Just eating a vegetarian diet is not going to make you lose weight, it's how you eat that diet that’s going to help you lose the pounds. If you eat french fries every day, it’s not going to work, but if you go a healthier route, as with all diets, you’ll see results.
Plants are naturally lower in calories and higher in fiber. That means you feel fuller for longer even though you didn't eat a lot of calories. Making a vegetarian diet work for weight loss involves ensuring that your meals and snacks contain filling foods.
You also need to make sure you’re eating plenty of complete proteins, and that you’re limiting your intake of highly processed, or non-filling foods. Up next you’re going to find out how a vegetarian diet for weight loss works, what being vegetarian means, and how a vegetarian weight loss plan can fit into your life.
A vegetarian diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein sources like beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, and seitan. The diet excludes meat, fish, poultry, and some other animal by-products.
One thing that you may find appealing about a vegetarian diet is its flexibility. Gone are the days of overly restrictive diets that are not only difficult to follow but also may not meet your individualized needs.
Vegetarian diet weight loss gives you a plethora of food options to choose from. You can eat all the fruits and veggies you love and include things like cheese and eggs too.
When you think about a vegetarian diet, you probably think about a diet that doesn't include meat, poultry, or fish. However, different types of vegetarian diets are classified based on the elimination of certain food groups.
The main types of vegetarian diets are as follows.
This is the most common vegetarian diet. It allows dairy and eggs but excludes other animal products like meat, fish, and poultry.
A lacto-vegetarian diet is a form of vegetarianism that allows dairy but excludes eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood.
An ovo-vegetarian diet is another form of vegetarianism that allows eggs but excludes dairy, meat, poultry, and seafood.
Veganism is a more restrictive form of vegetarianism that excludes all animal products including meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, and any other products of animal origin including honey.
Two Alternative Vegetarian Diets
The following two diets are not exactly vegetarian, but they are diets that folks that want to go vegetarian with some flexibility emply.
A pescatarian diet is one that includes dairy, eggs, fish, and seafood but excludes other animal products like meat and poultry.
A flexitarian diet is one that includes mostly plant-based foods while allowing meat and other animal products in moderation.
Emerging research is confirming the health benefits of eating a vegetarian diet. When well-balanced, not only is a vegetarian diet nutritionally adequate but it may help reduce your risk of chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Furthermore, studies show that following a vegetarian weight loss plan may also be an effective way to shed some unwanted pounds.
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that reducing your intake of meat and adding plant-based foods that are rich in fiber and antioxidants can help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
One 2021 study in the Journal of Urology found that the consumption of plant-based foods was associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer in men under the age of 65.
Researchers have found that adding additional fiber, greens, and flax seeds into your diet may help decrease your risk of breast cancer.
Studies have discovered that women eating 6 grams or more of soluble fiber (oats, peas, beans, apples, barley) had a 62% risk reduction of breast cancer compared to those consuming less than 4 grams per day.
Eating a vegetarian diet was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancers compared with non-vegetarians according to a 2015 study published by JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers noted that for pescatarians this protective link was even stronger.
Vegetarians generally have a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, fiber, and antioxidants, all of which may help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, the high amounts of soluble fiber in a vegetarian diet may be beneficial for people with diabetes, as soluble fiber binds glucose, which can help manage blood sugar control.
One 2018 study found that those following a vegetarian diet and non-vegetarians that switched to a vegetarian diet experienced a 50% reduction in the risk of diabetes.
One 2017 systematic review of 14 studies found that a vegetarian diet can help reduce the risk of diabetes. Additionally, researchers noted that a vegetarian diet may significantly improve blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes.
There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the nutrients provided in a plant-based diet may protect your heart.
In a recent study from the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that participants who ate a plant-centered diet were 52% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
Another 2021 study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found that postmenopausal women that ate mostly plant-based foods were 11% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease of any kind, 14% less likely to develop coronary heart disease, and 17% less likely to develop heart failure.
Furthermore, one 2019 systematic review found that following a vegetarian diet may lower inflammation throughout the body leading to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome - a cluster of conditions that can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
The higher fiber and potassium content, along with the lower saturated fat and sodium content found in vegetarian diets may help lower blood pressure.
