Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: Will adopting a vegetarian diet help me lose weight?
A: It may. Vegetarians, especially vegans (who eat no animal products at all) do tend to be less overweight than non-vegetarians. But to lose weight, you’ve got to eat fewer calories than you burn. Vegetarian diets typically include lots of vegetables and fruits, which contain fewer calories than the same size portion of most other foods. So by following this type of diet, you may automatically reduce your calories. Overeating even healthful vegetarian foods though, will likely keep you from losing weight. For example, a serving of vegetarian foods such as guacamole, cheese, nuts and seeds - are actually higher in calories than a serving of some seafood, poultry and lean meat. Other sources of excess calories from vegetarian foods include beverages like sodas, alcohol and even juice, smoothies and sweetened milk alternatives.
Intervention studies show that as long as people limit calories, a vegetarian diet does not produce any greater weight loss than a non-vegetarian option. If you tend to eat portions larger than you need or eat in response to stress or emotions, those are habits to address regardless of the type of diet you eat. A vegetarian diet is one alternative for a diet that can both promote good health and provide filling amounts of low-calorie foods to promote weight loss. Even if you don’t completely adopt a vegetarian diet, you can replace some of your high calorie food and drinks with non-starchy vegetables and unsweetened drinks. You can also reduce your portion size of other foods to cut calories with a plant-focused, but non-vegetarian, eating pattern.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, http://www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.