Vegetarian diets cause major weight loss

A scientific review in April’s Nutrition Reviews shows that a vegetarian diet is highly effective for weight loss.

Vegetarian populations tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters, and they experience lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other life-threatening conditions linked to overweight and obesity. The new review, compiling data from 87 previous studies, shows the weight-loss effect does not depend on exercise or calorie-counting, and it occurs at a rate of approximately 1 pound per week.

Rates of obesity in the general population are skyrocketing, while in vegetarians, obesity prevalence ranges from 0 percent to 6 percent, note study authors Susan E. Berkow, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Neal D. Barnard, M.D., of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

The authors found that the body weight of both male and female vegetarians is, on average, 3 percent to 20 percent lower than that of meat-eaters. Vegetarian and vegan diets have also been put to the test in clinical studies, as the review notes. The best of these clinical studies isolated the effects of diet by keeping exercise constant. The researchers found that a low-fat vegan diet leads to weight loss of about 1 pound per week, even without additional exercise or limits on portion sizes, calories, or carbohydrates.

“Our research reveals that people can enjoy unlimited portions of high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight without feeling hungry,” says Dr. Berkow, the lead author.

“There is evidence that a vegan diet causes an increased calorie burn after meals, meaning plant-based foods are being used more efficiently as fuel for the body, as opposed to being stored as fat,” says Dr. Barnard. Insulin sensitivity is increased by a vegan diet, allowing nutrients to more rapidly enter the cells of the body to be converted to heat rather than to fat.

Earlier this month, a team of researchers led by Tim Key of Oxford University found that meat-eaters who switched to a plant-based diet gained less weight over a period of five years. Papers reviewed by Drs. Berkow and Barnard include several published by Dr. Key and his colleagues, as well as a recent study of more than 55,000 Swedish women showing that meat-eaters are more likely to be overweight than vegetarians and vegans.

From PCRM, filed under vegan weight loss diet

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.


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118 thoughts on “Vegetarian diets cause major weight loss”

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  6. I went vegetarian for 1 month and lost 20 pounds several years back! I was really surprised at how fast it was. I have gained weight recently and need to get back on the healthy eating bandwagon. I need to be healthy and loose weight.

  7. If you’re going about a vegetarian diet plan, one thing that you must be making sure to consider is that you’re consuming sufficient protein. Protein is the one macronutrient that so many vegetarians tend to miss out on due to the fact that the foods they typically eat just aren’t rich in this nutrient.

    If you really want to see the best results possible from your diet plan, then you must be making sure you’re not becoming deficient. Protein is essential to help prevent lean muscle mass loss, to help increase the metabolism and to help you feel satisfied on your fat loss diet program.

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  10. I totally agree with post about leading a weight loss usually the vegetarian diet. I want to lose 20 pounds in the next 6-12 months so i am becoming a vegetarian.I heard about a new vegetarian course called Vegetarian’s Beginner’s Guide 30 Day Course on twitter which just for us newbies. I so happy that finally that is a course that can help new vegetarians make the process easier. I think it is coming out in a few weeks. Just so excited, can’t wait to get a copy!

    • I have been on a vegan diet since Jan 16, 2012 and have lost 28 lbs. I was 207lbs and now weigh 179 lbs, I am starting to get concerned about weight loss. However my total choleserol has dropped from 211 to 110. The doctor has lowered my lipitor from 20mg to 5mg and there is a possibility that I will not need to take Lipitor in the future. The diet has caused some acid reflux. Any suggestions?

      • Hi, I too just yesterday experienced heart burn which will later turn into acid refluc( with me) and I havent had heart burn since I was pregnant 3 1/2 years ago but I will call a homeopathic docter (Erin Parker, here in Round Rock,TX) and find out what settles that problem. It is workth the weight loss if you ask me. I am already at a good weight. Im after great health, lower anxiety, healthier me. I have seizures too but good blood pressure and I also started bodybuilding so I have to keep a high protein diet too. Check out your local homeopathic docter. They will love you for it or google noatural remedies and go to a health food store. Hope this helps. blessings!

