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How to Lose Weight on a Vegetarian Diet

Health + Wellness
Westend61 / Getty Images

By Elizabeth Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Vegetarianism has become increasingly popular in recent years.


This diet is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases and may aid weight loss (1Trusted Source).

However, you may find it difficult to lose weight on a vegetarian diet — especially if you're eating too many refined carbs or highly processed foods.

This article explains how to lose weight on a vegetarian diet.

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 (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).

What's more, studies show that following a vegetarian diet can be an effective way to lose weight (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source).

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.

Summary

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 (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).

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 (11Trusted Source).

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 (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).

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) (12Trusted Source).

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 (14).

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 (15Trusted Source).

Summary

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.

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.

Summary

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

Summary

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.

Summary

If you're looking to lose weight on a vegetarian diet, you should steer clear of highly processed products, refined carbs, and sugary beverages.

Sample Vegetarian Meal Plan for Weight Loss

This 5-day meal plan provides a few ideas for a vegetarian diet for weight loss.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: steel-cut oats with apples, peanut butter, and cinnamon
  • Lunch: a salad with greens, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigrette
  • Dinner: black-bean soup with a dollop of Greek yogurt, whole-grain bread, and a side salad
  • Snack: almonds and dark chocolate

Day 2

  • Breakfast: scrambled eggs with broccoli and cheddar, plus a side of berries
  • Lunch: a burrito bowl with brown rice, pinto beans, tomato, onion, and avocado
  • Dinner: zucchini noodles with marinara, sunflower seeds, and white beans
  • Snack: string cheese or an orange

Day 3

  • Breakfast: plain Greek yogurt with pineapple, shredded coconut, and walnuts
  • Lunch: lentil soup, chopped bell peppers, and guacamole
  • Dinner: eggplant Parmesan served over whole-grain pasta and green beans
  • Snack: a whole-grain granola bar or berries

Day 4

  • Breakfast: a smoothie bowl made from unsweetened almond milk, spinach, hemp seeds, frozen berries, and a banana
  • Lunch: an egg salad on whole-grain bread with strawberries, carrots, and hummus
  • Dinner: stir-fry with tofu, carrots, broccoli, brown rice, soy sauce, and honey
  • Snack: dried mango and pistachios

Day 5

  • Breakfast: two eggs and one slice of whole-grain toast with avocado, plus a side of grapes
  • Lunch: a salad with kale, pecans, dried cranberries, goat cheese, and edamame
  • Dinner: homemade chickpea patties alongside sautéed mushrooms and a baked sweet potato
  • Snack: plain Greek yogurt with cherries

Summary

These meal and snack ideas can help you get started with vegetarian eating for weight loss.

The Bottom Line

A vegetarian diet that focuses on nutritious plant foods may help you lose weight.

However, it's important to eat enough protein while curbing your portion sizes and intake of calorie-rich foods, refined carbs, and highly processed items.

Keep in mind that not all vegetarian foods are healthy.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.