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Fad diets may come and go, but the American quest for weight loss and the perfect body remains eternal. Some people gravitate towards either a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle because of their love of animals. Others, however, embrace these types of food plans with the assumption that eliminating meat and other animal-based foods will lead to quick weight loss and a gloriously svelte physique for life. But, is weight loss assured if you go meat-free? Leading researchers and scientists the world over agree; the answer to that question is maybe. So, what’s a hopeful dieter to do? Before you dump out your freezer’s carnivorous contents and vow never to reach for another bacon burger, here are some simple truths about going vegetarian, vegan or staying omnivorous.
To veg or not to veg, that is the question
Vegetarianism is hardly a fad as there are millions of people subscribing to this practice worldwide. Being vegetarian means you don’t eat any type of animal flesh, such as meat, poultry, fish or seafood. Everything else is up for grabs, although some vegetarians also abstain from other foods and even types of clothing derived from animals, like gelatin (goodbye lime Jell-O) or whey, which is found in many cheeses and other processed foods. Followers of the more radical vegan diet also eliminate eggs and dairy from their diets and many also refrain from eating honey. Eliminating animal products typically helps to diminish the intake of saturated, health-robbing fat. Taken on face value, it certainly sounds like these types of eating regimens would create an automatic go-pass for losing weight, but that may not always be the case.
Embracing your inner caveman
As it has been for many a millennium, most people both fat, thin and in between define themselves as omnivores, meaning they eat plant and animal products. On a good day, an omnivorous diet might consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and grass-fed beef or wild salmon. Unfortunately, for the omnivorous hordes who consistently find themselves fighting weight gain, not every day is a good day.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat (sorry, vegetarians)
It’s not just what you don’t eat, it’s also what you do eat. Weight loss is achieved by burning off more calories than you consume each day, plus coaxing additional fat out of your stored reserves and burning that off, too. Given their abstention from highly saturated and fatty foods, vegans and vegetarians who carefully chart out their meals may be poised to more easily lose weight than their omnivorous counterparts. Foods like vegetables, fruits and high-fiber whole grains take a long time to digest, plus yield a feeling of fullness which may lead to eating less. But, going meat-free does not mean you won’t gain weight if you instead opt to fill up on pasta, potatoes and other starchy foods, not to mention sugar-laden treats. Vegan diets yield up a strong weight loss if processed foods and simple carbohydrates are consistently avoided, but even health-conscious vegetarians who belly-up to the tofu ice cream counter on a daily basis will find themselves battling weight gain rather than enjoying weight loss, unless they are training for a triathlon and burning all of those calories off.
Omnivores don’t have it any easier. High-quality protein sources like fresh fish, healthy fats like olive oil, plus fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates all make for good dieting choices. But if you add sugar into the mix like those found in starchy carbs like corn, you’re looking at a diet disaster. Processed foods are a no-go in this diet plan as well, such as deli meats laden with nitrates and salt. So if you want to reach for that bacon burger and still lose weight, it makes sense to lose the white, high-carb bun, opt for good quality, grass-fed beef and replace the pork bacon with healthy, organic turkey bacon instead.
The straight skinny
At the end of the day, it’s all about eating consciously and finding balance, no matter what type of food plan you subscribe to. For all people interested in losing weight, this means making sure you’re choosing healthy, low-calorie foods that are fresh and pack a nutrient-rich bang for your buck. If those foods also supply lots of fiber and protein, you’ll feel fuller longer and probably be healthier, too. For vegetarians and vegans in particular, it makes sense to take daily, metabolism-boosting supplements like iodine, zinc, vitamin B-12 and calcium, as well as eliminating simple, waist-thickening carbohydrates. Avoid processed foods whenever possible and keep track of daily caloric or carbohydrate intake by writing down your food choices on a daily basis. Whether you’re reaching for a soy salad or a steak, a little bit of proactive planning coupled with an exercise regime you enjoy will go a long way towards helping you shed pounds quickly and safely, unleashing a healthier, svelter you.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.