Happy Memorial Day, everyone! While this is a great opportunity for those of you in the United States to remember the sacrifices the brave men and women have made while protecting our country, many people also use this opportunity to take the day off work and have a good old-fashioned cookout! Many people are spending the day enjoying the scent of hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss my particular dietary choice, flexitarianism, or the practice of limiting one’s meat intake significantly but not fully and focusing on fruit, grains and vegetables instead.
Note that I am not a dietician, nutritionist, or doctor, so please consult with a credible medical source before radically changing your diet.
+What is flexitarianism?
Flexitarian is a portmanteau word of “flexible” and “vegetarian”. Due to that fact, many people like to call flexitarianism a limited or part-time form of vegetarianism. Not so! Some vegetarians criticize this usage of the word because it insinuates that it is possible to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle while incorporating meat. For that reason, I tend to stay away from classifying it as such, but you can think of it as the practice of regularly following a vegetarian diet with limited meat consumption.
There is no hard and fast rule about how much meat one can eat while still being considered a flexitarian, but the general consensus is that there should be a higher concentration of vegetarian-based dietary choices than ones based from meat. While flexitarians do include meat in their diets, many choose to exclude red meat and pork products in favor of fish and poultry.
+What are the benefits?
There are many! If you find full-on vegetarianism too extreme or you’re looking to transition into it, you may want to try flexitarianism. This is partly because your body and mind might not respond well to you abruptly changing your diet . I know my body doesn’t react well to an overnight diet change; plus you might find it difficult to give up certain dietary staples cold-turkey. You don’t have to cut all meat – giving it up a few days a week or making it a complimentary flavor instead of the focus of a meal can do the trick.
It can also be a healthy alternative to a traditional meat-based diet if done correctly. You can reduce your intake of saturated fat while upping your fiber, for instance. You can also help the environment. As seen in The Cheeseburger Footprint, regular meat consumption can leave a hefty carbon footprint. Just limiting your intake can help, so give it a try!
+How Do You Do It?
Moderation, moderation, moderation! The key to a successful flexitarian diet is to take everything (other than fruit and veggies) in moderated servings. Phase meat out slowly until you find a system or schedule that works for you. While at school, I decided to stick to eating meat when I ate out. Because I was on a limited college budget, I only ate out on the weekends, so I had meat on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Maybe try a Meatless Monday for a month and see how it works for you, or limit meat to only one meal a day.
Another thing? Expand your mind past salad! When I first tried this, I operated under the assumption that salad was the only viable vegetarian food option that I had. How wrong I was! You’d be surprised how many of your favorite foods can be made vegetarian and in the case of those cutting out red meat, how many poultry-based options that you have. (I’m partial to turkey burgers, myself.) For food ideas, try the book Eat to Live which has both vegetarian and flexitarian options, as well as The Healthy Hedonist cookbook.
+Things to Watch For
While this diet is pretty moderate (which is why it probably appeals to me – I tend to take things in moderation), there are concerns you definitely need to take care of:
Protein: If you’re going to limit your meat intake, you may run into the hazard of limiting your protein intake as well. While many flexitarians manage to get their protein from poultry products (especially eggs), you can also try options like beans and legumes, as well as soy-based products such as tofu and soy milk. Tofu gets a bad rap because of its texture, although there are many varieties to try until you can find what you like. One of the best things about tofu is that it doesn’t carry a strong flavor, but can easily absorb the flavorings of what you make it with. In other words, mix it in with your favorite dishes to make it taste exactly how you want.
Fiber: One of the main goals of a flexitarian diet is to increase the amount of fiber in one’s diet. While many people associate fiber with products such as Metamucil (and we all know what that’s for), if can also lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Many fruits and vegetables are natural sources of fiber but you can also get it from grain-based products. Note: Try not to make complex carbs (such as regular pasta) a staple of your diet to replace meat; stick to whole wheat instead! The catch is that many flour-based products claim to be high in fiber – statements of “100% wheat” or “multi-grain” may not be reliable. Your best bet is to check the nutrition facts for dietary fiber – at least 5 grams of it per serving is ideal.
Flexitarianism is a great option for those who want a moderate diet that is extremely healthful without being extremely exclusive or limiting. It also works for people who want to test the waters of vegetarianism to see how it works for them.
For more information, check out these links:
+Medicine Net: Can You be a Vegetarian and Eat Meat?
+Mayo Clinic: Could you be a Flexitarian?
What do you think of the flexitarian diet? Do you think it’s too limiting, or perhaps not limiting enough? Do you have any other thoughts, comments or concerns? Let me know in the comment box.
Until next time: