If you've gone down the weight loss Google rabbit hole, you've definitely seen arguments for a low carb, high fat diet as the magic bullet for weight loss. And while the popular keto diet and other high-fat low carb options can indeed help folks lose weight in the short-term, they're often not sustainable (not to mention there may be serious health risks to these type of dietary changes). The truth is, turning to a plant-based diet for weight loss is a sustainable and proven way to meet your weight loss goals. And get this: you'll be eating lots of carbs, to boot.
Wait, whaaaat? Here's the skinny on how a plant-based diet for weight loss truly works — and why you can eat lots of carbs and still lose weight.
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Carbs are your body's main source of energy, fueling your brain, kidneys, heart, and every other major organ. Not surprisingly, a low-carb diet may cause fatigue, weakness, nausea, constipation (due to lack of fiber), and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
A plant-based diet, particularly a whole food plant-based diet, focuses on plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds, while eliminating all animal products including meat, dairy, eggs, and fish.
Plant-based diets are nutrient dense and naturally low in calories, making them ideal for losing weight and keeping it off. Calorically speaking, one gram of carbs provides four calories, while one gram of fat provides nine calories. You do the math!
Most of us have heard that carbs make you gain weight and should be avoided or at least limited when trying to lose weight. This is true...if you're talking about refined carbs. Whole carbohydrates on the other hand, should absolutely be included in a plant-based diet for weight loss!
What's the difference between the two?
Refined carbs — the ones used for processed and packaged foods like white pasta, crackers, white rice, cakes, cookies — have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients. They enter the blood stream quickly and cause blood sugar spikes and drops. This isn't great for your anyone trying to keep their blood sugar in check nor is it helpful for weight loss because it leaves us feeling hungry quickly after eating, and can lead to overeating.
Whole carbs, like brown rice, sweet potato, potatoes, beans, legumes, and fruit, are high in fiber, which helps the glucose slowly release in your bloodstream and leaves you feeling satiated. No wonder a plant-based eaters have lower BMIs and healthier body weights than their omnivore counterparts!
Tired of micromanaging your meals? When you choose a plant-based diet for weight loss, you can free yourself up. With whole plant-based foods, you don't have to worry about calorie-counting to achieve your weight loss goals. If you focus on getting the majority of your calories from plants, the weight will shift, while you eat until you are satisfied.
And, let's be honest, counting calories may work for a while, but is it really something you can or want to do for the rest of your life?
A single tablespoon of olive oil packs 120 calories, the equivalent of a large banana. But unlike a banana (a whole food), the olive oil has no real nutritional benefit. This is confusing for people sometimes, as we have been taught to be afraid of carbs like donuts, cakes, candy, chips, failing to realize that these foods have more fat than carbs (not to mention, most of the carbs used in these types of foods are refined variations).
The best thing you can do if you want to see success with your plant-based diet for weight loss? Learn to cook without oil (don't worry – it's easy!).
Something to keep in mind: 100 grams of french fries are 530 calories, while 100 grams of baked, oil-free potatoes are only 90 calories!
If you're trying to lose weight, focus on quality, not quantity. Aim to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, and the other half with minimally processed starches (potato, grains, squash). Eat an abundance of fruit and vegetables for vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
It's also important to remember that not all plant foods are compatible with weight loss. For maximum results, try to reduce intake of higher fat plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and avocados, and higher-calorie, dense foods, such as breads, bagels, muffins, cookies, etc.
- Keto diets may work at first but aren't usually sustainable, and may pose risks to your health.
- A plant-based diet for weight loss actually includes lots of whole carbohydrates that are full of gut-healthy fiber to help you stay satiated and happy.
- Refined carbohydrates like donuts, cookies, cakes, and processed foods can indeed lead to weight gain whereas whole carbohydrates, with their fiber and nutrients in tact, can help you lose weight.
- When you eat a plant-based diet for weight loss, you can say goodbye to calorie counting and simply focus on eating nutrient-dense colorful plant-based foods instead.
The best thing you can do if you want to see success with your plant-based diet for weight loss? Learn to cook without oil.
Rafaela Michailidou is a Vegan Lifestyle Coach, and a freelance health and wellness content writer, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.