Plant-based diets are soaring in popularity. Unlike a vegan diet where the focus is on abstaining from meat and dairy, a plant-based diet focuses on what you ADD to your diet – healthy, plant-based foods, lots of fruits and vegetables. Not only are fruits and vegetables nutrient rich, they contain a wealth of phytochemicals that meat and dairy foods lack. These phytochemicals are mildly toxic to the body but stimulate a protective response that’s beneficial to health. It’s similar to the way exercise stresses the body but, ultimately, makes it stronger. Phytochemicals in plants turn on the body’s natural defenses against oxidative stress and other threats, giving cells greater ability to clear toxins and subdue cellular threats.
In addition to the unique phytochemicals in plants, plant-based foods are also lower in calories. Plus, many plants are high in water and fiber, making them satiating but also less likely to cause weight gain. It’s a win-win situation. You enjoy nutrient dense plants without lots of calories. Knowing this, you might assume that plant-based diets would be helpful for weight loss. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition put this idea to the test.
Is a Plant-Based Diet More Effective for Weight Loss?
In a study, researchers divided type 2 diabetics into two groups. Each group ate a lower calorie diet containing 500 calories less than the required for maintenance, although the composition differed. One group ate a diet consisting exclusively of plant-based foods, essentially a vegetarian diet, while the other ate a standard diabetes diet. At the end of six months, they compared weight loss and body composition between the two groups.
The results? The participants that ate the vegetarian diet lost almost twice as much as weight as those who ate the standard, diabetes diet. In fact, the vegetarian group shed 13.67 pounds while the non-vegetarian diet group lost only 7 pounds. The vegetarian group also lost more sub-fascial fat and intramuscular fat than did the non-vegetarian group. That’s significant because fat stored within the muscle worsens insulin resistance. Studies link higher quantities of intramuscular fat with abnormal blood glucose and lipid levels, independently of body weight.
The results of this study aren’t surprising. A number of studies correlate plant-based diets with a lower body mass index as well as less risk of weight gain with age. In fact, a 2006 meta-analysis of 87 studies linked plant-based diets (vegetarian and vegan) with greater weight loss as well as a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
When you consider the composition of plants – their high fiber and water content – the results of the study makes sense. Fiber and water expand within the digestive tract and slow stomach emptying. This, in turn, suppresses appetite. Some studies also show that plant-based foods boost the thermic effect of food, the additional calories you burn after a meal