Going Vegetarian Dos and Don'ts

Avoid these common vegetarian pitfalls to improve your health without packing on pounds.

Going Vegetarian Dos and Don'ts

Going vegetarian can boost your health in many ways, including lowering your blood pressure and cutting your cancer risk. But if you do it the wrong way, you might find that it's simply a recipe for weight gain. Make sure you follow these going vegetarian dos and don'ts to get all the benefits without the extra pounds.

Give in to carb cravings

Cutting animal proteins out of your diet can leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied. Many vegetarians wrongly turn to carbs like bread, rice and pasta to fill up. Inundating your body with carbs will send your blood sugar shooting up and down, zapping your energy, and increase your cortisol levels, which can add to belly fat.

Reach for frozen meals
Packaged, pre-prepared vegetarian or vegan meals often look like a quick and healthy meal option when you look at the cover packaging, but if you take a look at the nutritional information you might be less pleased. These meals are often full of calories, fat, sugar, salt, artificial flavors and preservatives. One popular frozen vegetarian pad Thai, for example, has more calories than a fast food bacon double cheeseburger, and more sodium than four and a half small orders of fast food French fries. Vegan baked goods and ice creams often contain more calories (and just as much sugar) as their non-vegan counterparts.

Overdo the cheese
Cheese can be a great source of protein for people who don't eat animal proteins, but if you eat too much or pick the wrong ones, you'll gain weight fast. Some cheddar cheese, for example, has four times the calories and nine times the fat of skinless chicken breast, when you compare the two ounce for ounce. In addition, cheese is often high in salt, which can make you hold onto excess water and gain water weight.

Eat more plant-based protein

To cut down on cravings and keep your body strong, up your intake of plant-based proteins. Get at least 46 grams of protein a day to keep your energy high, your immune system healthy and your stomach satisfied. Incorporate more of these great sources of protein into your diet: lentils, legumes, quinoa, Greek yogurt, hemp seeds and almonds.  

Pick the right prepackaged foods, and freshen them up
Don't let pre-packaged foods sneak extra calories into your diet. Be careful to eat no more than three packaged meals a week. If they contain any kind of grain, make sure it's a whole grain to keep your insulin and blood sugar from spiking. Finally, incorporate a cup of fresh vegetables into any pre-packaged meal.

Eat better cheeses
If you're a cheese lover, but don't want to overdo it, opt for healthier cheeses like goat cheese, feta and gruyere. Grating cheese on top of your meals instead of chowing down on whole chunks is also an easy way to limit how much you eat.

Know What Nutrients You Need

When you cut meat out of your diet, you’re also cutting out the nutrients it contains. Make sure you’re getting enough of the following nutrients, whether through other foods or vitamins.

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Iron (you'll need twice as much iron as a non-vegetarian needs)
  • Zinc
  • Iodine

Q: I end up overeating because it makes me feel better and I never really get full. I'd like to lose weight but this makes it hard. Any suggestions?

A: Being persistently hungry can cause big trouble. So can overeating for comfort/pleasure. These two behaviors, say researchers from Baylor University's Children's Nutrition Research Center, are controlled deep within your brain by serotonin-producing neurons, but operate separately from each other — one in the hypothalamus, the other in the midbrain. They both can, however, end up fueling poor nutritional choices and obesity.

Eating for Hunger

When hunger is your motive for eating, the question is: "Does your body know when you've had enough?" Well, if you are overweight, obese or have diabetes you may develop leptin resistance and your "I am full" hormone, leptin, can't do its job. The hormone's signal to your hypothalamus is dampened, and you keep eating.

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