Can you be a vegetarian after weight loss surgery?
What does research say about vegetarianism for bariatric patients?
“Meat – or more specifically, ‘industrial meat’ – is bad for the planet.” Says a recent statement by Greenpeace but even if we are struggling to cut out meat completely, we can still make small positive changes that not only help our planet but can greatly contribute to a positive weight loss outcome post weight loss surgery.
The biggest patient concern is perhaps where they will get their higher protein intake from whilst eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. Whilst we understand these are valid concerns, further research shows there are plenty of plant-based protein sources that can help you reach your protein goals and adapting to a more sustainable diet a possibility!
So, what is a plant-based diet?
“Plant-based diets are dietary patterns that have a greater emphasis on foods derived from plants (such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts, seeds and oils).” We understand it may be hard to give up meat completely which is why it’s important to point out that a plant-based diet is aimed to have a ‘greater emphasis’ on foods derived from plants rather than cutting out animal derived products completely.
The four main types of plant-based diets can include:
Vegan – Exclusion of all animal products or by-products including meat, fish, eggs and dairy. This can perhaps be the most restrictive but comes with great benefits towards animal welfare and environmental issues.
Vegetarian – Exclusion of meat and fish however dairy products such as eggs are still allowed. This is seen as less restrictive, especially with the increasing options and awareness available today.
Pescatarian – Exclusion of all meat but includes fish, seafood, and dairy products. A lot of people adopt this diet to still retrieve a higher intake of protein and omega 3. However, fun fact – fish do not actually produce their own omega-3s. Instead, they get them from seaweed and algae around them and we then retrieve it through the fish. So, to work around this, you can take supplements straight from the source in little vegan oil capsules along with additional sources.
Flexitarian (semi – vegetarian) – There is no specific exclusion of any animal derived products, such as meat, however a plant – based diet is heavily regarded and is the foundation of their food choices. This is known to be the most manageable especially if you are beginning your meat-cutting journey.
Why adapt to a plant-based diet?
Plant-based eating has a lot of great benefits environmentally such as hugely reducing your carbon footprint which is of utmost importance within todays climate crisis. Personally however, eating a more varied and plant-based diet can significantly help to lower these risks of heart disease, diabetes, bowel cancer and high blood pressure which those
Studies have shown from the MD Anderson Cancer Centre that ‘the different vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants in plants help keep your cells healthy and your body in balance so that your immune system can function at its best.’
Studies have also suggested that plant-based eating is associated with sustainable weight management due to consuming less saturated fats associated with animal derived products. By consuming plant-based foods you can also increase your chances of retrieving the essential nutrients you need post bariatric surgery such as fibre, folic acid, and iron.
Eating plant-based foods increases your intake of fibre which is an essential nutrient that helps our gut work properly. This is essential after receiving your bariatric procedure. As advised by our dietician Heather, food examples include:
- Cereals – Bran flakes, Porridge, Weetabix
- Wholemeal bread or pasta
- Baked potato (flesh & skin)
- Flaxseeds (Very high)
- Apples / Raspberries
- Broccoli / carrots / peas (boiled)
- Spring greens (boiled)
- Almonds / Peanuts (plain)
- Sunflower seeds
- Baked beans (in tomato sauce)
- Chickpeas (boiled)
If you do not have enough folic acid, you can develop anaemia. Anaemia can mean you do not have enough red blood cells or the red blood cells are not able to carry enough oxygen. Post-surgery, it may not be as absorbed as well due to the structural changes of your stomach and small intestine so ensuring this enters your diet is highly advised. Plant-based food example include:
- Beans and legumes (e.g., chickpeas, kidney beans, peas)
- Brussels sprouts
- Some fortified breakfast cereals
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g., cabbage, kale, spring greens, spinach)
Iron has important functions within your body such as helping red blood cells transport oxygen around the body and maintaining a healthy immune system, important for fighting infection post-surgery. High iron foods are:
- Dark green vegetables (e.g., broccoli, kale and spinach)
- Dried fruit (e.g., dried apricots)
- Fortified breads and cereals
- Nuts and seeds
- Pulses and legumes (e.g., beans, lentils and peas)
But I’m worried about my protein intake!
Being one of the leading providers of weight loss surgery, we understand the importance of consuming high amounts of protein post-op due to the alterations in your digestive system. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Non-meat foods do usually have less grams of protein than meat however there is a much wider variation of protein sources within a plant-based diet to meet your dietary needs, all you need is a bit of planning!
The best plant-based diet is varied and doesn’t have too specifically be vegan even though this is the best for our planet and exploitation of animals.
The following list offers some tasty suggestions on healthy plant-based protein sources:
• Soy products – tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all great protein sources. Always flavour your tofu with exotic spices for tasty results!
• Legumes –beans, lentils, and peas should be a staple in vegetarian and even non-vegetarian diets. You can add them into pretty much any meal such as soups, salads, meat alternatives or even in a little side dish.
• Nuts – even though nuts are great, they are high in fat so ensure they are eaten in moderation.
• Seeds – protein packed seeds in your diet in the form of quinoa, millet, or teff are the best
• Whole grains – whilst they may not hold a lot of protein compared to the other options above, they are high in fibre and can often complete other plant proteins. Enjoy in moderation with healthier options like brown rice, sorghum, kamut, and farro.
And remember, if you are on the beginning of your plant-based journey, eating some eggs and dairy is still ok and may help to slowly make those changes.
So, can you eat plant-based after bariatric surgery?
The answer is YES!
With those worries being resolved, why not begin your vegan or vegetarian journey today!
- Start slow – Start with meals you have always enjoyed that just happen to be plant-based and build on them. Maybe just start with plant- based breakfasts or the famous ‘meatless Monday’. The most important thing is to just be cutting down on meat.
- Plan your meals – Create a meal plan checklist to ensure all your levels of vitamins, minerals and protein are met each day. What food sources are giving you these nutrients?
- Take supplements -If you are worried about your B12 intake for example, there are many inexpensive supplement options. With Bariatric surgery you should be taking supplements already alongside your diet.
- Know your food – As a bariatric patient, knowing your food is key but not all vegan food is healthy. Oreos and diet coke are vegan however this doesn’t make them good for you. Ensure your meals are healthy, wholesome and taste good! A little spice never hurt anybody!
- Use our app for delicious plant-based recipes! – These are created specifically to benefit bariatric patients…to access our tasty recipes head to the ‘On-Demand’ section – ‘Recipes & Meal Plans’ – choose what type of meal you would like and filter your ‘focus’ to either Vegan or Vegetarian:
- Remember we are here to support you! If you want to adapt to a more sustainable diet and have any worries or concerns, reach out to us at Healthier Weight and our dietician can advise you in the right direction.
Transition alone to a plant-based diet can be difficult, never mind after bariatric surgery so be kind to yourself, find out what works for you and what doesn’t! Bariatric surgery doesn’t have to stop you living more sustainably and being plant-based doesn’t have to stop you reaching your weight loss success.