Simon Hill is an expert on Chris Hemsworth’s new health and fitness app Centr. Follow him on Instagram @plant_proof and check out the Centr app @centrfit. If you’re looking for some delicious plant-based recipes and advice, make sure to check out Chris Hemsworth’s brand new health and wellness program Centr.
Have you gone vegan expecting to improve your health and drop some pounds – only to find that you’re actually gaining weight? Despair not! While a large body of research has proven that on average vegans have a lower percentage of body fat compared to others, the truth is, if you are replacing the animal protein and fats with large amounts of refined carbohydrates, processed oils, vegan junk food and smoothies packed with nut butters, you’re unlikely to see any benefits on the scale.
Here are four reasons you may be gaining weight on a vegan diet, and helpful tips you can implement to make sure your vegan diet is optimal for your health and your weight.
#1: You’re eating an abundance of vegan junk food
With the rise in popularity of a vegan diet, food manufacturers have worked hard to keep up: more than ever before, food products that contain no animal products are slowly but surely filling up shelves in supermarkets. While it’s great to see the power consumers have in shifting food manufacturers to a more conscious food environment, the truth is that these products often have just as much added sugar, fat or refined carbohydrates, and calories as their conventional counterpart. A vegan brownie may seem like a healthier choice, but it could potentially have just as many calories, sugar and fat as the version with butter and eggs.
It’s important to understand that a vegan diet is not necessarily synonymous with a whole food plant-based diet, which instead focuses on unrefined grains, vegetables, fruits and plant proteins while shying away from added sugars, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates. Not only do these foods come packed with fibre, nutrients and vitamins, they also tend to be significantly less calorie dense compared to animal foods, although there are some exceptions. Make sure your diet is mostly made up of whole food plant-based options that are lower in calories and will keep you feeling full for longer, rather than mock meats and vegan treats.
#2: Your portion control has gone out the window
Going vegan can trick us into believing that just because a food contains no animal products, it must have little or no calories. It is not uncommon for some of us to think that because plant-based foods are health-promoting, we can eat unlimited amounts of nuts, grains, seeds and sweet potatoes. In reality, some vegan foods (although incredibly healthy) such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, dates, coconut yogurt, avocado, and grains, can be highly calorie dense. It’s important to recognize that just because a food is vegan, it is not a free pass to overindulge.
If you’re eating many calorie dense foods throughout the day, it’s important to recognize that while they may be healthy, this does not mean they are low-calorie foods. Therefore, if you’re struggling with losing weight, it’s best to eat calorie-dense plant-based foods in moderation, and to always keep in mind the importance of balanced portion sizes.
#3: You’re cooking with a lot of oil
Cooking with oil can really make food more flavoursome in a way that cooking with water sometimes just can’t compete with. However, it’s important to keep in mind that at 9 calories per gram, fats and oils have a high-calorie density, so liberal use in cooking and salad dressings can quickly add up. Foods that provide healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocados and olives, with olive oil being one of the healthiest oils that provide antioxidants as well as flavour. Fat-soluble vitamins are also important, so we shouldn’t be trying to cut fat out of a vegan eating plan, but just be aware that over-consumption can push calorie intake up pretty quickly.
If you’re someone who often cooks with an abundance of oil, this might be the culprit behind your weight gain. Try using as little oil as possible and be mindful that with every tablespoon of oil used, you’re adding 120 calories to your daily calorie intake. If you are using oil, opt for extra virgin olive oil and stick to between 1-2 tsp of oil per person for cooking or dressings where necessary. When it comes to dressings, try using alternate ingredients like avocado, coconut milk, yoghurt, miso or tahini, mixed with a range of vinegars or lemon juice.
#4: You’re sipping calorie-dense smoothies (and not feeling full afterwards)
Smoothies are a quick and convenient way of delivering key nutrients to people who need easy starts to their busy mornings. Unlike juicing, blending fruits and vegetables preserves the original fibre and phytonutrients making it a healthier and more filling option. As a result, they are already some of our most popular recipes on Centr.
However, it’s important to be mindful of how many calories you may actually be sipping on. For example, there is a stark difference in calories between a green smoothie with spinach, berries and plant milk compared to a peanut butter-laden banana smoothie with oats and dates, which may have just as many calories as a complete meal. Because the calories in a smoothie can be consumed so quickly, they could potentially undermine our body’s ability to register how many calories we’ve ingested and can lead to overeating. Overall, it’s always best to make your own, and not rely on bottled smoothies meaning you can also avoid processed sugars and fats in quantities you can’t control.
If you enjoy incorporating smoothies during your day as a snack, make sure you’re aware of how many calories you’re consuming. If you are going to consume a calorie-dense smoothie, make sure to sip slowly so that your body has the time to register how many calories you’re drinking. Where possible, try and chew your food as this will encourage slower consumption and mindful eating – subsequently helping to prevent over-consumption of calories.
Overall, the reason you might be gaining weight comes down to the basic principles of energy balance. If you consume more calories than you are burning, you are in a position to gain weight. That’s why when I was creating some of the plant-based recipes for Chris Hemsworth’s health and fitness app Centr, I worked hard to ensure that the recipes would be easy-to-make nutrient-dense meals with whole food ingredients that would keep users full and satisfied throughout the day. If you want to lose weight, ultimately it comes down to reducing your caloric intake below your daily energy requirements, performing more exercise, or a combination of both.