Benefits of a vegetarian diet in weight loss
Firstly, I'd like the pre-face this article by stating that I am NOT one of those militant, preachy vegetarians here to inflict a moral superiority complex on those of you who like to eat meat. My aim is more to counter some of the “you can't be healthy without meat” types and provide some advice and reassurance for the vegetarian people out there trying to put together a diet or nutrition plan that works for them.
A healthy vegetarian diet is perfectly suited to weight loss, for several reasons. The first and most obvious is of course the lack of animal fats consumed. It is widely accepted that a diet high in saturated fat (such as animal fats) contributes to many health issues such as obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol. While some vegetarian foods can still be relatively high in fats, these fats are usually of a mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated variety, which are therefore a source of the essential fatty acids (such as Omega 6) that are required in a healthy diet.
Note that the “good” fats do still have the same calorie count as the “bad” fats, so the vegetarian still has to be careful not to over-indulge!
A further benefit to be gained in vegetarian diets is in ensuring adequate levels of fibre or “roughage”. Fibre has numerous health benefits, and particularly in relation to weight loss adds bulk to a meal, filling the stomach without adding large amounts of calories. Soluble fibre has additional benefits in slowing the absorption of glucose, regulating blood sugar levels and lowering cholesterol. Insoluble fibre is also beneficial to the digestive system.
Contrary to what some misinformed people might have you believe, there are many good sources of protein available to vegetarians. Egg whites and dairy products are a good source, as well as soy and wheat based products such as tofu or satien for the more strict vegetarians who exclude eggs and dairy products. Legumes are also a good protein source which also have the the benefits of being highly fibrous, as described above.
Low carb diets seem to be the fad of the past few years, and while it is advisable to reduce high GI processed carbohydrates from white bread (for example), adequate carbohydrate intake is actually an advantage in weight loss.
Carbohydrates are your body's primary fuel source and are necessary to train to your full potential, or just to make it through the day without falling asleep at work! Fats are also utilised as a fuel source, however it is important to understand that carbohydrates are needed for fat metabolism, and when carbohydrate stores deplete, the rate of fat metabolism also declines.
This goes some way to explaining why many people struggle to lose weight, despite under eating and doing some form of exercise.
A balanced diet (combined with regular physical activity) is really the key to weight loss, and the good news for vegetarians is that a healthy vegetarian diet will be, almost by default, low in fat (especially saturated fats), reduced carbohydrate and high fibre. If you simply aim for high protein, and avoid high carb foods such as white bread, potato, rice and pasta, and of course stay off the junk food and keep to healthy snacks only, you really won't have to put much thought into your meal choices to stay on target for getting into, or staying in shape. Include some avocado in your diet and you can lower your cholesterol levels even further.
For vegetarians following the above guidelines, it should be very unlikely that you would ever exceed your target calorie intake. The same rules regarding healthy snacks, low fat and high fibre meal choices are true for meat eaters as well, but vegetarians should have a slight advantage in already being in the habit of consuming fresh vegetables, legumes and so forth.
Again, I'm not trying to convince everyone in the world to go vegetarian, I'm just letting the vegetarians know they can disregard any “you have to start eating meat” advice that others try to force upon them.
Eat well, train hard and be proud!
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