One 2020 systematic review of 15 studies determined that a vegetarian diet, and particularly a vegan diet, can significantly reduce blood pressure compared to a non-vegetarian diet.
Researchers suggested that following a vegetarian diet may play an important role in the prevention and management of high blood pressure.
If following a vegetarian diet for weight loss you will want to include nutritious, minimally processed whole foods that are filling.
For example, foods rich in protein will promote fullness with fewer calories than fat. Plant-based protein-rich food sources include tofu, seitan, chickpeas, quinoa, beans, lentils, and tempeh.
Many plant proteins are considered “incomplete proteins”, meaning they may be missing some of the essential amino acids found in animal-based proteins. However, if you eat a variety of plant-based proteins throughout the day, you’ll get plenty of essential amino acids when following a vegetarian diet.
Additionally, fiber from carbohydrates takes longer to digest and will also keep you feeling fuller for longer. High-fiber foods include green leafy vegetables, artichoke, legumes, and whole grains.
Also, you will want to drink plenty of water as it may help reduce your appetite and give your metabolism a boost. By replacing water with high-calorie beverages, you can aid in weight loss efforts.
One way to increase your fiber intake is to limit the number of refined grains and to switch to whole grains.
Whole grains contain fiber which plays a critical role in weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness. Fiber also causes a slower rise in blood sugar which prevents sudden crashes which can lead to sugar cravings.
Whole grains also have the added benefits of containing important nutrients like B vitamins, iron, folate, potassium, magnesium, and selenium.
If following a lacto-ovo vegetarian weight loss plan, you’ll want to be mindful of your egg and dairy intake. If eating dairy, you may consider low-fat products like low-fat Greek yogurt, or skim milk. Full-fat dairy products may provide an excess of calories making it challenging to lose weight.
Additionally, eggs are not considered a low-fat food. Therefore, unless you’re eating egg whites, it’s best to be mindful of the number of eggs you’re eating each week.
When following a vegetarian weight loss plan, it’s important to include a healthy diet with a balance of minimally processed foods to help your weight loss efforts.
Vegetarian foods that may support weight loss include those in the following at-a-glance chart.
Following a vegetarian diet may help support your weight loss efforts as the diet focuses on filling foods that include plenty of protein and high-fiber foods.
However, following a vegetarian diet doesn’t automatically mean that the pounds will shed themselves. You need to eat the right vegetarian foods.
The key to weight loss when following a vegetarian diet is to limit your intake of non-filling foods. Many vegetarian and vegan packaged snack foods are highly processed and contain an excess of calories, sugar, fat, and sodium.
If you’re relying on too many of these snack foods as part of a vegetarian diet, you may be sabotaging your weight loss efforts. Potato chips, pretzels, tortilla chips, and cookies, only provide empty calories that will leave you feeling hungry and tired.
Additionally, if you’re eating too much junk food, you may not be eating enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods, therefore missing out on the important nutrients they provide.
A well-planned, balanced vegetarian diet is healthy and generally nutritionally adequate.
However, some vegetarian diets may be low in certain nutrients, and taking a supplement can help fill nutritional gaps that arise.
Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods, therefore vegetarians, and especially vegans may be missing out on this important nutrient. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian and eating milk, yogurt, eggs, and cheese, you’re likely meeting your B12 needs.
However, if you are vegan you will want to focus on eating plenty of foods fortified with vitamin B-12 and may consider taking a B12 supplement to prevent a deficiency.
Foods that may be fortified with vitamin B-12 include:
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the US and is characterized by fatigue, weakness, headaches, dizziness, pale skin, and inability to maintain body temperature.
While iron is found in both animal and plant foods, the iron found in plant food can be harder for your body to absorb.
Some of the best plant sources of iron include:
You can increase your body's absorption by pairing iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C like tomato sauce, citrus fruits, and bell peppers.
If you suspect you have an iron deficiency and can’t meet your needs through diet, you may consider speaking with your health care provider about supplementation.
