’s take a look at a beverage most people know to steer clear while dieting: A 20-ounce soda contains around and 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar.

But what about that freshly squeezed orange juice? It contains about per 20 ounces. That acai smoothie? It may contain per 20 ounces.

Read labels carefully and consider saving these drinks for special occasions.

Sticking with water is typically your best bet when trying to lower the number on the scale. It’s hydrating and contains zero calories. If you don’t like plain water, you might consider adding a squeeze of lemon or lime or trying herbal teas and sparkling waters.

5. Don’t binge on plant-based desserts

The same rules apply to vegan and non-vegan desserts: Eat them in moderation. The average American eats a whopping of sugar each day. Whether that comes from a decadent ice cream sundae or a batch of vegan cookies, it’s still 335 calories that contain little nutritional value.

Sugar can actually disrupt your metabolism and lead to health issues beyond weight gain, including high blood pressure, inflammation, and elevated blood triglycerides. How much of the sweet stuff is enough? Women should try to limit their daily sugars to around 6 teaspoons or each day. Men should aim to get fewer than 9 teaspoons or each day.

If you’re looking for a healthy vegan dessert option that’s relatively low in calories without added sugars and fats, try fresh fruit. Otherwise, eat a small portion of a vegan dessert and save the rest for tomorrow or next week.

The bottom line

Eating a vegan diet may help you lose weight. Still, it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor or a dietitian before making big changes to your diet. You should discuss how you’ll get critical nutrients, like protein and B vitamins.

Your doctor may also have other suggestions for how you might lose weight, like keeping a food diary or engaging in a regular exercise routine.

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