Can Going Vegetarian Make You Fat?
Many people assume if they switch to a vegetarian diet they'll immediately shed some unwanted pounds, but unfortunately weight loss isn’t a given when you toss the meat from your diet. While it makes sense that you lose weight by cutting burgers, bacon, sausage, wings, and other fatty meats from your diet, many new vegetarians come to see us baffled by weight gain. And how can you blame them, after all, shouldn’t eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in lieu of a typical fatty, meat-rich diet save some calories? The answer is yes; however, there are several common mistakes vegetarians make that backfire.
Vegetarian Mistake #1: In an effort to avoid meat, you forget to include protein at each meal
This is a recipe for hunger and weight gain. Protein helps you feel satiated, and without it you may feel hungry—and reach for more food--every few hours (protein takes four to six hours to digest compared to just one to four hours for carbohydrates).
Solution: Include a serving of a non-meat protein at each meal. If you are avoiding all animal products, try legumes, hummus, nuts, nut butters, split peas, tofu and lentils. If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian you may also choose eggs, nonfat or low-fat yogurt and other fat-free or low-fat dairy products as a source of protein. Pesca-vegetarians can, of course, include fish for protein.
Vegetarian Mistake #2: You eat a food because it’s vegetarian without paying attention to its quality
If you live on potato chips and soda, or on candy or cakes, you are by definition a vegetarian! You can get a lot of extra calories (but not many nutrient) from these meat-free munchies. At the same time you ultimately miss out all of the healthy reasons to be a vegetarian, namely eating more fruits, veggies, whole grains and plant-based protein sources.
Solution: Just as you would if you were eating meat, choose to eat food because it is wholesome, and nutrient-packed, not just because it doesn’t contain animals.
Vegetarian Mistake #3: You fill up on vegetarian meals and assume they are low in calories.
We’ve had numerous clients come to us because they gained weight while filling up on seemingly super healthy meals, such as vegetarian lasagna or quinoa with vegetables and cashews. Although vegetarian meals may feel light and contain healthy ingredients, they are often surprisingly high in calories. Frequently used vegetarian ingredients, like nuts, seeds, oils or soy cheeses, can pack in calories and fat. For example, a cup of steamed kale has 35 calories, but if it’s sautéed in two tablespoons of heart healthy olive oil, you’re suddenly looking at 275 calories!
Solution: If your food comes in a package, read the label to see the calories per serving just as you would for a non-vegetarian meal. Pay attention to the portion size and whether you think it will fill you. Keep in mind that if you average about 1600 calories daily, as many health conscious females do, about 400 calories per meal is a good goal to shoot for. This will allow two, 200-calorie snacks. If you are dining out and there are no nutrition facts available, do just as you would with a diet that contains meat: fill at least half of your plate with salads and steamed veggies that have been prepared with minimal oil or butter so that they remain very low in calories. Save a smaller portion of the plate for the more calorie-dense portion of the meal (the portions that include oils, nuts and sauces). This way, you’ll still eat the quantity of food that you are used to eating, but you’ll be cutting out a significant source of calories.
—Tammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse “Lyssie” Lakatos—otherwise known as the Nutrition Twins—are registered dietitians, certified personal trainers and authors of The Secret To Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat. They will be blogging about healthy eating and weight loss for Fitbie every week.
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