Pros and Cons of the Vegan Diet for Weight Loss

The vegan diet is growing in popularity in the West thanks to its positive impact on the environment, the well-being of animals, and for some, its health benefits and weight loss potential. Those who follow a vegan plan refrain from eating ANY food with animal origins, from the more obvious meats and cheeses to the less obvious honey, gelatin, and whey protein powder.

While it is one of the more strict diets out there, many who follow it adopt this style of eating for life. For many, if not most, vegans, this strict adherence has to do with the moral ramifications of eating meat, rather than simply the health benefit or weight loss potential. However, when you adopt a healthy vegan diet for weight loss, it can help you to maximize your health potential, lose weight and keep it off.

In this blog we’ll tell you everything you need to know about using a vegan diet for weight loss, including:

  • What a vegan diet is
  • The pros of a vegan diet for weight loss
  • Tips for eating vegan to lose weight
  • The cons of the vegan diet for weight loss
  • Alternatives to the vegan diet for weight loss

What Do Vegans Eat?

Many people in the United States think of veganism as a diet fad that humans are not biologically designed to follow. But abstaining from animal products is a practice that has gone on for thousands of years around the world. Followers of some of the largest religions in the East, including Buddhism and Hinduism, and Seventh-Day Adventist Christians world-wide often follow some form of vegetarian or vegan life-style.

Veganism simply means avoiding the consumption of any animal products. This means cutting the following out of your diet:

  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Dairy (including milk, cheese, eggs, and whey protein powder)
  • Honey
  • Gelatin

Can You Lose Weight On a Vegan Diet? The Pros of the Vegan Diet

Adopting a vegan plan for weight loss can help you slim down and live healthier, but only if you are conscious about choosing healthy vegan foods. It’s important to note that vegan doesn’t mean healthy or good for weight loss. Potato chips and sugar-containing foods, for instance, are vegan; but you should still avoid them in order to lose weight and maintain health.

Adopting a vegan diet for weight loss can also come with challenges in terms of convenience and price. However, eating more whole plant-based foods can help you to lose weight and live your healthiest life.

Here are some pros of the vegan diet for weight loss when a plant-based whole foods approach is used:

  • Can reduce food cravings
  • Can be packed with healthy foods
  • Reduces chemical intake found in processed foods
  • Also reduces the risk of heart attack, cancer and many chronic diseases
  • Can increase lifespan by up to 11 years

Vegan Plan for Weight Loss Pro #1: The Vegan Diet Can Reduce Cravings and Calories Consumed

Research suggests that the vegan diet can help people to achieve both short-term and long-term weight loss. While there are many mechanisms through which this occurs, one factor is a reduction in food cravings and calories consumed.

Because plant foods are high in fiber, the component of food that makes us feel the fullest, those who follow a diet with more plant foods and fewer animal products tend to feel full longer and overeat less. Additionally, when eating whole foods the body tends to absorb fewer of the calories in that food compared to refined or processed foods with the same number of calories.

Vegan Plan for Weight Loss Pro #2: CAN Be Packed With Healthy Foods

We have all been told since we were young to eat our fruits and our vegetables, and for good reason. Fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other healthful plant compounds. These compounds can help to reduce chronic inflammation, fight free radical damage in our bodies, and much more.

Even if you do not see immediate weight loss on the vegan diet, eating more plant foods can benefit your health substantially.

In fact, multiple studies have found that a whole-food, plant-based diet can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people who adopted a high plant-based food diet were 32% less likely to die from a cardiovascular condition. Many people with heart disease have seen dramatic improvements when they switch from a standard American diet to a vegan diet.

Vegan Plan for Weight Loss Pro #3: Reduces Antibiotic and Other Chemical Intake

Unless you are eating all organic foods, you are consuming many potentially damaging chemicals in your meat and dairy products. These include pesticides that are used to treat the foods that the animals are fed, as well as antibiotics and hormones used to fatten up the animals and keep them alive. While not all intake of synthetic chemicals is dangerous for our health, most health experts agree that there are potential dangers to excessive consumption of these compounds. In fact, red meat and processed meats are actually listed as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Antibiotics, in particular, appear to play a role in weight gain.

Animals are fed low-dose antibiotics and hormones to encourage rapid growth. Antibiotics, in particular, may impact our health and even our waistlines. In each of our digestive tracts lives a community of trillions of bacteria that is important for our health, known as our microbiome. Antibiotics in any form, whether taken orally or consumed in our food, can kill off these beneficial bacteria.

Scientists are just beginning to discover the negative health effects of antibiotics on our digestion and health, but research has found a link between a dysbiotic gut microbiome (an abnormal bacteria population in our digestive tracts) and troubles losing weight. More research is needed to confirm whether or not reducing the antibiotics in our food can help to restore balance, but the preliminary evidence suggests that we should avoid unnecessary antibiotic exposure, such as that found in non-organic meat and dairy products. What has been cleary described in scientific studies is that long-term antibiotic exposure is linked to weight gain.

If you follow a vegan diet, you will avoid exposure to these antibiotics. This can help to protect your overall health and well-being, and may help you to lose weight.

The Downsides of the Vegan Diet Plan

Many of the potential downsides of a vegan diet for weight loss are linked to improper use or careless planning and may include:

  • Possible nutritional deficiencies
  • Danger of weight regain
  • Vegan does not automatically mean healthy
  • Lack of convenience
  • Difficulty getting enough protein

Vegan Plan for Weight Loss Con #1: Difficult to Get All Necessary Nutrients

Vegan diets do not contain 100% of the necessary nutrients that humans need to thrive. There is one in particular that vegans must supplement, and some others that are hard to come by on the vegan diet.

