Atkins, South Beach and other low-carb diets weren’t designed with vegans in mind and may be especially difficult to follow by those who don’t eat any animal products. But vegans don’t need to give up carbohydrate-dense meals to lose weight, and their natural food choices help them stay leaner than the general population, studies show. Vegans intent on following a low-carb diet to lose weight may need to take vitamins and mineral supplements to stay properly nourished.
Vegans following a low-carb diet must be particularly diligent about meeting their needs for Vitamins D and B12 and the minerals zinc and iron. These nutrients are commonly found in meat, dairy and egg products, all of which are prohibited on a vegan diet. Calcium can be found in soy, almond and rice milks, which may be included on a vegan diet. Vegans can most easily obtain the other nutrients in fortified breakfast cereals.
Vegans, with careful planning, can meet their vitamin and mineral needs while lowering their carbohydrates. Carbohydrate-free sources of iron include green and black-eyed peas, lentils, kidney beans, turnip greens, molasses, dried apricots, prunes and raisins, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Zinc can be found in white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, wheat germ and pumpkin seeds, according to the USDA food pyramid. Soy beverages, veggie burgers and yeast contain B12. Vegans can also take vitamin and mineral supplements.
There’s no particular health or weight loss advantage for vegans to restrict carbohydrates. The USDA’s food pyramid for vegans includes six servings of grains on a 1,500-calorie-a-day diet, which would yield a pound-per-week weight loss for most women. The USDA guidelines also recommend that vegans eat three servings daily of fruits and vegetables and 6 ounces of protein from sources such as soy, legumes, nuts and seeds. The USDA recommends two to three servings of dairy daily or the calcium equivalent in other food sources or supplements.
It’s more important for weight-watching vegans to choose their carbohydrates carefully than to limit them, says Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian who writes a weekly column for the "Globe and Mail" newspaper. Refined carbohydrates such as those found in white bread, cakes, cookies and pasta are not as filling as complex carbohydrates, which also contain more fiber, aiding in digestion and natural weight loss. Beck says complex carbohydrates are more nutritious and that soaking brown rice overnight before cooking it increases its fiber, vitamin and mineral content, including an amino acid that helps repair tissues and another that benefits the kidneys.
Vegans are better able to maintain healthy weights than others, several studies have found. In one study at the University of Oxford found that vegans were less likely to gain weight than meat-eaters, fish-eaters and vegetarians who consumed eggs and dairy. The study tracked the eating habits of 22,000 people over five years. Participants gained an average of 4.4 pounds. Vegans gained an average of 1.25 pounds. Meat-eaters gained the most weight, followed by fish-eaters and vegetarians.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.