Plant-Based Diet Rich in Fats & Protein Shows Promise as ‘Nature’s Ozempic’

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New research highlights the beneficial role of plant-based diets that are high in protein and fat in slowing weight gain. Could it be a natural counter to now-popular weight management drugs?

Last year saw the astronomical rise of drugs like Ozempic, a medication originally prescribed to treat diabetes, but which was found to have significant weight-loss properties. The main active ingredient that appears to prevent weight gain or even induce major weight loss, semaglutide, works by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone, thereby reducing insulin resistance, prolonging the feeling of fullness and curbing appetite. 

But as the year went on and the popularity of Wegovy and other weight loss-specific semaglutide-drugs became all the rage on social media, so did the reported number of side effects of the drug. These included nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. 

Now, a new study is showing that there might be a natural alternative. Plant-based diets that focus on protein and fats, and are low in carbohydrates, might just be the prescription-free answer to keeping the pounds off in the long term. 

What’s a low-carb vegan diet?

Courtesy: Olena Bohovyk via Unsplash

Scientists at Harvard University found that low-carb vegan diets, which are mainly made up of plant-based proteins and fats and minimal refined starches and sugars, could play a “critical role in modulating long-term weight change.” 

The study, published in the journal JAMA, included more than 120,000 participants and involved self-reported diet updates and weight changes every four years, spanning from the year 1986 to 2018. 

While these vegan diets were low in carbohydrates, they weren’t devoid of them either. Sources of healthy carbs included those “from whole grains and other plant-based foods”.

Related: Vegan diets improve heart health, twin study shows

Not all low-carb diets are created equal

Courtesy: Nadine Primeau via Unsplash

Most interestingly, the team found that not all low-carb diets were effective in managing weight gain in the long term. While almost all low-carb diets were associated with some level of weight loss in the short term, only the primarily plant-based group was “significantly associated with slower long-term weight gain”. 

“The key takeaway here is that not all low-carbohydrate diets are created equal when it comes to managing weight in the long-term,” explained the paper’s senior author Qi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition. 

“Our findings could shake up the way we think about popular low-carbohydrate diets and suggest that public health initiatives should continue to promote dietary patterns that emphasise healthful foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables.” 

Related: Why you should join Veganuary? It’s better for your health, science says

Could low-carb vegan diets be ‘nature’s Ozempic’? 

Courtesy: Christina Victoria Craft via Unsplash

These findings come at a time when boosting GLP-1 is a major area of interest as a solution to managing weight gain. The hormone has come into focus due to the rise of Ozempic and other GLP-boosting semaglutide pharmaceutical drugs as a weight management tool. 

It could be that GLP-1 boosting diets may be an effective natural solution by itself, with the Harvard study showing the promise that low-carb vegan diets could have. 

One of the reasons why the plant-based cohort in the study could have seen a slower weight gain trend could be because many vegan whole foods are rich in gut-healthy fibre, which provides satiety and has been shown to increase GLP-1 secretion. High-protein and high-fibre vegan foods deliver a double dose of this effect, such as legumes and beans. Avocado, a fruit loaded with heart-healthy fats and fibre, also activates the hormone. 


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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