Going vegan has worked for Bill Clinton, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and a new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine indicates it will work for you, too. The researchers compared results of a dozen diets—including Atkins, the American Diabetes Association diet, and others—and found that those following a vegan diet could lose 5 pounds more in the short-term than those following traditional diet plans. (Vegetarians, who allow themselves eggs and dairy, still fared well, losing slightly more than 3 pounds.)
But giving up eating animals is tricky, and not just because we crave the occasional bacon cheeseburger. Animals products are our primary source of protein and other important nutrients like vitamin D. And plenty of unhealthy foods—from Oreos to Red Bulls to Airheads—could be considered part of a vegan diet. To join the cool (and slim) kids, try these tricks to make veganism work for you, courtesy of the new book Zero Belly Diet. And to start losing weight immediately, find out if you’re guilty of any of these 25 Things You Did Today That Sabotaged Your Weight Loss!
Don’t Expect Vegan Alternatives To Taste Like Meat
If there’s one rule of happy veganism, it’s this: Don’t pretend you’re eating cow. No matter how much you manipulate tofu or wheat gluten, it will never taste like a Big Mac. So think about “replacing” your meat—just embrace its absence, stick with a veggie-based protein and a grain, and know that’s powering you towards your weight loss goals. You’ll discover new flavors that will slim you down, like these four Zero Belly favorite proteins:
Tempeh: Made from fermented soybeans, this uses whole soybeans to make it more dense. This density makes it a better protein source with 18 grams compared to the 9 for the same amount of tofu (100 grams). Speaking of tofu, try to avoid it if you’re dieting. The block of soybean curd is high in naturally occurring chemicals called phytoestrogens, which have the opposite effect of testosterone, and can influence our hormonal balance and lead to weight gain.
Seitan: Made from wheat gluten, it does a great job of looking like beef, so you’ll find it in a lot of vegan stir fry.
Teff and Quinoa: Even 7/11 carries quinoa bowls—so there’s no reason not to benefit from the 24 grams of protein per cup. And dubbed the next big thing in grains, teff has some calling it “the new quinoa,” and Lisa Moskovitz, RD, says that label is well deserved. “It’s a more complete amino acid-packed protein than quinoa itself,” she says. “That makes it great for anyone who wants to keep calories low and protein high.” For other fantastic protein sources, check out 30 Best Sources of Vegetarian Protein.
Watch Out for Carb Bombs
Despite the health halo around vegan restaurants, the bread there is every bit as bad for you as the loaves at the steakhouse next door. Replacing protein and fat with empty carbs is a lousy trade too many vegans make, so limit yourself to one small piece per meal. Don’t fall into a dessert trap, either, thinking vegan sweets are healthier. Some vegan desserts may end up with more of it, to make up for the lack of animal fats, according to research in Eat This, Not That! Watch out for soda, too—many vegan varieties are sweetened with agave, which has 60 calories per tablespoon!
Power Up with Powder
You can’t eat or drink whey or egg protein powder on a vegan diet—and that may be why you’re losing weight. Researchers discovered that people who ingested higher amounts of plant protein were far less susceptible to metabolic syndrome (a combination of obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar), in a 2015 study in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation. A second study in Nutrition Journal found that “plant protein intakes may play a role in preventing obesity.”
As for which brand to buy, the Zero Belly favorites are Sunwarrior (with 19 grams of protein and 100 calories per serving, it’s organic and derived from peas, cranberry and hemp, with no sugars, gluten or artificial sweeteners) and Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein. Hemp protein offers a substantial amount of fiber (here, 8 grams) that’s easy to digest, and this one has 15 grams of protein per scoop. And hemp seeds are just one of our 8 Secret Superfoods That Help You Lose Weight and Burn Fat!
Play it Smooth
Studies show that high-protein, low-fat smoothies are highly effective at rushing nutrients to your muscles, and that blended fruit drinks, which include all the fiber, will keep you fuller longer than fruit juices. To keep it vegan—and to reduce inflammation caused by milk products—make one with a non-dairy base, like unsweetened almond milk. For more inspiration, check out these 56 Weight-Loss Smoothies.
Stop Til You Drop—pounds
Scientists aren’t the only ones noticing veganism is good for you; so are food marketers, who are flooding the market this year with new products. Take advantage. Here are three we’re excited for—each Zero Belly-approved:
Tío Foods Gazpacho: Available in only about 20 stores since their launch last fall, these organic, vegan, ready-to-eat (or drink!) soups will be available nationwide by the end of 2015. In addition to a classic tomato recipe, Tío Foods also offers gazpacho verde (with kale, spinach, avocado, and mint) and gazpacho del sol (yellow tomato, yellow pepper, and carrot).
