6 Possible Effects of Going Vegan

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

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People test out a vegan lifestyle of eating, meaning a meat-, egg-, 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," Shilpa Ravella, MD, gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, told Health. 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 told Health.

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

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," Jennifer Mimkha, RD, registered dietitian and owner of Prana Nutrition, told Health. That may be at least partially because many plant sources of protein are lower in calories than meat, Natalie Rizzo, RD, a New York-based registered dietician, told Health.

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, told Health 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 simple carbs instead of complex carbs like potatoes and brown rice—you could gain 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.

Evolving Taste Buds and Cravings

According to research, you might experience a taste bud transformation if you go on a vegan diet. "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," said Dr. Ravella.

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 partook in vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore diets for at least 12 months before the study. The participants were given taste tests of different compounds representing sweet, bitter, salty, metallic, umami, and sour tastes.

The authors noted research that 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 vegan participants 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.

Further, an October 2022 study of 123 people published in Physiology & Behavior found that eating a vegan diet could change your taste perceptions. Vegans in the study found salty and sweet flavors to be more intense than their omnivorous counterparts did.

More Energy

It's possible you'll feel a boost in your energy when switching to a plant-focused, vegan way of eating. "I noticed an increase in my energy level immediately," said Mimkha. "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," explained Messina.

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, said Rizzo.

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," said Mimkha.

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 increased hydration and brightness and decreased scaliness and wrinkles.

Vitamin Imbalances

If you are eating a well-rounded diet diverse in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and more, you're likely to get the vitamins your need through diet alone. However, as good as a vegan diet can be for your health, there is a potential for certain vitamin deficiencies, especially in B12, said Dr. Eytan. It is recommended that people who eat a plant-focused diet take a B12 supplement."Omega-3 fatty acids may also be deficient in a vegan diet, though [they] can be found in flax seeds and walnuts," added Dr. Eytan.

Talk to your healthcare provider 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, suggested Dr. Eytan.

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements.

A Microbiome Makeover

The bacteria inside your gut can greatly impact 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, said Dr. Ravella, 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," added Dr. Ravella.

Other Things to Consider About Switching to a Vegan Diet

There's the potential that you may find it challenging 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. Some might be fine with making accommodations at the table and when you all go out to eat; others might not. You might also have those who may join you in your vegan diet journey.

Ultimately, if you think 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.

A Quick Review

You're likely to notice changes if you decide to go vegan and abstain from non-plant foods. If you stick with healthy food choices, you'll likely lose weight and snack less. You may also see improvements in your skin and energy levels. Just make sure to get enough of all the vitamins and minerals you need, especially B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, which can be lacking in vegan diets.

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