A Vegan Diet for Weight Loss: Get Healthy!

vegan food pyramidWriter’s Note: Before beginning any diet or exercise program, it is important to consult with your physician.

While many diet trends come and go it seems as though the global interest in veganism is here to stay. Known to have a potentially positive effect on cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as weight loss, and increased energy levels, veganism and resources for vegans have greatly expanded since the term was coined in the middle of the 20th century. A vegan diet is composed of plant-based foods and proteins and can be an effective weight loss tool when combined with regular exercise and vitamin supplements.

For more information regarding healthy eating and raw and vegan diet recipe solutions, check out Susan Teton’s The Complete Raw Food Course, and get started on the road to a healthier, more energetic you with these simple tips.

Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Because of a complete elimination of animal-based foods including eggs and dairy products, proponents of a vegan diet notice a reduction in their cholesterol levels. Saturated fats from meat, dairy, and eggs contribute to higher cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. A vegan diet high in fiber can possibly reduce and reverse a number of cancers including those of the prostate, colon, and breast. Weight loss is also a primary benefit of switching from a classic American animal-based diet to one solely comprised of fruits, vegetables, and nut proteins. A plant-based diet can also lead to increased energy, healthier skin, nails, and hair, and a reduction in exposure to foods loaded with hormones.

Protein

Since meat, eggs, and dairy come from animals, as a vegan, you’ll have to find comparable substitutes that still offer loads of nutrition. Protein sources in the plant world are plentiful, and there are a number of company’s like Daiya and Gardenburger that produce excellent substitutions for meat. Beans, seeds, and nuts also provide protein, and experts recommend consuming between 1 and 2 cups daily. A variety of milk substitutes also exist and can provide adequate nutrition without GMOs and hormones. A few of my favorites include hemp and coconut, and rice and almond milk are also excellent substitutions for cow or goat milk. The vegan food pyramid recommends 1 to 2 cups of dairy substitutes daily, and it’s easy to make almond milk with a blender, some cheesecloth and just a few simple steps:

  • 1 cup raw organic almonds
  • 2 cups of filtered water
  • sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon organic vanilla (optional)
  • organic sweetener (optional)

Place the almonds in a bowl and completely submerge them in water. Allow the almonds to soak for up to two days, and then rinse them with cold water and place them in a blender. Add the two cups of unfiltered water, the vanilla, a dash of sea salt, and a drop of sweetener. Pulverize the ingredients on high for a few minutes until the almonds are completely crushed. Gather a large bowl, a colander, and some cheesecloth. Place the cheesecloth in the basket of the colander and place the colander on top of the bowl. Pour the almond mixture into the cheesecloth and allow the meal to separate from the liquid. Squeeze and gather the cheesecloth slowly, and carefully apply pressure to extract all of the liquid. Place the milk in a sealed container and refrigerate for up to three days. Save the remaining almond meal to make delicious vegan cookies, cakes, and breads. For more information and vegan recipes, head to Angela Poch’s Online Vegan and Vegetarian Cooking School.

Eat Your Vegetables

Vegetables and fruits comprise a majority of the vegan diet and when consumed in the right amounts, can aid in weight loss. The vegan food pyramid recommends 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of fruit and 2-4 cups of vegetables daily. Salads, soups, and sandwiches can provide adequate nutrition, and are great ways to increase your caloric intake and boost your nutrient levels. One of my favorite vegan vegetable dishes is composed of nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and tempeh.

For the Salad:

  • Tempeh, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • Two organic beets, with greens attached
  • ½ cup organic raw nuts or seeds (I recommend pumpkin, almond, or cashew or a combination)
  • 2 cups organic kale, washed and chopped
  • 1 organic red bell pepper, washed and chopped
  • 1 cup organic peas
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa

For the Dressing:

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 6 tablespoons oil (vegetable, olive, or coconut)
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • fresh herbs, try basil, oregano, and thyme
  • sea salt
  • pepper

Place the cubed tempeh on a cookie sheet and bake for ten minutes in a 350-degree oven. Flip tempeh cubes and bake for another 5 minutes or until golden brown, and set them aside. Cook the quinoa according to package instructions and set aside to cool. Remove beet greens and roast or boil beets for 30 minutes, depending on size. I like to cover mine in foil and roast them in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes until tender and juicy. Set the beets aside to cool (you may place them in a small bowl with ice water to speed this process). Wash the beet greens and remove any brown parts. Chop the greens and combine them with the 2 cups of kale, the organic peas, red bell pepper, nuts or seeds, and quinoa. Chop the beets and combine with salad dressing ingredients. Enjoy warm or chilled and topped with the toasted tempeh cubes.

