What is a fatfree vegan diet?

People who follow a fat-free vegan diet (technically a very low-fat diet) eat no animal products or added oils; most either limit or eliminate high-fat plant foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconuts.

All foods contain some fats, so there is no such thing as a completely fat-free diet, nor is one desirable. The body needs fat, but it’s best to get it from healthy sources such as nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, and the trace amounts that are in all fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, recent studies have suggested that our bodies absorb the nutrients from vegetables better when we ingest some fat at the same time, so it’s wise to include some healthy fats in salads. (For more information, see Dr. Michael Greger’s newsletter.)

Why follow a fatfree vegan diet?

Diets low in animal protein and fat but high in legumes, vegetables, and fruit have been shown to help people lose weight, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, protect against cancer, and reverse diabetes.

What foods are allowed/not allowed?

Low-fat vegan diet plans vary, but the guidelines for this website are as follows:

Ingredients Not Permitted:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish/Seafood
  • Meat stocks
  • Honey
  • Gelatin (product of animal bones)
  • Marshmallows (a gelatin product)
  • Bonito flakes (seafood product)
  • Worcestershire sauce (usually contains anchovies, use veg version)
  • Cheese
  • Milk (from animal sources)
  • Sour cream/yogurt/other milk products
  • Eggs
  • Mayonnaise
  • Fat/margarine/lecithin/oils (including olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil)
  • Chocolate bars, chips or morsels
  • Carob bars, chips or morsels

Restricted Ingredients:

The following are high-fat vegetable foods that should be limited. They should not make up a large portion of the dish (a good benchmark is that the overall dish should be less than 15% fat) and there should be a good reason for including one or more of these items (i.e. it’s a spectacular dish that would suffer without it).

  • Nuts (except chestnuts, water chestnuts, and ginko nuts)
  • Nut butters
  • Sesame oil (in tiny amounts–i.e. drops, rather than teaspoons)
  • Seeds
  • Seed butters (e.g. tahini)
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Coconut
  • Full-fat tofu and tempeh

Note: The following soy products are permitted without restriction:

  • nonfat/lowfat soymilk (less than 15% fat by calories)
  • TVP (textured vegetable protein — defatted soy)

Please indicate vegan versions of ingredients; for instance, use “soy milk” instead of “milk” or “rice syrup” instead of “honey.”

What are the different low-fat vegan diet plans?

While there are several plans that advocate vegetarian or near-vegetarian low-fat diets, the three that are basically vegan (or recommend a vegan option) are Dr. John McDougall’s McDougall Program and Maximum Weight Loss Program and Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live. All three eliminate processed oils and fats (such as margarine) and focus on eating unrefined plant foods.

What are the differences between these programs?

The two McDougall programs are discussed in detail at the fatfree.com website, and a complete description of the program is available at the McDougall website. Basically, both McDougall plans are starch-based; that is, most of the daily calories come from grains, potatoes, and winter squash, while beans and fruits are limited.

The Eat to Live 6-Week program is similar to the Maximum Weight Loss Plan in that foods containing refined flours (breads, etc.) are eliminated. The goal of Eat to Live is to eat foods that have a very high nutrition to calorie ratio and avoid foods that don’t provide much nutrition for the calories they contain. Fruits and vegetables pack the most nutrition, so the diet is based on them. The goal is to try to eat at least 1 pound daily of raw vegetables; 1 pound of cooked, non-starchy vegetables; 4 servings of fruit; and 1 cup of beans. Those foods are unlimited.

The plan limits other foods: 1 cup maximum of starchy vegetables or whole grains, 1 ounce of raw nuts and seeds, and 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds. All animal products and refined oils are off limits, and refined grain products, such as bread, are not encouraged. After a person has reached a healthy weight, very limited amounts of less-healthy food may be added in (for those who absolutely will not give them up.)

This plan is somewhat like McDougall’s Maximum Weight Loss program (MWLP). The biggest difference is that while McDougall limits beans and allows unlimited unprocessed grains, it’s the opposite for Eat to Live. Dr. Fuhrman says that beans provide more nutrition (not just protein, but micronutrients and phytochemicals) per calorie than grains and potatoes do. On the MWLP, McDougall doesn’t allow any nuts or seeds, but Fuhrman says that the good fats in limited amounts of (unroasted, unsalted) nuts and seeds are important. One more difference is that Fuhrman doesn’t limit fruit, while McDougall limits it to 2 per day. Fuhrman does say to stay away from dried fruit until you’ve lost all the weight you need to.