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that not only helps your body absorb calcium, but also plays a role in supporting your immune system, regulating insulin levels, and enhancing your heart health.
While vitamin D fortified foods like eggs, fortified dairy, fortified orange juice, and fortified cereal may help you get some of this important nutrient, diet alone may not help you get enough.
Your body can also make vitamin D through sunshine, however, depending on your lifestyle and where you live, you may be in short supply.
If following a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is best to have your vitamin D levels checked to see if supplementation is best for you.
Anytime you’re looking to lose weight you’ll want to create a calorie deficit. You will need to learn what your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is, which tells you how many calories you burn at rest. You will also need to know what your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is to understand your total daily calorie requirements.
A calorie deficit occurs when the number of calories you eat in a day is smaller than the number of calories you burn. When following a vegetarian diet for weight loss, the key to achieving a calorie deficit is by eating filling foods that provide plenty of plant-based protein and fiber, and also reducing your intake of non-filling foods.
Creating a calorie deficit can occur by eating fewer calories each day, increasing the number of calories you burn through exercise, or by a combination of eating fewer calories and exercising to burn more calories. This is the most effective and sustainable way to lose weight.
It’s best to work with a coach to help you determine how many calories you should eat in a day to create an appropriate calorie deficit to meet your individualized needs and goals.
Transitioning to vegetarianism doesn’t have to happen overnight. The first step to getting there is to review your current diet. Make note of foods that you eat regularly and try incorporating your favorite vegetarian foods along with plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains into a vegetarian weight loss plan.
You need energy for your body to function as well as to do all of the activities you like. You get energy from all of your food and drinks, but when you become vegetarian you need to make sure you’re eating enough to get all the energy you need.
Consider eliminating animal proteins in a certain order that makes sense for you. For example, you may begin by cutting out the beef, then pork, then poultry, then fish.
Another approach to transitioning is to pick one or two plant-based meals and begin building upon them. For example, you may have a “meatless Monday” which can then spread to other days of the week.
You can also start slowly by making simple changes to your meals by adding a large portion of salad to your lunch or dinner meal. Next, you could begin eliminating meat and dairy products that you don’t love.
Eventually, you can swap out animal-based ingredients for plant-based alternatives in your favorite recipes. For example, you can swap out beef for beans in your chili recipe.
Your nutritional needs are as unique as you are. Therefore, it’s important to consult with a health coach that will provide an individualized plan that will meet your nutritional needs while supporting your goals. Fitmate coaches can provide the best diet information, proper guidance, and support to help you lose weight and keep it off for good.
Take our Fitmate Quiz to find out which diet you are best suited for, we’ll even figure out which one of our coaches best matches with you too.
The 4 vegetarian diets include a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, lacto-vegetarian diet, ovo-vegetarian diet, and a pescatarian diet:
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet: Eliminates meat, fish, and poultry but allows eggs and dairy products.
Lacto-vegetarian diet: Eliminates meat, fish, poultry, and eggs but allows dairy products.
Ovo-vegetarian diet: Eliminates meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products but allows eggs.
Vegan diet: Eliminates all animal products including meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and animal products like honey.
When well-planned and balanced, a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients you need including adequate amounts of protein.
There are plenty of plant-based protein sources to choose from. These include Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, lentils, beans, milk, nuts, eggs, quinoa, tofu, seitan, tempeh, nut butters, and seeds.
The following are some of the foods that you may consider using in place of meat in your diet:
Tofu, tempeh, seitan, textured vegetable protein, also known as TVP,
Whole foods, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, and mushrooms.
Many of these foods contain protein or have a meaty texture and can work well as meat replacements in your recipes.
Some symptoms of protein deficiency may include fatigue and loss of muscle mass. Additional symptoms can include increased susceptibility to illness as a protein deficiency can compromise your immune system.
Having a protein deficiency can wreak havoc on your hair, skin, and nails all of which are made up of protein.
Lastly, not eating enough protein may weaken your bones and increase the risk of fractures.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 0.4 grams of protein for each pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kg). This is an estimate for most people, however, people with active lifestyles may require more.