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    What you need to know before you go veggie

    Is it true that switching to a vegetarian diet will automatically result in weight loss?

    Well, not necessarily. On the whole, vegetarian diets tend to be lower in calories and higher in fiber, making you feel full on fewer calories. They can definitely help you shed unwanted pounds when done correctly.

    But vegetarian foods can be high in calories and fat. For example, if you cut out meat but replace it with lots of cheese and nuts, you could end up consuming the same number of calories (or even more). On the other hand, eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, soy, and moderate amounts of nuts can help you lose weight -- as long as you monitor your calorie intake.

    Many cultures around the world center their diets on vegetarian foods. The Greeks have spanokopita, Italians love their eggplant parmigiana and cheese-filled manicotti, and how about the Thai curries and vegetable stir frys?

    Even if you're not a vegetarian, you probably include some of these favorites in your diet:

    • Chili
    • Bean burritos or fajitas
    • Falafel
    • Pasta with marinara sauce
    • Veggie sushi
    • Vegetable, bean, or lentil soup
    • Veggie pizza
    • Stir-fried tofu
    • Veggie burgers
    • Bean salads
    • Hummus
    • Macaroni and cheese

    One Size Doesn't Fit All

    The term 'vegetarian' means different things to different people. Some people who simply do not eat red meat call themselves vegetarians. Others consume huge quantities of fruit and consider themselves fruitarians.

    The most common types of vegetarian diets are vegan, lacto, ovo, and lacto-ovo. The vegan, the strictest type of vegetarian, does not eat any animal products. Vegan diets are based on grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, soy, fruits, vegetables, and oils. A lacto-vegetarian eats dairy products in addition to the vegan diet. An ovo-vegetarian eats eggs along with the vegan diet. And a lacto-ovo vegetarian consumes both dairy products and eggs as well as the standard vegan foods.

    Don't Be Deficient

    Diets that include animal products are generally nutritionally complete. Vegans, on the other hand, often fall short of meeting requirements for vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, and iron. The good news is that many of these nutrients are added to food products. Read the labels to find veggie products that have been fortified with added nutrients.

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