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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Will being vegan help someone lose weight?

    A friend of mine has recently become vegan as she wants to lose weight. She exercises daily but is still a bit overweight. I told her that she will lose a lot of nutrients by becoming vegan. Is this a healthy lifestyle?
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  • 1

    Agree

    Nicole Senior

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    I'm an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist, consultant, author, speaker and food and health enthusiast. I love talking and writing about food and health.(please note, … View Profile

    Being vegan will not necessarily help with weight loss, just the same as someone who only eats healthy food can still gain weight. Weight is all about the balance between kilojoules in as food and kilojoules out as physical activity. It's about eating enough for your needs but making sure the food you do choose is balanced and nutrient-rich (and getting regular exercise). Whatever diet your friend follows, it needs to be well planned and organised and requires a wider focus on health and not just numbers on the scale. A vegan diet has a high degreee of difficulty to follow in practice, especially when eating out: she'll need to hit the cookbooks and websites to find new recipes to cook at home (check these out http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/collections/vegan+recipes ). The most important things is to enjoy a variety of nutritious plant foods including wholegrains, legumes (including soy, beans, lentils etc), nuts and seeds as well as vegetables and fruit- there's not a lot of room for junk food in an adequate vegan diet (or any kilojoule-restricted diet for that matter). To ensure enough vitamin B12 she'll need to eat fortified foods (check the label) or take a supplement.A calcium fortified soy milk is a good dairy alternative. Getting outside for some sun will help obtain vitamin D. Perhaps her shift to a vegan diet represents a new interest in nutrition, health and cooking and this is a positive thing. In order to assist her with the transition to this very different style of eating and to achieve her weight loss goals, I'd recommend she see an Accredited Practising Dietitian. Find a dietitian at www.daa.asn.au

  • 2

    Thanks

    Dr Richard Wong

    Personal Trainer

    Qualified with a B: Human Movement Science and Certificate. I grew up with sport. I competed succesfully at a state and national level as a … View Profile

    Being a vegan will not nessarily help her to lose weight. In my experience it hinders weight loss because of the high carb foods and the lack of protein. She must be aware that if she does lose weight that it may be due to a loss of muscle mass. Especially if she is now going to do exercise. A very clear understanding of how much carbs and proteins foods have will only lead to fat loss and not muscle loss. 

  • 1

    Thanks

    Elizabeth Newsham-West is committed to optimising the health and well-being of people across all ages within the Mount Tamborine community.  She works as a domicillary … View Profile

    As Nicole said being vegan may not necessarily result in weight loss however if this eating plan is lower in calories than what your friend was eating before then she will. Often these kind of dietary changes result in the removal of many processed foods high in fat, sugar and flavour enhancers which are very calorific and the removal of these foods causes the weight loss, not so much the vegan diet.

    As Nicole said the health benefits of this diet plan is only achieved by ensuring you are eating a well balance diet using wholegrain cereal grains, nuts seeds, legumes and pulses, fruit and vegetables every day which requires planning and cooking. This can be achieved with the right information and adequate nutrition can be provided, even protein for muscle maintenance. However often animal products are removed and replacing with processed alternatives or poorly planned meals making it an unhealthy eating plan where the long term health benefits and weight loss that is being aimed for unlikely to be achieved.

    Nutrients that may be low on this diet plan are omega 3, iron, calcium and B12. Knowing how to get adequate amounts of these nutrients is important for your friend. I agree with Nicole expert guidance should be sort to ensure she is eating well to get the health benefits she is looking for.

  • 3

    Thanks

    Ralph Graham

    Counsellor

    Ralph Graham, Counsellor, Psychotherapist, helping those who are affected by:grief, loss, anxiety, phobias, panic attack.And those who have been traumatised by:crime, assault, sexual abuse and … View Profile

    As has been said, the vegan diet will not automatically lead to weight loss.

    Veganism might be seen to have a three ‘pillar’ approach.
    1 ANIMALS
    Leaving animal products out of the diet so as not to contribute to the exploitation of animals and to the short cruel life of these animals and their subsequent death. The claim is made that this is needless as animal products are not needed for good nutrition. Large areas and populations that live plant–based appear to bear this out and the UN has made statements supporting this.

    2  HEALTH
    There is evidence that a low fat diet free of animal products can reverse heart disease and bring about a host of other health effects like better immune response and less cancers. It is not so much that the vegan way is magical or amazing. It is more apparent that the eating of animal products causes these diseases so removing them will obviously make a difference.  See note below about obesity and weight loss.

    3 ENVIRONMENT
    The UN has said that the production of animal products generates more pollution than the use of all fossil fuels put together. The clearing of rainforests like in South America to grow food for animals could cease it is claimed as much less land is needed to grow protein crops for human consumption that that needed to feed animals for slaughter. So there are ramifications for solving world hunger as well.
     
    OBESITY AND WEIGHT LOSS
    While there is much to attract people to the above, the vegan diet will not automatically lead to weight loss. Outside of hormonal and other problems where food intake is not a factor in obesity, the vegan diet can maintain or even cause obesity. New vegans often lose weight because they are focussed on nutrition and cease eating animal fat. But obese vegans find that fattening foods (often called vegan junk food by vegans) are there aplenty for people who initially think that if a food is non animal it must be OK. A badly managed diet, vegan or not can lead to obesity.
     
    The simplest way to look at this is to be aware that adopting a diet that contains a good balance of all that is needed for optimum nutrition will mean that a person will gain or lose weight until their body arrives at its ideal weight.  

