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Which Popular Diets are Really Vegan-Friendly?

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By Heather Moore

With so many "miracle" weight-loss plans out there and everyone sipping diet drinks, why are there so many overweight people in America? After all, losing weight really isn't that difficult. If you want to slim down—and save animals—try going vegan: The results can be astonishing. Most plant-based foods are naturally low in fat and calories and high in fiber. They raise your metabolism and are more filling, so they cause you to crave fewer calories. And research shows that vegans are at least nine times less likely to be chunky than meat-eaters are! If you're trying to slim down, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine suggests a three-week vegan eating plan that's low in fat but will still fill you up.

We recently graded the most popular diet programs in America on how vegan-friendly they were. Continue reading to see how they measured up.

South Beach Diet: B

This program is based around cooking at home and eating healthy "superfoods," including broccoli, sweet potatoes, and even dark chocolate. The South Beach Web site features meat-free recipes that can be made vegan without much effort. The edamame salad (sans optional fish carcass) makes our mouth water, and the vegetarian chili (with some soy sour cream on top) is friendly to animals and taste buds!

Unfortunately, South Beach–brand vegetarian foods contain small amounts of dairy products. But the program would be pretty beachy if it took the dairy products out of the meal bars and took salmon and milk off the "superfoods" list. Those things belong on a "makes you need Pepto Bismol and a girdle" list.

If South Beach did this, it might even earn an "A"!

Weight Watchers: B

Weight Watchers scores points for its online vegetarian message board, where members can share recipes and advice. This is a useful tool for animal lovers who have a few pounds to lose, and the service won't break the bank. Weight Watchers' famous Points Plan promotes healthy eating habits and encourages participants to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Members can even sign up for vegetarian meal ideas and receive animal-free recipes and tips for living cruelty-free while losing weight.

With such a flexible plan and room for animal lovers to thrive, we hate to complain. But the "Meatless Comfort Food" section isn't completely meatless (go figure), and Weight Watchers also plans to team up with McCruelty, the purveyor of cholesterol-packed Big Macs and fatty chicken fingers, to promote weight loss.

Weight Watchers could get a better grade just by dropping the McDonald's partnership. And if it really wanted to earn points, it would perk up its "Meatless Comfort Food" section with some recipes for hearty vegan meals, such as seitan pepper steak. If in doubt, Weight Watchers can use this rule of thumb: If the meal once swam, walked, or squawked—or came from someone who did—it isn't vegan.

NutriSystem: C

This weight-loss-system-for-the-lazy delivers food to members' doors. It has a vegetarian plan, so it escaped the "Stuck in 1971" category. To maximize NutriSystem's vegetability, order your items à la carte and choose tasty treats like hearty minestrone soup and barbecue soy chips.

Despite having at least one vegan item in each of its meal categories, NutriSystem admits in its FAQ, "None of our programs would fit the needs of a vegan diet." And the already pricy plan is made a little pricier by ordering à la carte instead of sticking with the standard meal options.

If NutriSystem wants to move above average, it'll have to get over the vegan-phobia and make the meatless foods "officially" vegan. Come on, we know NutriSystem can do it.

Jenny Craig: C-

Like NutriSystem, Jenny Craig has a vegetarian plan. Meals are delivered to the member's door, or members can pick up their meals at a local center each week. For those who are just starting to make the switch to a cruelty-free diet, this plan offers a special vegetarian "support group" forum to help you shop, dine, and live cruelty-free.

Be warned though: The vegetarian options are far from vegan. This includes the broccoli-and-cheese baked potato, the macaroni and cheese, and the vanilla milk. Don't these folks know that eating lots of fatty dairy products can contribute to obesity? If Jenny Craig wants a higher grade, it'll have to offer a vegan plan or at least get rid of the cholesterol-riddled cheese that's smothering many of the vegetarian entrées.

The Zone: C-

As recipe fanatics, we were pleased to see that there are many vegetarian recipes on the Web site of The Zone. The vegan berry smoothie recipe sounds tempting, and the online forum for vegetarian members looks like a valuable source for discussing animal-friendly tips and resources. The folks at The Zone must be starting to notice that more and more people are turning to a vegan diet to lose weight and get healthy, considering that the Web site has an FAQ devoted to ways for vegans to "make this diet work." And Zone icon Dr. Barry Sears has written a vegetarian diet book called The Soy Zone (coincidentally, also the name of my refrigerator).

But alas, we couldn't find any vegan Zone- or Superzone-brand foods—not even basic staples such as bread. In order for the Zone to get a better report card from PETA, it's seriously going to have to ditch dairy and eschew eggs. C'mon, nonvegan bread?

SlimFast: F

Well, at least SlimFast doesn't make any of its shakes out of meat.

The SlimFast plan focuses on milk-based drinks and snack bars. There's nothing here for people who care about animals—or for people who don't care for pesky things like cholesterol and food poisoning. In 2009, 10 million SlimFast shakes were recalled because of bacterial contamination. SlimFast will flunk until it makes a vegan shake that everyone can enjoy. Even the lactose-free shake contains dairy derivatives! Geez.

So skip SlimFast and other doomed fad diets. If you need to slim down, check out these inspiring stories about people who lost weight simply by going vegan. Maybe you can even submit yours sometime?

Posted by Heather Moore


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