Most vegetarians change their diet for ethical, environmental, or religious reasons. However, it is not uncommon for people to become vegetarian as a way to lose weight.
The number of vegetarians has been rising in Canada, especially in the younger adult population. According to Statista, in 2018, there were an estimated 2.3 million vegetarians and 850,000 vegans in Canada, and this trend is going upward.
How is weight loss different for vegetarians?
Both clinical trials and observational research showed that plant-based diets are helpful in preventing obesity and promoting weight loss. As this diet excludes meat products, it is low in saturated fat and protein and can be low in calories. It focuses on a lot fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. This makes the diet high in fiber, water, and micronutrients.
However, a few missteps with a vegetarian diet can also lead to failure to lose weight.
Since animal protein is not included in the diet, other sources of energy and protein are needed. Vegetarian sources of protein include beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. These foods are high in overall calories when consumed in large quantities in order to reach recommended protein intake that a non-vegetarian would be able to reach with less quantity of animal meat.
In our previous article 6 Big Misconceptions about Losing Weight- a Must-Read, we tackled some of the myths and the truths behind weight loss. We mentioned that different foods have different effects on the body. A vegetarian diet, although low in fat from meat, can instead include a lot of calories from carbohydrates. It has been found that a high carbohydrate diet contributes more to weight gain even more than a high-fat diet.
How vegetarians can effectively lose weight
So how can vegetarians ensure healthy weight loss with their diet?
Fill up on protein
A diet high in protein intake makes you feel satisfied longer, causing you to eat less. It also increases muscle mass, especially when paired with strengthening exercises. More muscle mass burns more calories and increases the body’s metabolism. Choose sources of protein that are lower in carbohydrates like tofu, or dairy products like plain Greek yogurt and lower fat lower sodium cheeses.
Balance your nutrients
For many plant-based eaters, achieving a well-rounded diet can be tricky as there are some nutrients that may be lacking due to the absence of meat from the diet. A personalized plan with a variety of healthy food with special attention to needed nutrients would help. The individualized weight loss plans at WeightWatchers consider your restrictions and goals so you can have the nutrients you need while keeping you satisfied.
Eat more vegetables and complex carbs
To help you feel full and avoid high-calorie foods, fill your plate with more vegetables that are high in fiber such as broccoli, cauliflower, and leafy greens. Also, focus more on complex sources of carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and legumes. Avoid refined carbs such as pasta, pizza, and bread. You can get ideas for a variety of healthy foods from Canada’s food guide.
Avoid processed products
There are a lot of vegetarian products now, like vegan cheese, meat substitutes, and freezer meals. Although some of these are good alternatives, some may be high in calories, have a lot of added sodium and sugar, or are full of preservatives. As much as possible, eat whole foods instead of processed packaged foods. Remember to look at labels when buying in order to pick the healthiest option.