    Exercise will help to attain this if the weight needs to come down. Having a diet plan worked out by a qualified dietician is a very good start.

    Occasionally, you may strike a dietician who is very pro eating meat and strongly anti vegan. While this is more of a problem with some GP's who sadly learn little about nutrition in their training, they may be not be up to date on the evidence supporting the vegan diet so look further or search for a vegan dietician on the internet.
    (I encountered a person whose doctor was emphatic that veganism was an eating disorder like anorexia nevosa!   :o)  )

  • 1

    Thanks

    Mel Haynes

    Nutritionist

    Chef, Scientist and Nutritionist. I specialise culinary nutrition and disease prevention with plant based diets. www.culinetica.com.au View Profile

    Being vegan can assist with weight loss but is not an underlying cause of weight loss.  It is however a very healthy, kind and ecologically responsible diet that isnt lacking in lots of nutrients.  In fact vegan diets are often higher in many vitamin and minerals.

    In a recent population study, (EPIC-PANACEA study)  meat was positively associated with weight gain even after controlling for energy consumption - meaning that out of people eating the same amount of kilojoules, those consuming more meat were more likely to gain more weight.

    In a study on vegans living in the USA (1.)  vegans were the ONLY group to fall within a healthy weight range.

    The reasons veganism can assist with weight loss include:

     - Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are often lower in calories
     - High fibre diets lead to satiety (feeling fuller after eating)
     - Diets high in fibre alter gut bacteria to favour weight loss (2)
     
    Being vegan requires some initial education and planning to avoid common pitfalls and nutritional deficiencies (which are more rare than people imagine) but on the whole has been a safe, healthy diet proven to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.  It is important to choose healthy whole foods which are not overly processed however as the vegan “junk food” equivalents will hamper weigh loss in the same way most other junk foods will.

    When considering the completeness of a vegan diet some vitamins and minerals to watch out for are B12, zinc, calcium and Iron.  This is easily counteracted by choosing fortified meat and dairy replacements (such as a fortified soy milk) so there is little need or benefit to taking vitamin tablets.

    In particular B12 is NOT available in vegan diets so if you are not consuming enough fortified products a tablet is essential.  If you are consuming a supplement or fortified foods and b12 levels are still low, you may not be producing the enzyme responsible for absorption and will require an injection

    A doctor is able to assess levels of micronutrients so an annual blood test is often a good idea. 

    (1) S. Tonstad, T. Butler, R. Yan, and G. E. Fraser. Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 32(5). 791-796, 2009.

    (
    2) An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Mahowald MA, Magrini V, Mardis ER, Gordon JI. Nature. 2006 Dec 21;444(7122):1027-31.
     

  • Anonymous

    As already stated above, there are many factors involved and it really does come down to the individual. You can be a 'junk food vegan' just like you can be a junk food meat eater. There are plenty of overly processed vegan foods. A vegan could just eat pizza, hot chips, gravy, coke and oreos everyday, so you can see not every vegan is a healthy eater. However the vegan with the healthiest vegan diet will trump a meat eater with the healthiest non vegan diet.

    Firstly, dairy causes inflammation and acne, so already eliminating dairy will be a big help. Your friend will likely feel less bloated and 'clogged'. Their body won't block as many nutrients from absorbing once the dairy has cleared out.

    Eggs are high in cholestorel, and irritable to digestion, so your friend will likely feel 'cleaner' inside, like switching from leaded to unleaded, and if they have a sensitive tummy, it won't be as upset.

    Meat causes high cholestorel, blood pressure, heart disease, diabeted and cancer growth (think about all those added hormones and antibiotics). Meat also dulls the tastebuds, so once your friend cuts out animal products, they will find that those previously nasty vegetables suddenly taste amazing - who knew there were all these subleties and nuances to vegetables? It sounds crazy, but it has to be tried to be believed! They will feel suddenly energized and awake, like they have been numb and drugged before. That leaded vs unleaded metaphor also applies here. It suddenly feels like you are fuelling your body with goodness. Literally.

    It is quite common for new vegans to put on a little weight before they figure out the new food pyramid and figure out some new recipes. A lot of new vegans just eat a lot of potatoes as the initial view is excluding something, until they realise there is so much to now include. New vegans need to learn about the vegan food pyramid, which is completely different to the standard diet of meat and three veg. Vegan food is a mix of a wide variety of vegetables (there are literally thousands of varieties!), grains, beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, fruits, and occasionally tofu, tempeh or seitan. If your friend sticks to these items and only rarely treats themselves to vegan treats then they will be off to a good start. 

    A lot of vegan athletes eat huge servings of food, and graze constantly throughout the day. They also follow the high carb, low fat diet and many vegans have successfully lost weight, built muscle, and maintained it this way, but I would suggest to your friend to focus on figuring out vegan recipes and foods first, and the rest will come with time and self education. 

    A lot of vegans with PCOS have seen a dramatic improvement through following a healthy vegan diet and exercising regularly. Of course, every individual is different and if your friend is worried at all or needs professional advice they should see a vegan friendly dietician or doctor.

    It is also good to note that actually most nutritional deficiences are related to the standard diet, not the vegan diet. Many vegans have seen an improvement in their levels such as iron and even stopped taking iron supplements because their iron levels were so much better on a vegan diet.

    If your friend is following a healthy vegan diet, eating a variety of foods, and getting enough calories every day, the only things they need to worry about are B12, which can be supplemented with a simple sublingual spray or capsule, and omega 3 which they will get from flaxseed, chia seed, LSA, or walnuts (a spoonful every day). 

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