Janel, a Registered Dietitian who follows a vegetarian diet, promotes no-nonsense, plant-based cooking so that eating is both healthful and enjoyable. Janel has a masters degree in nutrition communication from Tufts University in Boston.

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Janel's Vegetarian Kitchen

by Janel Ovrut, MS, RD, LDN

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Vegetarian diets are often touted for their many health benefits, including high nutrient content, and low saturated fat and cholesterol foods. It can also be a beneficial diet for weight loss.

While this may be a nice perk, it can only be a result of a healthy vegetarian diet. One that focuses on " you guessed it " vegetables. Also important are fruits, whole grains, lean protein, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Plant-based foods are naturally low in calories and fat, and high in water volume and fiber. These factors help load you up on fewer calories so you can eat filling foods that won't fill you out.

However, there are foods that fit in a vegetarian diet that can also significantly contribute to weight gain, such as high calorie and fatty dairy products, or large quantities of pasta and peanut butter. A vegetarian diet could consist of grilled cheese, pizza, nachos, chocolate and French fries, but it won't help the numbers on the scale go down or improve your health.

Vegetarian diets should be planned carefully to make sure they are balanced and nutritious.

Choose a meal plan that largely consists of fruits and vegetables to fill you up with nutrients, water, protein and fiber. Eat lean sources of protein like beans, legumes and soy products. Control your consumption of higher fat and calorie foods such as cheese, nuts, and meat-replacements, and stick with reduced calorie or fat substitutes. Control your carbohydrate intake by sticking to the portion sizes and choose whole grain, complex carbs like whole wheat bread, brown rice and whole wheat pasta. These whole grains contain more fiber and nutrients than their refined counterparts (white bread, white rice, white pasta " boring!) which help to keep you satiated on less food.

A balanced vegetarian diet should include:

Whole Grains: Whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, bulgur, high fiber cereal.

Legumes, nuts and seeds: Beans, peas, soybeans, lentils, nuts and seeds

Fruit and vegetables: The basis of a nutritious diet - think variety. Try new fruits and vegetables and include them in your diet every day.

Dairy or dairy substitutes: Look for fat free and reduced fat options for milk, yogurt, and cheese. There is also soy, rice, or almond milk on the market.

You don't have to be vegetarian to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet. Try cutting out a few meat-meals each week and focus on vegetarian variety.

With some careful planning, variety, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables, you can enjoy all the health benefits of a plant based diet.

Have you had weight loss success from going veg? I'd love to hear your stories!

Meanwhile, if you hunger for great meatless recipes, be sure to check out the 700+ vegetarian recipes served up daily right here at Diet.com!

Janel Ovrut, MS RD LDN is a Registered Dietitian who follows a vegetarian diet. She promotes no-nonsense, plant-based cooking so that eating is both healthful and enjoyable. Janel has a master's degree in nutrition communication from Tufts University in Boston, MA. You can read many more of her blog posts at dinedishdelish.blogspot.com.

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