Can You Lose Weight with a Plant-Based Diet?

If weight loss is your goal, research shows that eating more plant foods can definitely help you lose weight and keep it off.
beautiful plate of plant based foods

Getting experts to agree on the best diet for weight loss is seemingly impossible. But what most diets have in common, from Keto to Paleo, Mediterranean, Anti-inflammatory, and even Adele’s Sirtfood diet, is the inclusion of whole plant foods.

Which doesn’t come as a surprise to proponents of plant-based diets, many who claim:

Eating a plant-based diet can absolutely help you lose weight.

Research Supports Plant-based Diets for Weight Loss

If you’re looking for a weight loss diet backed by research, then a plant-based diet is an excellent place to start.

A review of 12 studies featuring over 1,100 people found that participants assigned to plant-based diets lost significantly more weight than participants assigned to non-vegetarian diets.

Research also suggests a plant-based diet is an effective way to keep the weight off once you’ve lost it.

One study of overweight and obese adults found that those assigned to a plant-based diet lost significantly more weight than the control group and were able to sustain weight loss a year later.

How Does a Plant-Based Diet Help with Weight Loss?

Is there some sort of magical compound in broccoli and Brussels sprouts that leads to weight loss? Not really. Rather, it’s a combination of factors that make vegetables, fruits, legumes, and other plant foods so beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight.

Higher Fiber Intake

Switching to a plant-based diet means eating more fibrous plant foods. Dietary fiber from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can support weight loss by:

  • Increasing satiety (feeling of fullness)
  • Feeding beneficial gut bacteria
  • Fighting inflammation
  • Improving insulin sensitivity
  • Lowering blood sugar

Plant-based foods such as peas, lentils, black beans, artichokes, broccoli, oats, raspberries, and avocados are high in fiber, leaving you feeling full and satisfied.

More Volume, Fewer Calories

“Calorie density” is a term that refers to the number of calories per pound of a given food. And it should be no surprise that plant foods, such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, watermelon, and blackberries, contain far fewer calories per pound than a steak.

  • 100g broccoli = 34kcal
  • 100g steak = 188 kcal

By replacing calorie-dense foods with lower calorie plant foods, you can quickly achieve the necessary calorie deficiency required for weight loss, without feeling like you’re hungry all the time.

More Nutrients

Many people are wary of trying a plant-based diet because they believe vegetarians/ vegans are deficient in nutrients.

However, it’s the Standard American Diet, not a plant-based diet, that’s more likely to lead to deficiencies.

After reviewing 40 years of major nutritional research and doing nutritional testing with over 10,000 patients, Dr. Mark Hyman has concluded that Americans suffer from massive nutritional deficiencies that can result in weight loss resistance.

“Over 30 percent of American diets fall short of nutrients like magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A,” says Dr. Hyman. “Nine out of 10 people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids which, among other things, help cool inflammation and control blood sugar levels.”

Dr. Hyman warns that overeating foods like high fructose corn syrup, refined flours, refined vegetable oils, trans fats, and “overall fake junky processed foods” can lead to nutrient deficiencies and weight loss resistance.

A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggested that vegetarian diets are more nutritious. Their study concluded that vegetarians were slimmer than their meat-eating counterparts, consumed more magnesium, potassium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, and vitamins and less total fat. The authors conclude that vegetarian diets are nutrient-dense and recommended for weight loss.

What Does a Plant-based Diet Look Like?

A healthy, plant-based diet prioritizes the consumption of nutrient-dense plant foods while minimizing processed foods, oils, and animal foods. It encourages lots of vegetables (cooked or raw), fruits, beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts, and is generally low fat.

There are many varieties of plant-based diets; you’re sure to find one that works for you!

  • Vegetarian: Excludes meat, seafood, poultry.
  • Lacto-vegetarian: Allows dairy products (cheese, butter, etc.), excludes eggs, meat, seafood, and poultry.
  • Ovo-vegetarian: Allows eggs, excludes meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy products.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Allows eggs and dairy products, excludes meat, seafood, and poultry.
  • Vegan: Excludes all animal products, especially meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
  • Raw food, vegan: Veganism, excludes all foods cooked at temperatures higher than 118°F.
  • Pegan: Combines principles of Paleo and Vegan diets. Emphasis on vegetables and fruit, intake of small to moderate amounts of meat, seafood, and poultry, certain fish, nuts, seeds, and some legumes also allowed.
  • Mediterranean: Similar to whole-foods, plant-based diet but allows small amounts of chicken, dairy products, eggs, and red meat once or twice per month. Fish and olive oil are encouraged. Fat is not restricted.
  • Whole-foods, plant-based, low-fat: Encourages plant foods in their whole form, especially vegetables, fruits, legumes, and seeds and nuts (in smaller amounts). Limited animal products. Total fat is generally restricted.

Want to Lose Weight? Eat More Plants!

After reviewing data from 87 published studies, researchers reported in Nutrition Reviews that a vegan or vegetarian diet is highly effective for weight loss. They found that people on a vegetarian diet have lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

Interestingly, their review suggests that plant-based weight loss is not dependent on exercise, finding that a plant-based diet could lead to a weight loss of approximately 1 pound per week even without exercise.

There are so many reasons to put more plants on your plate at every meal, and the research shows that weight loss is definitely one of them.

Melissa Zimmerman
Melissa Zimmerman is the founding editor at GloWell, a content marketing strategist and senior writer, and a natural-momma obsessed with nontoxic and natural alternatives to conventional products. You can find this natural momma in NorCal where she enjoys time with her son, dogs, and a good book.