As more people get on the vegan hype-train to offer their two cents to counter environmental degradation, a rudimentary question arises- are plant-based diets truly effective, if not superior? Often for specific personal goals, including weight loss. The only way to get to the bottom of this is by sifting through years of research conducted on the topic. In this case, there have primarily been 2 distinct pathways of research: observatory and interventional.
In this article, we have tried to go through the research on your behalf with the aim of narrowing down the basic science behind plant-based diet-driven weight loss and its efficacy. But first, we must understand the ABCs of an effective weight loss transformation.
The Dynamics of an Effective Weight Loss Transformation
When it comes to weight loss, everything boils down to two phrases- “calorie in” and “calorie out.” The only way to lose weight is to create a deficit between your calorie intake and calories burned. The more the deficit, the better your scope of weight loss. So, if you want an effective weight loss journey, first make sure you are counting what you are eating and aiming at burning more calories through exercise and activity.
Here are a few ways to facilitate better weight loss:
- Get involved in self-monitoring habits such as tracking your diet and exercise. Keeping track of your calorie intake and physical workout drives self-awareness of your behavioral patterns and the way they impact your weight loss goals.
- Go for an activity you enjoy. Workouts include biking, swimming, walking, taking the stairs, or simply playing outdoors with your children. Look for an activity you enjoy and engage in it often.
- Store healthy food options like fruits and vegetables at home. If you store more healthy foods instead of highly processed snacks such as chips and soda, eating healthily becomes the sole choice.
- Always prioritize sleep and bring down stress factors. A lack of sleep and the presence of stressors can sabotage weight loss goals. Have healthy sleep habits and learn ways to ease your stress.
- Try filling your plate with whole foods that are minimally processed, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They can help keep you full and provide the necessary nutrients your body needs to support weight loss and look after your health.
Is a Plant-based Diet Superior for Weight Loss?
Before understanding how plant-based diets are more effective for weight loss than other diets that include meat, eggs, and fish, we must understand the basics of a plant-based diet- it is inherently high in volume and low in calories. This offers a direct advantage when it comes to weight loss. If your diet can be low-calorie without compromising on the necessary portions to fill you up, rest assured it is as effective and healthy as it gets.
5 to 10% of the Western population follows a plant-based diet. With the help of various studies conducted by nutritionists on different types of people, it has been seen that people are benefited by following such a restrictive yet fulfilling diet. Those who follow plant-based diets tend to have much lower body weight as compared to their meat-consuming counterparts, so their efficacy in weight loss journeys are inevitable.
Plant-based diets work primarily by lowering calories and offering high fibre content, more volume, less palatability, lower energy density, and lesser food reward than other non-plant-based diets. This makes it a better idea when weight loss is concerned.
What Merits Does a Plant-based Diet Have Over Others for Losing Weight?
According to research, vegans tend to have lower Body Mass Index (BMI), so it indirectly follows that a vegan diet ought to facilitate weight loss, and a person adhering to such a diet ought to show more resilience to gaining unwanted weight. A few studies have gone to the extent of directly measuring the effects of a vegan diet on weight loss goals. Below are some glimpses of it:
- As per studies done in 2016, the weight loss transformation of vegans, complete and semi-vegetarians, and omnivorous groups were recorded over a period of 6 months. The results showed that those on a vegan diet are more prone to weight loss than other groups. There was also a noticeable decrease in the consumption of saturated fats.
- Yet another study of 2016 examined 96 cases of vegan and vegetarian diets, and drew the conclusion that plant-based diets were apparently more effective for weight loss in contrast to omnivorous diets. The plant-based diet following participants also exhibited other health improvements, such as lower cholesterol and a comparatively lesser risk of cancer.
- In 2015, a study suggested that a vegetarian diet with vegetable fats can boost metabolism, meaning vegetarians and vegans might be burning more calories even when at rest, making their weight loss journey much more effective.
Is a Plant-based Diet Healthful?
Plant-based diets automatically eliminate foods that are rich in cholesterol, fat, calories in general, and the worst of all, saturated fats. Most pre-packaged and processed foods include animal products, so plant-based diets can help you eat fresh whole foods. There have been extensive research on the health benefits offered by vegetarian and vegan diets, and these are the advantages:
- Lower risks of cancer
- Reduced risk of “mini-strokes” or ischemic attacks
- Lowered inflammation
- Reduced cholesterol
- Lesser blood glucose
- Reduced risk of diabetes
- Lower risk of cataracts
So, in short, yes, plant-based diets are generally quite healthful.
Where Does a Plant-based Diet Fall Short?
There are pros and cons to everything and nothing is quite perfect. The same ring true for plant-based diets, though the compromises you make here are much different from the compromises made by the omnivorous demographic when it comes to weight loss.
Animal products naturally include vitamin B-12, so anyone following a vegan diet will have to find other sources to compensate for the deficit. Here are some options in that regard:
- Fortified cereals
- Nutritional yeast
- Fortified plant milk like soy, almond, or oat
- Various meat substitutes
- Weight loss supplements
Vegans can also be deficient in iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C and D, and omega-3 fatty acids. So, make sure you consume enough foods with these nutrients. If you are trying to go for bodybuilding or athletic goals, you might have to resort to protein shakes, mass gainers, and other similar vegan workout supplements. So, in these cases, reliance on your natural meals might not suffice.
All in all, the benefits offered by a plant-based diet far supersede the challenges associated with it, so all you need to do to be on an even keel is to make sure you are making up for the deficit, either by hunting down foods rich in those deficient nutrients or by taking the help of supplements.
The bottom line is, vegan plant-based are and will be a healthier diet alternative, when it comes to weight loss. But there are challenges facing plant-based diets much like its omnivorous counterparts. It all boils down to dealing with the deficient nutrients in a way that we reap the weight loss and general health benefits of a plant-based diets minus the cons accompanying it.