Weight Control the Vegan Way

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
Recipes by Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD

Rates of overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Nearly two-thirds of adults weigh more than they should. Many factors, including our more sedentary lifestyle, food advertising, and the easy availability of food, have been identified as contributing to the problem. While studies frequently find that vegetarians tend to be leaner than non-vegetarians and that vegans are leaner than lacto-ovo vegetarians, these results do not mean that all, or even most, vegans are lean. Vegans struggle with the same food-related issues that non-vegetarians do.

This article was written to provide suggestions for vegans, or people who are interested in following a vegan diet, who want to lose weight. The weight loss plan is designed for non-pregnant adults. If you have a medical condition such as kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure, please consult your health care professional to make sure these ideas will work for you.

Vegan diets offer some advantages for those who want to lose weight. For example, they tend to be high in fiber that can provide a feeling of fullness. High fiber diets also help with constipation and other digestive problems. In addition, vegan diets don’t rely on fatty meats and dairy products as protein sources. Instead, they focus on beans, whole grains, soy products, and other foods of which everyone should be eating more. The advantage of such a diet is that it not only can help with weight control, but it can also reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer.

When thinking about a weight control diet, the formula isn’t magic. If you eat fewer calories than you use up—whether they come from protein, fat, or carbohydrate—you’ll lose weight. Remember energy balance. Your body expends energy every day, whether you sit at a desk, walk, or swim. Of course, the amount of energy you expend depends on the types of activities in which you engage. Every time you eat, you take in energy. Both the energy you expend and the energy you ingest are measured in calories. If you take in roughly the same number of calories as you expend, your weight remains stable. If you take in more calories than you expend, you gain weight; conversely, if you expend more calories than you take in, you lose weight. If you want to lose weight, some combination of taking in fewer calories and increasing activity is the way to go.

The first step in this weight loss plan is to think about your daily activities. The eating plans in this article were developed for people who are moderately active, spending 30-60 minutes daily in moderate physical activity. If you are less active, think of ways to increase your activity. Maybe a brisk walk after lunch and dinner would work, or perhaps getting up 30 minutes earlier to work out with an aerobics video or take a daily bike ride. Once you decide on one or more activities that are practical for you, focus on these for at least a week without making any changes to your diet. See if they really are feasible. If they’re not, try something else. Find what works well for you. Please note that older adults and those with a history of chronic diseases should consult with a health care provider before starting a vigorous exercise program.

Once increased activity is a part of your routine, you can begin to make dietary changes. This article features two eating plans. The first has approximately 1,500 calories and is designed for most women who want to lose 1-2 pounds per week. The second has about 1,900 calories and is designed for most men who want to lose 1-2 pounds per week. One to two pounds per week is a safe rate of weight loss that is more likely to be maintained.

Tips for Following a Vegan Weight-Control Diet

  1. Identify situations in which you tend to overeat and think of coping strategies for these times. If you snack when you’re bored, try taking a walk or calling a friend instead.
  2. Eat breakfast. You’ll be less tempted to have a high-calorie snack mid-morning.
  3. Don’t keep tempting foods around your house or workplace. If you must have them for family members or co-workers, put them out of sight.
  4. Eat a variety of filling, low-calorie foods, such as fresh vegetables.
  5. Keep track of portion sizes.
  6. Try not to get discouraged. If you overeat one day, go back to your eating plan the next day. You’re in it for long-term health.
  7. Be physically active.
  8. Take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplements to be sure you’re meeting your needs when you’re on a lower-calorie diet.

The eating plans feature five food groups: protein foods, grains, vegetables, fruits, and fats. Each eating plan specifies how many servings from each food group you should have each day. It’s up to you to decide how best to distribute these food groups. A sample menu has been included to get you started.

The protein foods group includes a variety of items that provide protein but also iron, zinc, and other vitamins and minerals. Foods in this group include kidney beans, chickpeas, and other beans; tofu; lite or plain soymilk; nuts and nut butters; seitan; and meat analogs.

The grains group contains breads, breakfast cereals, rice, quinoa, and pasta. This group provides some protein as well as carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Try to have at least half of your servings from this group be whole grains; whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and oatmeal are good choices.

The vegetable group includes both raw and cooked vegetables. This group is especially high in disease-fighting antioxidants and fiber.

