It’s a common misconception that people who eat vegan don’t have any issues with their weight. While it’s true that vegans tend to be healthier and slimmer than the average omnivore, the reason for this may be far more complex than simply eliminating animal products from one’s diet.
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Many people do lose weight when they first switch to a vegan diet. This is partially because cutting out meat and dairy eliminates a lot of our daily fat and calories, especially when replaced with fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
However, switching to a vegan diet also means cooking more at home and being more aware of what we are putting in our bodies — essential tools for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Simply put, avoiding animal products alone isn’t enough to lose weight or guarantee maximum health. To lose weight with a vegan diet, you must maintain your protein intake, as well as consume enough fibre, vitamins and minerals from plant-based foods and avoid sugars and vegan junk food traps.
Not everyone approaches the vegan diet in the correct way. Going vegan requires time, preparation and a bit of hard work in order to ensure you’re eating a balanced diet. Here are some reasons why you may not be losing weight on a vegan diet (and how to adjust accordingly).
You Aren’t Getting Enough Protein
Proteins are the building blocks of muscle, and the more muscle we have, the higher our metabolisms and the easier it is to keep excess weight off. Protein also helps us feel full longer. However, with meat, eggs and dairy being off the vegan menu, you will need to find alternative sources of protein to incorporate into your healthy vegan diet. Here are a few suggestions:
- Whole grains: Quinoa, oats, barley, brown or wild rice
- Beans: Black beans, red beans, pinto beans
- Nuts: Dry roasted or raw almonds, sunflower kernels, pistachios, cashews and all-natural nut butters
- Legumes: Lentils, peas, peanuts, miso, tofu, chickpeas
- Seeds: Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seed, flax seed, sesame seeds
- Vegetables: Spinach, kale, broccoli, collard greens
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and with the above list of foods, your daily recommended amounts will be met. This will enable you to keep building lean muscle without consuming any animal-based foods. Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about B12 supplements, as the only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements.
You’re Lacking In Leafy Greens
Unlike B12, iron can be found in some surprising places, with zero animal products. Dark and leafy greens, like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, arugula, collard greens and watercress all contain substantial amounts of iron. Make leafy greens a priority when you go vegan, and incorporate these iron-rich foods into your meals, snacks and smoothies. They’re low-calorie, yet full of volume and vitamins to keep you feeling full.
You’re Consuming Too Much Processed Soy
Soy products are certainly the most convenient “go-to” protein sources when transitioning to a vegan diet, and while soy isn’t unhealthy per say, when transitioning to a vegan diet. Soy isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but you don’t want to rely on processed foods too heavily in any diet. (For instance, you don’t want to be eating soy for every meal of the day.) Instead, choose whole-foods wherever possible, emphasizing beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, and moderately incorporating soy and tempeh into your vegan meals.
If you just cut out animal products and don’t pay attention to the rest of your diet, going vegan could leave you eating a lot of pasta, bread and rice. While whole grains are part of any healthy diet, they shouldn’t take up the bulk of your plate just because you are vegan. Consuming too many white carbohydrates is the number one reason why many vegans still struggle with their weight. Swap out bread, pasta and white rice for colourful veggies, sweet potatoes, beans and quinoa wherever possible, and keep your white carbohydrate intake to a minimum.
You Aren’t Preparing Your Own Meals
Meal planning is a vital component to any healthy living plan, vegan or otherwise. Cooking for yourself at home ensures that you know exactly what you are eating and limits sugar and sodium. However, meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated. Examples of fast-and-easy vegan dishes include quinoa bowls, stir fries, salads, lentil or bean-based stews, etc. The more you plan and cook your meals at home, the more likely you’ll have easy success with your diet.
You’re Eating Way Too Much Sugar
On any weight loss program, you want to consume as little added sugar as possible. This is harder than you might realize — even when you are avoiding desserts — since packaged, bottled or canned foods almost always contain added sugar (like tomato sauce and canned soups, for example). Thankfully, many people find that switching to a vegan lifestyle also encourages more cooking at home, which means you are in control of your added sugars.
For vegan-friendly treats that won’t break your diet, choose naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dried fruits, and drizzle some natural maple syrup for a bit of added sweetness. There’s also vegan dark chocolate, for chocoholics out there, that can be enjoyed in moderation.
You’re Going To Town On Vegan Junk Food
Beware of vegan treats. While many brands are now offering “vegan” versions of ice cream, brownies and cookies (did you know that Oreos are vegan?), these are not healthy foods. Remember, just because frozen french fries and store-bought ketchup is vegan, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Seems simple, right? Still, some people think that going vegan means they have carte blanche to eat as much as they want. Unfortunately, as with any diet, portion control matters. If you eat too many starches, bread, pastas, nut butters, and even fruits, you’ll consume more calories than you expend and yes — you will gain weight.
You Aren’t Active Enough
Being vegan doesn’t mean you therefore don’t have to exercise; in fact, the opposite is true. Vegans should prioritize full-body workouts and strength training to maintain muscle mass and retain bone density.
Part of the vegan lifestyle is also about taking care of the planet, so consider incorporating this into your new and active lifestyle. Walk or ride a bike to get from place to place instead of driving; you will burn more calories and do the earth some good as well.
And of course, don’t forget to hydrate. Our bodies need plenty of water, no matter what diet we are on. Juicing fruit and vegetables counts as hydration, while green tea can offer up nutrients and antioxidants.
Adopting a vegan diet as a means to lose weight is a smart and healthy choice if done correctly. Follow these simple tips, and you’ll be well on your way to experiencing a healthier you.