I’ve found in my own experience, that the right combination of vegetables and nuts can leave you full and satisfied. You won’t even miss the chicken or bacon crumbles on your salad.

Fiber

Fiber consumption is essential to any diet or weight loss program, and it’s important that you consume enough to aid in the cleansing of your system. The vegetables and fruits you eat on a vegan diet are fiber-rich and can aid in weight loss. Some of my favorite high fiber snacks include apples (add protein with 2 tablespoons of almond butter on top), roasted pumpkin seeds, and air-popped popcorn. Prunes and figs are also excellent sources of fiber, and will help “keep things moving” as you journey through your new plant-based diet.

Exercise

Every weight loss program relies on an exercise regime to increase metabolism and boost energy, and the vegan diet is no exception. From yoga to hiking to running and walking, movement is imperative to the success of any weight loss program. Try Perumal Koshy’s Authentic Yoga, or Jennifer Yeuroukis’ Pilates Fitness.

Foods to Avoid

The elimination of animal products is essential in lowering cholesterol and maintaining a healthy diet however, there are a number of foods in addition to animal based products that can contribute to fatigue, weight gain, and the reduction of overall health. Processed foods, often found in cardboard and plastic packages can be loaded with preservatives, unnecessary salt and additives that can deplete your body’s energy stores and counteract the effects of a well-rounded vegan diet. When I grocery shop, I try to remain along the perimeter of the grocery store where produce and bulk items are located. I only venture into the aisles when I need spices, noodles, or canned goods. Be careful of the number of packaged meat substitutes you use too. Eliminating sugar can also aid in weight loss and can improve overall health. I recommend avoiding refined sugar and sugar substitutes as they can counteract your body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. If you can’t seem to give up dessert, try Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream topped with fresh berries, or try one of Susan Teton’s chocolate recipes in her course Make Orgasmic Healthy Raw Cacao Desserts.

Hydrate All Day

Water is essential for keeping your muscles from cramping, and for keeping your digestive system and metabolism flowing regularly. I carry a 1-gallon jug with me, and I aim to finish it and refill it at least once per day. You may be running to the bathroom more frequently, but you’ll feel more energized and the pounds will drop off quicker. Avoiding alcohol is also important to keep your body’s systems functioning properly.

Maintain Your Mental Health

Dieting is difficult, especially in today’s busy world where, between kids and careers, we barely have time to sit down for a meal, let alone completely rearrange decades of eating habits. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you need a hamburger or if you can’t pass up that steak when you’re out on Saturday night. Don’t give up on your desire to be healthy or try a new way of eating, simply because you had one apple martini last night. Chalk it up to learning a new way of eating, and move on. Take the time each day to meditate quietly and think about how you’d like your body to feel. Focus on your winning moments, and give yourself credit for trying that quinoa-kale-smoothie, even if you never try it again.

Finally, it’s important to remember that any new diet plan, even a plant-based one, isn’t for everyone. Check with your physician before changing your diet drastically, and make certain you have a doctor’s approval before moving forward. Sometimes vegans don’t get the right amount of vitamins and minerals, and a medical professional may be able to make a few supplement suggestions to add to your diet. A vegan diet can aid in weight loss, improve cholesterol and high blood pressure, and boost your energy. Vegan diets don’t have to be boring and bland, and there are a variety of restaurants and cookbooks that can inspire you to live a healthier life without animal products. If you’re still skeptical about the tastiness of a vegan diet, try one of Cathy Erway’s Healthy Cooking Fundamentals, and improve the health of yourself and your family.