Losing weight is challenging but consuming a plant-based diet can give you an edge. How do we know this? A 2013 study involving over 70,000 people found that vegans, those who consume no animal-based foods, weighed on average 10 pounds less than those who ate both animal and plant-based foods.
But there’s more. An analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found subjects who ate a vegetarian diet lost more weight than those who ate both animal and plant-based foods. In addition, a study found women who ate a plant-based diet slashed their risk of becoming overweight or obese by half relative to those who didn’t consume a plant-focused diet.
And there are additional benefits to adopting a plant-based diet. A study found that vegetarians had a 12% lower risk of dying from all causes. But how and why can eating plant-based foods help with weight control and why should you want to adopt one? Let’s look at some ways that could help you achieve a healthier body weight if you’re overweight.
Plant-Based Foods Have a Higher Water Content
When people first go plant-based, they often notice they’re eating more food and still not consuming many calories. Most plant-based foods have a high water content, which makes them lower in calories than animal foods. So, you can fill a plate with plant-based foods and only consume a small number of calories due to the higher water content of plants. You get more food for the same number of calories, so people on a plant-based diet tend to eat fewer calories and not feel deprived. However, it’s important to get enough plant-based protein in your diet. Protein plays a key role in how satiated you feel.
The Fiber Content of Plant-Based Foods May Help with Weight Control
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body doesn’t break down. Instead, it passes through your digestive with no impact on your blood and insulin level. Consuming more fiber with a meal reduces the glycemic response to a meal, so you don’t get glucose and insulin spikes. This not only helps with hunger but helps keep your glucose and insulin levels from spiking. That’s favorable for weight control too. Since animal-based foods lack fiber, eating mostly plant-based foods will naturally boost your fiber intake, if you don’t consume ultra-processed vegan foods.
You May Eat Out Less
Eating out is more of a challenge on a plant-based diet since so few restaurants have a diverse menu of plant-based foods. Plus, the vegetables in restaurants are often prepared with unhealthy processed oils rather than healthier options like olive oil.
The calorie content of restaurant offerings is deceptively high too. The average restaurant meal contains 1,200 calories — and that’s only if you order from the “healthy” section of the menu. Portion sizes at restaurants are larger, sometimes the equivalent of two or more portions.
If adopting a plant-based diet leads to more home-cooked meals, it’s a boon for your waistline and your health. Choosing more home-prepared meals and snacks is better for your health and your physique.
A Plant-Based Diet is Better for Your Gut Microbiome
Research shows that people of normal weight have a more diverse gut microbiome than those who are overweight or obese. Diversity refers to the number of unique bacterial species in the large intestinal tract. Eating a plant-based diet helps boost the diversity of the gut microbiome.
Plant-based foods contain the beneficial fiber gut bacteria need to thrive and will give your gut health a boost. Studies link a more diverse gut microbiome with healthier body weight. Eating more plants is the best way to boost the diversity of your microbiome.
One study found that people who consumed at least 30 different types of plant foods weekly had a more diverse gut microbiome than those who consumed less than 10 types of plant foods each week. Whether this translates into better weight control is still unclear but gut health matters for overall health too.
A Plant-Based Diet Can Lead to Other Healthy Habits that Benefit Weight Control
A plant-based diet can help you lose weight and make other lifestyle changes. Once you adopt a plant-based diet, you may be more inclined to adopt other healthy habits like exercise, stress management, and optimal sleep habits. Success with one healthy lifestyle habit is an incentive to adopt a number more. The more sustainable healthy lifestyle habits you add to your repertoire, the easier it will be to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
If you’re starting a plant-based diet for weight loss, begin with small changes, like switching to one meatless meal per week and adding more plants to your diet. Over time, you can increase the number of plant-based foods you consume and reduce the number of animal products. Once you do this, you may notice other positive perks such as more energy and a better mood.
Enjoy the health and weight control benefits a plant-based diet offers! And remember – you don’t have to give up meat and other animal-based foods entirely to get some of the benefits of consuming more plants. Just adding more plants to your diet offers health benefits and can help you control your weight.
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- Huang RY, Huang CC, Hu FB, Chavarro JE. Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Gen Intern Med. 2016 Jan;31(1):109-16. doi: 10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7. PMID: 26138004; PMCID: PMC4699995.
- “Plant-based diets and gut microbiome diversity – The Food Medic.” 07 Feb. 2022, https://thefoodmedic.co.uk/2022/02/plant-based-diets-and-gut-microbiome-diversity/.
- Lozupone, C. A., Stombaugh, J.I., Gordon, J.I., Jansson, J.K., Knight, R. (2013) Diversity, stability and resilience of the human gut microbiota. Nature. Sep 13; 489(7415): 220-230.”Can You Lose Weight? Ask Your Microbiome – Institute for Systems Biology.” 14 Sept. 2021, https://isbscience.org/news/2021/09/14/can-you-lose-weight-ask-your-microbiome/.
- . Rosell, M., Appleby, P., Spencer, E. & Key, T. Weight gain over 5 years in 21,966 meat-eating, fish-eating, vegetarian, and vegan men and women in EPIC-Oxford. Int. J. Obes. 30, 1389–1396 (2006).