Is a Vegan Diet the Best Way to Lose Weight?

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By JeffreyThurber

Photo: Pond5

Attention, meat and cheese lovers. The best way for you to shed unwanted pounds might be to give up your favorite omnivorous treats in favor of a vegan diet (at least for a little while), according to a new study from the University of South Carolina. The good news: You can keep your carbs.

Research published this week in the journal Nutrition followed a group of 50 overweight or obese adults looking to lose weight over a six-month period. Their plan of attack in the battle of the bulge included sticking to one of these five eating regimens:

  • Vegan: No poultry, meat, seafood, eggs and dairy, but these participants could still fill up on plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
  • Vegetarian: Dairy and eggs were allowed, but meat, poultry and seafood were strictly banned on this plan.
  • Pesco-vegetarian: Fish, dairy and eggs were a yes; meat or poultry, a no.
  • Semi-vegetarian: These dieters could still eat red meat, as long as they limited it to once a week. Poultry consumption was restricted to five times per week or less.
  • Omnivorous: All food groups were a go.

At the end of the six-month study period, the people placed on a vegan diet lost significantly more weight than the dieters on other plans — by about 4.3 percent or 16.5 pounds on average. And the study’s authors think the vegan dieters were more successful for a few simple reasons.

“One, they were consuming more fiber-containing foods, which helped them feel fuller, preventing them from being hungry and overeating,” says study author Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, Ph.D, RD. “Secondly, their diets were lower in fat, and therefore, most likely had fewer calories.”

What may surprise many folks (especially Atkins aficionados) is that the vegan dieters still shed pounds, even though they were allowed to eat carbs. Why? Participants were told to focus on consuming low glycemic index (GI) carbs, such as whole grains, fruits and beans, rather than high GI carbs, like white rice or pastries.

When you consume high GI carbs, your blood sugar spikes and then crashes, leading you to become hungry again very quickly, according to Turner-McGrievy. But with low-GI carbs, blood sugar stays more stable over a longer period of time. “Soda and whole-wheat pasta are both high in carbs but the pasta is low GI, high in fiber, and will keep you fuller longer,” she says.

The vegan diet didn’t just melt away pounds either; it also helped improve other markers of health. People on a completely plant-based plan experienced the greatest decreases in fat and saturated fat levels both two months and six months into the study, and had lower BMIs and improved macro-nutrient levels by the end of the research period.

While giving up meat and dairy might seem difficult, it may be worth it if you’re looking for a weight loss plan that actually works, according to this study. Just stick to the right foods, and a slimmer physique will follow.

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