  11. So maybe everybody should become veggies? I never thought of that but I’m satisfied I’m losing weight the healthy way, giving my body what it needs not what it wants. Join me in my quest if you want.

    Great low calorie diets are free on here also. I love my meat and veggies also.

  12. Please don’t overlook this key ingredient to your weightloss!!

  13. This is so true. The first month that i went vegetarian i, already a pretty small girl, went from 125 to 110 pounds… a 15 pound loss and that was without exercise– simply just by making fruits and veggies my main food groups. crazy but i feel so much healthier.

    • Hey my name is ashley I am a vegetarian 5’41/2 133lbs and want to know ur secret! What did u eat exactly? What about whole grains? I’m desperate to lose 15 lbs! Pls let me know! Thanks so much!!!!

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  15. Ola! Scienceblog,
    Thanks for the above, Being a vegetarian can be quite good in that you have a select group of foods which don’t traditionally cause weight gain. Most vegetables are actually low in carbohydrates which are fibrous carbohydrates that are good for your digestive system. So any vegetarian diet plan that excludes anything but fruits and vegetables is likely to succeed.
    I look forward to your next post

  16. I weighed 135 before I became vegetarian and I was already super skinny and in a year I’ve lost 10 pounds and there is like no way for me to get it back lol well… I could work out and get some muscle but i’m lazy…

  17. I recently changed to a vegan diet 5/30/11 for health reasons (high cholesterol for the last decade). Not only has my cholseterol dropped from 230 to 185 in less than 5 months but I have dropped more than 20 lbs and went from tight 34 inch pants to loose 32s. I am not 100% vegan, I do cheat a little with cheese and I have not eliminated all oils (as some diets suggest). One comment though, as Satish says you are saving money, I don’t find that to be the case, although I am not buying expensive cuts of beef or fish, some of the other specialty items to support a vegan diet are making up and possibly exceding what I was spending before. But who can put a pricetag on health.

    • It surprises me that you don’t see a savings in your grocery bill since you stopped eating meat. My bill was cut in half. I think maybe it could be because I don’t shop at the health food store. Sometimes I go just for fun to look around and I will treat myself to the odd thing, but I couldn’t afford to go all the time. All my veggie burgers are scratch and my hummus is homemade and I don’t think I have opened a can of soup in ten years. Everything is from the ordinary supermarket. Indian stores are the best. Every kind of cheap bean and spice you could want. I spend thirty dollars a week on my food. I couldn’t do that if I ate meat, no way. But it does take a little time in the kitchen, but it is so worth it.

    • Congrats Peter on your health… I was diagnosed with Crohn’s diesease in my mid twenties…There was no way I was going to do those horrid drugs with god awful side effects…I changed my diet and improved my digestive tract by 80%..Once in a while (due to stress) I get a little sick, but had I not changed my diet years ago I sure by now without a doubt I would have a colostomy bag….Eat to Live, don’t Live to Eat… Good for you Peter. :0)

  18. I lost half my body weight when I became a vegeterian for 7 months I lost 100 lbs I didn’t even realise I was losing so much I still ate my. Carbs and had lots of soya products

      • Hi Alexis :) I’m proud of your descision to become a vegetarian. I myself have been a vegetarian for 7 months, as of yesterday (1-21-12) And i’m very proud of myself. Within’ the first few months I dropped ten pounds, but now i’m on a plateau because i do indulge in sweets ALOT. & it prevents me from losing any sort of weight. It kinda sucks because being 16, it’s IN to be fit.
        I’m not. lol.
        I don’t have a specific eating plan, but I make sure to have my mom buy Veggie Burgers. I eat them constantly &it’s an easy way to get protein. Theyre a little expensive, but deffinatly worth it. I have a problem with not getting enough protein & it makes me very weak and tired & i also loose my hair alot. (not alot of it though)
        You can find plans easily on the internet. but make sure you get LOTS of protein.
        Good luck! :D

  19. I have also heard about several success stories where people who switched to vegan diet lost weight without exercise. By eating a plant-based diet, you are not only saving money but also get antioxidants that help you lose weight. Also, a vegetarian diet tends to be low in calories and saturated fat.

