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Q: Does a vegetarian diet make you lose weight?
A: Not in and of itself.
Following a vegetarian diet does not guarantee that you will lose weight. Although research shows that vegetarian diets are associated with a lower BMI and leaner body mass, if you don’t pay attention to food choices, portion sizes, or calories, weight gain is just as possible as loss. A plant-based diet can be low in calories, and high in nutrients and fiber — but only if the right foods are consumed in moderate quantities.
Consuming breads, cereals, and grains without vegetables, fruits, or legumes does not make for a balanced vegetarian diet. Furthermore, if you replace animal products with highly processed meat-imitation products, refined carbohydrates, or “junk” foods, you very likely will gain weight.
Some people think that eating a plant-based diet allows us to eat as much as we want. But at the end of the day, a calorie is a calorie–even if it comes from a plant, and weight gain usually occurs if a person consumes more calories than he or she requires. In fact, the calories in grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and dried fruit in particular can add up very quickly. This is where paying attention to the serving sizes is key.
Kayleen St. John is the resident nutritionist at NYC’s Natural Gourmet Institute. She has a Master’s degree in clinical nutrition from NYU and is a registered dietitian. Her research examines the relationship between diet and inflammatory conditions.