The fruit group includes raw, cooked, canned, and frozen fruit, as well as fruit juices. Fruit is much more filling than juice, so choose fruit rather than fruit juice from this group as often as possible.

The fats group consists mainly of plant-based oils, as well as some higher-fat foods like avocados and olives. Because of their fat content, nuts and nut butters should be counted in both the protein foods group and the fats group. Don’t be tempted to skip this group. Our meal plan was designed to be relatively low in fat. The fats that are included will help make meals more satisfying, so you’re not as likely to become hungry between meals. Also, depending on the fats chosen, this group can supply vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are essential.

Lowfat Foods To Meet Your Nutritional Needs

Protein Foods

6 servings per day for women;
7 for men
Each of the following equals one serving:
  • 1/2 cup cooked dried beans, peas, or soybeans*
  • 1/2 cup tofu
  • 1/2 cup calcium-set tofu* (containing 10 percent or more of the Daily Value [DV] in a ½ cup serving)
  • ¼ cup tempeh
  • 1 cup calcium-fortified soymilk** (Count as two starred food items.)
  • ¼ cup almonds* or other nuts (Also count as two servings from the fats group.)
  • 2 Tablespoons peanut butter, tahini*, almond butter*, or other nut/seed butter (Also count as two servings from the fats group.)
  • 1-1/2 ounces deli slices or 1 veggie burger or dog
  • 6 ounces calcium-fortified soy yogurt** (Count as two starred food items.)
  • 2 ounces seitan


At least 2 servings per day for women;
at least 3 servings per day for men
  • A serving is 1 cup cooked or 2 cups raw vegetables.
  • A serving of broccoli, bok choy, collards, kale, okra, and mustard greens can also be counted as one starred food item.
  • Limit higher calorie vegetables like corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and peas to 2 servings per day.


2 servings per day for women;
3 servings per day for men
  • A serving is 1 medium piece of fresh fruit or 1/2 cup cooked, canned, or frozen fruit without sugar, or 1/4 cup dried fruit, or 1/2 cup fruit juice.
  • A serving of calcium-fortified juice can also be counted as one starred food item.


6 servings per day for women;
8 for men
Each of the following equals one serving:
  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 pancake, waffle, muffin, biscuit, or tortilla
  • ½ bagel or English muffin
  • ¾ cup cold breakfast cereal (Choose cereals low in added sugar.) (If calcium-fortified cereal is chosen, count as two starred food items.)
  • ½ cup cooked cereal
  • ½ cup rice, barley, bulgur, pasta, or other grains


5 servings per day
Each of the following equals one serving:
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or vegan soft margarine
  • 2 teaspoons vegan mayonnaise or salad dressing
  • 1 Tablespoon soy cream cheese or gravy
  • 2 Tablespoons avocado
  • 8 large olives

Foods that can be used as desired include fat-free broth, seltzer, coffee, tea, herb teas, mustard, ketchup, vinegar, lemon juice, fat-free and low-calorie salad dressing, spices, and herbs.

Note: Starred foods are good calcium sources. Choose these as part of your daily menu to help meet your calcium needs.

Vegan diets can be low in calcium, depending on food choices. To help you choose foods that supply calcium, foods in almost every group are starred. If you are under age 51, choose at least eight starred items as part of your daily menu. Those 51 and older should strive for at least 10 starred items daily.

Vegans should also be aware of good sources of vitamin B12 and vitamin D. At least three good food sources of vitamin B12 should be included in your diet every day. These include 1 Tablespoon of Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast, 1 cup fortified soymilk, 1 ounce fortified breakfast cereal, or 1-1/2 ounces fortified meat analogs. If these foods are not eaten regularly, a vitamin B12 supplement providing 5-10 micrograms daily or 2,000 micrograms weekly should be used. Vitamin D needs can be met through sunlight exposure, by choosing foods fortified with vitamin D such as some brands of soymilk and orange juice, or by using a vitamin D supplement.

If you find you are losing weight very rapidly—more than 1-2 pounds per week—or feeling very hungry, add a few more calories with another serving or two of grains, vegetables, or fruits daily. If you’re not able to lose weight, you may need to discuss your diet further with a registered dietitian who can fine-tune this plan to meet your specific needs.

