Should you become vegetarian? Dietitian answers the most common questions

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With more and more plant-based meats, now widely sold at grocery stores and served at fast-food restaurants, following a vegetarian (or vegan) diet is more convenient and easier to maintain than ever before.

There is also a growing list of celebrities such as Carrie Underwood and Russell Brand who prefer skipping the steak for dinner.

But when it comes to completely cutting out meat, is it actually better for you?

Here, Lite n’ Easy dietitian Larissa Robbins answers some of the most common questions around vegetarianism.

READ MORE: Nutritionist explains what macros actually mean

A vegetarian diet is not guaranteed to be healthy. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Where does a vegetarian diet fit?

Vegetarian diets may promote weight loss because they focus on nutrient-dense, low calorie foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and soy.

But being vegetarian doesn’t automatically mean consuming fewer calories… After all, many vegetarian and vegan food pack a high-calorie punch – think fried foods, snack bars and even cookies and pies.

A vegetarian diet, like any other, may help you lose weight, but it can also result in weight gain if you take in more calories than you burn off on a regular basis. Avoiding meat doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll consume fewer calories than you burn, which is what needs to happen to lose weight.

If weight loss if your goal, yes, you can achieve this with a vegetarian diet. But simply avoiding meat is unlikely to help you achieve your results. You will need to ensure you are reducing your calorie intake as well.

Lite n' Easy accredited dietitian, Larissa Robbins
Larissa Robbins answers some of the most common questions around vegetarianism. (Supplied)

Is a vegetarian diet healthier for me?

A vegetarian diet is not guaranteed to be healthy. You can follow a vegetarian diet and still eat lots of foods that aren’t good for you, like refined and high calorie foods such as cakes, cookies and ice cream.

READ MORE: Intermittent fasting can be really good for your brain, doctor explains

Much of the health advantage of vegetarian eating is that it relies on foods that are naturally high in fibre. Foods like wholegrain, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruit and veggies are key in vegetarian eating – and are all rich sources of fibre. Fibre is not only great for keeping you regular, but it also feeds your gut bugs!

Happy, well-fed gut bugs help to protect you from bowel cancer, help to manage blood glucose levels and may even help in weight management.

Plant-based diet
Is a vegetarian diet right for you? (iStock)

Should I cut out all animal products?

It’s unnecessary to completely exclude animal products from your diet to reap improved health benefits.

From a health perspective, focusing on eating an abundance of whole plant-based foods and reducing highly processed and refined foods is the important part. Lean meats, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs and diary offer a range of nutrients like protein, iron B12, omega-3 fatty acids and calcium.

Can I be a part-time vegetarian?

While vegetarians as a whole tend to be healthier than non-vegetarians, this doesn’t mean every vegetarian diet is healthy or will promote weight loss. It also doesn’t necessarily mean this kind of diet is right for you.

Making the switch from meat to plant foods for even just a few meals per week is a sure way to increase fibre intake, and your gut will thank you for it!

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