A vegan diet may be healthy and ethical, but it can pack on pounds if you’re not careful
A vegan diet, the more restrictive cousin of a vegetarian diet (no meat or dairy), is becoming increasingly popular, with vegan restaurants popping up across the country and lines of packaged vegan foods showing up on grocery store shelves. While this eating style is often naturally lower in fat and calories than the average American diet, due to its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, going vegan doesn’t guarantee weight loss. In fact, it could actually cause weight gain if you’re not careful, according to Rachel Begun, MSRD, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“No matter what dietary plan you follow, whether or not it’s healthy or good for weight loss depends on nutritional value, portion sizes, and overall calorie intake,” she says. Here are five foods common in a vegan diet that have the potential to pack on pounds.
These are a popular item in vegan cafes, especially since getting adequate protein on a vegan diet can be a concern. Generally made from fruit, soy milk, and a vegan source of protein powder, these drinks are healthy. The problem is size.
“I’ve seen these served in massive cups, which is especially problematic if you’re drinking one of these as a snack,” Bergun says. “The calories can rack up quickly.”
As far as calorie-dense health foods go, granola tops the list: According to Begun, a mere quarter cup can set you back more than 200 calories. While the nuts and dried fruits in granola are healthy, think of it more as a meal enhancement (sprinkled over soy yogurt or on top of apple slices with peanut butter) rather than a meal.
Generally made with soy protein or bean paste, these are certainly better than your average potato chip, especially since the fiber in bean-based chips can help promote feelings of fullness. But as the saying goes, you can’t eat just one! If this is your go-to afternoon snack, it’s easy to mindlessly munch your way through the entire bag. A better choice: vegan kale chips, though even those can have added flavors, as well as salt that can up calorie content. Just be sure to keep your portions in check.
This tropical tree nut is a mainstay of vegan eating and very high in saturated fat, the type that can increase bad cholesterol, as well as calories. It’s used as cooking oil, as a creamy base for soups and stews, and as a non-dairy ice-cream alternative. And with good reason—it’s delicious! But just like cooking with cream and butter, it should be used judiciously, not as an everyday food source. Plus, there’s no evidence proving that this type of saturated fat is any healthier than the type found in animal products.
Finally (and sadly), vegan cupcakes, cookies, muffins, cakes, and pies can have just as much fat, sugar (and even artificial ingredients), and calories as their butter- and cream-laden counterparts, Bergun says. Treat these like you would any indulgence. In moderation.