  20. Great article I like the way of promoting healthy ways for weight loss; I also like the step by step process that they recommend this would help people have a good method to follow. Considering that there a lot of articles out there that promoted healthy weight loss, this is a great article. I also found a great article like this one you can check it out by clicking the name above

  21. I don’t think that the article shows the full story. I am vegetarian myself. Became one for some reasons or other but it was after I had already lost 4 stones and now I maintain my current weight. However, I know many vegetarians who are overweight. Since eliminating meat from their diets, they replaced it with bread, potatoes and sugary and processed food products. So maybe, overall, there is a link between vegetarianism and weight loss but I had not witnessed it myself, as “vegetarianism” not always equals to “healthy”. As a vegetarian, I would love to believe that but it is not always the truth. Being vegetarians, some of my friends still find it equally difficult to choose healthy options over the not healthy ones as when they used to eat meat. The truth is that they became veggies not solely to loose weight but from environmental, ethical etc reasons; however, it still leaves some of them with the feeling of being somewhat cheated (the belief of many: “you’re vegetarian = you should be thin!”). So vegetarians cannot advertise vegetarianism alone as a way of loose weight. The statement that the vegetarianism makes you loose weight should be followed by the sentence: “when you choose healthy foods (non-processed, fresh fruit and veg without added sugar and additives)”.
    And also, you put on weight simply because your energy intake (measured in calories) is higher than the energy you use (I am talking of healthy people, some weight gain can be due to thyroid gland or other hormonal issues). Surplus of energy (too high calorie intake) is stored as fat. You loose weight either by decreasing the intake (diet) or increasing the use (exercises). So it is not entirely true that counting calories is rubbish. The reason some veggies (the ones that eat healthy) loose weight is that most of fruit and vegetables are naturally low calorific and they stimulate faster burning of the energy (calories) so still their calorie intake is lower than the use and this is what is visible on the scales, not being vegetarian alone.
    Although most of the fruit and veg is low in calories, some of them are not. Two avocado fruits (and I can easily put both of them into my sandwich) can have up to 500 calories (same as a small steak portion or a BigMac) but here’s a reason why eating them stimulates weight loss: Fruit and veg apart from obvious health benefits of being full of vitamins and nutrients, are made of carbohydrates that are more easily digested. Those sugars release energy slower so they keep you fuller for longer and they do not provide you with sudden energy highs and drops like refined sugars do therefore you don’t crave sugary foods or more food than you actually need. Besides, they are high in fiber that makes them even quicker to go through our digestive systems.
    The stress of vegetarian diet should be on choosing fruit and veg over other products rather than just cutting out the meat for the sake of it.
    What I’m trying to say that the issue is more complicated than a simple statement: vegetarian=thin

      • I know some people don’t lose weight on a vegan diet… However, I have been vegan for just under 4 months and have lost 48 pounds! You lose a LOT of weight very quickly in the beginning because meat and dairy gunk up your intestines, and can cause lots of extra poundage. The fiber you consume from all the plant-based foods helps cleanse your body of this rotting animal material. Then in the long run, your cholesterol-free, low fat, wholesome diet will help you lose a lot more weight. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard steak can stay in your bowels for weeks.
        Anyway good for you for losing 13 pounds! If you read this, let me know if you stuck with it, and how that went for you. For the first time in my life I feel like a healthy weight is attainable, I am so happy to be vegan.
        Also I think it should really be noted that the more healthy, whole foods that you consume as a vegan doesn’t just affect your body weight and energy levels. It helps level your emotions (in a good way!) and, at least for me, has helped me make healthy choices completely. I’ve even been able to quit smoking and I truly believe my healthy vegan diet has a lot to do with it.
        But it is important to eat natural, whole foods. If the ingredient label has a word that you cannot pronounce, it’s best that you not eat it, otherwise it’s entirely possible to gain weight on vegan diet, or just vegetarian.
        Good luck to anybody who decides to go down this path, it is likely the best decision I ever made!

