Obesity and a plant-based diet
Louise Palmer-Masterton from Stem & Glory explains how plant-based diets can help with obesity and weight management
It’s hardly news that being overweight increases your vulnerability to ill health – diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and kidney and liver disease to name but a few.
The question now is how do we help people to lose weight and learn better eating habits?
Here’s where a plant-based diet can help
According to PETA, meat-eaters have three times the obesity rate of vegetarians and nine times the obesity rate of vegans. So, it seems just cutting meat and dairy will immediately improve your chances of weight loss.
This isn’t new information either, a Swedish study back in 2005 showed that self-identified semi-vegetarian, lactovegetarian, and vegan women have a lower risk of obesity than omnivorous women. The advice of that report 15 years ago when veganism was hardly known was to ‘consume more plant foods and less animal products to help control your weight’.
So, whether you go fully vegan, or remain flexitarian, eating fewer animal products and more plants will help you lose weight, and in turn improve your health outcomes.
What are the barriers to sticking to a predominantly plant-based diet?
Many people report when moving to a vegan diet, that they are always hungry. That was certainly the case for me. Why is this?
Switching to a plant-based diet means a move from high fat, calorie dense foods such as meat and dairy, so the body takes a while to adjust.
The solution is to either (1) eat more calories, or (2) eat a greater proportion, and a wider variety of proteins. Number 2 being the better option in supporting weight loss.
Legumes such as chickpeas, combined with tofu, quinoa and a sprinkling of nuts and seeds for example will combine to give a greater protein content than just eating chickpeas alone.
I am a believer in sticking mainly to natural whole foods – fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains – and avoiding processed foods where possible. With the explosion in plant-based meat replacements currently it’s easy to lose sight of this.
I do think meat replacements play a part in the conversion to eating more plant-based foods and less animal products, BUT I don’t believe they are a sustainable solution for health and weight loss.
Take the explosion in vegan junk food, known as ‘dirty vegan’. Dirty vegan is huge on the plant-based scene right now.
Enormous stacked plant-based burgers, deep fried seitan (basically wheat gluten), chips, mayo, mac and cheese, all comfort foods and no doubt delicious BUT very high in calories and low in natural unprocessed ingredients.
And here lies the caution. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just eating plant-based food without attention to nutrition and calories will lead to better health and weight loss. The first vegan I ever met was very large and overweight. He lived on a diet mostly of potato chips!
The explosion in vegan cheese is also a red flag for me. A high fat and highly processed product which can never be healthy in my view. And if real dairy products are a problem for health and weight loss, then when we do eventually have an engineered cow milk product with all the same nutrients as real dairy, then unfortunately that will carry all the same health and weight loss risk as real dairy.
How do we make plant-based food delicious and interesting?
At Stem & Glory, we believe that gut friendly food, low in refined carbs, is the way to go. We focus on natural vegetables accompanied by nutrient dense components such as nuts and seeds.
There is a big focus on layering umami flavours and flavour combining to get that explosion of deliciousness which overrides any need to eat huge portions to feel satisfied.
We use fermented and pickled foods too which are really good for your microbiome and overall health. In terms of the future of food, we believe this is where it lies.
Fermented foods can play a huge part in strengthening the immune system, they are naturally probiotic, improving your digestive system and natural gut flora, which support all bodily functions and helps with weight loss.
Plant-based food can play a huge part in tackling obesity, and if you do just one thing to help with weight loss, then simply turning vegan is moving in the right direction. But moving away from vegan junk and meat replacements, towards natural unprocessed food is the right way to achieve optimum health and healthy weight.
The messaging has to be move away from junk across the board, if it’s plastic wrapped and in the supermarket deli fridge, it’s probably best avoided – whether it’s vegan or not!
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