I recently engaged in a conversation with a friend who tried eating vegan, gained a lot of weight, and transitioned to a keto diet. We talked about whether veganism is a healthy diet for every single person in the world: perhaps veganism fits certain people, and doesn’t work as well for others.
Maybe, eating vegan causes some people to gain weight, while others thrive on this lifestyle.
I also get many emails from all of you asking these same questions, or sharing that veganism didn’t work for you.
There is also a very common idea out there that diets should be chosen according to blood type, or genetics, or body type. Some people should be consuming a high-carb diet, while others will gain weight from such a diet, the theory goes.
Let’s unpack these questions and statements, and let’s figure out exactly who should and should not be eating a vegan diet.
Can Veganism Cause Weight Gain?
The first question or assumption I want to cover is that veganism, or a high-carb diet, will cause certain people to gain weight, and not others.
This assumption stems from the idea that certain genetics or blood types do well with lots of carbohydrate-rich foods, while others require higher-protein diets.
Ok, but perhaps, even so, not all people can thrive on a vegan diet.
For a majority of our evolution, humans ate 95% plants. These plants were high in fiber, lacked cholesterol and had minimal fat. Because of this, the human body evolved to hold onto cholesterol for dear life when it did receive any amount of it.
Introducing: animal fats and cholesterol. Take a bite, and flood your whole body with cholesterol that is here to stay and get absorbed, causing the #1 human killer in modern history, coronary heart disease (CAD).
The only diet that has ever been proven to reverse CAD is the whole food, plant-based diet. A 21-year study conducted by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn JR., MD, demonstrated that advanced CAD can be reversed through eating whole food, plant-based. In addition, Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated in 2008 that a plant based diet combined with exercise and stress reduction can delay advancement of prostate cancer.
This incredible evidence points us directly to plants. Not only are our bodies adapted to consuming plants and fiber in amounts virtually unseen in modern diets. Our bodies thrive, and even reverse disease while flourishing on plants. No other diet has ever been proven to do the same.
Such a diet is absolutely packed with carbs, and contains fat and protein in very low amounts.
But, this brings me to my next point.
Is a High-Carb Diet Right for Everyone?
Now we come to the greatest myth in the nutrition world: carbs are bad for you.
It’s a myth for two reasons:
- High-carb diets are extremely common in the blue zones, and in other world populations that have never even heard of heart disease or diabetes. These populations live a healthy, long life, unheard-of in the Western world.
- The carbs these populations are eating are not the carbs you’re eating.
Since #1 is pretty self-explanatory, let’s talk about #2.
White bread and sweet potatoes cannot possibly be lumped in the same category. One is beaming with nutrition, while the other is almost completely empty calories.
In addition, every single food in the world that is a whole, plant food contains carbs. And protein, and fat. Even fruits have all three. It is part of the make-up of food.
Whole plant foods like tomatoes, apples and quinoa are all carbohydrate-rich foods, but they’re not processed foods.
When you use the term “carbs” be mindful of the different types of carbohydrate-rich foods out there, and if you want to be healthy, choose whole foods and skip processed foods. More on this below.
Why Do Some People Gain Weight on a Vegan Diet?
Now, this is where things get much more interesting.
The devil is in the details, and very much so in this case.
It’s true that many people gain weight on a vegan diet, but I have rarely seen people gain weight on a whole food, plant-based diet.
What the heck is the difference?
A vegan diet means excluding all animal products from your diet. This is a great step in the right direction, because it allows you to completely avoid cholesterol and animal protein, and significantly lower your intake of fat.
However, a vegan diet does not guarantee good health, and in fact, I’ve seen many people degrade their health by going vegan, especially in recent times.
Introducing: processed vegan junk food.
You may believe that by switching to a vegan diet, and buying products that are labeled “vegan” at the grocery store you are eating a natural diet. But this is a myth.
Just because something is “vegan” does not mean it’s healthy. (I’d love a megaphone at this moment, please and thank you, to yell this as loud as I can!)
I am saddened every time I meet people who fall in the trap of vegan junk food, feel terrible, and decide to switch back to meat.
Why does this happen? And why is it happening to you?
Because you need to read labels. You need to eat whole, plant foods, not just “vegan food”.
I want you to imagine yourself at the forest, minimally clothed, and your lodgings as a beautiful, dark, yet warm cave.
What are you eating?
Are you eating “vegan” chips, or are you eating fruits, vegetables, some nuts and seeds, or even potatoes baked in the fire you worked so hard to light?
Of course the latter.
If you think that by switching to a vegan diet you are automatically eating low fat foods, you are very much mistaken.
These days, more and more “vegan” foods contain ingredients that you could never pronounce or understand, and lots of oil, sugar, and salt.
Is there a place in your diet for these treats? Yes. Is that place very large? Not if you want to be healthy.
So, now it’s time for you to be completely honest with yourself.
When you went vegan, how much of your food was 1-ingredient, no label-required meals, and how much of it was packages that required you to google “is this vegan”?
Your vegan diet did not fail you because it excluded animal products. It failed you due to lack of knowledge about the foods that will support your body in flourishing.
Don’t worry, though. There is a fix, and it’s super simple.
How to Thrive on a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet
Thriving on a vegan diet (or shall I say, whole food, plant-based) is so easy, delicious, and exciting. It requires being just a little vigilant about the foods you choose to consume, and making meals that not only taste good, but also nourish you from the inside out.
Here’s how to pick these foods:
- Fill your cart with foods from the produce section (at least 70%: legumes, whole grains, nut, seeds, fruits, and veggies)
- Fill the rest of your cart with minimally processed foods
- Read labels, and avoid any items that have funky ingredients you can’t pronounce
- Skip the oil, and sugar, and any items that have a 0 for any of these three: carbohydrates, protein, fats. All of these should have a number on the label
If this sounds confusing, overwhelming, and bland, I get it. That’s why I’m here: to show you that it can taste SO GOOD and feel SO GOOD at the same time.
Join the Plant-Based Challenge below to access a full week of plant-based meals that are as delicious as they are nutrient dense. Feel amazing, and enjoy the food you eat at the same time!