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The Nutrition Low-Down continued...

"You can get all the nutrients you need from a well-planned vegetarian diet, along with all the health benefits of a diet that contains lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein, yet tends to be low in fat and calories -- a perfect combination for losing weight and promoting good health," says Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

To ensure adequate nutrition, Sass recommends that vegetarians eat a wide variety of foods, including unprocessed whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and soy products. She recommends using myfoodpyramid.com to help plan meals.

Vegans may find it a little trickier to get enough vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, zinc, vitamin D, and calcium. But a registered dietitian can help devise an adequate vegan meal plan, Sass says.

Healthy Benefits

Vegetarians have lower rates of almost all chronic diseases, including obesity, says Sass. They are less likely to have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and their eating style helps thwart the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.

Recent studies have shown that in general, vegetarians have lower body mass indexes (BMIs), lower percentages of body fat, and lower waist-to-hip ratios than nonvegetarians, Sass says.

"Vegetarian foods tend to be more filling due to the fiber and protein and therefore it makes it easier to eat less and lose weight," Sass says.

But not all vegetarian diets will result in weight loss. While many vegetarians prefer nutritious foods, vegetarian diets can still be high in fat and calories.

"If you fill your plate with high-fat selections like French fries and eat too many calories, your vegetarian eating plan can cause weight gain," says Connie Diekman, RD, MEd, president elect of the ADA.

Instead, she advises eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy.

10 Tips for Eating Meatless

It's easy to be a vegetarian these days, with so many meatless food products on the market, along with all kinds of vegetarian cookbooks and magazines.

If you want to become a 'sometime' vegetarian or just enjoy a meatless meal once in a while, there are ways to do it without learning a whole new way of cooking and eating. First, start by substituting beans for meat or poultry in your favorite dishes, advises Diekman.

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