A diet free of animal products and low in fat may help trim the waistline without the task of strict calorie watching, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that of 64 postmenopausal, overweight women, those assigned to follow a low-fat vegan diet for 14 weeks lost an average of 13 pounds, compared with a weight loss of about 8 pounds among women who followed a standard low-cholesterol diet.
“People imagine carbohydrates to be fattening, but they are not,” said lead study author Dr. Neal D. Barnard, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The greater weight loss among women on the vegan diet may stem from specific metabolic effects.
Vegan diets eschew all animal products, including dairy and eggs, in favor of fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and beans. Although high-protein weight-loss regimens have painted carbohydrates as the enemy, a number of studies have found that vegetarians and vegans, who tend to eat a lot of fiber- and vitamin-rich carbohydrates, are much less likely to be overweight than meat-eaters.
Women in the comparison group followed a diet based on National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines, which meant restricting fat to less than 30 percent of calories and protein to about 15 percent of calories.
Based on dietary records the women kept, both groups ended up reducing their calorie intake by almost 400 calories per day, on average. But those on the vegan diet lost more weight.
Despite the restrictions of going vegan, Barnard maintained that it’s easy to take on the lifestyle. “Just eat fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains,” he said. “Everything you’re eating is good for you.”
It is wise, he noted, to take a multivitamin, particularly to get enough vitamin B12, which is found naturally only in animal products.