Making the switch from a regular meat-and-dairy diet to an all plant-based, vegan diet may be easier than it would seem, new research suggests.
Among a group of overweight, postmenopausal women, most of those who followed a vegan diet - which contains no animal products such as dairy, meat or eggs - said they enjoyed the diet.
Most women also said they were mostly or completely used to the vegan diet after 14 weeks, and planned to continue it, for the most part at least, in the future.
Moreover, women eating only vegan foods lost an average of 13 pounds, more than women who followed a standard low-fat diet.
Study author Dr. Neal D. Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC, explained that, for many people, giving up meat and animal products entirely is easier than trying to limit them as part of standard low-fat fare.
“It’s a little bit like quitting smoking,” he said. “If I said to you, ‘have one-half of a cigarette a day,’ it’s easier to quit.”
Another incentive for people to follow the vegan diet is that it works, he said. Study after study has shown that vegan diets can lower cholesterol and lead to as many health benefits as medications, Barnard explained.
“If you want people to stick with it, you have to give people a diet that gives them results,” he told Reuters Health.
Although it may seem daunting to give up all animal products, Barnard said that one easy way is to just try it for a few weeks, and see how you feel. Before beginning, ask family and friends to join in, and make a list of the foods you plan to eat at each meal.
After around three weeks of only vegan foods, he said, many people’s tastes adapt, and they don’t want to return to their old habits. “Once you make the change, you just wish you had done it earlier,” he said.
To investigate how people would cope with a switch to an all-vegan diet, Barnard and his team asked half of 64 overweight women to try a low-fat form of the diet - one that excluded all animal products, nuts, avocados and other fatty fare - for 14 weeks. The rest of the women ate a standard low-fat diet that included animal products.
There was no limits placed on calories or portion size, and people could eat allowed desserts as often as they liked. Vegan participants also took a supplement of vitamin B-12, which is naturally found in animal products.
Participants attended weekly meetings about their diets, and received instructions, tips for eating at restaurants and recipe ideas.
After 14 weeks, 93 percent of vegan eaters said the diet was good, moderately good or extremely good, and 79 percent rated the diet as “acceptable.” Almost 90 percent said they planned to continue the diet after the experiment, the authors report in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation.
In an interview, Barnard explained that giving up eggs and dairy adds extra health benefits because these foods contain high amounts of fat and cholesterol.
He added that many vegan products at upscale health food stores are expensive, but people can make a hearty meal of potatoes, canned beans and vegetables for only “pennies.”
SOURCE: Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, Summer 2004.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD