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People may choose a vegan diet for a variety of reasons, be it for the environment, animal ethics or health.
However, some people give the vegan diet a try purely to lose excess weight — and perhaps for good reason.
Vegans tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than the general population, and several studies acknowledge that a vegan diet can promote weight loss (1, 2).
Not to mention, a well-planned vegan diet is nutritious, can lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels and may even decrease your risk of certain diseases (3, 4).
This article explains how a vegan diet can help you lose weight and shares some tips on how to follow this diet in a healthy way.
Studies Show Vegan Diets Cause Weight Loss
Observational studies often report vegans to be thinner or to have lower BMIs than the general population (2, 5).
In addition, randomized controlled trials, the gold standard in scientific research, show that when all other factors are controlled for, vegan diets can help participants lose significant amounts of weight (6, 7).
In one study, people following a vegan diet for 18 weeks lost 9.3 pounds (4.2 kg) more than those who made no dietary changes (6).
Another study compared vegan diets to vegetarian, pescatarian, semi-vegetarian and omnivorous diets.
Participants assigned to the vegan group lost an average of 7.5% of their body weight over the 4-month study period. This was more than twice as much weight as the average lost in each of the other four groups (8).
A vegan diet even appears to help people lose weight more effectively than diets commonly recommended by several different health authorities.
In fact, a low-fat vegan diet helped participants in one study lose 2 to almost 3 times more weight than diets recommended by the American Dietetics Association (ADA), the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) (1, 3, 4, 9, 10).
In a study that followed up with participants one year after the initial study period, researchers reported that all participants regained some weight.
However, those initially on the vegan diet remained 5 pounds (2.3 kg) lighter than those initially assigned to the control weight loss diet (1).
Summary: Vegan diets can help individuals lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off. They could be even more effective than diets currently recommended by certain health authorities.
Why Vegan Diets Work for Weight Loss
Apples, Grapes, a Fork and a Knife on Scales
In order to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit.
A vegan diet can help you create this calorie deficit in several ways.
Higher in Fiber
For starters, a plant-based vegan diet generally contains a good amount of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.
Such foods tend to be rich in fiber, a nutrient that can help reduce hunger and increase feelings of fullness (11, 12, 13).
Higher fiber intake may help you achieve the calorie deficit needed for weight loss without restricting your calorie intake or portion sizes.
Studies show that consuming an extra 14 grams of fiber each day may naturally decrease your calorie intake by as much as 10%. This could lead to a loss of 4.2 pounds (1.9 kg) over a period of approximately 4 months (14).
The high fiber content of the vegan diet may also explain why study participants assigned to a vegan diet often lose weight despite being allowed to eat until they feel full (1, 4, 9, 15).
Lower in Calories
Due to its higher content of fruits and vegetables, a vegan diet provides fewer calories for the same volume of food. In other words, it’s less calorie-dense.
Practically speaking, you would have to eat approximately 10.5 ounces (300 grams) of cooked broccoli or about 10 ounces (283 grams) of melon to consume 100 calories.
Meanwhile, it would only take around 2 ounces (56 grams) of chicken breast or about 1 ounce (28 grams) of cheese to reach the same number of calories.
The lower calorie density of plant foods causes you to feel full with fewer calories, thus potentially contributing to the calorie deficit needed for weight loss.
However, it’s important to note that when matched for calories, a vegan diet is no more effective than a control diet for weight loss (16).
Limits Your Intake of Certain Foods
Many of the foods you come across each day contain animal products.
These include high-calorie, low-nutrient options such as processed foods and baked goods, which are deceptively easy to overeat (17).
Studies show that being exposed to such foods makes you more likely to consume them (18).
Following a vegan diet can make it easier to limit or avoid these options.
For instance, it’s easier to avoid eating more calories than you need when the cafe doesn’t offer vegan brownies or when a bowl of candy only contains milk chocolate.
Research shows that having access to a wider variety of foods may cause you to mindlessly consume up to 23% more calories. By limiting your food choices to a select few, a vegan diet can help reduce your risk of overeating (19).
A vegan diet may also restrict the variety of choices you have when eating out. As a result, many vegans choose to cook at home rather than go to restaurants.
Home-cooked meals often contain less fat, sugar and overall calories than restaurant meals. This can help you limit calories and lose weight.
Summary: Vegan diets are generally richer in fiber, lower in calories and tend to limit your food options. All of these factors can help you lose weight by reducing the number of calories you eat.