The veggie diet has been long regarded as one of the healthiest eating habits for many reasons. Among the more notable are that it keeps calorie count down, it’s often high in fiber, and is a good way to limit exposure to cholesterol from meat. Dieters in particular like the vegetarian diet, because it takes a lot of guesswork out of knowing what to eat and how much you should eat.
What is a vegetarian diet?
Vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish, and poultry.
Some people may follow this diet for religious or ethical reasons, while others are drawn to its possible health benefits.
The main types of vegetarian diets are:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: allows eggs and dairy but excludes meat, fish, and poultry
- Lacto-vegetarian: allows dairy but excludes eggs, meat, fish, and poultry
- Ovo-vegetarian: allows eggs but excludes dairy, meat, fish, and poultry
- Vegan: excludes all animal products, including honey, dairy, and eggs
Other plant-based eating patterns include the flexitarian (which includes some animal foods but is mostly vegetarian) and pescatarian (which includes fish but not meat) diets.
Vegetarian diets typically focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These foods are rich in fiber, micronutrients, and beneficial plant compounds, and tend to be lower in calories, fat, and protein than animal foods.
Since this diet emphasizes nutrient-rich foods, it’s linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and high blood pressure
What’s more, studies show that following a vegetarian diet can be an effective way to lose weight
However, the benefits of vegetarianism largely depend on the types of foods you eat and your overall dietary habits.
Overeating or choosing too many highly processed foods will provide fewer benefits than a diet based on unrefined, whole plant foods — and may have several downsides.
A vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish, and poultry and mostly focuses on plant foods. It has been linked to weight loss and a reduced risk of chronic diseases, but these benefits depend on which foods you eat.
Barriers to losing weight on a vegetarian diet
While vegetarianism may seem like an effective way to shed excess weight, several factors may prevent this from happening.
Eating large portions and not enough protein
Eating more calories than you need can result in weight gain.
Even if you’re filling up on nutritious foods on a vegetarian diet, you may be helping yourself to larger portions than necessary.
This is especially common if you skimp on protein intake.
Protein can increase fullness by decreasing levels of ghrelin, a hormone that regulates hunger, which may in turn lower your overall calorie intake and boost weight loss
If you don’t eat enough protein, you might eat more food to feel full — hindering your weight loss efforts.
While your protein needs can be met easily on a vegetarian diet, you may encounter difficulties at first as you eliminate meat from your diet.
Eating too many refined carbs
Foods that are high in refined carbs, such as bread, pizza, and pasta, can be easy to overeat on a vegetarian diet.
They’re widely available and may sometimes be the only vegetarian options at restaurants or gatherings.
Foods rich in refined carbs tend to lack fiber and do not curb hunger as much as whole-grain, complex carbs. As a result, they can load you down with excess calories
What’s more, some studies suggest that refined carbs trigger the release of extra insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. This may also contribute to weight gain
In fact, one study including around 500,000 adults detected a strong association between higher insulin levels after carb intake and greater body mass index (BMI)
Overdoing calorie-rich foods
When transitioning to a vegetarian diet, you might substantially increase your intake of high-fat plant foods.
Vegetarian meals often incorporate nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocados, or coconut. While these foods are incredibly nutritious and filling, they also provide 9 calories per gram — compared with 4 calories per gram of proteins and carbs.
For example, 2 tablespoons (32 grams) of peanut butter packs a whopping 191 calories, 148 of which come from fat
What’s more, many people eat more than the recommended serving size of nut butters and other healthy fats.
Focusing on highly processed vegetarian foods
If you’re relying on too many processed foods as part of a vegetarian diet, you may have a hard time losing weight.
Countless products are technically vegetarian but still harbor unnecessary additives and other unhealthy ingredients. Examples include veggie burgers, meat substitutes, freezer meals, baked goods, packaged desserts, and vegan cheese.
These foods are often packed not only with sodium, highly processed compounds, chemical preservatives, and coloring agents but also calories and added sugars.
As a result, they may contribute to weight gain when eaten in excess.
