Beyond Cutting Meat — Vegetarian Diets Explained
Are you considering a vegetarian diet to lose weight or improve your health — or maybe a little of both? In addition to religious reasons, people choose a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons beyond improved health — concerns about animal welfare, hormones and antibiotics used in livestock, bacteria and food safety or the impact of meat production on environmental resources.
Another Reason to Eat Vegetarian – Save Money!
Did you know eating vegetarian can also save you some money? Meat and seafood meals generally cost more to shop for or order in a restaurant than plant-based meals. By some estimates, a vegetarian diet can save you anywhere from $750 to $3,000 per year if you substitute legumes and other plant-based proteins for meat.
Regardless of the reason why you’re considering the veggie life, a well-balanced vegetarian diet can do wonders for your waistline and your health! We’ll get into specific health benefits of a vegetarian diet plan in a moment, but research shows that vegetarians have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower body mass index (height to weight ratio). They also take in more nutrients and less saturated fat, all of which can mean a reduced risk of developing many chronic conditions and diseases.
So, What Does A Vegetarian Diet Plan Look Like?
In a nutshell, it means abstaining from eating all meat, including fish, seafood and poultry. But we can break this down further as there are variations in vegetarian diet plans. Some are more restrictive than others.
Vegetarian Diet Variations:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet: No meat, fish or poultry but allows dairy products and eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarian diet: No meat, fish, poultry or dairy, but allows eggs.
- Pescetarian or pesco-vegetarian diet: No meat or poultry but allows fish, and sometimes eggs and dairy products.
- Pollo-vegetarian diet: No meat or fish but allows poultry, and sometimes eggs and dairy products.
- Vegan Diet: The most restrictive, this means no meat, fish or poultry, plus no animal-derived products including dairy, eggs and sometimes even honey.
- Flexitarian diet: A mostly vegetarian diet but allows occasional meat, fish or poultry.
As you can see, eating vegetarian can mean different things to different people. However, don’t let this confuse you — the great thing about vegetarian diet plans is you can choose the one that best suits your tastes and needs.
What Does a Well-Balanced Vegetarian Diet Look Like?
Many who consider a plant-based diet worry about meeting all their nutritional needs, and this is a valid concern. Since you’re eliminating foods that contain nutrients your body needs, you’ll need to pay attention to make sure you’re getting those nutrients from other sources, especially if you choose one of the more restrictive vegetarian diet plans.
And simply eliminating meat from your diet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re eating healthier! For example, if you eat donuts and almond milk Frappuccinos for breakfast, cheese pizza and chips for lunch, big bowls of mac and cheese for dinner and candy for dessert, you’re technically eating vegetarian — but you aren’t going to lose weight or improve your health. Some vegetarians make the mistake of relying on too many processed foods, which are usually high in sodium, calories, sugar and fat.
With a little planning, you can meet your body’s nutritional needs. Here’s an overview:
- Protein: The most obvious need is, of course, protein, especially if you’ve cut dairy and eggs as well as all meat. Nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains can provide protein.
- Calcium and vitamin D: Again, if you’ve cut dairy, you’ll need to eat plants high in calcium and consider enriched products such as juice or supplements.
- Iron: Iron is a bit tricky as it needs vitamin C to be absorbed, so in addition to eating foods high in iron such as peas, lentils and dried beans, you’ll need to eat foods high in C at the same time.
Omega-3 fatty acids: If you’ve cut fish and eggs, you may need a supplement since plant-based sources are inefficient.
Let’s Talk about Weight Loss and Vegetarian Diet Plans
Again, simply cutting meat doesn’t guarantee you’ll lose weight on a vegetarian diet. Weight loss breaks down to about 75% diet and 25% exercise, so you’ll need to monitor your caloric intake even on a vegetarian diet. For example, nuts are loaded with nutrients but are high in calories, as are honey, cheese and other full-fat dairy products. And loading up on carbs such as veggie pasta and rice dishes, bread and starchy vegetables like potatoes won’t help your weight loss goals either.
So How Do You Lose Weight on a Vegetarian Diet?
The simplest way to lose weight while following a vegetarian diet is to eat fruits and vegetables in their most natural state. For example, eat an orange instead of drinking orange juice or eat a roasted sweet potato instead of a bag of sweet potato chips. It also means eating whole grain pasta and bread, and brown rice instead of white. You can find vegetarian diet plans for weight loss if you need to follow a structured plan, but you don’t necessarily need to if you follow these tips.
Tips for Losing Weight on a Vegetarian Diet:
- Avoid processed and prepackaged foods such as canned soups and boxed or frozen meals. Make soups and meals from scratch whenever possible.
- Replace sugary snacks and junk food with nuts and fresh fruits.
- Limit portion sizes when eating high-calorie foods such as nuts and cheese.
- Avoid “empty carbs” such as white rice and non-whole-grain products.
- Avoid sugary drinks such as soft drinks and fancy coffee drinks.
- Watch out for so-called energy drinks or nutrition bars — some of these are thinly disguised soft drinks or candy bars.
- Avoid high-calorie salad dressings and condiments.
A Final Word — The Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet Plan
We’ve already talked about how following a vegetarian diet plan designed for weight loss can benefit your waistline and your wallet. Research has begun to show that being a vegetarian can benefit your health in other ways:
- Type 2 Diabetes: Vegetarian diets help stabilize blood sugar levels, which lowers your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
- Cancer: While there are no definitive studies that prove this without a doubt, some research suggests that avoiding meat, especially highly processed meats, can reduce your cancer risk, including breast, colon, rectum and stomach cancer.
- Heart Disease: Studies have found that vegetarians also tend to have healthier cholesterol and blood pressure levels, which can lower the risk of heart disease.
With access to fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, it’s easier than ever to switch to a meat-free diet. And you might be surprised to find out how delicious and creative vegetarian cuisine can be — forget boring steamed vegetables and brown rice when you can enjoy meals such as Slow Cooker Bean and Spinach Enchiladas or Baked Polenta with Mushrooms and Gorgonzola!
- Tommy Jacobs