Do you think you could go without meat for a week? How about eggs, milk, and butter, too? That means no more burgers—not even the bun.
Some people do this every day, all day long. Only 2 percent of Americans consider themselves vegan, according to a 2012 Gallup poll—perhaps because it’s no easy feat to complete. You can’t eat anything that comes from an animal including milk and eggs. Plus, the diet comes with risks: Cut out entire categories of food like meat and dairy, and you eliminate the nutrients they provide, too—like muscle-building amino acids or bone-strengthening calcium—says Men’s Health nutrition expert Alan Aragon.
But done right, there are bountiful benefits of a produce-heavy diet like the one vegans swear by. So no matter your food habits, here are a few tricks you can steal from these ultimate dieters.
What vegans know: Eat less, feel fuller.
What you can do: Stock your diet with food dense in vitamins, minerals, and fiber—it’ll help control your hunger-inducing hormone, ghrelin. “You can eat white bread all day to fill your stomach, but you won’t stay that way for long because there are fewer nutrients in it to keep you satiated,” says Brendan Brazier, Ironman triathlete and author of Thrive Foods. Feeling fuller on fewer calories helps you lose weight, too: Only 9.4 percent of vegans are obese, compared to 33.3 of meat eaters, according to a Loma Linda University study. Don’t forget whole grains fortified with protein, like quinoa or buckwheat. They offer the most nutrients at a low calorie cost, according to the American College of Nutrition.
What vegans know: Variety is the spice of life.
What you can do: People who eat a large selection ofdifferent types of fruits and vegetables see more health benefits from high levels of antioxidants than those who stick to only a few kinds, according to a study published in the American Journal for Biomedical Sciences. “Not only can you fight existing stress from air pollutants and preservatives, but by eating more foods high in antioxidants, you can also proactively protect your body before it sustains any damage,” suggests Prior. In the winter, Brazier recommends different types of squash and seasonal green vegetables, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
What vegans know: Cutting back on meat won’t kill you.
What you can do: The vegan diet could prevent or weaken symptoms of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to recent research. Vegan men were also found to have decreased artery stiffness—a precursor for heart disease—in comparison to their meat-eating counterparts, a Kings College London study found. You don’t have to give meat up entirely, though. After all, small servings of lean red meat have been linked to lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent. Bottom line: Choose lean cuts of beef most of the time, which will help you control calories, cut down on processed meats, and wrap it all up in an all-around healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, Aragon says.