Can a Vegetarian Diet Help Weight Loss?

Vegetarians are typically leaner than meat-eaters, but the idea that converting to a vegetarian diet will cause weight loss directly is up for debate.

Being a vegetarian does not mean simply removing meat from your diet.  Special attention has to be given to how you get the proper nutrients and proteins you need to keep yourself healthy and your energy levels high.

The Bottom Line on Vegetarianism and Weight Loss

    • Vegetarians are less likely to be overweight than those who eat meat
    • Cutting out red meat is associated with lower body weight


  • It is unclear whether switching from to a vegetarian diet will necessarily cause weight loss; but there is some evidence that is does
  • Experts recommend going vegetarian – or at least increasing plant foods and eating fewer animal products – to help weight control (Newby et al. 2005).

Studying Vegetarians and Their Diets

Long-term maintenance of a meat-free diet might be the key to low body weight (Key & Davey, 1996).

  1. In the UK, body mass index was 36% lower in males and 31% lower in females following a vegetarian diet compared to meat-eaters, even after taking into account other dietary variables like fibre, smoking, and alcohol (Appelby et al. 1998). Read more about BMI, a ratio of weight to height that estimates fatness.
  2. A study of vegetarian preschoolers found they were less likely to be obese than their non-vegetarian schoolmates (Dwyer et al. 1980).
  3. A Swedish study found that those who avoid red meat (but eat poultry), lacto-vegetarians (dairy-consuming vegetarians) and vegans have a lower risk of being overweight or obese than omnivores (Newby et al. 2005).

Can Switching to a Vegetarian Diet Cause Weight Loss?

Research has also shown that people following a typical vegetarian diet consume, on average, around 500 fewer calories daily than their meat-eating counterparts. Interestingly, the research showed that they actually ate more food than non-vegetarians.

scale Can a Vegetarian Diet Help Weight Loss?

This can be attributed to the fact that healthy vegetarian diets are comprised mainly of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are starchy, fiber-rich foods that are naturally low in fat and calories. Examples of complex carbs are legumes and other vegetables and whole grains.  It is possible, of course, for vegetarians to be unhealthy.  If a vegetarian diet does not contain all of the required nutrients or consists mainly of high-calorie, high-fat foods, then this can lead to weight gain, lack of energy and increased sickness.

So, if you are going to cut out meat, make sure your protein and nutritional needs are still met.  Protein keeps you feeling fuller longer and critical nutrients keep you healthy.