Are Vegetarians Healthier?

Diet and nutritionLast month, a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that vegetarian diets result in more weight loss than non-vegetarian diets. While the study is new, we’ve known for a while that vegetarians may experience a variety of health benefits, including reduced risk of hypertension and diabetes. Just a few months ago, the JAMA Internal Medicine reported that a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, and studies have shown that it can even lower your chances of getting cardiovascular disease. But does this mean that going vegetarian automatically makes you healthier than a meat eater? Not necessarily.

While you can never go wrong with eating more vegetables, a vegetarian diet may or may not be for you. I once tried going completely vegan, and it made me feel physically weak, but Venus Williams sticks to a raw vegan diet and does great on it. I’m not here to tell you that you should or should not be a vegetarian, but I will tell you that it’s essential to follow a diet that is right for your body. Whether you’re like me and don’t want to nix the meat completely or you feel better on a vegetarian diet, there are ways to better your eating habits so that you can have greater shot at getting those health benefits that vegetarians have the potential to enjoy.

Here’s how:

Big plates, right portions.

Vegetables are packed with nutrients and fiber, and they’re good for your health all around. A lot of people think that to lose weight you need to eat less food, but vegetables are a great substitute if you’re someone who likes to eat larger portions. You don’t need to gorge yourself on them, but they make great snacks and even better main courses. Get a big dinner plate and load three-quarters of it with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower—whatever your preference, and leave the leftover quarter for your protein. By the end, you’ll still feel full and will have gotten at least one-third of your daily veggies, which is a portion you should aim to get at every meal.

Swap out meat for plant-based protein three times a week.
Rather than eating meat or fish every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, look for alternative plant-based protein sources for at least two or three nights a week. Quinoa, a grain-like seed that’s packed with protein, has become increasingly popular and pairs nicely with vegetables. Edamame, which are immature soybeans, can be eaten as a snack or a main dish. Lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and nutritional yeast (also a great source of B vitamins) are also a great way to add protein to a meal. And even eggs in a breakfast sandwich can be substituted for sausage or ham.

Don’t become a “pastatarian”
Going vegetarian by no means guarantees better health—but that depends on how you go about it. Many people gain weight by becoming “pastatarians,” meaning they cut out meat but mainly consume pasta and bread. If you’re going to go vegetarian for health reasons, don’t go into it thinking you’re just “not eating meat.” Instead, go into it with the mindset that you’re choosing healthier, plant-based options.

Whether you’re vegetarian or a meat eater, your meals and snacks should include lots of bright, colorful veggies. Try incorporating a Greens smoothie into your diet. Be smart about how you eradicate meat from your diet (if you choose to do so), and make simple changes that incorporate more vegetables and plant-based proteins into your meals. By doing so, you’ll enjoy better health and decreased risk of disease.

This article originally appeared on Fox News, where I’m a regular contributor.

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