The Dangers of Vegetarianism
I have often wondered why I see so many seriously overweight and morbidly obese vegetarians in my clinical practice. I realize the answer is mainly because I specialize in weight loss, both with medically based methods and with surgical weight loss. So it stands to reason the cross-section of people with obesity will be seeking my help, this will include vegetarians as well as all kinds of other eaters.
Yet, when speaking to these individuals who are struggling with unhealthy weight gain that is wreaking personal havoc on their heath, I have delved into some of the details of what it is they are eating and drinking specifically to help understand why they suffer from obesity. A few of the points that have emerged from these conversations are offered here in hopes that other people may be able to avoid this unfortunate progression to morbid obesity.
The primary danger of choosing a philosophy of vegetarianism is in believing that doing so will lead to improved weight control or even weight loss. That is very unlikely to be the case. Simply shifting from animal sources of nutrients to vegetable sources will have very little to no impact on a person’s weight.
The second danger of vegetarianism and the risk of obesity is that so many so-called vegetarian foods contain high amounts of the very nutrients that are most closely associated with obesity: simple carbohydrates. Many snacks and treats, juices, fruit based products, syrups, flavorings, pastas, rice, noodles and a host of other foods consumed as vegetarian consist mainly of high calorie, high carbohydrate food sources, precisely the kind of nutrient most closely associated with the obesity epidemic. On the other hand, a healthy vegetarian may consume whole grains, legumes, a wide range of beans, vegetables and a wide array of fruits while avoiding all of the previously listed simple carbohydrates and find themselves losing weight and becoming much healthier.
The third danger is the psychology of “good food vs. bad food”. In the “good food/bad food” syndrome, we tend to help ourselves stick to a particular dietary plan by labeling certain foods as “bad foods” and acknowledging other foods as “good foods”. The problem with vegetarianism is that often all animal based foods become as labeled as “bad foods”, leaving all of the non-animal products available as “good foods”. The trouble here is that many of these non-animal foods are absolutely terrible. I am thinking of Twinkies, fruit juice drinks and French fries just to name a few of the millions of obesogenic foods many vegetarians do consume. Don’t get me wrong, if your goals of being vegetarian are purely to avoid animal products then you may succeed with this strategy, but if your goal is to lose weight and be healthier, such a strategy is doomed to failure unless your focus is on reducing foods that cause obesity.
Number four; I call this the danger of the white foods. Many of the obese vegetarians I have met gravitated toward the dreaded white foods: foods that tend to be white in color and dominated by simple carbohydrates. These include potatoes, potato chips, French fries, white sugar, white rice, white pasta, treats with vegetable based frostings and, of course, all sorts of baked goods…breads, crackers, cookies and treats made with white flour. I can throw in high fructose corn syrup, but what’s the point? These are the most harmful foods and nutrient sources in our diet, the ones most closely associated with hunger, fat storage, weight gain, diabetes and obesity. In terms of health and weight, it is a very poor trade-off to get rid of animal products, but gravitate toward these white foods. In fact, it is a recipe for obesity and diabetes.