Eating a Plant-Based Diet For Weight Loss: Foods to Eat & Avoid

Plant-Based Diet for Weight Loss
Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Overweight and obesity are linked to a host of health conditions, and can limit our wellbeing as well as our health. With so many heavily promoted fad diets that actually risk your health, there is one diet for which research consistently shows long-term health benefits alongside weight loss, and that is why more and more people are adopting a plant-based diet.

What is a Healthy Weight?

A healthy weight is based on the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI calculation divides an adult’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. A healthy weight is a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9.

What Is A Plant-Based Diet?

This is a diet that is made up entirely of plants. It doesn’t mean just eating vegetables, though. It means eating legumes, nuts and nut butters, seeds, fruits, breads, salads, herbs, spices, pasta, rice and other wholegrains, and foods such as plant milk and yogurt, or other replacement products including plant-based burgers, hot dogs and ground ‘beef’.

Can You Lose Weight Eating a Plant-Based Diet?

Absolutely. Lots of people find that they do, though it depends on the foods you choose. Fries are vegan. Donuts can be vegan. But you wouldn’t expect to lose weight if your diet was made up predominantly of these. But if we crowd our plates with fresh plant foods – cooked or raw, and from every color of the rainbow – not only will be gaining important micronutrients that keep us functioning optimally, we are likely to shed a few pounds, too.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Take a look at some of the most powerful health transformations you will ever see of people, all a result of switching to a plant-based diet.

What Does Recent Research Say About Plant-Based Diets?

Researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) working with Dr. Kitt Petersen and Dr. Gerald Shulman of Yale University conducted a 16-week study of 244 participants who had BMIs ranging from 28 to 40.

For four months, one group ate a low-fat, plant-based diet in serving sizes consistent with their usual habits. The second group did not change their dietary habits at all. At the end of the study, the plant-based diet group experienced an 18.7 percent increase in their after-meal calorie burn and had lost an average of 14 pounds.

This is just one of many studies that suggest switching to a whole food plant-based diet can lead to significant weight loss.

Health Benefits Of A Plant-Based Diet

Research is consistently showing that people who eat a plant-based diet may experience profound health benefits and even live longer! Those who become vegan often say that they notice health benefits in the short-term too, from increased energy, better sleep, improved digestion and fewer respiratory problems and allergies. For some people, the effects are startling and include a reduction in symptoms of arthritis, period pain, and even depression. But it is in the long-term that the plant-based diet really works its magic.

Improve Weight Management

In a review of the evidence relating to plant-based diet and obesity, researchers from the University of South Carolina found evidence that a plant-based diet could prevent overweight and obesity and promote weight loss. They concluded: “Based on the available evidence, PBDs [plant-based diets] should be considered a viable option for the treatment and prevention of overweight and obesity.”

Lower Risk Of Heart Disease

There is strong evidence that a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains can be very beneficial in managing, halting and even reversing stroke, coronary and vascular heart disease and peripheral arterial disease. That is why a vegan diet is at the center of innovative programs aimed at reversing heart disease.

Prevent Cognitive Decline

Neurologists Dean and Ayesha Sherzai have developed a five-point program that can prevent Alzheimer’s in 90 percent of people, while in the remaining 10 percent who have a genetic predisposition to the disease, it can delay onset by up to fifteen years. For those already experiencing symptoms, progression can be slowed and even reversed. Eating a plant-based diet is at the heart of their NEURO program. Watch the doctors explain how this works.

Reduce Risk Of Cancer

All processed meats cause cancer. All red meat ‘probably’ causes cancer. Eating a plant-rich diet has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers, notably bowel cancer, while evidence suggests that consistently drinking as little as one cup of dairy milk per day can increase your risk of breast cancer by up to 50 percent.

Studies also show that vegan diets are associated with a decrease in the incidence of all cancers combined, and specifically the risk of female-specific cancers, when compared with non-vegans.

Reducing Risk Of Diabetes

A 2003 study funded by the NIH, tested thousands of patients with type 2 diabetes and found that a plant-based diet controlled blood sugar three times more effectively than a traditional diabetes diet. Within weeks on a plant-based diet, participants saw dramatic health improvements: They lost weight, their insulin sensitivity improved, and their HbA1c levels dropped. In some cases, you wouldn’t even have known they’d had the disease at all.

