A new study has found that a low-fat vegan diet could contribute to better overall health. The study followed just under 250 people for four months. Over the four months, people in the vegan group lost weight, upped their insulin resistance, and lost fat.

The study was conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). The PCRM is a nonprofit dedicated to nutritional research. The PRCM supports a plant-based diet and researches preventive medicine. This study authors wanted to see if a low-fat vegan diet could affect insulin sensitivity and fat storage in the body, specifically in the muscles and liver, enough to cause changes in overall health and weight loss.

The study

The people in the study averaged in their 50s, and most of them were women, although the groups were fairly equally split between white and Black participants. All of the participants were overweight, and all were asked not to change their exercise habits during the study, only their diets. Although the researchers found that both groups, vegan and not vegan, exercised a little more and ate a little less.

The group that adopted a vegan diet lost, on average, 14 pounds over the four months. They also saw drops in their cholesterol levels and lost body fat.

A subgroup of participants in both group had their liver fat screened; only those in the vegan diet group saw a reduction in liver fat. Fat inside the liver can predispose someone to develop fatty liver disease and liver cancer, so seeing a reduction was a good thing, even in a limited sample size.

People in the vegan group also improved their insulin sensitivity. According to the NIH, “ In the most common form of diabetes, type 2, cells lose their sensitivity to insulin.” Increasing insulin sensitivity could lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

High fiber magic

So, what magic effect did the vegan diet have? One advantage is that a vegan diet includes lots of high fiber, low calorie foods. This means people can eat more while consuming fewer calories. The researchers also explained that a low-fat vegan diet would increase the “ thermic effect of food” the amount of energy it actually takes to digest food.

By week 16, people in the vegan diet group ate an average of around 1,300 calories a day. This is a low-calorie diet for most adults. The Mayo Clinic's own diet plan promises a loss of 6-10 lbs in two weeks following a plan of 1,200 calories a day. So, although other health markers showed the benefits of the diet, like insulin and liver fat, eating fewer calories will result in weight loss, regardless of where those calories come from.

Take away

Should you go vegan? Well, there is vegan, and then there is vegan. In the study, the participants ate “vegetables, grains, legumes, and fruits without animal products or added fats." But, and it's a big but, many processed foods like Oreos, potato chips, gummy candies, and even Toast-Yay, a new flavor of Girl Scout Cookies, are all vegan. A vegan diet can mean a wide range of things and simply cutting out meat, eggs, and dairy may not be the key to fast weight loss.

The researchers, however, concluded that this low-fat vegan diet could be a good treatment option for overweight adults. As with all contemplated changes, people who are serious about losing weight and making big dietary changes should consult a doctor.