vegetarian meal plan for getting enough protein after weight loss surgery

For some, bariatric surgery can promote weight loss and help improve overall health. But this treatment option comes with lifestyle changes and dietary requirements, including recommended levels of protein intake.

If you’re a vegetarian considering weight loss surgery, you may need to take additional steps to get all the protein you need to be healthy. Learn more about the importance of a protein-rich diet, and how vegetarians can ensure they get what they need.

Why Is Protein So Important After Weight Loss Surgery?

Everyone needs protein to function. Protein plays an important role in the maintenance and function of every cell in your body. It is the basic building block of our bones, muscle, and tissue. Protein supports the metabolism and immune system, helping our bodies fend off illnesses.

When it comes to diet, people who undergo weight loss surgery have some special considerations. Weight loss surgery patients need to monitor protein levels for the rest of their lives. That’s because weight loss surgery makes the stomach smaller, which requires consuming smaller meals. This can put patients at risk of protein deficiency.

Protein deficiency can impact everything from your hair and nails to your immune health. If you do not receive enough protein, you may be at risk of anemia, a condition that can cause shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, and other symptoms.

Fortunately, vegetarians can work alongside a registered dietician to develop a comprehensive meal plan that’s rich in healthy, meat-free proteins.

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How Much Protein Do You Need After Bariatric Surgery?

After your surgery, you will likely need between 60 to 80 grams of protein a day. Women tend to require less protein, while men require more. Your care team will help you know the amount of protein for your individual needs. Many weight loss surgery patients take vitamin supplements to ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need.

Your post-surgery diet will be restrictive but will slowly expand over time. First, you’ll consume only liquids. Then you will move to soft foods before eventually eating solids again.

When embarking on your post-surgery meals, you should eat proteins before other foods. This strategy helps ensure you get enough protein before your stomach fills.

Many bariatric patients meet their protein requirements by eating lean meats, chicken, and fish. Of course, if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you will need to find other sources of protein.

Non-Meat Protein Foods for Vegetarians and Weight Loss Surgery

There are many nutritious, delicious, non-meat protein options for your diet. Eggs and dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese provide small portions of protein. If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian who eats dairy and eggs, you can easily reach your protein goals.

Nuts, seeds, legumes (beans), whole grains, and vegetables are all excellent protein sources for vegetarians.

Here’s how some non-meat foods stack up in terms of protein. Protein amounts are approximate.

  • One-half cup of low-fat cottage cheese: 12 grams. Fat- free cottage cheese is 11 grams.
  • One-half cup of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt: approximately 10 grams.
  • Two ounces of tempeh: 10 grams.
  • One-half cup edamame: 9 grams.
  • One-half cup of cooked black, kidney, pinto beans, chickpeas, or lentils: 7 to 9 grams.
  • Two tablespoons of almond or peanut butter: 7-8 grams.
  • One large egg: 6 grams.
  • Two ounces of firm tofu: 6 grams.
  • One-half cup soy yogurt: 4 grams
  • One-half cup cow or soy milk: 4 grams.
  • One-half cup of cooked quinoa: 4 grams.
  • Two tablespoons of nuts or seeds: 3 to 4 grams.
  • One-half cup of cooked vegetables: 3 grams.
  • One-half cup of almond milk: trace of protein.

Tips for Increasing Protein Intake After Your Weight Loss Surgery

After weight loss surgery, patients should stay in touch with both their care team and a registered dietician. This is especially true for patients who eat a vegetarian and vegan diet. Your dietician can help you troubleshoot issues that might limit your protein, such as having a poor appetite or feeling full too quickly. They can help you come up with creative ways to maximize your protein in-take — without consuming meat.

Some suggestions might include:

  • Aiming for three to five small meals each day, incorporating one key protein source into the meal.
  • Leaving 30 minutes between eating and drinking so your stomach can empty.
  • Boosting the protein content of foods like mashed potatoes.
  • Eating Greek yogurt or oatmeal once permitted in your diet. Cream soups with unflavored protein powders are another great option for your vegetarian menu.
  • Eating raw fruits and vegetables when permitted. Consider dipping your veggies and fruits in low-fat or fat-free dips, such as cottage cheese, silken tofu, or hummus.
  • Going for hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, or deviled eggs with a serving of Greek yogurt.
  • Topping cooked vegetables or salads with measured portions of seeds (for example, 1 tablespoon). Pumpkin, chia, and sunflower seeds all contain protein, but are also high in calories. Edamame is a great addition to salads.
  • Trying certain plant-based protein shakes that meet the needs of both your protein requirements and vegetarian diet.

Everyone’s health and diet needs are different. By working with a registered dietician, you can develop a long-term diet plan to suit your new lifestyle.

Advances in Nutrition. Nutritional Recommendations for Adult Bariatric Surgery Patients: Clinical Practice. LINK

The Vegetarian Resource Group. Protein in the Vegan Diet. LINK

About UPMC Bariatric Services

UPMC Bariatric Services is here to help if you’re struggling with obesity and want to lose weight. We offer both surgical and nonsurgical weight loss plans and can help you find the right path for a weight-loss journey. We will work with you to discuss your needs and develop and individualized treatment plan. We meet the highest level of national accreditation for bariatric surgery centers, and our team provides complete care. We offer our services at UPMC locations throughout Pennsylvania and New York. Visit our website to find a provider near you.