If your weight loss efforts have stalled on the Mediterranean diet, you may find it easier to shed the extra pounds by going vegan and getting rid of all animal products instead of continuing to eat lean poultry and fish.
In a study published in February 2021 in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, people who followed a low-fat vegan diet lost an average of 6.0 pounds (13.2 pounds) over 16 weeks. But when the same people followed a Mediterranean diet for the same time, they usually did not lose weight.
“Since the Mediterranean diet is often advertised for weight loss, it was surprising to see that participants experienced very small changes – if any – when it came to their weight in this diet,” says study author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research at the Committee of Physicians for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC.
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Mediterranean Diet vs. Vegan: Which led to better health and weight results?
For the study, researchers looked at the results of both diets in 62 adults who were overweight but had no history of diabetes. No one was told to cut or count calories, and participants were also not asked to change their normal exercise regimens or medications.
Half of these participants began the study by following a low-fat vegan diet for 16 weeks. Their eating plan was rich with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (such as beans, peas and lentils) and without all animal products. The other half of the study participants started with a Mediterranean diet that included everything in a vegan diet, but also allowed milk, fish and poultry, while limiting saturated fats and red and processed meat. After this initial 16-week period, everyone resumed their normal eating habits for a month. Then they changed their diet for 16 weeks to follow the diet they had not done before.
On the vegan diet, participants ate about 500 fewer calories each day than those with their normal eating habits. When they followed the Mediterranean diet, however, their calorie intake did not change significantly.
And the vegan diet did not help people lose weight. They also lost more fat – a total of 3.6 kilograms (7.9 pounds) – compared to just 0.2 kilograms (0.4 pounds) on the Mediterranean diet.
Cholesterol levels also improved with the vegan diet, remaining essentially unchanged in the Mediterranean diet. People who followed the vegan diet experienced an average decrease in total cholesterol of 0.187 grams per liter and an average decrease of 0.153 grams per liter of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
While both diets helped lower blood pressure, the effect was more pronounced with the Mediterranean diet, the study also found. Without any medication change, the vegan diet was associated with a reduction in systolic blood pressure of 3.2 mmHg (millimeters of mercury), compared to 6.0 mmHg for the Mediterranean diet.
Cholesterol and blood pressure levels play a role in the risk of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A limitation of the study is that food intake was self-reported and evaluated only at the beginning and last week of each phase of the diet, making it possible for the data not to give an accurate picture of how people ate. People also tended to lose more weight during the first period of the 16-week diet, regardless of which diet they started with.
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Previous studies suggest that a vegan diet helps with weight loss
The results of weight loss with the vegan diet in this study are similar to the results experienced by obese adults in a study published in November 2020 in JAMA network openWith After 16 weeks on a vegan diet in this study, participants lost an average of 5.9 pounds (13 pounds).
And a previous study published in Diabetes Care suggested that a vegan diet may be more effective for weight loss than other ways of eating. This study examined the body mass index (BMI) and eating habits of more than 22,000 men and more than 38,000 women.
Vegans had the lowest average BMI – 23.6 – within the range of 18 to 24.9 which is considered a normal or healthy weight. Groups with other types of diets all had average BMIs within the overweight range of 25 to 29.9: Vegetarians who ate milk and eggs had an average BMI of 25.7; vegetarians who ate fish had an average BMI of 26.3; and non-vegetarians had an average BMI of 28.8.
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A vegan diet is not necessarily better than a well-followed Mediterranean diet
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of a vegan diet is that it can be very restrictive and volatile. This may be especially true for people who are accustomed to a Western-style approach, with meat and potatoes in meals, says J. David Spence, MD, director of stroke prevention and arteriosclerosis research at the Robarts Research Institute of West University London, Ontario.
“I think convincing versatile North Americans to consume a vegan diet in the long run would be very hopeless,” says Dr Spence, who was not included in the current study.
People looking for slow and steady weight loss – and a diet that helps maintain those pounds – can do better with a Mediterranean diet, says Spence. They will get the best results from this diet if they focus on cutting out red and processed meat and other unhealthy fats – something the participants in the current study did not do very well.
In fact, study participants did not appear to have followed the Mediterranean diet in an optimal way, Spence says. In the study, people on the Mediterranean diet got a lot of cholesterol and saturated fats (likely from eggs and red meat) that added extra calories to their diet and prevented weight loss and other health improvements, Spence says.
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A well-designed Mediterranean diet is associated with several health benefits
Other scientific evidence suggests that when followed well, the Mediterranean diet can lead to sustained weight loss. For example, a study published in April 2016 in American Journal of Medicine reviewed five clinical trials of the Mediterranean diet and found that people who followed it for at least a year lost up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds). Another study, published in April 2018 at Nutrition and Diabetes, found that people whose eating habits more closely followed a Mediterranean diet had less weight gain, a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese, and accumulated less fat around their waist than people whose food choices had less in common with a Mediterranean diet.
“I think the best diet for most patients is a better version of the Mediterranean diet; “Vegans can be even better for the very small percentage of patients who would do it,” says Spence.
Moreover, weight loss is only a part of overall health and a Mediterranean diet is associated with additional health benefits. For example, this eating style can help avoid health conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers when followed in a healthy way, notes an article published in August 2019 in Nutrientswith
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If you want to try a vegan diet for weight loss, here’s how
For faster weight loss results with a vegan diet, you may want to dive like the people in the study did, advises Dr. Kahleova.
“To see results quickly, a full dive is a good approach,” says Kahleova. She recommends an intensive three-week start-up diet from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Treatment.
If this sounds too overwhelming, you can still benefit from gradually and gradually postponing your diet to a plant-based eating pattern without completely giving up all animal products, says Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, a private practitioner. of nutrition in Los Angeles and author of My Indian Table: Quick and Delicious Vegetarian Recipeswith
“Eating is a very personal process and there is not a single approach for everyone,” says Sheth, who was not included in the new study.
“We can encourage people to enjoy more plant-based foods to promote health,” Sheth adds. “The Mediterranean diet may be more accessible and still offers many health benefits.”
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