Is a Low-Fat, Vegan Diet Healthy?
Diets that avoid animal products have been the subject of debate for decades. Although their health benefits have been called into question, new research suggests a low-fat, vegan diet can boost wellness in many ways. Thus, if you’re considering limiting or avoiding animal products, improved health is perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to make the switch.
How Do Low-Fat, Vegan Diets Benefit Health?
According to a study published in JAMA Network Open in November 2020, this dietary approach helped overweight and obese individuals lose just under a pound a week over the course of four months. Compared with the control group who made no dietary changes, the vegan group consumed 355 fewer calories on average each day.
According to the study’s lead author, Hana Kahleova, MD, Ph.D., the calorie reduction and weight loss are likely because the participants who went vegan replaced high-fat, high-cholesterol animal products with plant foods, which are packed with fiber and antioxidants.
In addition to weight loss, results from the study further demonstrated improved health across three key areas: increased metabolism, reduced-fat inside cells, and better insulin sensitivity (how effectively the body converts sugar into energy). All of these markers are key indicators of health and play roles in serious health issues, including diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
Even before this most recent study, many experts have been recommending plant-based diets to improve health. For instance, in 2016, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AAND) recommended vegan, vegetarian, and similar dietary approaches to reduce the risk of certain types of cancers, heart disease, and obesity. They state that a vegan diet, in particular, can:
- Reduce diabetes risk by 62%
- Reduce heart disease risk by 29%
- Reduce cancer risk by 18%
Moreover, a low-fat, vegan diet appears to be more effective for weight loss than other approaches. In a study of more than 60,000 participants, vegans had the lowest body mass index (BMI) of 23.6 on average, which falls within the recommended range of 18 to 24.9. Vegetarians had a BMI of 25.7, while nonvegetarians had the highest, at 28.8.
Tips for Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet
Completely ousting animal products from your diet all at once may be overwhelming. Instead, you might consider making slow, gradual changes. For instance, you could start with the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and plant-based oils, as well as nuts, legumes, and whole grains. The approach also allows for lean protein and fish, instead of processed or red meat.
You could also start to slowly remove animal products one by one. Some people have success focusing on replacements instead of extractions. For example, you might use sweet potato and black bean filling for tacos instead of ground beef, or make a hearty vegetable chili. Tofu also works as a substitute for many meat dishes. Even if you don’t become a strict vegan or vegetarian, Dr. Kahleova notes that a diet that focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and other whole foods is a good approach to take.
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