Why Do Vegetarians and Vegans Weigh Less?

By Sara Novak, Planet Green

This is the first year ever that the USDA has embraced a vegetarian diet. In its 2010 dietary pyramid, the USDA gave vegetarianism an outright endorsement saying in addition to improved heart health, a vegetarian diet was associated with lower rates of obesity. Another study in 2009 by Oxford researcher Tim Key found that vegetarians and vegans had body weights 3 percent to 20 percent lower than meat eaters. So why are vegetarians and vegans thinner?

Comparing Numbers

First off, this isn’t true of all vegetarians and vegans. It’s usually those that eat a whole foods diet full of fruits, vegetables, soy, beans, nuts, seeds and free of processed foods, that enjoy the most weight loss. This results because the meat-free whole food choices tend to be less calorie dense. Animal proteins tend to be more calorie dense than plant-based proteins. For example, a 4 oz serving of garbanzo beans has 135 calories and 2 grams of fat while a 4 oz piece of filet has 232 calories and 10 grams of fat. A 4 oz serving of firm tofu has 88 calories and 5 grams of fat and a 4 oz serving of salmon has 237 calories and 29 grams of fat. While there are some less caloric choices like skinless chicken breast or a lean leg of lamb, when you break down the numbers, there tend to be more calories in meat than plant-based protein sources.

Healthy vegetarians and vegans also eat a lot more, you guess it, fruits and vegetables. Eating loads of fiber-filled fruits and veggies tend to fill you up faster with less calories.

Vegans Weigh Even Less

Vegans experience more dramatic weight loss when compared to vegetarians because they don’t eat any animal products like butter, cheese, and eggs. Not having cheese on that veggie sandwich or stinky bleu cheese atop your salad means less calories in the end. There are fewer calorie dense sources of food on a vegan diet and the foods that are fatty are loaded with healthful nutrients, specifically raw nuts, seeds, and avocado.

According to Glamour Magazine:

“I’m seeing more people going vegan because they’ve heard it can help them lose weight,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., author of The Flexitarian Diet, who estimates that the average weight of a vegan is up to 15 percent less than that of someone who eats meat—which translates to 20 to 25 pounds for the average woman.

Cynthia Sass, R.D., agrees that a vegan diet can lead you to drop pounds. “If by going vegan, you end up eating more veggies, fruit, whole grains, beans and lentils than you were before, then it can be a way to reduce calories without feeling like you are,” says Sass, author of Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

Weight-conscience celebrities agree. Ellen DeGeneres, Alicia Silverstone, and Alanis Morissette have all slimmed down since starting a vegan diet.

While my reasons for enjoying a plant-based diet weren’t initially cosmetic, from my experience, it is easier to drop weight and keep it off. And in the end, you feel a whole lot better about where your foods are sourced.

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jodi m.
jodi m4 years ago

Seeing "forks over knives" changed my life. Highly recommended

Jade N.
Jade N4 years ago


Christine Stewart

It is possible to be overweight on a veggie diet- but when you eat fewer processed foods, consume more produce, and avoid the saturated fat from animal products, it is easier to maintain a healthy weight.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

Allie C., you make a great point. Actually, according to Nan Kathry-Fuchs, PhD, Nutrition Editor of Women's Health Letter, October 1994 issue, eating meat can help contribute to weight loss. Meat contains an amino acid called L-carnitine which is known to boost metabolism. If interested, I'll PM you the entire article. It's not a lengthy one.

allie cat
allie cat5 years ago

i'm vegan i've been vegan for about two years and i love it, but i didn't lose that much weight from it, i'm still heavy

Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Mandi A.
Amanda A5 years ago

Going Vegan JUST to lose weight it silly to me. It's a diet that has to be done with your heart.. I would imagine that if you do it just to lose weight, you will get sick of it and it will be yet another fad diet... Veganism isn't a fad, it isn't a diet, it's a lifestyle. Thank you

MarilynBusy ForCharities
5 years ago

People who eat the Mediterranean diet...and a lot of people who eat meat, are very careful about what they eat, and just because they eat fish and some meat...doesn't mean they eat red meat or too much junk food.

I know plenty of obese vegans, and plenty of thin omnivores who are very conscious about what they eat...as am I...and eat only locally raised meat in small amounts.
NO factory farmed meats with hormones or antibiotics.

Generalizing is worthless, and categorizing is divisive.

Ra Sc
Ra Sc5 years ago

There are probably three main factors. One, it's harder to get vegetarian or vegan junk food. Two, people who are vegetarian or vegan think more and care more about their diet, so they also tend to avoid other unhealthy foods even when they are vegetarian/vegan (because you can find stuff that's terrible for you and also vegetarian). Third, red meat is actually bad for you - although there are plenty of good for you foods (like fish) that are not vegetarian or vegan.

If you want a healthful diet, decrease your intake of sugar, heavily processed foods, red meat and non-whole grains. Increase your intake of fruits and non-starchy vegetables (starchy vegetables like potatoes are fine in moderation, but when they say to eat more vegetables they mean things like spinach, broccoli, bell peppers, etc.). You can do that and be vegetarian, vegan, or a meat eater. You can fail to do that and be any of those too.