The plant-based vegan diet grew in popularity this year with its subscribers championing its ability to result in weight loss, clearer skin, better energy as well as being heart protective and lower your cancer risk.
But have you given up meat, eggs and dairy only to experience weight gain?
Contrary to popular belief, adopting a vegan diet can cause you to gain weight especially if you’re unsure what to eat. In fact, if you’re replacing the animal products with a large number of refined carbs, vegan junk food, fruit smoothies and processed oils, you’re unlikely to experience any of the health benefits let alone maintain a healthy weight.
Before you give up on your desires to live a vegan lifestyle, you can consume a plant-based diet and remain in your current dress size or even experience weight loss. A vegan diet can be healthy when correctly executed.
Here are 5 tips to help you prevent weight gain while enjoying vegan foods. These tips also apply if you’re following a vegetarian diet or simply aiming to increase your plant foods.
1. Ditch the artificial meat substitutes
You may have noticed the increasing number of “like meat” foods lining the supermarket shelves. These may offer you the taste of meat, but they’re typically heavily processed and contain added sugars, fillers, binders, refined carbs, sodium and GMO soy or isolated soy protein powder.
Instead of a plant-based chicken burger or mince, try traditional soy products such as tempeh or tofu. These will still offer you enough protein and micronutrients without the high-calorie intake. Want a burger? Make your own using whole foods!
2. Avoid vegan junk food
Just because it’s labelled vegan, doesn’t mean it’s good for you! Sorry, that means you can’t consume ample vegan ice cream, biscuits and french fries without the consequences.
There is plenty of vegan junk food in disguise at supermarkets and cafés, but unfortunately they often contain as much or more refined sugar, carbs and fats than their conventional counterparts. And as much, if not more extra calories which means weight gain if eaten regularly.
3. Watch your portions
Just like with any diet or eating plan, if you want to maintain a healthy weight and avoid weight gain or loss, you have to watch your portion sizes. When transitioning to a vegan diet, it’s not uncommon for some of us to think we can eat an unlimited amount of peanut butter, seeds, whole grains, avocado and sweet potatoes.
While these plant-based whole foods are full of nutrients and considered healthy, some of them are particularly high in calories. Yes, that chickpea hummus and chocolate date slice are calorie dense!
If you need to lose weight, monitor your intake of the naturally high-fat, high-sugar plant foods and keep the refined foods to a minimum. Fill your plate with leafy greens instead.
4. Pack your smoothies with veggies
Inspired by those smoothie bowls featuring tropical fruits and nutty granola? While they may look pretty, they probably contain enough calories for your entire day, let alone breakfast!
It’s not uncommon to see a vegan smoothie recipe consisting of a banana, berries, kiwi, avocado, coconut milk, protein powder, nut butter – should I go on? If you are a lover of smoothies, swap out some of the high-calorie fruits and add vegetables. Cauliflower and zucchini, for example, are a good sub for a banana to make your drink thick and smooth. Leafy greens like spinach are low-carb options that contain plenty of vital nutrients.
And before you go crazy with the peanut butter, coconut, hemp seeds and avocado, choose one healthy fat to add to your smoothie. As mentioned above, it’s also important to watch your portion sizes. Before blending up your ingredients, consider whether you could sit down and eat the ingredients in their whole form. Can you really eat one banana, 1/2 cup of berries, 1/2 zucchini and 1/2 an avocado as your post-workout snack?
5. Be mindful of your oil intake
Oils can offer plenty of health benefits and give your vegan food an extra lift in flavour, but they also can have a high-calorie content. While you don’t want to cut out the fat from a vegan meal plan due to the essential fat-soluble vitamins, you don’t want to be overly liberal with them either.
If you’re using oil, stick with extra virgin olive oil, avocado or flaxseed oil and use only 1-2 tsp at a time. If you’re trying to reduce your oil intake, try lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, yoghurt or tahini for dressings.