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Is A Vegetarian Diet For Me?

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When "Elizabeth" (not her real name) started college, she ate a typical, animal-based diet. Bacon, cheeseburgers, pizza, and lasagna were her mainstays. In her sophomore year, Elizabeth switched to a vegetarian diet, saying she'd learned so much about animal rights at school that she could no longer eat meat.

Now a senior in law school, Elizabeth is extremely health conscious and an advocate for animal legal rights. She's been a vegan (eating no meat or animal byproducts) for five years.

What Is a Vegetarian Diet?

A vegetarian diet is a diet based on plants -- not meat, fish, or fowl. Vegetarian diets vary, depending on how many foods of animal origin are included. Here are some of the popular types:

  • Quasi-vegetarian. The diet includes fish and poultry but not red meat.
  • Pescatarian. The diet includes plants and fish.
  • Semi-vegetarian. Meat occasionally is included in the diet. Some semi-vegetarians may not eat red meat but may eat fish and perhaps chicken.
  • Lacto-ovovegetarian (lacto - dairy; ovo - eggs). The diet includes eggs, milk, and milk products but no meat or fish is consumed.
  • Lactovegetarian. Milk and milk products are included in the diet, but not eggs or meat or fish.
  • Vegan. The diet excludes all fish and animal products, including eggs, milk, and milk products.

Can I Lose Weight on a Vegetarian Diet?

Vegetarians usually weigh less than non-vegetarians. In one study, researchers found that while obesity is growing in the United States, it only affects 0% to 6% of vegetarians. Other studies show that vegetarian children tend to be leaner than children who eat animal foods.

The vegetarian's lower average body weight may be linked to the high fiber content of plant foods. Plant fiber fills you up quickly, and can result in less snacking and binging later in the day.

What Can I Eat on a Vegetarian Diet?

Strict vegetarians enjoy a variety of delicious foods -- just not meat! Examples include whole grain breads, enriched cereals, nuts, peanut butter, eggs, legumes and soy products, tofu, vegetables and fruits, pasta and rice, and low-fat dairy products.

Can I Eat All I Want on a Vegetarian Diet?

No matter what the some might claim, calories count. You cannot eat unlimited pasta with cheese, ice cream, and mashed potatoes (all vegetarian dishes) without gaining weight.

You do get larger portions of vegetarian foods, because many are lower in calories than animal foods like hamburgers, ham, and pork. But you still have to eat fewer calories than you burn each day to lose weight.

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