My top diet tips for vegetarians
12 years ago, I decided to cut chicken, meat, and fish out of my diet simply because these foods didn’t make me feel good. Animal meat used to upset my stomach, give me headaches and make me feel utterly exhausted.
After some time being vegetarian, every ailment that I had disappeared. Since then I’ve experimented with mostly vegetarian plant-based recipes to develop my nutritional programmes and eating plans for clients.
Watching documentaries, reading articles and realising the journey that piece of steak takes to get to your plate, has definitely reinforced my vegetarianism. I’m a huge believer in knowing where your food comes from and exactly what you’re putting into your body. Knowledge of how vegetarianism saves the planet, and improves overall health has been very eye opening!
The benefits of a vegetarian diet
Research has shown that vegetarians have a higher-quality diet and higher intake of essential nutrients, like fibre, vitamin C, vitamin E and magnesium than their meat-eating counterparts. Vegetarianism also benefits the environment, because the production of livestock increases greenhouse gas emissions, contributes to climate change and uses excessive natural resources, water and energy.
Studies have also shown that vegetarian diets are more effective at reducing body weight than low-calorie diets. However, if you’re planning on following a vegetarian diet and want to keep your waistline (and health) in check, there are certain recommendations you should follow (which I’ll talk about in a little bit). While diet plays a key role in weight loss, there are other important contributors, like proper sleep, hydration, de-stressing techniques and exercise.
Thinking about going vegetarian? Here are some common types:
- Lacto-vegetarianism, which excludes meat, fish, poultry and eggs, but allows dairy.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, which excludes meat, fish and poultry, but allows eggs and dairy.
- Ovo-vegetarianism, which excludes meat, fish, poultry and dairy, but allows eggs.
- Veganism, which excludes meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy and any other animal-derived products.
- Flexitarian diet, which is mostly vegetarian, but includes occasional meat, fish or poultry.
- Semi-vegetarianism, which only excludes red meat.
- Lacto-ovo-pescatarian, which excludes meat and poultry, but allows fish, eggs and dairy.
Before you start, here are a few essential tips and recommendations:
1. Ensure you’re getting enough nutrients
A well-rounded vegetarian diet can be healthy and nutritious, however vegetarians are more likely to develop deficiencies. When cutting out meat or other animal products, staying adequately nourished is key.
Nutritional deficiencies can lead to:
- Bone loss
- Thyroid problems
Make sure your diet includes a range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins. Ensure that you get a variety of all your macro-nutrients in on a regular basis. Keep in mind that the more restrictive your diet is, the more difficult it will be to get all the necessary nutrients. For example, some strict vegan diets eliminate natural sources of vitamin B-12 and many calcium sources. In this case, supplementation might be a good idea.
If you haven’t seen it on Dis-Chem shelves or my e-store yet, check out Super Scoop. It’s your all-in-one simple solution to get all your daily nutrients in a convenient powder form. It’s low in sugar and calories but still super tasty, and dissolves easily in everything including water, juice, yoghurt, smoothies etc. Super Scoop is perfect for a plant-based diet and has no harmful, additives, colourants or preservatives, but is packed with 50 organic fruit and veg extracts, probiotics and fibre.
2. Avoid processed meat replacements
Some vegetarians rely too heavily on processed foods that are typically high in sugar, fat, sodium and calories. Many products, like veggie burger patties, meat substitutes, frozen meals and vegan cheese, contain unnecessary additives and other unhealthy ingredients. These highly processed foods are mostly packed with sodium, chemical preservatives, colourants, calories and sugar.
If you’re a vegetarian looking to lose weight then you may want to consume these products in moderation. If you rely too heavily on these foods, they can lead to weight gain, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Have a good-quality meat substitute as a treat once a week!
3. Experiment in the kitchen
It’s time to crack open the recipe books! Find some meatless meals that you already enjoy and make those more often. Find ways to incorporate greens like spinach and broccoli into your daily meals. Or simply use some of your favourite recipes and try to make them without meat. Replace chicken with tofu, or beef with black beans. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy meatless meals, and how easy it is to substitute meat.
If you’re finding the transition into vegetarianism a bit difficult, ease yourself into it. Slowly increase the non-meat proportion of your plate over time. Another option is to decrease your meat portion by half. For example, if you’re making spaghetti Bolognaise, make your bolognaise half mince and half lentils or simply substitute with my vegetarian Bolognaise recipe.
Branch out and find vegetarian recipes online. Buy or borrow vegetarian cookbooks. Order food from vegetarian or vegan restaurants. Once you broaden your horizons, you’ll realise that there’s actually a lot out there you can eat. The more variety you add to your plate, the easier it will be to stick to your vegetarian diet and meet your nutritional needs.
