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Get the Benefits of a Vegan Diet — Without Going Vegan

"Wanna try out that new vegan restaurant?" If you don't follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, your answer will probably be less than enthusiastic, if not obscene.

But if your health, fitness and weight loss goals are important to you, shed those preconceived notions about what vegan food is. "Most people worry that they can't eat much on a vegan diet. They see it as a diet of restriction and deprivation," says Susan Tucker, founder of Green Beat Life, LLC, a nutrition-counseling practice in New York City. "But truly, it's about what you can eat." There are plentiful choices available within a vegan diet, Tucker adds, that fulfill our needs for protein, fiber and all the micronutrients.

The proven health benefits of a vegan diet are growing. They include weight loss, improved digestion, lowered cholesterol and increased energy. A 2015 European study found that swapping out animal protein for the plant-based variety can play an important role in preventing obesity. Here's the beauty part: You don't have to commit yourself to a vegan diet, or even a vegetarian one, to realize some of those proven benefits.

By taking a cue from how vegans nourish their bodies, you can start shedding pounds by following these four rules.

Increase Fiber


A diet consisting of vegetables, grains, legumes, fruit, nuts and seeds is going to pack a lot of fiber. As we all know, fiber is to the digestive system what snowplows are to the streets of Buffalo in February. In short, it keeps our internal thoroughfares free and clear. And that's a very good thing. "Fiber-rich meals make you feel full longer, usher out toxins and cholesterol from the system, and help to keep blood sugar at normal and even levels," says Tucker. The net result of eating more fiber: Over time, you'll almost certainly lose weight. Research published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that increasing intake of dietary fiber significantly reduces the risk of gaining weight and body fat — independent of physical activity and dietary fat intake!

So do like the vegans do, and add more weight-shedding fiber to your diet. Tucker's plan: Fill an average dinner plate with two-thirds veggies, one-third starch and one-third protein. "For any meal or snack, always up the fiber content," she says. "You may find yourself with fewer cravings and skipping the snacks." Start with the 11 Best High-Fiber Foods for Weight Loss!

Decrease Cholesterol


Vegans don't eat animal fats, processed meats, cheeses and oils. Meaning, they steer clear of cholesterol-rich foods — a good strategy for reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. "For a vegan, fat comes mostly from nuts and seeds, olives, avocados and oils from plant sources," says Tucker, who adds that if you want to lose weight, cutting out cholesterol-rich foods will pay huge dividends. Nutritionist Keri Glassman, MS, RD, says that roughly 30% of our calories should come from fats. The good fats she prescribes are all vegan: Monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil, peanut oil, flaxseed oil, nuts and avocado) and polyunsaturated fats and essential fatty acids (including safflower, sunflower and sesame oils, seeds, nuts, flax and hemp). Instead of eating a fried egg on toast, Tucker says, have a slice of toasted sprouted-grain bread with mashed avocado and a dash of lime. Rather than snacking on an ounce of cheese, try an ounce of nuts.

Pump Up The Volume


Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD, is a vegan of 19 years, a leading expert in the field of vegetarian nutrition and the co-author of The No Meat Athlete. He says that most plant foods, especially vegetables, provide more volume than animal foods. In other words, you can eat more food for fewer calories. This helps you feel satiated because your brain recognizes size, not calories. "I work with a lot of athletes who are new to veganism. Many are confused by this and end up not eating enough," he says. The best way to get the benefits of vegan diets is to eat way more vegetables. For vegans, Ruscigno recommends not five servings per day but five per meal. To get started, fill your cart with The Best Vegetables to Eat for Weight Loss!

Add Variety


Meat, fish, eggs and dairy have been a part of most humans' diets for a long, long time. There's a good reason: Meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are packed with the protein, vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Vegans have to cast a wider net for essential nutrients. As a consequence, vegans tend to eat more colors of the rainbow and try new ingredients to make nutrient-dense meals. Tucker's challenge for those of us not ready to say goodbye to cheese, bacon and ice cream? Be as adventurous as a vegan. "Get a wide variety of colors from plant sources into your diet, via fruits, vegetables and legumes, or replace that weekly burger with a quinoa-black-bean burger," she says. Explore the possibilities with these 11 Amazing Vegan Comfort Food Recipes to see how you can enjoy burgers, shepherd's pie, mac-and-cheese and more!

And read more about why veganism has been found to be The Best Diet for Weight Loss!