Plant-Based Diet and Weight Loss: A Complete Guide
If you’re looking to shed some extra pounds, we’ve got good news—a plant-based diet is a GREAT place to start.
Adding more whole plant foods to your diet—fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and more—is a perfect starting point for your weight loss journey. It’ll take some knowledge and planning, but you can make some major changes to your body composition by doing a plant-based diet right!
This post serves as the ultimate guide for plant-based weight loss. Whether you’re already eating plant-based and want to reach a lower weight, or if you’re new to this way of eating altogether, we’ve got plenty of valuable information for you.
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
While there’s some confusion surrounding the definition of a plant-based diet these days, the most basic definition is that it’s a diet that’s largely composed of plant products and chooses whole, natural foods over junk foods. That means you’re aiming to get as much of your daily nutrients as possible from plants, including protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Some people who follow a plant-based diet may choose to include meat, eggs, dairy products, and other non-vegan, non-plant-based foods occasionally, but the bulk of their diet is made of whole foods from plants.
What About a Vegan Diet?
If you choose to eat vegan, you’ll be skipping any animal products and instead eating only plants—unlike those who follow a plant-based diet, who may occasionally branch out a bit more into other food groups. That said, one of the other main differences is that vegans focus less on whole, natural foods, and they may still eat sweets and junk food. It’s all about the diet that works best for you.
For vegan eaters, there are several key categories of animal foods to know about:
This includes poultry, chicken, beef, pork, fish, and game like bison or venison. You get it – if it was alive, don’t eat it!
While vegetarians and some plant-based eaters still sometimes include eggs in their diets, vegans do not.
Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products are off-limits for vegans. This includes dairy from cows, as well as from goats.
You might be surprised to learn that honey isn’t vegan – but it’s derived from bees! While the bees themselves stay alive, honey is still categorically an animal product. Plant-based eaters may still consume it. However, there are several veganalternatives to honey, including maple syrup, agave, and more.
Gelatin and Other Animal Derivatives
If you’re following a plant-based or vegan diet, you’ll need to read the labels on your food carefully. Many packaged foods contain gelatin, which is derived from hoofed animals like horses—gross.
Other animal-derived additives include lanolin, which comes from sheep’s wool, as well as traces of animal fat or animal bones in foods like soups.
So, What Foods Are Vegan and Plant-Based?
Without all the animal products we just listed, you’re left with an abundance of plant-based foods to choose from. When you’re choosing what to eat, just think of whole, natural foods, and you should be well on your way. There are too many to list here, but we’ll highlight some of our favorites in each of the categories.
Fruits and Veggies
All fruits and vegetables are plant-based and vegan! This category includes:
- Berries—strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and more
- Plums, peaches, apricots, and other stone fruits
- Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes
- Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower
- Leafy greens – spinach, kale, and more
- Carrots, peas, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables
All these foods and so, so many more are right at home in a plant-based eating plan. There’s a wealth of veggies and fruits to add to your daily plates, and they’re all rich in vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients that your body needs.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are plant-based, too! This category of tasty foods includes:
- Sunflower seeds
- Small seeds (flax, hemp, etc.)
- Brazil nuts
There are plenty more delicious nuts and seeds to try, but the ones listed above are some of our favorites. They’re packed with nutrients, including healthy fats and a good bit of protein.
If you’re looking for ways to incorporate this protein into your diet, try adding a spoonful of almond butter to your morning smoothie or spreading peanut butter on a slice of whole wheat bread.
Of course, you can still indulge in a peanut butter chocolate bar that’s perfectly creamy, but still plant-based, vegan, and low in sugar. It tastes like candy, but it’s so nutritious that it’s perfect as a day-to-day snack.
If you’re looking to cut out animal products as well, you’ll have to be even more aware. While the majority of grain-based foods that you’ll find at your local market are vegan, some contain animal products like eggs and dairy. It’s always smart to carefully inspect the “nutrition facts” label on pasta, bread, cereal, and other grain-based foods to see if they’re vegan-friendly before buying.
In addition, it’s always a great idea to opt for whole grain foods when trying to lose weight. These grains contain complex carbohydrates, whereas foods like white bread, chips, and grain-based desserts contain simple carbs. Complex is always the better option for weight loss!
Products Created for Vegans
Vegan substitutes for animal products, such as:
- Non-dairy milks (almond, rice, soy, hemp, coconut, oat, and more)
- Tofu and other soy-based meat substitutes
- Vegan eggs or mayonnaise, often made with soy instead of eggs and dairy
While these foods are vegan-friendly, it’s best to only enjoy them on occasion rather than making them the core of your diet. In fact, many plant-based eaters may avoid these entirely, as they’re more processed than what plant-based dieters are generally looking for.
We recommend basing the majority of your meals on whole, unprocessed foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and more. You don’t need fake meat to make your meals taste good. Options like vegan chicken nuggets and corn dogs might seem great on the outside, but they’re packed with chemicals and preservatives that really aren’t so good for you. You’re better off sticking with whole food, because you know exactly where they’re coming from and what they’re providing you.
Why Eat Plant-Based for Weight Loss?
When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, eating plant-based is a much better way to go than the average Western diet. This is because:
- The majority of Westerners eat a diet that is packed with animal products. This often means tons of highly processed meat, loads of butter, and, of course, an absurd amount of cheese. But maybe we don’t need cheese fries every single day.
- A plant-based diet can help you reduce your caloric intake without too much monitoring. In many cases, eliminating animal foods from your diet and replacing them with more plants will inherently lower your daily consumption of calories.Unless you’re shoveling in spoonfuls of peanut butter or living off of bags of chips and bowls of guacamole, a plant-based diet is likely to cut your calories significantly!
- A plant-based diet can train your brain to stop craving processed junk food. When you go plant-based, it’s a great idea to steer clear of fake food as much as possible. This means junk that’s full of empty calories—low in protein, carbs, and fat, but still packing a caloric punch. Eliminating these foods and replacing them with nutritious, plant-based nourishment can help you kick cravings for junk to the curb over time.Instead of choosing sugar-filled desserts and fatty junk food, choose chocolates that were designed to be plant-based and lower in the bad stuff, so you can still fulfill those cravings.
- Going plant-based or vegan is good for the earth! In 2019, The Lancet published a report asserting that if the majority of the world reduced their consumption of animal products, it would significantly lower the use of natural resources for food production.The report also covered the big positive impact that plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian diets have on greenhouse gas emissions.
- A healthy plant-based diet is great for your gut microbiome. Tons of processed meat and junk food are no good for the billions of tiny microorganisms living in your GI tract. These little guys play essential roles in many physiological processes, including keeping your immune system functioning properly and aiding in your digestion of food.Eating a diet that is packed with fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods can promote a thriving gut microbiome, which can even lead to weight loss in some cases.
How to Choose The Right Foods for Plant-Based Weight Loss
Now that you know how to eat plant-based and why you should switch to a plant-based diet, let’s talk about which foods you should reach for to lose weight on this diet!
Fruits and Vegetables
First off, there’s the obvious: fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are excellent foods to include in a plant-based eating plan for weight loss. This is because:
They Fill You Up
They’re low-calorie but highly satiating. Vegetables, in particular, fill you up thanks to their high water and fiber content. However, there are usually not too many calories in veggies or fruits, making them some of the most nutrient-dense foods out there. Nutrient-dense is a term used to describe foods with a more nutritional value than empty calories.
While most veggies and fruits can be enjoyed in abundance on a plant-based weight-loss plan, there are still some that you’ll need to keep an eye on due to higher calorie counts.
Avocados, pineapple, mangoes, and starchy veggies can all still be enjoyed, just in moderation. These foods are either higher in carbohydrates or fat than the average fruit or veggie, which means you’ll simply need to pay closer attention to your intake.
They’re Full of Micronutrients
Fruits and veggies are packed with micronutrients. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, E, and more, as well as calcium, zinc, magnesium, and others. Your body needs small amounts of these nutrients each day to thrive, and eating plenty of fruits and veggies is one of the best ways to meet your micronutrient requirements.
They’re Low In Calories
Certain vegetables, especially leafy greens, contain very few calories but are packed with fiber, protein, and other important nutrients. This means you can eat them virtually as much as you want without worrying about calorie counts!
NOTE: Not all veggies get a free pass when you’re eating for weight loss. Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, greens, and others can be eaten in abundance, but it’s best to moderate your intake of starchy veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and others like them.
So, which fruits and veggies are the best for a plant-based weight loss plan? We recommend adding the following to your daily meals:
These fruits are incredibly yummy, low in calories, and packed with antioxidants. They’re also lower in sugar than many other fruits, which makes them a great option for weight loss. There’s plenty to choose from, and you can add them to your oatmeal, cereal, or other favorite breakfast or eat them on their own.
Low-calories, high-fiber, and full of vitamins and minerals, carrots are the perfect weight loss snack.
Our recommendation? Bring a back of baby carrots to the office with you each day. If you’re often tempted to head to the vending machine and grab a bag of chips, savor some crunchy carrots instead! You can even dip them in a small serving of hummus without sabotaging your weight loss goals.
Leafy Greens Like Spinach and Kale
As you’ve learned, these veggies are super nutritious. They’re also super low in calories, but they’ll fill you up when mixed with other nutrient-dense plant-based foods. You can make a ginormous kale salad filled with veggies, seeds, slices of tempeh or cubes of seasoned tofu, and whole grains and stay full for hours, all the way staying within a healthy calorieintake range.
As we’ve already discussed, whole grains are a way better option than refined grains when weight loss is your goal. The complex carbs and fiber in whole grain foods make them an excellent option for anyone trying to lose weight. Our favorite whole grains are:
- Brown rice
- Sweet potato (technically a starchy vegetable, but we’ll still count it here)
- Multigrain bread
Legumes are a category of plant-based foods primarily made up of many different varieties of beans. While they’ve got a reputation for making everyone a bit gassy, there’s far more to legumes than that!
Beans are packed with fiber, protein, complex carbs, and a host of micronutrients. There are tons of varieties of legumesto try, including:
- Garbanzo beans
- Red kidney beans
- Pinto beans
- Black beans
- Navy beans
In the ranks of nutrient-dense plant-based foods, legumes have an honored spot near the top. We’re big fans of these little guys, and they’re super versatile. You can add them to salads and grain bowls, mix them with rice and spices for a simple dinner, or roast them in the oven to make a healthy snack. The options are endless!
Choosing a Plant-Based Diet Pays Off in the Long Run
A plant-based diet is a great route to take for weight loss, and it’s an excellent choice for your body in the long run. Over time, swapping out animal products for whole, natural plant-based foods can significantly impact your body composition, leaving you looking and feeling better than ever!
Plant-Based Diets For Weight Loss (Are They More Effective?) | NASM
Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems | The Lancet
The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota | Frontiers in Nutrition