In fact, a review linked the intake of ultra-processed foods to an increased risk of obesity, as well as higher LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure levels
Some barriers to losing weight on a vegetarian diet include not eating enough protein and relying too heavily on refined carbs, calorie-rich foods, and highly processed items.
Types of Vegetarian Diet for Weight Loss
Vegetarian diets come in various forms, enabling you to eat in a way that best suits your health goals.
1. Vegan Diet
A vegan diet is one that does not include meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Veganism is a social movement that considers animal welfare, fewer injectables like hormones and milk enhancers in livestock, ethical fashion and beauty. A vegan diet consists entirely of plant foods.
Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils are part of a vegan diet plan. In addition, healthcare professionals may advise vegans to take vitamin and mineral supplements such as vitamin B12, iron, omega-3 fats, zinc, etc. However, primarily it is because vegan diets can sometimes be deficient in the mentioned nutrients.
2. Ovo-vegetarian Diet
An ovo-vegetarian diet excludes dairy products but includes eggs; as signified from the prefix ‘ovo’. This diet eliminates all dairy products and dairy product derivatives. Like, cow’s milk, cheese, butter, sour cream, yoghurt, and ice cream, in addition to meat and fish. On the other hand, meals include eggs and egg items such as scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, and omelettes.
3. Lacto-vegetarian Diet
Plant-based foods and dairy items such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, and ice cream are part of a Lacto-vegetarian diet. While eggs, meat, and fish are not.
As the “Lacto” word indicates, it is a diet that incorporates dairy products. This diet type is the most popular form of vegetarianism.
Dairy items, such as cow’s milk/buffalo milk and foodstuffs prepared with it, fall into this category. Cheese, butter, buttermilk, yoghurt, curd, paneer and ice cream are a few examples of these.
4. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian Diet
A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet consists of eggs and dairy products. It does not include meat or seafood.
Meal plans include eggs, milk, cheese, buttermilk, yoghurt, paneer, and other dairy items. At the same time, it does not contain any animal-derived flesh products such as cattle, fish, poultry, and pork.
Is it better to be on a vegetarian diet?
Vegetarian diets have both advantages and drawbacks. But first, you must understand how it can affect your health.
Pros of a Vegetarian Diet:
1. Good for cardiac health
Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in fat. In addition, they can be low in saturated fat and high in dietary fibre. Moreover, they tend to include more whole grains, legumes, nuts, and soy protein with beneficial outcomes. In addition, the absence of red meat, cold cuts and staying away from packaged food, natural plant-based food can help prevent and treat chronic health issues like cardiovascular disease (Heart-disease).
Vegetarian food contains a comparatively better antioxidant profile, protecting one from heart diseases.
2. Protects From Cancer
As per one study, certain plant foods like fruits and vegetables promote weight loss and decrease cancer incidence. In addition, some studies show that a vegan diet may result in a reduced incidence of general cancer, especially in women.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets offer protection against gastrointestinal malignancies as well.
Being vegan isn’t easy as it limits one’s options to an extent. However, a well planned plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables can benefit.
3. Lowers Blood Pressure
Vegetarian diets may result in decreased blood pressure. Therefore, these diets might be a practical non-pharmacologic approach for naturally lowering blood pressure.
A vegetarian gets adequate potassium from fruits and vegetables. Potassium is known to protect from hypertension. However, a proper diet plan by a professional may achieve the right result.
4. Improved Weight Management
Vegetarian diets may aid in weight loss. Studies have shown that vegetarians lost much more weight than their non-vegetarian counterparts. Significant weight loss was seen in participants following a vegan diet and, to a lesser extent, in those following a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet.
Observational studies also reveal that vegetarians’ weight and BMI are between 3% and 20% lower than non-vegetarians.
Cons of a Vegetarian diet:
1. Consuming Too Many Carbs
Vegetarian diets that lack the right amount of protein and fibre may result in high carbohydrate intake. Since a vegetarian diet comprises plant-based foods, a high grain-to-veggie ratio is quite common. Consequently, this can make you put on weight rather than lose it. Therefore, it is crucial to add fresh fruits and vegetables to your everyday diet.
