More and more people who are concerned with losing weight, reducing the risk of heart disease, or who simply want to eat better and healthy are incorporating Flexitarianism in their meal plans and diet. Flexitarian advocates eat a primarily vegetarian diet; meat may be included occasionally – say, in social situations or when it’s otherwise inconvenient to be meat-free. Over time, Flexitarians eat less meat, but are not obligated or expected to go completely vegetarian, but rather maintain flexibility. Adopting a Flexitarian diet doesn’t mean that you have to become vegan (no animal products at all) or vegetarian (no meat); it allows you to have the best of both worlds, still eating meat when you want to, but eating less than you used to.
Flexitarianism is similar to the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes whole grains, fruit and vegetables, nuts and ‘good oils’, and fish. My own diet is Flexitarian, although I didn’t realize it had a name when I wrote about how I reduced meat in my diet.
How to Go Flexitarian
Plant-based foods are the mainstay of a Flexitarian diet; animal protein becomes an occasional side-dish. The best way to implement a Flexitarian diet, as with any diet change, is to start small, by gradually going meatless from a couple of meals a week and, for your meat-ful meals, replacing some of the meat you would usually include in your recipes with a protein-ful vegetable substitute (for example, replace half the meat in a taco or stir fry with tofu, black beans, or similar protein-rich non-meat alternative).
Health Benefits of Flexitarianism
Meat is associated with weight gain, heart disease (including increasing your risk of heart attack), and cancer. A long-running study by Harvard researchers found that a daily increase of 3 oz of meat increased the likelihood by 16% of by cardiac arrest and 10% by cancer. Processed meats, including ham, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs, increase the risk of death by heart attack (21%) and cancer (16%) even more. Studies show that people who follow a plant-based diets can lower their cholesterol, blood sugar and BMI; reduce their risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart attack; and increase intake of antioxidants, which helps cells heal from exercise-related stress.
Flexitarian Recipes, Meal Plans and Books
To help migrate to a mostly-plant-based diet, there are more and more Flexitarian resources for recipes and meal plans in bookstores and online.
- The Flexitarian Diet by Dawn Blatner is the best book on Flexitarianism, with lots of recipes, a five week meal plan, and suggestions on substituting vegetables for meats (and vice versa).
- Although Meatless Monday advocates an ultimately vegetarian lifestyle, they recommend that you eat meat free one day a week, and, more importantly for Flexitarians, offer some great recipes for every meal, and for cooking in bulk for the week.
- Meal Plan Site offers a simple Flexitarian meal plan, to give you an idea of what a typical day’s menu would look like.
Using a Scale
Food scales are cheap and small, and a necessary tool you must use to be successful with any diet, including Flexitarianism. Flexitarian diets require that you measure meat protein when you substitute a plant protein with meat; to see the benefits of Flexitarianism, you have 3-4 oz of meat, not the 12 or 16 oz in a typical steak. Using a scale allows you to control your portions, something that is impossible to accurately do visually.
Flexitarianism is, as the name suggests, a way to flexibly reduce, but not necessarily eliminate, meat from your diet and improve your health; there are plenty of good recipes and meal plans available to you online and at Amazon.
(Photo by Dmitry Fedoseev)