Following a Vegetarian Diet After Weight Loss Surgery

Given the small size of the stomach after Bariatric Surgery, it’s very challenging for patients to consume adequate nutrition. There are vitamins and minerals that must be supplemented in the diet and it’s always a priority to eat enough protein. Is it possible to remove “meat” from your diet and still consume enough protein? If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan and had bariatric surgery, this is your challenge.

First let’s clarify some terms. “Vegetarian” refers to refraining from eating animal products, in other words, only eating plant based foods. There are different types of vegetarians.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians include dairy and eggs in their diet.

Lacto vegetarians, include dairy, but no eggs in their diet.

Vegans have the most strict diet. They do not eat dairy or eggs.

Why is protein so important? Protein is the building block of lean body mass or muscle and it is required for repairing damaged cells. Your body uses protein from your diet to build new cells, maintain tissues, and create new proteins which are needed to perform bodily functions. The most common high quality sources of protein include beef, chicken, turkey, pork, and fish. All of these are off limits on a vegetarian diet.

At the end of the day, for vegetarians to be successful in meeting their protein requirements following bariatric surgery, they will need to replace the protein that most people get from beef, poultry, and fish. The good news is, vegetarians can consume high quality proteins from plants as well, it just requires more planning and including more of a variety in their diets. Why does it take more planning? Most plant proteins are not of high quality or as “complete” as the animal based proteins are. What is a “complete” protein? This refers to a protein that contains all of the essential amino acids (building blocks that make up proteins) that our bodies require. Our bodies produce many of these building blocks (amino acids), however there are 9 amino acids that our bodies do not produce, therefore we must obtain them through our foods. Animal proteins as well as eggs and dairy are complete protein sources, providing all essential amino acids. Many plant based foods fall short. As long as a person consumes a variety of proteins from soy, legumes, quinoa, and vegetables, he will obtain of all the amino acids that his body requires.

The following are a list of healthy vegetarian protein sources.

  • Eggs (for non vegans)-provide 6 grams of protein
  • Dairy (for non vegans)- including cottage cheese and Greek yogurt-provide 12-18 grams protein/serving
  • Soy products-including Tofu, Edamame, and Tempeh (a soybean based patty)- provide 10-15 grams protein per 1/2 cup serving
  • Legumes-including Beans, Lentils, Peas-provide 8 grams per ½ cup
  • Protein Shakes-provide 15-25 grams protein

Regarding vitamin supplementation, plant based dieters, especially vegans, may not consume enough B12, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Zinc. After Bariatric surgery, the vitamin/minerals recommended include Multivitamins (which contain Zinc), Calcium with Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and Iron. It is important that blood work is done regularly to evaluate the need for further supplementation.

Following a vegetarian diet after weight loss surgery is very possible. It just takes planning and creativity to ensure you are eating the variety of foods necessary as well as taking the recommended vitamins and minerals to maintain good health.

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