Medical research continues to demonstrate the positive results of a vegetarian diet over a low-calorie (“hypocaloric”) diet. In addition to weight loss, studies show that vegetarian diets beat out hypocaloric diets in virtually every important health and fitness benchmark, including:
- maximal optimal consumption (VO² max)
- maximal performance output
- insulin sensitivity
- LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels
- cardiovascular disease risk
- diabetes risk
- obesity rates
In this article, we are going to focus on the weight loss results observed in a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. In the study, researchers sought to measure the effects, if any, of a vegetarian and conventional diet on fat tissue distribution in subjects with type 2 diabetes (T2D). To conclude matters, we’ll discuss the types of foods used by the researchers and what food science has to say about their health benefits!
Here’s how to double your weight loss with a vegetarian diet:
“[This study] is important for people who are trying to lose weight, including those suffering from metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes. But it is also relevant to anyone who takes their weight management seriously and ways to stay lean and healthy.” – Hana Kahleova, M.D., Ph.D.
74 individuals with T2D were randomly assigned to one of two groups – an isocaloric anti-diabetic diet or a vegetarian diet. An isocaloric diet is one in which a person consumes the same amount of calories from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. An isocaloric diet is relatively low in carbohydrates, and high in protein and fiber.
(Sidenote: In a 2014 study published in the Iran Journal of Medical Science, individuals placed on an isocaloric diet “significantly” reduced total body mass index (BMI) over comparison with a “balanced diet.”)
In the interest of not turning this reading into a scientific paper, we’ll cut to the chase.
The Weight Loss Diet
“We showed that a vegetarian diet reduced subfascial fat more and tended to also reduce intramuscular fat more than a conventional hypocaloric diabetic diet.” – Kahleova, H., et. al.
Now that we’ve established the weight loss benefits of a vegetarian diet, let’s go over the kinds of foods most likely used (and presumably, recommended) by the study’s research team.
First, researchers define the vegetarian diet as consisting of 60% calories from carbohydrates, 25% from fat, and 15% from protein. Animal products were limited to an optional, single portion of low-fat yogurt. Otherwise, the diet was entirely made up of “vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, and nuts.”
(Important note: The study’s authors do not specify the exact foods used for the diet. Instead, they followed the “nutrition recommendations and interventions for diabetes” as set forth by the American Diabetes Association. We will do the same here.)
– 2-3 servings of fresh (non-canned) fruit per day: apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, grapes, mango, papaya, pineapple
– 4-6+ servings of non-starchy vegetables (1 serving = ½ cup cooked; 1 cup raw): artichoke, asparagus, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, beets, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, greens, mushrooms, okra, onions, peppers, radishes, salad greens, squash, tomato, turnips, water chestnuts.
Fat and Protein:
– Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated (“Healthy” fats): avocado, canola oil, nuts, olives/oil, peanut butter, sesame seeds; canola oil, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts.
– Optional: 1 serving of dairy.
– Plant-based protein: almonds, beans, chia seeds, cottage cheese, edamame, green peas, hemp seeds, lentils, quinoa.
Here are the findings as reported in this study (among many other previous studies) as they pertain to the advantages of a vegetarian over a conventional isocaloric, anti-diabetic diet:
- Lower oxidative stress (“an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants.”)
- Better normalization and maintenance of blood sugar levels.
- Lower fat density in the area(s) measured. In this study, the vegetarian group tested for a 27% greater reduction in total leg area than the isocaloric group.
- A loss of fascia fat was exclusive to the vegetarian diet group. (Fascia is defined as “a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen.” Fascial fat accumulation is associated with the development of cellulite.)
- A 300% greater reduction in intramuscular fat in the vegetarian dieters over the isocaloric dieters.
- More fat loss in the subcutaneous regions of the body in the vegetarian group.
Researchers conclude that the “vegetarian diet was almost twice as effective in reducing body weight compared to the (anti-diabetic, isocaloric) diet.” The vegetarian group had an average weight loss of 13.7 pounds (~6.2 kg), compared to 7.1 pounds (~3.2 kg) is the isocaloric group. The research team attributes these findings to accelerated fat loss due to lower and more stable blood sugar levels and decreased insulin sensitivity.
For more diabetic and vegetarian food recommendations, please visit the ADA site.