  22. For those of you concerned about your or tothers personal training and getting enough protein in your diet through a plant based diet check out this Vegan bodybuilding and fitness site.

    There is a large community of people eating this way and working out with no major problems- very interesting I think.

  23. Really great article. As a Wirral Personal Trainer I spend a great deal of my time advocating healthy eating principles to my clients.The great thing about a vegetarian diet is it often complements a low saturated fat and high fibre diet so often recommended by nutritionists. It also constitutes a ‘greener’ or ‘lower carbon footprint’ approach to eating, which is so critical in today’s world.The challenge for many vegetarians, however, is finding a lean protein substitute to meat as many end up eating lots of cheese which is high in saturated fats.if this balance is managed though, it definitely results in decreasing the risk of cancers, heart disease, and high cholesterol, as well as controllling weight.

    • A vegan diet is very easy with regards to ensuring protein levels as fruit and vegetables and pulses/beans have varying amounts of protein. It is a well known myth bornr out of nutrional ignorance that only animal products have protein – this is completely untrue The protein from plant and fruit sources are wonderful and have the added advantage of being naturally low in fat, as well as being far more nutritionally dense.
      You may want to check out vegan society websites for education on protein and vegetarianism/veganism.

  24. **also very important…people who say all or most vegetarians are anemic,are wrong,you do not necessarily have to take iron supplements if you are eating enough greens…isn’t that the idea behind vegetarianism anyway? if you are going to claim being a vegetarian you have to eat vegetables! not just eliminate meat and eat a bunch of garbage instead, that is not vegetarianism…besides, you cannot just take iron supplements without knowing what your iron levels are,it could cause serious health problems if you overdose on iron! please get your facts right before you take supplements!
    Here are symptoms of iron overdosing:
    Serious iron poisoning usually causes symptoms within 6 hours of the overdose. The symptoms of iron poisoning typically occur in 5 stages. In stage 1 (within 6 hours after the overdose), symptoms include vomiting, vomiting blood, diarrhea, abdominal pain, irritability, drowsiness, unconsciousness, and seizures. If poisoning is very serious, rapid breathing, a rapid heart rate, coma, and low blood pressure may develop. In stage 2 (6 to 48 hours after the overdose), the person’s condition can appear to improve. In stage 3 (12 to 48 hours after the overdose), very low blood pressure (shock), fever, bleeding, jaundice, liver failure, and seizures can develop. Sugar levels in the blood can decrease. In stage 4 (2 to 5 days after the overdose), the liver fails, and people may die from shock, bleeding, and blood-clotting abnormalities. Confusion and sluggishness (lethargy) or coma may develop. In stage 5 (2 to 5 weeks after the overdose), the stomach or intestines can become blocked by constricting scars. Scarring in either organ can cause crampy abdominal pain and vomiting. Severe scarring of the liver (cirrhosis—see Fatty Liver, Cirrhosis, and Related Disorders: Cirrhosis) can develop later.

    • @Trainer

      I have to say, I’ve been lifting weights to stay in shape for 10 years off and on and learned according to the traditional wisdom; chicken breasts are the best way to repair your muscle tissue after working out.

      I’m in my 30s and CANNOT seem to cut my belly fat. I have a sedentary job. I’ve been watching my diet closely for a year; lots of veggies and chicken, chicken, chicken or sometimes tuna.

      The last 4 weeks I’ve gone primarily vegitarian. After my weight-lifting workout in the evenings, I go home and eat a cup of lentils and veggies instead of chicken and small amounts of protein all day long from peanut butter, almonds, chick peas, lima beans, etc. I have to say, I feel great, I’m not hungry in the morning and I’ve found my muscles repair themselves just fine. I really do think my body is using the veggie protein more efficiently.

