Eating cleaner, greener, and leaner is all the rage these days, and it’s not just some passing fad. It’s a steadily growing trend because people are so much more aware of every aspect of nutrition, from the individual food choices we make to contaminants and other problems with our commercial food supply.
Study after study tells us that one of the best things we can do for our health is to eat a plant-based diet. A few years ago I read The China Study, and it was a real eye opener. It left me convinced beyond doubt that the only truly healthy way to eat is to become a vegan. If you can do that, you have my sincere admiration.
For me, knowing what I should do and actually following through are two entirely different things. Eating less meat is fine, but deep down in my southern fried heart, I know I’ll never give it up entirely. If I never see another piece of chicken or pork so be it, but every now and then I really want a good hamburger or steak – and the idea of never eating seafood again is too depressing to consider!
Thankfully, this is where the Flexitarian diet comes in because it lets me strive for improvement, not perfection. The definition of a flexitarian goes something like this:
someone who primarily eats a vegetarian diet but also eats meat or fish occasionally
True vegetarians tend to dislike the word because for them it confuses the issue. There is no such thing as an occasional vegetarian. Either you are, or you aren’t. Vegetarians do not eat meat. Period. If you stick to a vegetarian diet most of the time but cheat a little, you are not a vegetarian.
What you might be though, is a flexitarian. The word is a combination of the terms “flexible” and “vegetarian”. It’s a great alternative for anyone who wants to eat healthier but, like me, wants to keep it real. You don’t have to just pretend to be a genuine vegetarian when others are looking, while hiding the guilty secret that you’re actually a closet meat eater.
You also have lots of leeway. The word “occasionally” in the definition means that you can start by eating meat or seafood only once a week, or only once a day. Any reduction at all is an improvement.
The point is that you look at the amount of meat, seafood and poultry that you’re consuming now, and you choose to eat less of it. You might have a meatless meal on certain days, or a designated number of meatless days every week.
Benefits of a Flexitarian Diet
You may be interested in going meatless for reasons related to the environment, the world food supply, and animal rights. Those topics are beyond the scope of this article, but you’ll find plenty of information available on vegan and vegetarian websites.
Focusing strictly on health issues, a flexitarian diet offers numerous benefits, including:
- No foods are forbidden: It’s much easier to change eating habits when you can ease into it. With a flexitarian diet there is no D-Day when you know you must forever give up some certain favorite food. Every time you enjoy a meatless meal or day you can pat yourself on the back for your accomplishment. The next day you can indulge in a meat dish without the need to beat yourself up over it.
- Weight Control: By eating meat less often you will naturally consume more vegetables, fruits, grains and beans. Unless you decide to gorge on bread, your meatless meals will be built around foods with less fat and fewer calories, and more of the good stuff such as higher fiber, vitamins and other nutrients.
- Your heart and your overall health: According to WebMD, research indicates that a strict vegetarian diet may lower your risk of heart disease. Other studies have shown that eating vegetarian may also help:
- reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- reduce triglycerides
- reduce glucose levels
- lower blood pressure
- reduce your BMI (body mass index)
Finally, there is one other reason to consider trying a flexitarian diet. That is, you don’t know what you don’t know. Here’s what I mean.
It’s easy to get in such a rut that you prepare the same types of meals over and over, some of which may taste great but not be very good for you. Choosing to go meatless for a meal or a day forces you to look into other options and experiment with new recipes. Wouldn’t it be a pleasant surprise to discover some new dishes that are healthy and delicious too?
Let’s face it, we all love our little comfort zone. Making a major lifestyle change can be very difficult, and sometimes making a big drastic change at once just sets you up for failure. A flexitarian diet lets you ease into it, testing the waters as you go. Perhaps you’ll eventually go all vegan, but if not it doesn’t matter, and it does NOT mean you’ve failed. Even if you only make a few changes, in the long run you’ve accomplished your goal of eating a little healthier.