Whenever Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z want to lose some weight and have healthy skin, they go on a plant-based diet for thirty days – which is essentially eating vegan food only. And, they’re not alone, with the sudden surge in consumption of green juices and vegetable smoothies, chia bowls, kale and spinach with everything, plus food swaps that switch pasta for courgette noodles and traditional grain rice for cauliflower rice, being vegan has never been so popular.
Converts swear that eating mainly plants and no meat or dairy makes them look and feel younger, with their glowing skin being attributed to a steady influx of vitamins, minerals, lots of water and less inflammatory foods like bacon, eggs, cheese and cow’s milk.
But if you’re considering adopting a vegan lifestyle, is it good for you? Find out more about how veganism can help or hinder your weight-loss and health efforts.
Dr Sally Norton, NHS weight loss consultant and health expert who runs the popular website VavistaLife, explains: “I often get asked if going vegan is a good thing for weight loss, or health in general. It’s now becoming more mainstream. Why? – and is that a good thing?”
What is veganism?
Vegans eat a diet which is rich in vegetables and consume nothing that comes from animals – meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey etc. Vegetarians, by contrast, may eat dairy and eggs but avoid meat and often fish.
Sally adds: “I’m not here to discuss the ethos. But we should probably consider making more of an effort to choose properly reared meat, sustainably caught fish and free-range eggs.”
Is it healthier than other diets?
“Veganism can be a really healthy form of eating if undertaken properly, and is certainly much more healthy than ‘junkfoodism!'” Sally says.
“In fact, studies show that vegetarian (including vegan) populations tend to be less overweight and suffer less from diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and more – living longer as a result. Whether that is from avoiding animal products specifically, or having a generally healthier diet and lifestyle anyway, is difficult to be sure of, but good nutrition almost certainly plays a major role,” Sally continues.
What about weight loss?
“However, ‘going vegan’ as a quick weight-loss fad isn’t recommended as it needs care to ensure a fully balanced vegan diet if we want to avoid missing out on essentials like calcium, iron and B12,” Sally warns. “This is even more important for pregnant women or growing kids and teens.
“What’s more, useful nutrients like omega 3 (which is essential for healthy brain function and may help our addictive tendencies) is easier to obtain from fatty fish than nuts, seeds and plants which contain a different form of omega 3. And, whilst meat provides complete protein, most plant sources of proteins are ‘incomplete’ meaning we need a bigger variety to get all the building blocks we need for our body to function properly. Finally, for any diet to produce long-term weight-loss or better health, it has to be sustainable… or you are at risk of giving up, demotivated and demoralised.”
But beware vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy…
Sally warns: “If you are contemplating a full-on vegan diet you should know that many foods that seem to be vegan may have tiny amounts of gelatine, dairy or anything you don’t want to eat hidden in them. As with all processed foods, read the label carefully – or better still avoid foods that have a long label and cook from scratch so you know exactly what you are getting. That makes sense for all sorts of reasons anyway.
“And avoid falling prey to unscrupulous processed food manufacturers who are jumping on the vegan bandwagon (in the same way as they did with low-fat or gluten-free) and cashing in on people who are prepared to pay more for these vegan-labelled processed foods which may not be any healthier at all. A big bag of greasy chips is vegan after all (unless cooked in beef fat!) but that doesn’t make it any better for you.
Look out for hidden calories
“Also watch out for the fact that the delicious range of nuts, pulses, coconut and other foods that can feature heavily in a vegan diet may contain a lot of calories. They are good calories, from foods full of nutrients, but can add up. Without the calories from dairy, fatty meats and more it is unlikely that they will cause you problems, but if you are struggling to lose weight, even on a vegan diet, do a quick calorie check and watch your portions.”
To summarise, Sally says: “There’s nothing wrong with taking just a few vegan principles on board and cutting back on animal products for a day or two a week – bulk up instead on pulses, veg, nuts and more for a great health boost.”
And, in fact, that’s what Beyoncé herself does for most of the year, following what she calls a “semi-vegan” diet which is an almost vegan diet with the odd not strictly vegan treat thrown in. Life’s about balance, after all.
If you can’t face the thought of going vegan, why not try Victoria Beckham’s blemish-free skin diet. Or perhaps you’re more interested in the diet that experts believe is the key to longevity. And here’s how to love yourself, love your body and feel amazing.