Think of your new activity and eating plan as a gift to yourself. Even small changes can go a long way towards improved health.

Sample Menu

The number of servings or additional foods for men, if different from those for women, are in parentheses. The sample menu contains approximately 1,500 calories for women and 1,900 calories for men.



  • 2 whole wheat tortillas filled with 1 cup kidney beans and ¼ cup avocado; salsa, chopped tomatoes, and lettuce as desired
  • Steamed kale with 1 teaspoon flax oil
  • 1 cup calcium-fortified soymilk



  • 1 cup calcium-fortified soymilk
  • ¾ cup unsweetened breakfast cereal
  • (½ cup blueberries)

Recipe Index

Spinach-Onion Dip

(Makes eight 1/4-cup servings)

Use this recipe as a dip for cut vegetables, as a salad dressing, or as a sandwich spread. It can last up to four days in the refrigerator if covered.

  • 1-¼ cups thawed frozen chopped spinach
  • 2 Tablespoons dry vegetable soup mix
  • 1 cup lite silken tofu
  • ¼ cup mashed avocado
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ cup chopped canned water chestnuts, drained
  • 1 Tablespoon minced fresh scallions
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Squeeze spinach until very dry and place in a medium bowl. Stir in the soup mix. Add remaining ingredients and mix to combine. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Total calories per serving: 40 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 4 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 47 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Spicy Creamy Sauce

(Makes four 1/4-cup servings)

Use this recipe as a vegetable dip, as a cold sauce for cooked vegetables or rice, or in place of sour cream in spicy dishes.

  • ¾ cup lite silken tofu
  • ¼ cup prepared salsa
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
  • ⅛ teaspoon hot sauce

In a small bowl combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.

Total calories per serving: 23 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 2 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 117 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram

Oven-Roasted Salsa Tofu

(Serves 4)

This is a simple and unique lowfat entrée.

  • One 16-ounce package lowfat extra firm tofu, drained
  • ¾ cup prepared salsa
  • ¼ cup green bell pepper strips
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper strips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut tofu into 4 equal pieces and place in a baking dish. Cover each tofu piece with salsa. Top with bell pepper strips. Cover and bake for 5 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until salsa is bubbly.

Total calories per serving: 66 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 6 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 334 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Tofu and Snow Pea Stir-Fry

(Serves 4)

Fresh snow peas (edible Chinese pea pods) can be found in Asian markets and some supermarkets.

  • 1 Tablespoon minced bell peppers
  • 1 Tablespoon minced onion
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ cup cold water
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • ¾ cup matchstick-cut fresh carrots
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen snow peas
  • One 16-ounce package lowfat extra firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes

In a cup, combine peppers, onions, soy sauce, yeast, cornstarch, and water. Lightly spray a large frying pan with oil and allow to heat. Add carrots and stir-fry, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes or until just tender. Add snow peas and tofu and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add sauce and stir quickly while cooking over high heat, allowing mixture to heat until bubbly, for approximately 1 minute. Serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 73 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 371 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Seitan L'Orange

(Serves 4)

Seitan is sold in various flavors. Plain or teriyaki-flavored work well with this recipe.

  • One 16-ounce package seitan
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ cup cold water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon orange juice concentrate
  • ½ cup thinly sliced onions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut seitan into 4 equal pieces and place in a baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, yeast, cornstarch, and water. Stir until well combined. Stir in garlic and orange juice concentrate.

Pour mixture over seitan. Top with onions. Cover and bake for 5 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Note: If you prefer, low-sodium soy sauce may be used in this recipe.

Total calories per serving: 251 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 10 grams Protein: 43 grams
Sodium: 204 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Tempeh Cacciatore

(Serves 4)

Tempeh is a fermented soy product that can be found in natural foods stores and some supermarkets.

  • One 12-ounce package tempeh
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato purée
  • ¾ cup canned stewed tomatoes, not drained
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce
  • ½ cup minced onions
  • ½ cup thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons ground garlic

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut tempeh into 4 equal pieces and place in a baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine tomato purée, stewed tomatoes, and tomato sauce and mix well. Add remaining ingredients to tomato mixture and stir to combine. Pour mixture over tempeh. Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until mixture is bubbly.

