A recent study from the University of South Carolina featured in Nutrition reported on 50 overweight or obese adults. Over a six-month period, individuals followed one of five diets: vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian and omnivorous.
The researchers found that the vegans lost about 4.3 percent more weight than other dieters — about 16.5 pounds on average. If you can’t fathom the thought of giving up meat, poultry, eggs or dairy like the vegan dieters, you’re not alone. This easy guide to help you take advantage of vegan health perks without skipping your daily latte or that occasional steak.
Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., author of Plant-Powered for Life, says that vegetarian-style diets have benefits, too. “If you eat a plant-based diet, you are filling your diet with fiber, vitamins, minerals and health protective phytochemicals found only in plant foods,” Palmer says. “That’s why these diets are so health protective.”
Lisa McComsey, co-author of The Vegan Cheat Sheet, admits that she doesn’t always follow veganism militantly, but mostly stays on the wagon.
“I am supportive of anyone who wants to eat better by incorporating more plant-based foods into his or her diet,” she says. “I’ve met many people who are game to eat more healthfully, but they have no desire to go whole-hog vegan. They’re relieved to hear they’re ‘allowed’ to incorporate veganism in a way that’s comfortable for them: whether that’s eating vegan one day a week or one meal a month or perhaps giving up one thing at a time, like red meat, cheese or milk.”
Here’s how to have a plant-friendly non-vegan diet:
1. Manage your meat
Palmer says to start using a flexitarian model, which could mean adopting Meatless Mondays. Once one plant-based day goes well, perhaps you can add another.
“Eat more meat-free meals during the week,” Palmer says. “Cut back (or cut out) red meat. Try to choose seafood more often instead of red meat.”
Palmer also advises having a meat-free breakfast, which she says is easy because of so many plant-based alternatives, such as whole-grain pancakes. Smoothies can also be a plant-based protein powerhouse with soy or almond milk — then add fruits or veggies, or both.
2. Explore meat alternatives
You can cash in on some vegan health benefits by switching to plant-based proteins. Try to base one meal a day on legumes such as beans, lentils or peas — have those be the main protein component instead of meat. Beans are a great add-in for stews, soups, chili, salads or casseroles.
3. Cheat a little with eggs and dairy
You can adopt a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which skips meat, but still includes eggs and milk. Other great proteins sources include nuts and seeds.
4. Enjoy healthy carbs
Another perk to veganism other than a svelte bod — carbs. That is, you can still eat them as long as they are whole grains. Quinoa, wheat berries and barley are some good varieties, Palmer says. Perhaps you enjoy meat with a meal, but instead of white rice or pasta, substitute some quinoa in for an added health benefit. Semi-vegan meal — check!
5. Experiement with substitutions
McComsey says it’s vital to learn the vegan counterparts for regular foods, and then adopt those into your diet. For instance, instead of heavy cream for fettuccine alfredo, use cashew cream. That involves putting equal parts of cashews and water pureed in the blender. Another idea: Replace eggs in a recipe with 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed and 3 tablespoons water. Egg-free cupcakes, anyone?
“These are all little things you can do to become more plant-based,” Palmer says.
6. Make it your own
McComsey says that fruits, veggies, nuts and grains are vegan staples that are packed with nutrients and protein — and unlike animal products, they do not contain cholesterol.
“This is what makes veganism a healthy choice,” McComsey says. “But like any diet, you have to eat a well-rounded variety of foods and not subsist on French fries and soda… both vegan.”
“Eating vegan — or even partially vegan — is more satisfying than you could ever imagine,” McComsey adds. “Give it a shot in a way that works for you and your family.”