4. Prioritise protein
Overeating is particularly common in vegetarians who skimp on protein. This is because protein increases feelings of fullness by decreasing the hunger-regulating hormone, ghrelin.
However, there’s a common misconception that vegetarians are protein deficient. Remember- there’s plenty of protein in vegetables, dairy products, certain fats, pulses and legumes.
Even if large portions include nutritious vegetarian food, eating more calories than necessary can result in weight gain. It’s important to include protein in your meals to lower your overall calorie intake, while controlling the urge to overeat.
High-protein vegetarian foods include:
- Legumes (lentils and chickpeas)
- Eggs (for lacto-ovo vegetarians)
- Dairy products (for lacto-ovo vegetarians)
- Soy foods like tofu, edamame, or tempeh
5. Enjoy carbs in moderation
Many vegetarians have experienced that awkward moment at a braai, or dinner party where the only meat-free options include bread, cheese or pasta. Carbo-loading and too much dairy is where a lot of vegetarians go wrong!
While they might taste good and fill you up temporarily, refined carbs are high in sugar, sodium and preservatives – they can cause blood sugar spikes, leaving you feeling hungry and tired just a short while after eating them.
However, the right carbohydrates serve an important purpose in our diets. They are the primary fuel source for the brain’s high energy demands. Complex, whole-grain carbs that are high in fibre will assist in curbing hunger and aid in weight loss.
To keep your weight loss plan intact, moderate your consumption of refined carbs or replace them with complex whole-grain carbs.
Some “good” carbohydrates include:
- Brown rice
- Bulgar wheat
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Starchy vegetables like sweet potato, yam or corn
- Legumes like black beans, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans and peas
6. Make veggies the star on your plate
You don’t need meat to make a great meal. A veggie-packed meal can still be a winner! Vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals, they keep your calorie intake low and they’re high in fibre so they make you feel fuller and satisfied. The best part about vegetables? They’re whole foods, which means that you can have peace of mind knowing that they aren’t processed.
Examples of non-starchy vegetables:
- Leafy greens
- Bell pepper
- Baby corn
- Bean sprouts
7. Practice portion control
Don’t make the mistake of eating too many calories, thinking that it’s alright as long as it’s not meat. You won’t get results if you’re eating all the right foods, but in excess!
Focus on getting all your macro-nutrients in the right proportion to your weight, height, sex, age, goals and activity levels. Consult a wellness expert to help you work out your ideal eating plan for you. It’s also a good idea to have a DNA test which takes the guesswork out of which eating plan is best for you. For instance, DNA Diet tests several gene variations that impact metabolism, absorption and storage of fats and carbohydrates, as well as eating behaviour to understand how your genetic profile will impact your response to certain foods.
If your main goal is weight loss, be careful of having too much fruit. Fruit contains fructose, which is a form of sugar that will be stored as fat if it isn’t utilised. Although fruits contain vitamins, minerals and fibre, consume in small portions as a treat if you’re on a weight-controlled diet.
Dairy, particularly cheese, is another food that vegetarians tend to eat in excess. Like many other dairy products it contains lactase, a form of sugar that gets stored as excess fat and glycogen.
As a vegetarian, it’s also too easy to load up on fats, like avocado, coconut, nuts and seeds. While healthy fats are nutritious and can keep you fuller for longer, they’re also high in calories and can hinder weight loss. Consume these fats in moderation and fill at least half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables instead.
Eat slowly to give your body time to realise that it’s full. Practice mindful eating in order to enjoy your food fully, control your portions and lose weight.
8. Try my Elimin8 Programme
Thanks to highly processed foods available in excess, many of us suffer from nasty side effects linked to poor diet, including inflammation, water retention, hormonal imbalances, compacted colon, bloating, swelling or constipation. All of these can lead to weight gain.
But the good news is, My Elimin8 Programme, which is a gentle liver cleanse and gut-friendly programme, will help to reset your body by removing all the toxins in your diet. All the recipes in the programme are vegan, easy to prepare and are packed with nutrients and fibre.
The gut is at the centre of the body, with the digestive system affecting everything from your mood, to your sleeping patters and energy levels. When you remove all the stimulants from your diet, you’re left feeling healthier and happier! I also guarantee that you’ll sleep better and have more energy during the day. All of this, along with reduced inflammation, better digestion and less bloating and swelling, assists in weight loss.
Although my Elimin8 Programme isn’t a weight loss programme, many people lose excess kilos while following such a clean diet. It also helps to reduce cravings and the dependence on sugar.