Why a vegan diet could lead to improved weight loss and cholesterol

Young woman picking out a carton of plant-based milk from the shelf and reading the nutrition label.
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

Adopting a vegan diet can be a bit challenging at first, but it can be very rewarding for most people. Many foods are naturally vegan - it's not just fruits and vegetables, but also pre-made treats that you might not expect.

It's vital to ensure you're getting all the nutrients you need, particularly vitamin B12, iron, calcium, iodine, and Omega-3s. In the UK, about 1.5% of us are vegans.

It might not seem like much, but it equates to over a million people, with more joining the ranks each year. Find out what 'going vegan' entails, how to transition to a vegan lifestyle, the variety of plant-based food options available, and the potential health benefits of adopting a vegan diet.

What does it mean to be vegan?

A vegan diet eliminates animal products and their derivatives, such as meat, eggs, and dairy. The motivation behind this is usually concern for animal welfare and the environment, as well as a desire to incorporate more plants into one's diet.

For many, it also involves avoiding products and services (where possible) that harm, exploit, or utilise animals. This could include clothing, cosmetics, and even furniture that contain animal derivatives or have been tested on animals.

What's off the menu?

  • Meat and fish

  • Eggs

  • All dairy products, including milk, butter, and cheese

  • Honey

  • Gelatine, often found in jelly and sweets

Meat and fish are some of the key items that are removed from a typical vegan diet
Meat and fish are some of the key items that are removed from a typical vegan diet -Credit:Getty Images

What's on the menu?

You might be concerned that a vegan diet will be restrictive. However, in the UK, all of the top supermarkets offer their own vegan ranges - you'll find alternatives for just about anything. The foundation of a vegan diet can include:

  • Fruit and vegetables

  • Beans, legumes, and pulses

  • Plant-based meat substitutes and tofu

  • Vegan dairy alternatives, such as plant milk and cheese

  • Grains

  • Most types of dried pasta

Packaged foods will typically indicate their suitability for vegans either through a statement like "suitable for vegans" or with the Certified Vegan logo. Vegans also tend to avoid ingredients like whey, casein, and lactose, which are derived from milk.

Vegan alternatives for dairy products such as milks, butters, cheeses, creams, and even yoghurts are now widely available in most supermarkets. For dairy alternatives, keep an eye out for oat, pea, almond, cashew, and soy versions of your favourite dairy products.

How can I get protein?

People often question whether a vegan diet can provide enough energy and keep them satiated without meat and dairy, which are traditional sources of protein. However, there's no shortage of plant-based protein sources to fill the gap for those choosing a vegan lifestyle.

Packed with nutrients, lentils are perfect for dhals, soups, stews, or salads. Tofu packs about 17g of protein per 100g (though this varies by product) and is incredibly versatile, fitting into stir-fries, scrambles, and grilled dishes seamlessly.

Black beans are ideal for adding a protein punch to burritos, salads, or veggie burgers. Quinoa, a pseudo-grain, offers around 4.4g of protein per 100g (depending on the variety) and is excellent in grain bowls, as a side, or in salads.

The meat substitutes section in supermarkets has expanded, offering vegan sausages, burgers, bacon, and "meat" pieces. Other plant-based protein sources include tofu (from soy milk), tempeh (fermented soybeans), and seitan (wheat gluten with a meaty texture).

Tofu can be a source of protein when meat and other options are not available
Tofu can be a source of protein when meat and other options are not available -Credit:Getty Images

What benefits come from a vegan diet?

Like any diet, it's all about balance. However, there are numerous benefits to going vegan such as weight loss and management, reduced cholesterol and healthy blood pressure. Some people find that adopting a vegan lifestyle leads them to consume more whole plant foods, which are packed with fibre, vitamins, and minerals, and generally have lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Whether a vegan diet is healthier depends on your food choices. A "healthier" diet is about mindful eating and focusing on nutrient-dense foods, whether you're vegan or not.

Everyone's body will respond differently to a plant-based diet, and you might notice things like weight fluctuations, fatigue and digestive issues to begin with. If you experience these, it's recommended to consult your GP.