Total calories per serving: 201 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 16 grams Protein: 17 grams
Sodium: 239 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Baked Pears

(Serves 4)

*Pictured on the cover.

  • 4 small ripe pears
  • ½ cup cream soda or raspberry-flavored sparkling water
  • ½ teaspoon maple extract
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves

Core pears, making sure not to cut completely through the pears. Leave approximately half an inch of the bottom intact so the seasoning will not drain out the bottom. Place pears upright in a microwaveable bowl or plate.

In a small bowl, combine soda, extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Pour over pears, making certain that the spice mixture goes into the core of each pear. Microwave on HIGH for 3-5 minutes or until soft. This time will vary with your microwave and the ripeness of the pears. Serve warm.

Alternate StoveTop method:

Place cored pears in a pot in which all 4 pears can stand up and fit tightly against each other; the pot needs to be deep enough to cover when pears are in it. Pour soda mixture over pears. Cover and cook on medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until pears are soft.

Total calories per serving: 117 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 29 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 4 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Glazed Pineapple

(Serves 4)

To create a ‘showier’ dish, you may use pineapple slices rather than tidbits in this recipe. The glazed slices can be arranged on a serving dish.

  • 1-½ cups canned, packed-in-juice pineapple tidbits, not drained
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons lowfat, nonhydrogenated vegan margarine, cut into small pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon rice syrup

Place pineapple in a 4-cup microwaveable bowl. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla until well combined. Add to pineapple and mix to combine.

Dot pineapple with margarine. Cover and microwave on HIGH for 5 minutes or until bubbly. If your microwave does not have a turntable, stir after 2 minutes. Remove, carefully uncover, and stir in rice syrup. Serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 131 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 21 grams Protein: <1 gram
Sodium: 82 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Pineapple Cake

(Serves 16)

  • 2-¼ cups canned crushed pineapple packed in juice, not drained
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat or unbleached flour
  • ½ cup apple juice concentrate
  • ½ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1 teaspoon dried orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup lite silken tofu
  • Vegetable oil spray

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine all ingredients except the vegetable oil spray. Mix to combine well. Spray a 9" x 13" baking pan or tins to make 16 muffins with oil. Pour in batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Total calories per serving: 111 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 25 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 75 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Banana-Almond Shake

(Serves 1)

  • ½ small, ripe banana (about 1/3 cup)
  • ½ cup nonfat soymilk (e.g. WestSoy brand)
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ cup crushed ice
  • Rice syrup to taste (optional)

Combine the banana, soymilk, extract, and ice in a blender or food processor. Process until mixture is smooth. Sweeten as desired. Serve cold or refrigerate until ready to eat. This recipe can also be served frozen.

Total calories per serving: 101 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 23 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 31 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Orange-Vanilla Smoothie

(Serves 4)

This smoothie is delicious!

  • 1-¼ cups plain or vanilla soy yogurt
  • 4 Tablespoons orange juice concentrate
  • 2 cups lowfat rice milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon fresh orange zest

Place all ingredients in the canister of a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to eat. This recipe can also be frozen to create an icy treat.

Total calories per serving: 148 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 23 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 51 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram

Cool Rice Cream with Fruit

(Serves 4)

Although it takes some time to prepare this dessert, it’s well worth the effort.

  • ¼ cup uncooked long grain white or brown rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon lite silken tofu
  • ½ teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 Tablespoon lowfat vegan soy sour cream
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh or thawed frozen strawberries
  • 1 Tablespoon rice syrup

Place rice in small pot and add water. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes or until rice is tender and water is absorbed. Place rice in a blender or food processor.

Add tofu, zest, and sour cream. Process only to combine. Add strawberries. Process only to combine. The mixture should not be completely smooth.

Pour into a bowl. Stir in rice syrup. Allow mixture to chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. This recipe can also be frozen to create an icy treat.

Total calories per serving: 76 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 10 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, is one of VRG’s Nutrition Advisors. She is the co-author of Simply Vegan and the most recent American Dietetic Association position paper on vegetarian diets.

Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD, CCE, is VRG’s Food Service Advisor. She is the author of Vegan Menu for People with Diabetes and numerous cookbooks.

Additional Information

USDA Super Tracker Figuring Out a Weight Loss Plan