American Flatbread Farmers Tomato Pie: We get why you’d be skeptical of a pizza that’s not only frozen but also totally dairy-free. However, this pie is worth the dough. American Flatbread combines tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, red wine, balsamic vinegar and a dash of maple syrup to create a flavor-packed pie that trumps the other vegan-friendly options on supermarket shelves.
Health Warrior Chia Bars: So-called “super snacks,” these chia-based bars are gluten-, dairy- and GMO-free, 100% vegan and boast mouth-watering flavors like coffee, acai and apple cinnamon. Each four-bite bar has only 110 calories and as many as 1,100 mg of omega-3s–that’s more ounce-per-ounce than is found in a piece of salmon! Love chia seeds? Check out the Best Ever Chia Seed Recipes from Instagram!
Now that you know the benefits of going vegan, scroll down to learn which delicious veggies and how to incorporate them into your diet.
You may have heard that spicy hot peppers can help you scorch calories, but did you know that mild peppers can have the same effect? Thanks to a metabolism-boosting compound, dihydrocapsiate, and their high vitamin-C content, sweet red and green peppers can help you lose weight. A cup of these bell-shaped veggies serves up to three times the day’s recommended vitamin C—a nutrient that counteracts stress hormones which trigger fat storage around the midsection. Dip slices of bell peppers into hummus for a light afternoon snack, add the veggie to omelets and salads, or throw some chicken in a corn tortilla with salsa and slices of avocado, red pepper and onion for a Tex-Mex-inspired fat-fighting dinner.
In addition to warding off prostate, breast, lung and skin cancers, this flowery vegetable can also help you whittle your middle. According to experts, broccoli contains a phytonutrient called sulforaphane that increase testosterone and fights off body fat storage. It’s also rich in vitamin C ( a mere cup of the stuff can help you hit your daily mark), a nutrient that can lower levels of cortisol during stressful situations, helping those abs take center stage. The only downside? It can make some people with sensitive stomachs a bit gassy—which isn’t a good look if you’re planning to hit the beach or rock a tight-fitting outfit. Need to de-bloat, fast? Find out 24 Ways to Shrink Your Belly in 24 Hours.
It may look pretty unassuming, but Popeye’s favorite veggie can actually help take your calorie-burning potential to the next level. How? The green is overflowing with protein (just one cup of the steamed variety has as much protein as a medium hard-boiled egg), a nutrient that aids post-pump muscle recovery and growth. And remember: The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest! What’s more, the leafy green is also rich in thylakoids, a compound that’s been shown to significantly reduce cravings and promote weight loss. Add the green to your dinner plate to reap the benefits. We like to steam it and flavor it with garlic, olive oil and lemon. Or pair it with a tangerine, which has vitamin C to help your body absorb the iron from the spinach!
Pickles are low-cal, filled with fiber and covered in vinegar—which is all good news for your waistline. In fact, just one large pickle has 15 calories and 2 grams of belly-filling fiber, so eating three or four can actually leave you feeling pretty satiated for less than 100 calories! Every dieter knows that eating filling snacks are paramount to weight-loss success, but how does the vinegar help the fat-fighting cause? Studies show acidic foods help increase the rate at which the body burns off carbs by up to 40 percent—and the faster you burn off carbs, the sooner your body starts incinerating fat, which can help you get that lean look you crave. Add these tangy, pickled cucumbers to sandwiches and burgers or munch on them solo to start feeling more confident in your skivvies.
If you typically eat your potatoes warm out of the oven, you’re missing out on the spud’s fat-fighting superpowers. When you throw potatoes in the refrigerator and eat them cold, their digestible starches turn into resistant starches through a process called retrogradation. As the name implies, resistant starch, well, resists digestion, which promotes fat oxidation and reduces abdominal fat. Since eating cold baked potatoes doesn’t sound too appetizing, why not use the cooled spuds to make a potato salad instead? Here’s how: Bake red potatoes in the oven until they’re cooked through and allow them to fully cool. Then, cut them into small slices and dress them with Dijon mustard, fresh pepper, chopped green onions (more on this veggie next), dill and plain Greek yogurt. Mix everything together and put in the refrigerator to cool before consuming.
Onions are rich in quercetin, a flavonoid that increase blood flow and activates a protein in the body that helps regulate glucose levels, torches stored fat and keeps new fat cells from forming. Not to mention, onions are basically the unsung hero of cardiovascular health—an important area of wellness for everyone, but especially those who hit the gym hard to accelerate their weight-loss efforts. The culinary staple can help lower cholesterol, ward off hardening of the arteries and help maintain healthy blood-pressure levels. The best part? Onions are super low-cal and easy to throw into just about anything, from soups, homemade burgers, sandwiches and tacos to pastas, salads, veggie sides, rice and omelets.