A well-balanced vegetarian diet should include plenty of vegetables and fruits, along with legumes, grains, and nuts. So, it helps to download an app like HealthifyMe. It helps calculate your daily calorie intake and assess the right amount of macro and micronutrients.
2. Possible Nutritional Inadequacy
Some essential nutrients in animal foods may be missing in a plant-based diet. For example, while some vegetarian diets may have a substantially reduced risk of major chronic diseases, particular minerals, such as zinc, may be missing in vegetarian diets.
Vegetarians may be at risk of zinc insufficiency because plant sources of zinc include phytate and other zinc absorption inhibitors.
Another such micronutrient is Vitamin B12. Unfortunately, due to inadequate intake of the right food, a vegetarian diet may be deficient in vitamin B12. Therefore, it is advisable to include a range of nutritious foods and supplements in an individual meal plan.
3. Exposure to Chemicals
There could be a possibility of increased risk of exposure to herbicides and pesticides. Indeed, it can be because fruits, vegetables, and grains are more at risk of exposure to these chemicals. Thus, vegetarians may get chemical and pesticide-induced food poisoning.
Tips to lose weight on a vegetarian diet
Several strategies can help promote weight loss on a vegetarian diet, including:
- Filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Choosing high-fiber veggies, such as broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, leafy greens, and mushrooms, can help you stay full and decrease calorie intake.
- Incorporating protein at every meal and snack. High-protein vegetarian foods include beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, eggs, dairy products, and soy foods (such as tempeh, tofu, and edamame).
- Opting for complex carbs. These fullness-boosting foods include whole grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
- Watching your portions of high-calorie foods. Pair nuts, seeds, and healthy fats with lower-calorie foods so that you don’t overeat.
- Eating mostly whole foods. Unprocessed foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, do not have any unnecessary ingredients.
- Limiting highly processed foods. Avoid meat alternatives, frozen meals, and other ultra-processed foods, as they likely host unhealthy additives, extra salt, and added sugar.
A balanced vegetarian diet that emphasizes whole plant foods and limits refined carbs and highly processed products may help you lose weight.
Still, don’t forget about other important contributors to weight loss, such as proper sleep, hydration, and exercise.
Including protein at all meals, eating plenty of whole foods, and eliminating highly processed items are just a few of the techniques you can use to lose weight on a vegetarian diet.
Vegetarian foods that aid weight loss
To bolster weight loss, choose a vegetarian diet that’s rich in whole, minimally processed plant foods.
Depending on your specific regimen, you may also incorporate dairy or eggs.
Vegetarian foods that may aid weight loss include:
- Non-starchy vegetables: broccoli, bell pepper, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, celery, and cucumber
- Starchy vegetables: peas, potatoes, corn, and winter squash
- Fruits: berries, oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, citrus, kiwi, and mango
- Whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, farro, millet, barley, and bulgur wheat
- Beans and legumes: lentils, black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and nut butters
- Lean proteins: beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, nut butters, eggs, Greek yogurt, milk, and soy products like tofu, tempeh, and edamame
- Healthy fats: avocado, olive oil, coconut, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and cheese
- Water and other healthy beverages: naturally flavored seltzer, fruit-infused water, and plain coffee or tea
Eating a variety of non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds may help you lose weight on a vegetarian diet.
Foods to avoid on a vegetarian diet for weight loss
While most plant foods are naturally healthy, highly processed vegetarian foods tend to be less so.
You should limit or avoid the following foods if you’re following a vegetarian diet for weight loss:
- Highly processed vegetarian foods: veggie burgers, meat replacements, freezer meals, frozen desserts, and imitation dairy products
- Refined carbs: white bread, white pasta, bagels, and crackers
- Sugary foods and beverages: candy, cookies, pastries, table sugar, sodas, fruit juices, energy drinks, and sweet tea
In addition, try to avoid extra-large portions of any food — especially those high in sugar and calories.
If you’re looking to lose weight on a vegetarian diet, you should steer clear of highly processed products, refined carbs, and sugary beverages.