The one nutrient that all vegans will need to get either from a supplement or from fortified foods is vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is particularly important for our brain health and function. It also has other functions, including DNA synthesis and the formation of red blood cells. It is found in animal foods, but not in plant foods. If you strictly follow a vegan diet, it is best to purchase a B12 supplement that you take daily to avoid any deficiency.

Other nutrients that can be less frequently consumed in some careless vegan diets than traditional diets include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA
  • Lysine (an essential amino acid)
  • Calcium

Without careful planning it may be difficult to get enough of these important nutrients on a vegan diet. To get the proper amount of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, vegans need to utilize rich plant sources such as ground flax or chia seeds and those who are not as careful may be best served by using a plant based omega-3 supplement made from flax or seaweed.

You can get enough lysine with a vegan diet if you consume a lot of complete plant-based proteins such as quinoia, tempeh, tofu, or beans and rice. However, especially if you struggle with planning, you may find that adding in a daily lysine supplement is beneficial.

As for calcium, vegans who consume plenty of dark green leafy vegetables and other healthy plant foods should be able to get enough calcium from their foods. However, if you find this challenging due to your age, conflicting medications, or your dietary preferences, you may benefit from adding in a calcium and Vitamin D supplement.

Vegan Plan for Weight Loss Con #2: Weight Likely to Increase Once the Diet Is Stopped

The success of every diet comes down to multiple factors, with one of the most important being how long you follow the dietary plan. Our bodies do not want to lose weight, and if you stop your diet and return to how you ate previously, you will almost always regain the weight that was lost. This is not different with a vegan diet. Long-term weight loss is only feasible if you follow a vegan diet continuously to the point where it becomes your way of life.

This matters because a vegan diet can be difficult for many of us to adopt and stick to; but it’s important to find a diet that you can adhere to long-term, because that results in sustainable long-term weight loss.

Vegan Plan for Weight Loss Con #3: Can Still Include Unhealthy Foods

It is important to note that just because a person decides to be vegan, that this does not necessarily mean that they are making healthy dietary choices. Many vegans still eat lots of processed foods that don’t contain animal products, such as potato chips and Oreos. Adopting an unhealthy vegan diet that’s full of processed foods should not be expected to lead to either weight loss or long-term health.

If you want to adopt a healthy vegan diet for weight loss, then you should eat a whole-food diet, where you eat vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, and more foods that have not been heavily processed.

Vegan Plan for Weight Loss Con #4: A Substantial Lifestyle Change

Not everyone is prepared to give up animal products for the rest of their lives. Many factors including time, family dynamics and where a person lives, can play a role in contributing to the ease or difficulty of making a meaningful and sustainable commitment to a dietary approach. In some places, for socially wired people, it may also be tough to find a community of like-minded people to share in and support their vegan plan long-term.

Following a vegan diet for weight loss may also be difficult around the holidays (especially Thanksgiving) or when you’re eating out with friends or coworkers. If you plan to make a dietary change to lose weight and regain your health, it is important to clearly understand why you are making this change and to remind yourself on a daily basis. Some people may carry a very high level of motivation and may be able to make this commitment overnight while others may struggle more and may be more successful mastering smaller, more manageable stepwise changes in this direction.

Vegan Plan for Weight Loss Con #5: Difficulty Getting Enough Protein

Most people in Western cultures get their protein primarily from animal products. Eliminating easy animal-based protein sources can make it challenging at first to get enough protein in a vegan diet. If you want to pursue a vegan diet for weight loss, you may initially need to supplement your diet with plant-based protein supplements; especially if you are very active, are an athlete, or are also planning to incorporate resistance training as part of your health journey. However, it is important to note that liquid calories and processed foods of any kind, including protein supplements, are associated with weight gain and sub-optimal weight loss. Because of this, if weight loss is your goal, protein supplementation will not yield the best results and you will need to understand how to get adequate protein from whole plant-based foods.

Alternatives to the Vegan Diet

When it comes to a healthy diet, a plant-based whole foods vegan diet is the best choice, but simply moving in this direction represents healthy change for most Americans. Even if a person does not become completely plant based it is still much healthier to reduce refined and processed foods in the diet. The Whole30 approach is one method to help you do this. A Mediterranean diet consisting of seafood, vegetables, healthy oils, whole grains, and nuts has also been shown to promote some measure of health and weight loss. While others have found weight loss success with some of the more popular diets, including the ketogenic and Paleo diets, these may not promote long-term health and in some instances may even harm your health .

What To Do When Diet and Exercise Aren’t Enough

If you’ve tried the vegan diet, and you’ve lost 50 pounds or even more only to watch helplessly as the scale creeps back up, then please understand that this is not your fault.

If you suffer from obesity, then your body is hardwired to gain and maintain weight. All diets including the vegan diet for weight loss can be helpful if you want to lose 20 or 30 pounds. But if you need to lose more than that, then it may not be realistic to expect dieting alone to give you the results that you’re looking for.

If this is you, then we strongly recommend that you consider bariatric surgery in Denver.

Bariatric surgery, when combined with lifestyle modification, is a powerful tool to help you level the playing field in your battle with obesity. A surgery like the gastric sleeve, gastric bypass or duodenal switch, when paired with lifestyle modification, can help patients to lose 100-150 pounds or even more*.

If you think bariatric surgery may be right for you, then go ahead and schedule an appointment with our friendly staff.

Dr. Joshua Long headshot

This page was medically reviewed by Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS. Dr. Long is a double-board-certified bariatric surgeon and bariatric medical director for Parker Adventist Hospital.
Full Bio: Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS
Page Updated: November 8th, 2019

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*Please note that individual results can vary and are not guaranteed.