Have you always felt left out when you are surrounded by your meat-eating friends, who constantly rag you for eating only ghaas-phoos? Well, it is time to rejoice, as research shows that a vegetarian or plant-based diet is twice as effective for weight loss and can keep your blood cholesterol levels in check.
Plant foods tend to be relatively high in fibre and in case of fruits and vegetables, have more water content and are consequently low in calories. In cases where excess weight is more of a threat than calorie deficiency, turning vegetarian is the way to go.
Fibre can be categorised into soluble fibre and insoluble one. Soluble fibre is linked to controlling blood sugars and cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre also affects homocysteine levels by providing folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. This type of fibre can be found in oats bran, beans and fruits including apricot and black berries. Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, acts like a sponge, absorbing water in the intestine. This can help fight constipation by adding bulk to the diet and moving waste through the body more quickly. Foods high in insoluble fibre include wheat bran, whole grain and many fruits and vegetables.
Fats, especially saturated fats, increase the risk for heart diseases by shooting up the blood cholesterol levels. In contrast, unsaturated fats, which are found mainly in vegetables oils, nuts olives etc, do not increase blood cholesterol. Livers, organ meats, egg yolk, and dairy fats are major sources of dietary cholesterol. In conclusion, with a vegetarian diet there is no source of ingestion of cholesterol.
Canola oil and peanut oil are high in monosaturated fats. Vegetables oils such as soya bean oil, corn oil and cotton seed oil and nuts are good sources of poly-unsaturated fats. Food choices that are particularly low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fats will help in managing your weight.
Here are some tips to keep a check on your saturated fat and cholesterol intake:
* Choose vegetables oils over butter, lard and margarine.
* Decrease the amount of fat while cooking and at the table (avoid salad dressing).
* Include dried beans, lentils, beans and peas in your meals.
* Switch to fat free or low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt and cheese.
* Avoid creamy sauces, and add little or no butter while preparing them.
* Control the portion size of your meals. Let vegetables make up at least half of each meal.
* Switching to a fibre-rich vegetarian diet can reduce the fat retention around the stomach. This is called calorie density effect.
Meal planning is a vital component to ensure proper nutrition and weight loss. The major meals of the day like breakfast, lunch and dinner should be planned in such a way that all the macro and micro nutrients are included in right proportions. A healthy diet, exercise, stress management, limiting the intake of alcohol and smoking will aid in weight loss.
(The author is HOD - Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Aakash Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital)
Intricacies of plant-based diet
The idea of losing a few kilos is an attractive one for most people. A typical weight-loss diet, promises instant gratification, on the premise that limiting calories or limiting a certain macro nutrients like carbohydrates or fat, will help the body shed the excess weight. The food that we eat has a larger role than just becoming a number on the weighing scale. So, the question is, why do we gain excess weight?
This is primarily because, we have been eating 'food-like' substances like processed foods with refined sugar, preservatives, artificial colours and flavours etc. The consumption of milk products, meat and eggs has increased tremendously, compared to traditional diets. Consuming energy dense foods or excess calories, without much thought is becoming a phenomenon of sorts.
This food affects our bodies in myriad ways - slowing down metabolism, causing weight gain, affecting thyroid function, breaking body's immune response etc. If we are looking to find a lasting solution to weight gain, then we must look at changing the quality of our food.
Short-term diets, which involve deprivation and limiting calories/quantity of food or macro nutrients, offer an overly simplistic approach and are ineffective. These also tend to have a rebound effect, in terms of a subsequent weight gain and can be difficult to follow for a longer period of time. Studies have proven, that a plant-based diet is twice as effective for weight loss than any other diet plan. Here's why:
* In a plant-based diet, a person typically eats a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in their natural form. Fruit, vegetables and whole grains are rich in natural fibres that create a consistent energy release, don't cause the blood sugar level to spike. Fibre ensures good digestion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed while food moves through the intestines. Fibre rich foods, gives a sense of fullness, which makes it difficult to overeat. A diet rich in fibre, also helps prevent type 2 diabetes.
* Intake of fruits and vegetables also improves the nutritional profile of our diet! These foods are nutrient dense and lower in calories. They contain a wide variety of phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes, which help boost the body's metabolism, immune response and offer protective benefits at a cellular level.
* Research also shows that vegetarian diets also help lose subfascial fat, especially important for diabetics, to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism and muscle fat, which helps improve muscle strength for a toned appearance.
A plant-based diet or a vegetarian/vegan diet, with an emphasis on eating whole, unrefined foods, can create a powerful impact - help weight loss, increase energy, reduce abdominal weight, lower cholesterol and improve the quality of life.
(The author is health and wellness expert, Cure.fit)