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Fitness by the Fire: Mistakes of a vegetarian and vegan based diet for protein

by Ron Kennedy • October 25, 2017
Vegetarianism. Whether you're trying to reduce the risk of cancer, slash your carbon footprint, or you just want to take a stand as an animal lover, there are lots of “promoted” benefits associated with going vegetarian. The most popular of these suggested benefits is weight loss.

In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that people who ate about 250g of meat a day—roughly the size of one half-pound steak, piece of poultry, or processed meat—packed on more pounds over the course of five years compared to other study participants who ate less animal and more plant based protein.

This was true even when they had the same number of calories overall. Yet, trimming body fat as part of a fitness lifestyle while focusing on a plant based diet is definitely not guaranteed. In fact, certain missteps could lead to weight gain.

Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist with Happy Gut MD, notes that vegans and vegetarians often sabotage their fat and weight loss efforts by eating more processed foods when they cut out animal protein. "When it comes to avoiding weight gain on a vegetarian diet, it's important to make sure that most of your calories are coming from high quality, fresh whole foods," he says. If you're trying to steer clear of eating meat without skewing the scale, here are the specific, weight-loss saboteurs you'll want to tackle head-on.

Eating high glycemic carbs that are not complete foods:

When you axe meat from your diet, you may be swapping that chicken stir-fry for a falafel pita—and paying for it on the scale. "Don’t be a French fry vegetarian! Just because it fits your criteria of being fit for a vegetarian diet doesn’t mean it's healthy for you," says Esther Blum, R.D., author of Cavewomen Don't Get Fat. "Keep your carbs whole food based. [They] should not come in a package with more than five ingredients—unless they’re herbs and spices. " Reach for sweet potatoes, butternut squash, any winter squash, plantains, beans, or lentils versus white flour carbs like bread, muffins, bagels, Blum says. If you want tortillas, she likes the kind made with cassava and coconut flours. Whole food carbs are best because they don’t provoke an insulin response in the body, like white flour, or processed carbs, Blum explains. "They don’t spike your blood sugar, they keep it stable for hours, and they’re also the richest in nutrition," she says. "Once something has been ground and turned into a flour, and then baked, it doesn’t retain the nutrition [and] it spikes your blood sugar, which can lead to weight gain and make it very hard to lose weight."

No fruit or juice:

"A lot of people try to stay away from fruit, because they're worried about the sugar content," Blum notes. "But fruit sugars are very healing for the body, combat inflammation, and clean up liver and hormone imbalances that contribute to weight gain." But she recommends avoiding juices that have been sitting on the shelf at your local supermarket, as they lose their nutritional value just a day after being processed. You're better off juicing fresh fruits—and, ideally, even more veggies than fruits—at home. "Have 16 ounces of fresh celery juice," Blum recommends. "It will build hydrochloric acid in the stomach, so you can digest your food and avoid bloating, gas, reflux, and absorb nutrients better." Healthy digestion will only aid your weight loss efforts.

Extremely low protein intake:

This one pretty much speaks for itself. The number of veggies needed to simulate even comparable levels of protein from eggs, chicken, fish, etc. is around 6 to 1! 4 eggs for breakfast (24gs of protein) might seem like a lot to swallow (pardon the pun) but it certainly is more reasonable than the pound of broccoli or 2 cans of red beans that would match those 4 eggs!

Snacking on the wrongs items to keep blood sugar levels high:

You don't necessarily need protein to feel satisfied and keep your blood sugar stable. Instead, you can go for certain healing, satiating fruit and veg combos, which will balance your potassium and sodium and natural sugar and support your adrenal glands, Blum notes. When the adrenals are compromised by chronic stress, they can prevent your metabolism from firing at full capacity and facilitating weight loss.

So, when you're tempted to snack on a piece of toast with almond butter (a popular vegetarian go-to), reach for something like half an avocado with sea salt and some orange slices, Blum advises. Alternate options: A salad made from orange, avocado or spinach—or sweet potato, kale, and lemon juice.