There’s more focus on the health benefits of a vegetarian diet recently, particularly the role a vegetarian diet may play in reducing the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Although the health benefits of a vegetarian diet for the prevention of disease is supported by many studies, what about the use of this type of diet for weight control? Is a vegetarian diet good for weight loss?
What does the medical literature show about vegetarian diets for weight loss? In 2006, a review of past medical studies known as a meta-analysis was carried out on eighty-seven studies looking at the vegetarian diet for weight loss. The results showed that not only did a healthy vegetarian diet promote greater weight loss than a conventional diet, but people who called themselves vegetarians were less likely to be overweight or obese. Overall, vegetarians appear to have some advantage when it comes to weight control.
Although a healthy vegetarian diet appears to be a positive when it comes to controlling weight, not all vegetarians have an easy time maintaining a healthy weight. The key to success when using a vegetarian diet for weight loss is to select healthy vegetarian foods. Some people believe that because they’re not eating meat, their diet is healthy no matter what other foods they choose which is certainly not the case. A vegetarian diet can be just as unhealthy as a traditional diet if the wrong foods are selected. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is to limit sugary, high carb, processed foods as well as foods high in the wrong kinds of fat.
Some vegetarians, instead of selecting from the incredible array of fresh fruits and vegetables available for designing a balanced vegetarian diet, substitute pasta, potatoes, and bread which may not be the best choices if weight control is the goal. Although pasta and bread can be healthy if whole grain versions are selected, if these foods are eaten in excess the result can still be weight gain.
In terms of limiting saturated fat, a healthy vegetarian diet has definite advantages over a traditional diet since most saturated fats are found in animal based foods. In addition to helping with weight control, a balanced vegetarian diet that’s low in saturated fat can help to lower cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.
When using a vegetarian diet for weight loss, it’s important to get adequate quantities of plant based protein. Protein helps to promote a sense of fullness so you eat fewer overall calories. Adequate protein intake is also important for maintaining lean body mass which helps to boost the metabolism. Some good sources of low calorie protein are soy based products such as tempeh, wheat based protein such as seitan, and legumes like beans and lentils. Since most legumes are an incomplete source of protein, they’re best combined with whole grains such as brown rice to form a complete protein source. One caveat, if you consume milk products avoid eating large quantities of cheese as a protein substitute since many cheeses are high in calories and fat.
A healthy vegetarian diet requires careful planning just like any other weight loss diet or healthy eating plan. You may have an advantage eating a vegetarian diet for weight loss, but don’t assume that because it’s vegetarian it’s necessarily healthy or low in calories.