This article has been Fact-Checked by Kendall Kennedy MS, RD, RYT
Some vegetarians claim that their diet is the healthiest diet out there but is that really true? Should you try out the vegetarian diet?
Choosing a weight loss diet can be a difficult task. There is no shortage of different options, some crazier than others.
One of the more trending diets is the vegetarian diet. Is it the right choice for your weight and health?
Rules of the vegetarian diet plan
The rules of a vegetarian diet plan are pretty simple. You can’t eat the meat of animals, in more specific words: you can’t eat meat, fish, and poultry.
This means you don’t have to say no to all products coming from animals. Other products like eggs and dairy products are still allowed.
Within those “broader” rules you also have specific names for different versions of the vegetarian diet. Some examples include:
- Veganism: a diet that avoids consuming all animals and animal products even honey.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians: includes dairy and eggs
- Lacto-vegetarians: includes dairy no eggs
- Ovo-vegetarians: allows eggs
Proponents of the vegetarian diet claim that plant-based protein is healthier than protein coming from animals alongside other potential health benefits. Environmental and ethical reasons are also motivations for following this diet.
What can’t you eat on the vegetarian diet?
One of the most important things for long term health on a diet plan is taking a look at what you can’t eat. Your body is not able to make certain vitamins and minerals. However, we absolutely need them to function well in the short and the long term.
The best way to get all these nutrients is from real food in your diet. Supplements don’t always have the same effect.
That’s why it’s important to take a look at food a diet plan forbids. If there is no way to get all the nutrients you need from real food on the diet plan you might want to stay away from it.
So what does the vegetarian diet forbid you from eating?
Animal meat and fish.
Nutrients on the vegetarian diet
Getting enough nutrients is crucial for your health. That’s why the next question is “can we get the nutrients in animal meat and fish from other food?”.
The first nutrient that may come to mind is protein. However, there are plenty of plant-based foods with protein. The thing you do need to keep in mind is that in general, these plant-based options are not as high in protein as meat.
Proteins are essential for the health of your body. It will take a little more effort than just throwing a piece of meat or fish in the pan but you should be able to consume enough protein.
For most micronutrients, it’s the same story. You should be able to get them from plant-based foods but it will take a lot of effort.
However, vegetarian statistics and facts show there is at least one vitamin that vegetarians will probably have to supplement for long term health.
Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is pretty much only available in animal-based foods. One way to avoid a B12 deficiency is to consume a lot of eggs. A lot. It’s pretty much necessary for vegetarians to take vitamin B12 supplements for long term health.
However, supplements are not always able to replicate the desired effects of real food. It’s not yet completely clear how everything in food interacts with the human body. By not eating meat you might be missing out on some important internal processes.
In general, fish is considered a very healthy food source for humans. Two substances in them, DHA and EPA, show very promising results in improving health (1).
By not eating fish you are missing out on these powerful nutrients. It’s true that you can supplement with fish oil but consuming fish oil is basically the same as eating fish.
Consuming enough beneficial nutrients, preferably from whole food, should be your priority when choosing what to eat. The vegetarian diet raises some concerns in regards to this.
What are some benefits of becoming vegetarian?
The vegetarian diet also provides benefits.
A lot of people on a regular diet don’t consume enough vegetables. This makes them miss out on a lot of micronutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies are no joke. They can cause both short term and long term negative consequences.
Most people who switch over to the vegetarian diet automatically consume more vegetables. They pretty much have to.
Anyone who adds more vegetables to their diet will become healthier. If the only way you will do this is by going on the vegetarian diet, it might be a good choice.
Another advantage of eating a lot of vegetables is that you will feel fuller while consuming a smaller amount of calories. This is extremely helpful for losing weight.
Another benefit is that it becomes a lot harder to eat too much protein. Eating too much protein can be harmful to you. Luckily, on the vegetarian diet it’s not very likely to happen to you.
Then a third benefit is that you swap out animal protein for plant-based protein.
Protein is made up of different smaller parts, amino acids. Not all amino acids have the same impact on your body. This can potentially make plant-based protein better or worse depending on who you ask.
Science is not always 100% sure about certain things. This includes plant-based protein vs meat-based protein.
Eating a lot of animal protein can be harmful depending on your lifestyle but saying that eating any amount of meat brings more disadvantages than advantages is a daring statement that doesn’t agree with our history as a human species.
Different ways to do the vegetarian diet
Not all vegetarian diets are the same. The “rules” of the vegetarian diet say nothing about processed foods high in sugar.
There is not much, if not nothing, good to say about processed foods. If we are talking about losing weight and optimal health it’s safe to say that you better leave them out of your diet.
Plant-based protein might be slightly better than animal protein but if you’re going for optimal health and weight it’s more important to cut out processed foods first.
The vegetarian diet might be a big improvement over your current diet plan due to the increase in vegetables. But to avoid nutritional deficiencies it might be wise to eat some meat anyway.
When trying to lose weight and be more healthy in generally processed foods are a bigger problem than meat so that should be your first focus, certainly if you’re looking to lose weight.
If you really can’t stand the idea of animals getting killed for your meals you can still decide to go on this diet plan anyway. You should just know that there are some potential health disadvantages if you don’t approach it the right way.