A vegetarian diet, which excludes all meat, poultry, and fish (and in some cases, eggs and dairy products) has many health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing heart disease; hypertension; type 2 diabetes; and colon, ovarian, and breast cancers. In addition, people who follow vegetarian diets usually have an easier time controlling their weight. Many animal products are high in fat (particularly heart-unhealthy saturated fat), which is higher in calories than carbohydrates and protein, making it safe to assume that a diet that does not include animal products tends to be lower in calories.
You may be tempted to stop reading this post because, no matter how many calories or how much saturated fat it contains, you love meat and will never give it up. Well, I hope you’ll keep on reading, because I’m not telling you to give up meat, or any animal product, completely. You can still reap the benefits of following a vegetarian diet by doing so part-time.
“Flexible vegetarians,” or flexitarians, still eat meat, but only a few times a week. Although they aren’t completely meat-free, studies show that flexitarians still reap all of the benefits of full-time vegetarians, probably due to two factors: they are still significantly reducing their intake of meat, and the calories and saturated fat that come along with it; and they’re benefitting from the healthy foods they add to their diet in place of meat.
If you’re still hesitant to partially cut meat out of your diet, rest assured that flexitarianism isn’t a diet of exclusion; rather, it emphasizes including a variety of healthy foods that can take the place of the meat you might typically eat as part of a meal. These healthy additions include:
- High-protein meat alternatives (tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, and eggs)
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat and fat-free dairy
- Herbs, spices, and other seasonings to enhance the flavor of your meals
Being a part-time vegetarian doesn’t sound so bad, now does it? If you’d like to give this style of eating a try, Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Chicago-based dietitian, has written a book all about it that includes guidelines and recipes. If you would prefer to ease into flexitarianism on your own, without a formal guide, all you have to do is start swapping out one meat-based dish at a time for a plant-based one. Instead of a beef burrito, try a bean burrito. Cook a Portobello mushroom cap instead of a hamburger the next time you fire up the grill. The possibilities – and the health benefits – of being a flexible vegetarian are seemingly endless!