6 Possible Effects of Going Vegan

Know what to expect before you give up on meat and dairy.

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People test out a vegan lifestyle of eating, meaning a meat- and dairy-free diet, for ethical and environmental reasons—and for their health.

"I think there are compelling benefits to whole food, plant-based diets, which is why I do recommend this type of diet for many patients," said Shilpa Ravella, MD, gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. Among those health benefits are a reduced risk of chronic diseases and possible weight loss.

But before you put down your grilled cheese and say goodbye to all of your favorite chicken recipes, be warned: It won't necessarily be easy. "Vegan diets are restrictive and can be difficult to follow for people who grew up eating animal products regularly," board-certified endocrinologist Shira Eytan, MD pointed out.

Here are some potential things to expect when going on a vegan diet.

01 of 07

Weight Changes

"Many clients tell me they are surprised by how easy it was to lose weight once they transitioned to a fully plant-based diet," said Jennifer Mimkha, RD, registered dietitian and owner of Prana Nutrition. That may be at least partially because many plant sources of protein are lower in calories than meat, said Natalie Rizzo, RD, a New York-based registered dietician.

It's not always easy to eat as a vegan, and while that might be frustrating when you want to grab a bite on the go, it has the side effect of eliminating mindless snacking. For instance, Virginia Messina, RD, a nutrition instructor at Central Michigan University who has been a vegan for over 25 years, said that when she goes to a grocery store, she usually can't partake of tempting, unhealthy samples because they nearly always contain meat or dairy.

Any weight effects you experience when you go vegan will depend on how you eat. If you opt for vegan junk food—or totally overdo it on carbs in place of meat and dairy—you could wind up gaining weight. Make balanced, healthy choices, and you could see weight loss, particularly if your pre-vegan diet was full of saturated fats and processed foods.

02 of 07

Evolving Taste Buds and Cravings

"We have evidence to back up the idea that even if you go a few weeks without junk foods and animal products high in salt, fat, and sugar, your tastes start to change," Dr. Ravella said.

Additionally, you may be more sensitive to certain tastes if you switch to vegan choices. Researchers of a November 2021 Foods study compared the taste sensitivities of those who had partook in vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore diets for at least 12 months before the study. The participants were given taste tests of different compounds that represented sweet, bitter, salty, metallic, umami, and sour tastes.

The authors noted research which indicated that those who consumed a lot of something in their diet (e.g., fats) would have a low sensitivity to the highly consumed foods. They found that participants who were vegan were less sensitive to the salty and metallic compounds—and vegan diets have been associated with high levels of minerals such as copper, sodium, and iron, according to a May 2021 Clinical Nutrition review.

Thus, it's possible that you might experience a tastebud transformation if you go on a vegan diet.

03 of 07

More Energy

"I noticed an increase in my energy level immediately," Mimkha said. "My morning cup of coffee was all I needed to keep me energized throughout the day, whereas [before] I would typically head for a second cup by 1 p.m."

However, the connection between veganism and energy is unclear. "We don't have real science to show that people actually have more energy when they go vegan," Messina explained.

Instead, the increased energy may be the result of a healthier diet overall, especially if going vegan means you're avoiding sugary treats and processed foods, since those set you on a path of blood sugar spikes and crashes, Rizzo said.

04 of 07

Glowing Complexion

Going vegan has the potential of boosting healthier skin. "I've suffered from skin issues my whole life, and it's never looked better since going plant-based," Mimkha said.

Researchers of a March 2022 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics "found that the consumption of colorful fruits and vegetables abundant in vitamins, carotenoids, anthocyanins, and polyphenols is indicated for skin health and esthetics." (Carotenoids, anthocyanins, and polyphenols all protect the body against issues like inflammation.)

The study indicated that the skin benefits included aspects such as increased hydration and brightness and decreased scaliness and wrinkles.

05 of 07

Vitamin Imbalances

As good as a vegan diet can be for your health, there is a potential for vitamin deficiencies, especially in B12, Dr. Eytan said. "Omega-3 fatty acids may also be deficient in a vegan diet, though [they] can be found in flax seeds and walnuts."

Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist who can help determine whether or not you should consider taking supplements to replace these missing nutrients, along with iron, zinc, and calcium, Dr. Eytan added.

06 of 07

A Microbiome Makeover

The bacteria inside your gut can have a big impact on your health, especially when it comes to your digestion, immune system, and metabolism. A standard American diet fosters the growth of some disease-promoting bacteria, Dr. Ravella said, while a more fiber-rich diet leads to a diverse microbiome full of friendly bacteria.

Switching to a fiber-rich vegan diet results in rapid changes to your gut bacteria. "After only a couple of days, if you switch someone from a meat-based to a plant-based diet, or vice-versa, you get profound changes in the microbiome," Dr. Ravella added.

07 of 07

Other Things to Consider About Switching to a Vegan Diet

There's the potential that you may find it difficult to stick to all the guidelines of a vegan diet initially. Sometimes all the details of a new diet might not click until you're in the thick of it—even if you're an otherwise informed, capable cook and meal planner.

You might also get mixed reactions from family and friends regarding your change in food choices where they might be fine with making accommodations at the table and when you all go out to eat—or not. You might also have those who may join you in your vegan diet journey too.

Ultimately, if you think that a vegan diet is something you want to try, it's always a good idea to consult your healthcare provider to determine if the diet is right for you.

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