I come from a diet-loving family. There isn’t a diet that someone in my large extended family hasn’t tried at least once. And during 2020, the plant-based diet has been their jam.
The aftereffects have been great for my cousins, some of whom are diabetic, or battling arthritis, or dealing with other conditions. So when a JAMA Network Open study touting the health benefits of a low-fat vegan diet came through my inbox, I was interested.
In full disclosure, I don’t follow a plant-based diet. I was a vegetarian in my 20s and developed severe iron-deficiency anemia. I tend to eat a plant-focused diet, eating meat once or twice a week to keep my iron levels in balance. That’s just me.
Back to the study…
This 16-week randomized clinical trial examined what the effects of a low-fat vegan diet would have on body weight, insulin resistance, post-meal metabolism, and accumulating fat levels in the muscle and liver in overweight adults. (Note: Fat stored in these places tend to be associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.) There were 244 participants with body mass indexes between 20 and 40 who were between the ages of 25 and 75. Half followed a low-fat vegan diet and the control group had no intervention—in other words, they got to eat as they wished.
After the 16 weeks, the control group didn’t see any significant differences in their health markers, but those who ate the vegan diet experienced:
- An average weight loss of 14 pounds
- Their post-meal calorie burn increased 18.7%
- A reduction of the fat inside the liver and muscle cells by 34.4% and 10.4%, respectively
- A decrease in their fasting plasma insulin concentration by 21.6 pmol/L, decreased insulin resistance, and increased insulin sensitivity
- A reduction of total and LDL cholesterol by 19.3 mg/dL and 15.5 mg/dL, respectively
These results led the authors to conclude that a low-fat plant-based diet reduces body weight by reducing caloric intake and increasing post-meal metabolism. The apparent reason for the increased meal after-burn is the increased insulin sensitivity that occurs because there is less fat in the liver and muscles.
This study isn’t surprising and it adds to the body of evidence that has found plant-based or vegan diets have heart health and weight benefits. Anecdotally, it jives with the experiences of my family members who have been following a plant-based diet during the last year.
One final note about this study: it was funded by and many of the researchers are affiliated with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which “is dedicated to saving and improving human and animal lives through plant-based diets and ethical and effective scientific research,” according to their site. This study pushes their mission and vision forward.
Everyone needs to eat in a manner that makes them feel good and be healthy. Right now, that is a plant-based diet for my family, but it could be eating Paleo, pagan, Keto, or whatever the diet du jour is, for you.