A Vegetarian Weight Loss Plan: Food List and Meal Ideas

Embracing a vegetarian eating plan can help with weight loss. Here are tips for success and ways to prevent weight gain.

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by
Sarah Bullard, MS, RD, LD
— Signos
Dietitian and Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
February 29, 2024
March 5, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Vegetarianism has increased in popularity due to trending documentaries and the public interest in healthy eating options. Research has also strongly linked increased consumption of plant-based foods to reducing many chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease and helping with weight loss.1 

These health and weight loss benefits can be negated if you eat excessive refined carbohydrates and processed foods, which could be labeled as a ‘junk food vegetarian.’ 

Whether you embrace complete vegetarianism or swap some of your animal-based meals for plant-based, eating a balanced vegetarian diet can help you prevent chronic diseases and lose weight. 

What Are the Vegetarian Diet Types?

A vegetarian omits meat, poultry, and fish from their diet. 

However, there are several variations of the vegetarian diet:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: allows eggs and dairy; excludes meat, poultry, and fish
  • Lacto-vegetarian: allows dairy; excludes meat, poultry, fish, and dairy
  • Ovo-vegetarian: allows eggs, excludes meat, poultry, fish, and eggs
  • Vegan: excludes all forms of animal products, including honey (often excludes any animal products such as clothing or hair care products)
  • Flexitarian: allows some animal foods but eats mostly vegetarian
  • Pescatarian: allows fish, excludes meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs

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List of Vegetarian Foods for Weight Loss

Vegetarian diets focus on increasing your intake of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. These foods are generally higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and lower in fat, protein, and sugar. 

Choosing processed vegetarian foods will not promote health or weight loss (for example, chips, packaged bread, and baked goods). Choosing whole foods that resemble their original form at harvest will help with weight loss. 

  • Fruits: apples, bananas, kiwis, citrus, mango, figs, cherries, and berries
  • Choose the whole fruit form instead of juice. Fruits are rich in prebiotic fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, along with phytochemicals (beneficial plant compounds) that work to lower your risk of gastrointestinal disease and promote long-term weight control.2
  • Vegetables: leafy greens, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and garlic
  • Vegetables are packed with nutrients, including fiber, magnesium, potassium, and phytochemicals like carotenoids and flavonoids, which are beneficial for cardiovascular health, reducing oxidative stress, and inflammation.3 
  • Proteins: beans, legumes, Greek yogurt, kefir, cheese, soy milk, and soy products
  • With animal-based protein it is easier to meet nutritional recommendations for protein intake with smaller prtions. It may take a larger serving or various plant-based proteins to meet the recommended 25 to 35 g of protein per meal. Plant-based protein also contains fiber which is not present in animal-based proteins. Fiber keeps you full longer and helps prevent needless snacking. 
  • Healthy fats: olive oil, coconut, and avocado
  • Incorporating about two tablespoons of fats in your meals will help you stay full and stabilize your glucose levels. 
  • Nuts & seeds: walnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower, and chia seeds
  • Another option for getting adequate protein is incorporating nuts and seeds into your daily vegetarian meal plan. Nuts and seeds are high in fiber and phytochemicals, too.4
  • Whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, farro, and millet
  • Whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals and generally have a higher protein content than their refined grain counterparts. Whole grains help keep you full at meals and provide energy for your daily activities. 

What Vegetarian Foods Should You Avoid for Weight Loss?

  • Refined carbohydrates: white bread, pasta, white rice, and sweet desserts
  • These are low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Refined carbohydrates don’t fill you up for long, leading to unplanned snacking and weight gain. 
  • Ultra-processed foods: fried or fast food, chips, candy, sweets, frozen desserts, and freezer meals
  • While these foods can technically be considered vegetarian, there are no health benefits associated with their intake. Processed foods are linked to many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, overweight, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disease.5 
  • Sugary foods and beverages: soda, sports drinks, fruit juice, and energy drinks
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages should not be included in any diet. They spike glucose levels and lead to weight gain, cavities, and extra calories. 
  • Processed meat replacements: veggie burgers, imitation dairy, and meat products
  • Relying on processed meat and dairy replacements in a vegetarian diet may lead to difficulty losing weight. These products are often high in sodium, chemicals, and added sugars and may be low in protein. Dairy and meat are high in protein naturally, so many people think these replacements are comparable for protein when many are not. These ultra-processed foods are linked to an increased risk of being overweight and obese.5

A 7-Day Sample Vegetarian Weight-Loss Meal Plan

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Four Barriers to Losing Weight on a Vegetarian Diet

  • You are eating or drinking too much with inadequate protein
  • When switching to a vegetarian diet, many people make the mistake of not eating enough protein. They overeat other foods, which prevents weight loss. Protein keeps you full. Lacking protein will lead to hunger and larger portions of other carbohydrate and fat-rich foods.
  • Your refined carbohydrate intake is too high
  • Refined carbohydrates include bread products, baked goods, pizza, and pasta. Sometimes these are the only vegetarian options when eating outside your home, so plan ahead. Eating an abundance of refined grains can pose a barrier to losing weight and contribute to cardiovascular disease, a higher risk of death, and type 2 diabetes.6.7
  • You are indulging in highly-processed vegetarian foods
  • It is easy to choose pre-packaged and prepared vegetarian foods to prevent decision fatigue. The highly-processed versions are often loaded with extra sodium, sugar, and additives. You may have started a vegetarian diet to increase your intake of whole, plant-based foods, but these options negate much of the benefits of eating more vegetables. Ultra-processed foods are linked to many chronic diseases, as mentioned before.5
  • You are not sleeping enough
  • Irregular sleep routines or inadequate sleep has been associated with obesity.8 Poor sleep also disrupts hormone levels in the body leading to a stressed state which has been known to raise glucose levels and insulin levels. 

Four Tips to Lose Weight with a Vegetarian Meal Plan

  • Eat protein at every meal and snack
  • Getting adequate protein will stave off cravings and stabilize glucose levels. You may need to get protein from several food items for one meal when eating vegetarian, but it is possible (dairy, eggs, nuts, and beans all count towards your protein intake). 
  • Opt for high-fiber foods
  • Higher fiber (>3g per serving) foods stabilize blood glucose levels, keep you full longer, and prevent health conditions like diabetes and gastrointestinal disease. Aim for 25-35g per day. Increase gradually and incorporate water to adjust to higher fiber levels. 
  • Go for whole grains and complex carbohydrates
  • Whole grains and complex carbohydrates have not been refined. Refining removes the protein, fiber, and vitamins from the outer layer of the grain. Eating whole grains equates to eating more of those beneficial nutrients. 
  • Watch portions
  • Even while enjoying a vegetarian lifestyle, portion control is still important. Eating vegetarian is not a license to eat uncontrollably. You can still gain weight by eating nutritious plant-based foods. Adding healthy fats (avocado, oils, nuts, and seeds) is common for vegetarians, but don’t overdo it. Eat healthy fats with vegetables to prevent over-eating. Overconsumption of refined carbohydrates can lead to extra calories and weight gain. 

Learn More About Healthy Nutrition with Signos’ Expert Advice.

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References

About the author

Sarah Bullard is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in research and clinical nutrition, personalized nutrition counseling, and nutrition education.

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