A calorie is a unit of energy in food. Simple. But confusion about “plant-based calories” continues: Are calories and how they work any different on a plant-based diet? In January, Veestro partially answered that in “Seven Ways Plants Help You Lose Weight.” Now, we’ll dig deeper into common concerns about calories and deriving them from plants.
1. Are calories different on a plant-based diet?
Shakespeare might have written “a calorie by any other name would burn as sweet,” because calories from any source serve the same purpose and in varying amounts; think low-cal leafy greens vs. high-cal plant foods with natural sugars (dates) or fats (avocado oil). And while a calorie is a calorie, plants help you process calories and nutrients efficiently.
2. Will I get enough energy from plants?
Switching to a plant-based diet, some people complain they’ve lost energy and feel tired. This can be tied to protein intake. Vegans get 10% to 12% of their calories from protein, compared to non-vegans’ 14% to 18%. So, add protein-rich foods to the menu. A common myth is “a plant diet is too low in protein,” which Veestro dispels in an article proving plant protein is plentiful and healthier than non-veg sources.
For good energy, you also need a well-balanced diet of vitamins and minerals. For example, the magnesium in lentils and pumpkin seeds breaks down glucose into energy. Natural sugars in fruits boost energy, without spiking your blood-sugar levels like refined sugar can. Even fiber in vegetables and whole grains helps by slowing down sugar absorption to sustain energy.
3. Do I need to count calories?
The calories you need depend on your health, age, sex, size, and activity level – roughly 2,500 a day for men, 2,000 for women. Overall, plants contain fewer calories than non-veg diets high in fat and carbs. A study by Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, found vegans eat 363 fewer calories a day and exhibit an 11% higher resting metabolic rate. Compelled to calorie-count? Catch this list of foods with corresponding calories and nutrients.
4. Will I lose weight?
Thanks to reduced calories and fat in most plant foods and burning calories more efficiently, many people lose weight going vegan (unless they overindulge in high-calorie plant foods). Vegetarian Times reports that a low-fat, plant-based diet creates greater sensitivity to insulin, pushing nutrients into the cells to burn as body heat instead of storing as fat.Plus, a mega-study found participants lost an average 10 pounds over 44 weeks simply by switching to plant-based – without exercising!
5. Will I still feel hungry?
The beauty of plants is their organic energy, nutrient density, and sheer variety, with no “empty calories.” Solid fats and added sugars are empty, zero-nutrient foods. When the body lacks a vitamin or mineral, it can spike insulin and set up cravings that lead to overeating and weight-gain. But, nutrient-dense foods maintain blood-sugar levels and enable your brain to signal to your stomach that you’re full and satisfied.
With temptations for fast food around every corner, it takes some effort to stay focused on healthy eating. Still concerned about calories? Try new plant-based, low-cal recipes. Or, venture into Veestro’s vegan home delivery for low-cal delights like Eggplant Casserole, Quinoa Soup, and this writer’s favorite juice: Power of the Tropics!
Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, “Protein in the Vegan Diet,” The Vegetarian Resource Group
“Nutrition IQ: Foods to Boost Energy,” Vegetarian Times