The global obesity epidemic is a growing problem! Obesity can lead to a wide range of diseases from diabetes to heart disease. Meat and dairy products are a leading source of fat in an unhealthy diet. Vegans tend to be slimmer and healthier than meat-eaters, with a lower risk of disease, they also tend to live longer. Find out how you can get slim and stay slim and reduce your whole family’s risk of disease.

Are you overweight or obese?

People with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29 are categorised as overweight and those with BMI of 30 or above are categorised as obese. If your BMI is over 40, you would be described as morbidly obese.

Obesity in Uganda

Around one-quarter (24 per cent) of women and nine per cent of men aged 15 to 49 in Uganda are overweight or obese. From a health perspective, this spells trouble as being overweight or obese increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease and various types of cancer including breast cancer.

Obese children have a higher risk of premature death and disability in adulthood. They are more likely to suffer from breathing difficulties, fractures, high blood pressure (and other health problems linked to heart disease) as well as insulin resistance that could lead to type 2 diabetes.

The main cause of obesity is too much food, unhealthy food and too little exercise. Children are getting larger because they are eating too much of the wrong types of food for the small amount of physical activity they undertake (and it works the same way for adults).

Visceral fat

Tummy fat (visceral fat) is a particular concern because it’s involved in a variety of health problems linked to heart disease and certain cancers. You don’t have to be overweight or obese to have high levels of visceral fat. Some slim people, who do little or no exercise, can have high levels. Stored up around vital organs, this type of fat can put apparently healthy people at risk.

What you can do to prevent or reverse obesity

Diet and exercise can be very effective in helping reduce fat stores. A vegan diet rich in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight as well as improving your overall health.

Avoid meat and dairy

Vegans tend to be a healthy weight while people who eat meat and dairy foods are more likely to be overweight or obese. This is because of the high levels of unhealthy saturated fat found in meat, cheese and butter etc.

Good and bad fats

We’ve evolved to have a taste for fatty foods because fat is a rich energy source. That’s why we tend to eat too much but we need only a small amount of essential fats, which you can get from a tablespoon of ground flaxseed or chia seeds or a small handful of walnuts.

As a rule of thumb, don’t use more than a teaspoon of oil per portion when cooking, use fatty spreads on bread only in a thin layer and when snacking, set your limit to two tablespoons of nuts and seeds at a time. One tablespoon of nut butters or tahini per portion should be the upper limit.

Deep-fried and fat-soaked foods (crisps) should be an occasional treat only and don’t forget to read labels when shopping – many foods contain surprisingly high amounts of fat.

Focus on fibre to feel fuller for longer

Fibre binds water and increases the food bulk in your digestive system, which helps you feel fuller. It also slows down carbohydrate (sugar) absorption from food – that means fibre-rich foods give you a steady energy supply and delay hunger. A healthy vegan diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds contains lots of fibre while meat, fish, eggs and dairy contain none. 

To increase your fibre intake, choose wholegrains (wholemeal bread, millet, brown rice, jumbo oats), fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas) and nuts and seeds. Avoid white bread, white rice, processed snacks (sweet or salty), sugar and sugary ‘healthy’ foods, such as sweetened breakfast cereals, granola bars and flapjacks.

Fruit contains natural sugars but you don’t need to avoid fruit because the high fibre content slows down sugar absorption. Aim for at least three portions a day plus three or four portions of vegetables.

Protein is your friend

It takes your body longer to digest protein so, protein-rich foods are more filling. Many protein-rich vegan foods are also great sources of fibre – peas, beans, lentils, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.

Treat yourself

We don’t want to give up our favourite treats. To manage your treat habit, allow yourself a small amount of what you fancy and pair it with something healthier – two biscuits and a piece of fruit or two squares of dark chocolate and some nuts, a few olives instead of crisps. Don’t overindulge and pick your treats wisely so they’re a small addition to your overall diet but never a staple.

If you know that treat rationing isn’t going to work for you, try to go without and replace your favourite treat with something healthier. After three weeks, you’ll start feeling that it’s your new normal.

Portion limits?

If you need to lose weight, you might need to reduce your portion sizes but remember, it’s really important that what you eat is healthy too. If you make your diet low in fat, high in fibre, plentiful in protein, avoid processed foods and focus on wholefoods, you may find that you fill up more and for longer, so this is easier to do. Your meals will fill you up sooner than if you eat fat-soaked, sugar rich foods and you’ll be able to achieve a healthy weight.

Set sustainable rules to reduce your calorie intake – eg two slices of bread for breakfast or eight tablespoons of cereal; or one cup (instead of two) of brown rice with a meal. Keep an eye on portion sizes and fill up on fibre.

Get the blood flowing

Being physically active is natural and healthy for us – it makes us feel better because it releases feel-good hormones, stimulates our muscles and bones and lubricates our joints. When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s always better to up your physical activity rather than severely limit your food intake.

Try walking more instead of using the car or bus, for example. If you slip up and give in to cravings or overindulge at a party, don’t beat yourself up – it’s only human! Jump back into your healthy routine and feel good about not giving up.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend 60 minutes physical activity a day for children and 150 minutes per week for adults. They also suggest eating more eating more fruit, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains and suggest cutting down on fatty, sugary foods, moving from saturated animal-based fats to unsaturated vegetable-oil based fats.

Good Foods to Help Prevent and Reverse Obesity

  • Fruit and vegetables – most fruits and vegetables (except avocados) are low in fat, aim for five to eight portions a day. The natural compounds that give foods their bright colours are also what protect your health. So, add some colour to every meal!
  • Wholegrain foods – aim for three to four servings of brown rice, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, oats and quinoa. Experiment with black rice and red quinoa for an added boost
  • Pulses – two to three servings of pulses peas, beans, lentils, soya and products made from them (tofu, tempeh and edamame) can help fill you up due to their fibre content but are low in fat
  • Nuts and seeds – although high in fat and calories, if you eat them moderately but regularly as part of a balanced diet, you’re not likely to gain weight. Nuts and seeds may even help you lose weight – little and often is key, try not to exceed one small handful a day of nuts and seeds. Eat them raw, lightly roasted, blended into butters or chopped in salads or with fruit
  • Small amounts of vegetable oil – flaxseed, hemp seed or virgin olive oil used cold, rapeseed or soya oil for cooking


Going vegan is an easy way to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.Find out what you need to eat each day here.