When we think about weight loss, we often think about restriction, suffering, giving up delicious food, eating lots of cabbage. But healthy weight loss doesn’t have to be awful. In fact, it’s one of the first side effects people report when switching to a vegan diet, besides all of the yummy foods they get to eat.
Beyoncé recently lost more than 60 pounds when she switched to a vegan diet. Her results were so profound she and husband Jay Z are now partners on the 22 Days Nutrition vegan meal delivery service.
So how does weight loss happen on a vegan diet?
First, there are lots of ways to eat vegan. French fries, potato chips, Oreos and sodas may technically qualify as vegan, but you’re not likely to see too many health benefits if your diet is loaded with vegan junk food. Any diet—vegan or otherwise—will tell you to give up those things. But that doesn’t mean you can’t satisfy your cravings.
The thing about increasing your intake of plant foods—which is essentially what a vegan diet is—boils down to one very important word: fiber.
Not only does fiber help to clean out our digestive system—which if we’ve been piling it up with meat and dairy products for decades could certainly use a cleaning—but it also serves a few other important functions, such as helping us to feel fuller longer and providing prebiotics to our gut bacteria. Feeling full is key not only so that you don’t reach for the bag of chips, but also so that your body’s other functions can perform properly. We expend more of our body’s energy digesting than we do anything else. And if a fiber-rich meal can sate us more quickly, we can let the body breakdown and burn off the food it just received in a more efficient way. Prebiotics, which are found in fibrous foods, serve as the foods necessary for healthy gut bacteria to thrive. And when our gut (the microbiome) has healthy bacteria in charge, digestion improves and that can lead to weight loss as well as a whole host of other benefits from improved memory and less brain fog to clearer skin and decreased inflammation in the body.
Weight loss on a vegan diet also occurs by the elimination of trigger foods. Many people have a difficult time digesting dairy products (even if they’re not lactose intolerant), and removing dairy can greatly improve gut health and weight loss.
There’s another consideration too: Conventionally raised animals—chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows and even fish—are fed unnatural ingredients including GMOs and antibiotics. Genetically modified organisms are routinely sprayed with herbicides including Monsanto’s Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide that’s been linked to endocrine disruption. Chemicals like these disrupt the body’s natural hormonal process that regulates metabolism and other functions. Additionally, the use of antibiotics (which many companies are now phasing out) is employed by the livestock industry to rapidly increase animal size. If antibiotics make a chicken or pig grow faster, why wouldn’t they do the same to the people who eat those animals?
Vegan Foods to Eat for Weight Loss
Ready to start enjoying the benefits of a vegan diet? Not only will your overall health likely improve, but you’re surely improving the health of the animals you didn’t eat!
So what should you eat? Here are some vegan foods to incorporate into your diet for healthy weight loss:
Beans: Full of fiber and protein, beans are also important sources for vitamins and minerals and plant phytochemicals known to improve health. Beans are super filling and super versatile. The possibilities are truly endless! Try a new bean every day of the week and always soak your own dried beans, never buy them in cans.
Cooking dry beans may seem intimidating, but it is really a whole lot easier than you probably think. Soak a few cups of dried beans in enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches overnight or before you go to work in the morning. After they’ve soaked at least five hours, you can rinse them, fill with more fresh water (cover with 2-3 inches of water) and let simmer 1-2 hours, depending on the type of bean. That’s it! I usually soak mine overnight, then drop them on the stove before working out. When I’m done, they’re ready. So simple!
Nuts and seeds: Hopefully you know by now that healthy fats are key to losing weight. Monounsaturated fats and a small amount of saturated fat (like in nuts and coconut oil) help our bodies to run smoothly and burn “bad” fat away. Hello bikini!
Seeds are just as healthy too—maybe even more so than nuts—especially hemp seeds. Packed with protein and omega-fatty acids, hemp seeds give you that gorgeous skin glow, make you feel full and boost your mood.
Add nuts and seeds to your diet. Try mixing them into vegan yogurt or cereal. Add them to salads, stir fries and make pesto! Eat them solo as snacks or use nut and seed butters.
Fresh fruits and veggies: It hopefully is already a part of your healthy eating habits, but if not, now is the time to start. Vegetables are the single most important foods you can consume. And while not all are created equal (kale trumps iceberg lettuce, for example), you really can’t go wrong with something green and leafy. Or green and stubby or green and flowery…essentially anything green is going to be good for you! Other colors in the vegetable kingdom are bona fide sources of good health too. Radishes are huge fat burners. Beets are sweet and versatile. They can also be made into “chips” with a little olive oil and salt and then baked in a 425F oven for about 40 minutes. Cauliflower may lack color, but it doesn’t lack healthy benefits.Tomatoes (fruits) are rich in lycopene and so many delicious uses! Aim to eat at least one fresh salad a day and make it count—fill it with fresh dark leafy greens like arugula and romaine, add carrots, beets, radishes, cucumbers (fruit), celery and avocados (also fruit). Make a dressing from olive oil and fresh apple cider vinegar, which is a natural weight loss food.
And when it comes to satisfying that sweet tooth: turn to fruits. A raspberry or slice of mango is tastier than any candy and offers your body so much more, including fiber and antioxidants. Of course, you can always nibble a piece of extra dark chocolate too, but just make sure it’s at least 70 percent so that you’re getting the natural health benefits of chocolate.
What about grains?
Whole grains have been part of healthy diets (vegan or otherwise) for thousands of years. Today, it’s trendy to skip the grains (paleo diet style) for a number of perceived reasons, including weight loss. While most vegans do eat grains such as quinoa, rice, whole wheat, kamut and barley, for example, it is possible to enjoy the benefits of a vegan diet without eating grains, if you choose.
How to Start a Vegan Diet
It’s always easier to start by adding foods in rather than eliminating. If you have a large salad or green smoothie for lunch, you may find you don’t have any room for that bag of chips after all. And you likely won’t need that 3 o’clock donut, either.
Set reasonable goals so that you exceed them, not fall short. Try Meatless Monday and then maybe move to Mark Bittman’s method of Vegan Before 6 pm and see if that doesn’t help you transition. Because once that weight starts coming off, you may find that the benefits of the vegan diet are too good to ever give up anyway.
Woman measuring waist image via Shutterstock