      I still eat chicken perhaps once a week and fish 2-3 times per week, but this is down from 14 chicken or fish based meals. I’ve only lost 2 lbs, but my tummy is much flatter and I can wear an empire waist dress without looking pregnant :)

      • @Heather

        Regardless of what some vegetarians and vegans may tell you, vegetable protein is not more efficiently used by the human body. The reason you’ve lost additional weight? Its about calories. You are now eating more lower-fat, higher fibre foods so less calories. Nothing magic going on here.

        • It’s not quite as simple as that. Check out wider research about nutrition and how our bodies respond to different foods and you’ll learn how and why.

  25. Although vegitarian food needs less calories to be digested and therefore less food is consumed, but are you sure that the weight loss came from not eating animal protein?

    • @H pylori

      I left a lengthy post above, but I’ll add to that, that I think the main benefit I feel after switching many (not all) of my meals to veggies and bean-based protein instead of chicken or fish is that beans not only have a different type of protein, they also have a different type of carb. which is mostly insoluble fiber. Even better for regulating bloodsugar than “grains,” I find I’m rarely hungry and, more importantly, not as tired as I was when I tried restricted carb diets.

  26. A vegetarian diet generally contains less total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and includes more dietary fiber. Those following the vegan diet enjoy unlimited servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthful foods which enable them to lose weight without feeling hungry.

  27. @BillinDetroit

    Wow maybe you shouldn’t blame your wife for your weight coming back on and take some personal responsibility for your own health. Can you not cook your own food? Seriously, grow up.

  28. Nice blog. Good tips. I do agree with the statement that vegetarian diet causes major weight loss. Some of my friend are personal trainers and one of them always suggest me to eat vegetarian food as I used to take non-veg foods more. He told me the harmful impacts of eating non-vegetarian diets i.e. they contain a lot of fats and calorie and that’s very bad for the body. From that day I started taking vegetarian and green diet and you won’t believe my weight has been reduced to the minimum within a month. That was a great surprise for me. He also told me to do some workouts and exercise that is beneficial for my health and keeps me fit and strong. So, I can say that vegetarian foods are good for our health.

  29. I am a little bit weighty and have been searching for some good weight loss tips. For this I have consulted many personal trainers and they told me to follow some workouts and exercises using exercise bikes and treadmill. Bnut it didn’t work. Now I thin this vegetarian diet will help me in weight loss. I heard that vegetarians people are more healthier than non-vegetarian. Now I am going to eat only vegetarian diet. Hope it will work.

  30. read the book it has good tips on what u should n should not b eating, as far as exercising goes, do circuit training so u dont get bored, do 15 on treadmill walking, 15 on elipitical, 5 on stair master it l help pass time.

  31. Dear 23 Year old,

    Try taking wheatgrass. I’ve been using wheatgrass since January 1st 2009 and had lost 40 lbs. In addition, make sure you use the product with a multivitamin as well. Your weight will melt away. Overall, wheat grass can be purchase at any whole foods store. Amazing Grass Wheat Grass is one of the best brands. Good Luck!

  32. RUDE much? This person is obviously here for help with weight loss. Your hang-up about the ‘etiquette’ of a post is rude and destructive. That is all…


  34. your friend has real courage to give up meat completely, I tried put couldn’t keep it up for 2 weeks. but i’ve found other ways of loosing weight. I’d recommend, they have plenty of usefull advice.

  35. I find that vegetarian diet’s do work for some, but it does require a strong commitment. I have a friend who was always trying to lose weight, he tried everthing, but was unable to reach his goal. He then told me that he was going to become a vegetarian. Now mind you, this guy loved eating all type of food. In any event, he became a truw vege., took him about 6-12 to get it right. He now looks wonderful, he was went from 312lbs., to 200lbs. I’m very proud of him.


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