Can Going Vegetarian Help You Lose Weight?

Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD
by Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD
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Can Going Vegetarian Help You Lose Weight?

A vegetarian lifestyle has its perks! There’s evidence that is can lower risk for heart disease, cancer, blood pressure, and even death (not to mention the staggering environmental benefits). Not surprisingly, vegetarian diets are gaining in popularity. It also helps that there’s evidence to say vegetarians and vegans weigh less than their meat-eating counterparts. Let’s dive into the details and see how reducing meat may be helpful for shedding those stubborn pounds.

One caveat: Weight loss is tough and highly personalized. What works for your neighbor may not work well for you.

Findings for Weight and Going Vegetarian

A large 2010 study examined the diet of 373,803 men and women in 10 European countries over the course of 8 years found that eating meat was positively linked to weight gain. The researchers found that after adjusting for calories, eating 250 grams of meat (about 1 steak) per day would lead to a 2 kilogram weight gain after 5 years. Naturally, the researchers then concluded that eat less meat would help with weight management.

Generally speaking, vegetarians have lower weights than omnivores. A 2015 analysis of 15 studies by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics concluded that adopting a vegetarian diet leads to weight loss, without calorie counting or exercise. And going all out vegan may reign supreme in the weight loss department.

Earlier this year, Harvard researchers looked at how vegetarian diets affected weight loss. To do this they combed through 12 studies with a total of 1,151 participants. Note that all 12 studies were randomized controlled trials meaning they assigned participants to either a vegetarian or non-vegetarian group (e.g. control group). Each study lasted about 18 weeks or 4.5 months. Their findings: vegetarians lost 4.4 pounds more than non-vegetarians, and vegans lost 5.5 pounds more than non-vegetarians.

How to Go Vegetarian Healthfully

It makes sense that eating less meat can be helpful for weight loss. Meat is higher in saturated fat, cholesterol, and usually calories than plants, not to mention the fact that it’s void of filling fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants. Therefore, eating too much meat (or too much of anything) won’t be good for you, which leads me to my next point.

Remember that being vegetarian doesn’t automatically mean being healthier. After all, cookies and pie and cheese pizza are all meatless. The key to losing weight on a vegetarian diet is fueling yourself with nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, legumes, soy, nuts, and seeds.

Going vegetarian automatically means eating more carbohydrates, since meat is the only food group without this nutrient. If most of your carbohydrates is coming from refined grains, this won’t bode well for you. Instead, stick with higher fiber options and choose your carbohydrates wisely. For example, pick roasted sweet potatoes or spicy black beans rather than couscous or rice.

What about protein? News flash: ditching meat doesn’t mean you’re going to be a victim of protein deficiency anytime soon. Incorporate plant-based protein-rich foods like beans, whole grains, eggs, tofu, nuts, and seeds into every meal and snack to ensure you’re meeting your daily needs and staying full.

While reducing consumption of meat may seem daunting, it’s not as hard as you’d think. More and more restaurants are offering vegetarian options, and not just cheesy pasta, either. Don’t be surprised when you see quinoa patties and bean “meatballs” popping up on menus everywhere—fast food included! The good news is that this trend isn’t going anywhere and the world is only going to become more accepting of meatless preferences.

Have you adopted a vegetarian lifestyle to lose weight? Share your experiences below.

About the Author

Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD
Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD

Alexis is a nationally recognized nutritionist and media personality specializing in nutrition communications and intuitive eating. She founded Hummusapien, a multi-faceted food, wellness, and lifestyle website in 2011 and co-founded Alchemy Juice Bar + Cafe in Columbus, OH in 2014. Alexis also works as a writer, speaker, and nutrition consultant for food brands and commodity boards.

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