What Are The Potential Disadvantages Of A Plant-Based Diet?

Like any change in our behavior, it can take a little time to adapt, and to learn new ways of cooking and eating. And while it’s not difficult to get all the nutrients you need, it is essential that those new to the diet are aware that you can’t just remove animal products and not think about how to replace some of the nutrients they contain. It can also take two to three weeks for our digestion to fully adapt to a diet that is generally much higher in fiber and there may be the odd embarrassing moment. But, a little gas is a small price to pay for improved health and wellbeing over the long-term.

How Much Weight Can You Lose On A Plant-Based Diet?

In one of the studies cited above, participants lost an average of 14 pounds over 16 weeks and still ate their usual portion sizes. But it is possible to lose more by adding in exercise, reducing portion sizes or continuing the program for longer. But all bodies shed weight differently, so some people will lose more, others less.

Plant-Based Weight Loss Program

There are many ways to approach weight loss but some basic principles of losing weight through eating a plant-based diet include:

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables – aim for 30 different kinds each week
  • Fill up on whole grains and beans for plenty of fiber
  • Limit processed foods. We’re not saying never. Just don’t rely on them at every meal
  • Cut out sugary foods as much as possible
  • Alcohol contains lots of calories without any nutrients, so limit intake
  • Keep some delicious snacks to hand to avoid the urge to buy junk food when you’re on the go
  • Stay hydrated
  • Get enough sleep
  • Increase your activity levels if you are able to

Foods To Eat

Keep it simple! Base meals on wholegrains, legumes and fresh vegetables, particularly leafy green vegetables like collards or kale. There is no upper limit on the number of fresh vegetables you can eat, so make sure each meal contains plenty.

Big salads that include watercress, green onions, tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, grated carrot and celeriac, beans, walnuts, and seeds can be made in minutes. With a squeeze of lime and some black pepper, or a drizzle of tahini-lemon dressing, this can make a delicious and filling meal.

Soups are another great choice for providing a nutritious, plant-packed low-cal meal. Add lentils to thicken it up or some beans at the end to boost fiber and protein.

Garbanzo bean curry or chilli made with soy mince can make a tasty evening meal and there are a wealth of other great plant-based recipes out there just waiting to be discovered.

Foods To Limit

Processed foods often contain high levels of fats or sugar (or both) so, while it may not be practical to rule them out altogether – after all, they are known as ‘convenience foods’ for a reason – it’s best to limit them.

Foods To Avoid Or Cut Out

By cutting out meat, dairy and eggs, you’ll be cutting out a lot of the saturated fat that does damage to our waistlines and our hearts. Beyond that, don’t make the mistake of thinking ‘vegan’ means ‘healthy’. There are vegan ice creams, mayonnaise, cheese, potato chips, cakes and many more delicious things but these will not aid weight loss. Fried foods and sugary foods are to be avoided if you want to lose weight whether they are vegan or not. And as for oil … less is more.

Plant-Based Recipes For Weight Loss

There are so many fantastic recipes based on plants that can help you lose weight. If we were blowing our own trumpet, we’d recommend you register to receive these tasty Million Dollar Vegan recipes:

  • Creamy One-pot Thai Red Curry
  • Richly Spiced Garbanzo Masala
  • Aloha Blackbean and Pineapple Burgers
  • Sesame Spiced Stir Fry with Chili Sauce

 

From PCRM, we love these:

 

And these from Dr Esselstyn, founder of a program to reverse heart disease are not to be missed:

  • Kale and lemon sandwiches (so much tastier than they sound!)
  • Mango-Lime Bean Salad
  • Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Lime Mousse

Do Physical Activities

Weight loss can often be speeded up by an increase in physical activity, whether that is running, playing a sport, a fast walk, or time in the gym. Just be careful not to reward yourself afterwards with a big bowl of vegan ice cream or a large glass of wine. Or both.

Conclusion

Eating a whole food plant-based diet can help with weight loss, and reduce the risk of the diseases and conditions associated with obesity, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And it’s really no hardship! With an army of tasty recipes to help you on your way, you may just find that eating vegan becomes a wonderful new way of living, long after those extra pounds have gone.

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