Study Suggests Plant-Based Low-Carb Diets May Help with Long-Term Weight Management

by Ella

A recent study published in JAMA Network Open has shed light on the potential benefits of plant-based low-carbohydrate diets for weight management over the long term. While many individuals turn to meat as a replacement when cutting carbohydrates from their diet, researchers found that opting for plant-based foods could lead to less weight gain over time.

Lead author Qi Sun, MD, ScD, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, emphasized that not all low-carbohydrate diets are equal in terms of managing weight in the long term. The study revealed that individuals who heavily relied on animal-based protein in their low-carb diet experienced more weight gain compared to those who prioritized plant-based foods such as non-starchy vegetables and whole grains.


The research involved analyzing data from approximately 123,000 generally healthy medical professionals who participated in ongoing studies starting in the 1970s and 80s. Participants, aged between 25 and 65, adhered to low-carb diets, with over 80% being women and primarily white.


Findings from the study indicated a significant association between slower long-term weight gain and diets emphasizing plant-based foods and healthy carbohydrates and fats. Conversely, diets rich in animal products or refined carbohydrates were linked to weight gain over time, particularly among participants younger than 55, those overweight or obese, or those leading relatively sedentary lifestyles.


Sun suggested that the study findings could challenge popular perceptions surrounding low-carbohydrate diets, underscoring the importance of promoting dietary patterns that emphasize healthful foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.


Registered dietitian Toby Amidor echoed Sun’s sentiments, stating that the study aligns with previous research advocating for the inclusion of healthy foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other wholesome options in low-carb diets.

In addition to potentially preventing long-term weight gain, incorporating more plant-based foods into a low-carb diet offers various health benefits. Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, author of The Plant-Powered Plan to Beat Diabetes, highlighted the nutritional advantages of plant-based diets, which are rich in fiber, healthy fats, micronutrients, and phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Palmer emphasized that the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes healthy fats and plant-based foods, has been linked not only to weight loss but also to a reduced risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, certain cancers, and improved brain health in older adults.

While incorporating some animal products into a plant-based diet doesn’t negate its benefits, research suggests that leaner, minimally processed animal proteins like poultry and fish can complement a plant-rich eating plan and potentially aid in weight management.

For individuals considering adopting a plant-based low-carb diet, there are various options beyond leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables. Avocados, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, and low-carb fruits such as berries, plums, peaches, and apricots offer nutritious alternatives to traditional carbohydrate sources.

However, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider before making significant dietary changes, especially for individuals with specific health conditions. Healthcare professionals can provide personalized guidance on meal planning to ensure essential nutrient needs are met while following a plant-based eating pattern.



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