Diet blog: Go vegan, lose weight

Judith Wills / 24 May 2016

Our diet expert weighs up the health and beauty benefits of a meat-free diet.

New research suggests that there are now around half a million vegans in the UK – a leap of 350% over the past ten years.*

It has long been believed that a vegan diet – a diet without meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy products (and some vegans also don’t eat honey) – can be an easy way to stay slim because past studies have shown that vegans lose more weight and are more successful at staying slim than people who follow non-vegan diets.  On average, vegans have just a 9.4% obesity rate compared with 33.4% for meat-eaters. **

There is also a good case for concluding that vegans may be generally healthier and live longer – one large study of over 70,000 people (amongst several others reaching a similar conclusion) found that vegans had a 15% reduced risk of dying over a six-year period, for example.***

Related: Is the vegan diet healthy?

I have a personal interest in these findings and statistics because earlier this year one of my adult sons became vegan, after several years of being vegetarian.  Both on a high meat diet (he used to be called ‘meat man') and on his vegetarian diet, which included a lot of dairy produce, he was and remained overweight with a particularly large waist circumference for a man of fairly tender years. 

But since he began eating vegan, his belly is shrinking rapidly. We shared a holiday cottage with him and his partner recently for a few days and they basically ate a wide variety of roasted and steamed vegetables, wholegrains, wholemeal bread, pulses, nuts and seeds, and various flavourings and herbs. At home they still enjoy baking bread and occasional cakes and eat dark chocolate.

My instinct would normally be to tell them they aren’t eating enough protein as I’ve often written on the slimming benefits of a moderately high-protein diet.  When they were vegetarian I’d insist that my son’s fat belly and large appetite were solely due to the fact he didn’t get enough protein at each meal.  But if anything, they eat less protein now than before – and are losing weight easily.  I was wrong.

They also look good – with bright eyes, clear skin and plenty of energy.  So with the proof of the vegan pudding in front of my eyes, I can do nothing but endorse their way of eating.  Indeed, if it weren’t for the definite divorce that would loom in this household if I turned vegan myself, I would be tempted to give it a go.  Or, knowing me and my moderate attitude to most things in life, I would probably go about 80% vegan with the occasional bit of organic chicken or cheese or fish, or some local hill or marsh lamb thrown in.

But back to those vegan statistics – what is the reason that the vegan movement has gathered so many fans in very recent years?  It cannot be for cost reasons, as most types of food have never been cheaper in the UK if you’re prepared to buy supermarket fare which may have, and probably has, come from many places across the world, and organic (for many vegans do choose to eat organic/local) fruit and vegetables are by no means inexpensive. 

No, from what I know, the main reason people take the vegan route is that large scale farming across the world is year on year becoming more industrialised and intensive, with less and less concern for the animals involved.  Many farm cattle for example have never seen a field – they live in vast and crowded concrete pens all their lives.

So gone are the days when a vegan was perceived as (and often was) a sandal-wearing long-haired loner, viewed as an oddity by most people who came across him or her.  And even the most committed meat-eater must admit that their way of eating is looking more and more like a sensible choice, not only for our waistlines but also for our environment and our consciences, every week that passes.

*  Ipsos MORI Survey 2016

** Adventist Health Study 2, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

*** Loma Linda University, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Ate for lunch

Avocado, cherry tomato and quinoa salad

At last salad season is here so it’s an end to soup for lunch (much as I love it) and a start to months of delicious salads.  Even Husband enjoyed this, though it is vegan (he didn’t notice).  The protein content is mainly provided by quinoa, mushrooms and hemp seeds.  You can adapt it to suit what you have and like – some pine nuts or sliced spring onions would be good.

To serve two:

  • 4 handfuls mixed red and green lettuce leaves
  • 5cm piece cucumber, diced
  • 4 level tbsp ready cooked red and white quinoa
  • 1 large ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 pieces grilled artichoke hearts from a jar, drained
  • 3 tbsp mixed or porcini mushrooms from a jar, drained
  • 1 tbsp shelled hemp seeds
  • Handful watercress
  • Handful rocket leaves
  • 1 ½ tbsp basil or rocket pesto (preferably home-made, and no need for grated cheese in it)
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper (optional)

Arrange the leaves in two bowls.  Sprinkle over the cucumber and quinoa.  Arrange the avocado, tomatoes, artichoke pieces and mushrooms over the top.  Sprinkle on the hemp seeds, watercress and rocket, then combine the basil pesto with the olive oil, vinegar and seasoning if using, and spoon evenly over the salad.  Serve immediately.

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