Vegans can lose weight gradually on a plant-based diet without sacrificing their nutritional needs as long as they make healthy choices among the foods they can eat--whole grains instead of white bread, kidney beans instead of a fried vegetarian chicken patty. Portion control also plays a part--a serving of pumpkin seeds is a tablespoon, not a bagful. And vegans must be vigilant about obtaining the certain vitamins and minerals more easily found in animal products.
Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Weight Loss
You can lose 1 lb. pound a week on a 1,500-calorie-a-day eating plan and still attain all the nutrients to stay healthy if you choose your calories from these groups: six servings of grains, such as high-fiber bread, oatmeal, high-fiber fortified breakfast cereal and brown rice; three servings of fruit, such as apple, pear, banana, orange; three servings of vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, collard greens and mustard greens; and 6 oz. of protein obtained from soy, beans, nuts, nut butters and peas. Vegans can meet their dairy needs--two to three servings--by drinking calcium-fortified soy, almond or rice milk or through fortified breakfast cereals or fortified orange juice, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid for vegetarians.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian who writes a weekly column for the "Globe and Mail," says vegans need to be conscientious about meeting their needs for protein, calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12 and the omega-3 fatty acids. Beck says it is not necessary, as it was once believed, that vegans had to eat beans and grains at the same time to form a complete protein, which would supply amino acids you can't make on your own. As long as you eat a variety of plant proteins during the day, you don't need to mix them in any particular way or with grains to get the nutrition you need, Beck says.
Vegan Choices for Essential Nutrients
Beck says choices for calcium other than fortified beverages and cereals include almonds, soy beans, broccoli, kale and figs. Adults need 1,000mg of daily calcium and, if older than 50, need 1,500mg. Beck says vegans worried about getting enough calcium could take supplements and advises taking ones that also include vitamin D. Vitamin D is found naturally only in milk and fish. Vegan may also need to take B12 supplements, Beck says, unless their diets include 1.5 cups of fortified soy or rice beverages, 1.5 tbsp. nutritional yeast or 3 oz. of soy "meat."
Iron and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Your body absorbs iron less efficiently from plant sources than it does from meat, so vegans need more iron daily, Beck said. Green leafy vegetables, lentils, whole grains, nuts and dried fruit are good sources of iron. And certain foods, including strawberries, red pepper and tomato juice, help your body absorb iron. Omega-3 fats can be found in canola and flaxseed oils, as well as ground flaxseed and nuts. Omega-3 fats contain properties that protect against heart disease, Beck says.
Susan McQuillan, author of "Low-Calorie Dieting for Dummies," offers a sample 1,500-calorie-a-day menu for vegans trying to lose weight. She suggests a breakfast of 1 cup oatmeal or fortified breakfast cereal, along with a piece of fruit and a1 cup of calcium-fortified almond, soy or rice milk. Lunch could include a salad consisting of 1 cup mixed fruit, 2 cups greens and 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. Her dinner suggestion includes 1 cup pasta, four soy "meatballs," 1/3 cup marinara, 1 cup of broccoli and ½ cup sliced orange sections. McQuillan and Beck both advise dieting vegans to eat two snacks a day, such as a cup of soy yogurt and a banana or bean dip and salsa with baked tortilla chips.