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Vegetarians and Weight Loss

Most people who follow a vegetarian diet are less likely to be overweight or obese than nonvegetarians. Even so, becoming a vegetarian is no guarantee you will attain or maintain a healthy weight.

That’s because the same rules apply to vegetarians and nonvegetarians as far as weight is concerned. That is, if you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight.

This is true no matter what you eat. A calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from a hamburger or a whole wheat bagel. A vegetarian diet can be high in calories and fat, and a nonvegetarian diet can be low in fat. It all depends on the foods and portion sizes you choose.

Tips for cutting back

With that in mind, here are recommendations on how vegetarians can trim down while leaving meat off their plates:

  • Choose an eating plan that’s low in fat. It should include plenty of fruits and vegetables and provide all the nutrients you need. Be aware that some vegetarian food products add extra fat to compensate for a lack of meat flavor.

  • Limit high-calorie extras. Salads at their most basic are healthy dishes, but they can be high in fat and calories if you add high-fat dressings or large quantities of fatty extras, such as avocados, olives, croutons, and sunflower seeds.

  • Carefully read the package labels of vegetarian convenience foods. Some can be just as fattening, or even more fattening, than their nonvegetarian counterparts.

  • Make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Eating a strict vegetarian diet that shuns all animal products has risks, including nutritional deficits for protein, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and vitamin D—all of which can be more challenging to get solely from plant-based sources. If you can’t get all the nutrients you need from your diet, you may need to take a vitamin supplement.

  • Limit your portions of high-fat protein substitutes. Instead, choose more low-fat protein substitutes, such as dried beans, reduced-fat peanut butter, and soy products.

  • Limit full-fat dairy. If you’re an ovo-lacto vegetarian, go easy on regular cheese, sour cream, and other high-calorie dairy foods. Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy, instead.

The basics of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight are the same for everyone, whether you eat meat or not. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, limit your portions, and exercise regularly.