I love to eat vegetarian for at least one meal a day for many reasons. A vegetarian diet is heart healthy, helps with weight loss/weight management, limits intake of all the antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, etc. that are in so much of the animal protein we consume in this country (both given directly to the animals and in the food the animals consume), is environmentally responsible, etc. etc. etc.
I encourage many of my clients who have weight loss as a goal to adopt the vegetarian for lunch lifestyle and here is why:
Vegetables have carbs – yep, we like to think only starches have carbs, but veggies do as well. A cup of chopped onion has 10 grams of carbs, a cup of butternut squash has 15 grams of carbs, one bell pepper has 14 grams of carbs. So, it is best to consume these foods earlier in the day when your body has more time to burn through the carbs for energy. Carbs, which metabolize into glucose, are the human body’s main source of energy, but if we don’t use up all the carbs we consume the body stores the excess carbs as fat. Save the carb free foods such as lean protein and healthy (unsaturated fats) for dinner and load your lunch up with all your favorite veggies. Side note – many of my clients practice intermittent fasting and as protein and fat create the most satiety having a dinner that is composed mostly of these macronutrients will keep you feeling fuller longer and make intermittent fasting even easier.
Another reason eating vegetarian for lunch can help you become leaner is that protein feeds muscle. If your goal is to get leaner the last thing you want to do is to eat a lot of protein closely following a workout as this will feed the fatigued muscles and can cause them to get bigger. As noted above, many of my clients do intermittent fasting and I encourage them to do their workout in the AM while they are fasting. If they were to consume a meal high in protein closely following this workout that could cause them to “bulk up” and this is not usually the goal. Think about it, this is why all the male body builders at your gym are chugging protein shakes right after a workout and if your body goal is to have long lean muscle this is not what you want to do. High amounts of protein immediately following a workout can cause many women to build or maintain bulky muscle.
There are many other reasons why eating vegetarian helps with weight loss/weight management, but I just wanted to quickly highlight a few. I hope this helps to shed light on the fact that the macronutrient composition of meals and timing of macronutrient consumption is a very important factor in weight loss. Each individual is different though (different health history, goals, etc.), so it is always a good idea to consult with a dietitian to determine what macronutrient composition and meal schedule is best for you!