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Ask the RD: Alison Ozgur
August 4, 2012
Alison is a Registered Dietitian specializing in health and fitness nutrition. She has nearly twelve years of experience helping clients reach their nutrition and weight loss goals and is the co-author of Go Beyond Good: The Trail to a Lifetime of Health and Vitality. Do you have a question for Alison? Email us at info@nwveg.org.

Q. My friend has been following a vegan diet for over a year and hasn’t lost any weight. Aren’t eliminating animal-based foods supposed to help?
A. Eliminating animal based foods from your diet sets you on the path towards better health, disease prevention, increase energy, and weight management. That being said, it’s important to note that a “vegan” diet may not necessarily indicate a healthy diet. There are many vegan foods that are high in fat, sugar, sodium, and calories. If someone overindulges in such foods, then yes, weight loss will be a challenge.

For optimal health, the focus should be on following a plant-based whole foods diet. The calorie density chart below highlights foods in yellow that are high in nutrients but relatively low in calories. When you eat foods with a calorie density of around 500 calories or less per pound, most people can eat until they are full and still lose weight. Be cautious with processed grains like pasta and bread.

Food Calories Per Pound
Fresh Veggies 100
Fresh Fruit 250-300
Starchy Veggies 350-450
Whole Grains 500
Bean & Legumes 550-600
Chicken, Cow, Pig, Fish 750-1000
Processed Grains 1200-1500
Nuts/Seeds 2400-2800
Refined Sugar 1700-2000
Oil About 4000

Q. I have had a positive experience with a mostly plant-based diet, and I’d like to make the jump to 100%; but I haven’t found any evidence for long-term thriving (over generations) or an entire lifetime without animal products being healthier than other healthy eating styles.
A. In his book Healthy at 100, author John Robbins explores four different cultures with the world’s healthiest and oldest people. Among these varied populations, the intake of highly refined/processed, high-sugar, excess-calorie, or hydrogenated foods was nonexistent. Researchers who conducted the Okinawa Centenarian Study (OCS) concluded that diet played a profound role in health. The diets of the world’s exceptionally healthy and long lived peoples have much in common:
  • They are all low (by Western standards) in overall calories.
  • They are all high in good carbohydrates, including plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
  • They are all “whole foods” diets, with very little (if any) processed or refined foods, sugar, corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavors, or other chemicals.
  • They all depend on fresh foods, eating primarily what is in season and locally grown rather than relying on canned foods or foods shipped long distances.
  • They are all low (though not super-low) in fat, and the fats come from natural sources, including seeds and nuts, rather than from bottled oils, margarines, or saturated animal fats.
  • They all derive their protein primarily from plant sources, including beans, peas, whole grains, seeds, and nuts.

The authors of the OCS also note that Okinawan elders of both genders “have remarkable mental clarity even over the age of one hundred.” In addition, Robbins studied three other cultures (the Abkhasians, the Vilcabambans, and the Hunzans), with a decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Robbins states, “Study after study is finding that a whole-foods plant-based diet built on fresh vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is good for brain function and dramatically lowers the incidence of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.”

Since 1958 the Adventist Health Studies have also been exploring the link between lifestyle, diet, and disease. Their key results and findings can be found at www.llu.edu. [Editor's note: results from the Adventist Health Studies will be presented in Portland on September 21st at the Northwest VEG health conference: "Enhancing Health with Plant-Based Nutrition"] Another great resource that reports on all nutritional studies and data is Dr. Michael Greger’s website.

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