Flexitarianism offers a nutritious middle ground between being a meat eater and a vegetarian.
Not everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving this year centered his or her meal around turkey.
But for those who couldn’t quite kick the turkey-eating habit but still want to reap the health benefits of a vegetarian diet – a reported 22.8 million Americans – there’s a meat-filled alternative to vegetarianism: “flexitarianism.”
“A flexitarian diet is a fantastic way to explore vegetarian eating, as well as increase the fiber and nutrients eaten from day to day, compared to the traditional American diet,” Nicole Patience, a registered clinical dietitian at Temple, said.
“I’ve kind of always wanted to not eat meat,” said sophomore university studies major Katlyn Bartorillo, who is a flexitarian. “[But] when you’ve grown up with meat, to suddenly stop eating meat and not touch it again is really hard.”
While some vegetarians can fulfill their cravings for meat with junk food, which is more harmful than beneficial, a flexitarian’s diet tolerates the occasional guest appearance of meat, poultry or fish in a mostly plant-based routine.
Flexitarians permit small portions of meat, in addition to good non-meat sources of protein, widening their options. But they still need to be mindful of protein consumption.
“Some vegetables and grains also have small amounts of protein, but don’t count on getting all the protein you need with just vegetables and grains,” Patience said.
Studies from the American Dietetic Association have shown those who eat a balanced vegetarian diet tend to have lower body mass indexes, as well as lower cholesterol levels than those who eat meat. This is because meatless meals typically revolve around low fat, nutrient-dense items, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. These items also tend to be high in fiber – a component of food that makes one feel full. The ADA additionally states that vegetarians tend to have a lower risk of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
However, the ADA also mentions that vegetarians may have lower intakes of Vitamin B-12, calcium, Vitamin D, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids – nutrients often limited in vegetarian diets if individuals are not conscious of consuming them.
Soy products – such as tofu, tempeh and soy milk – are good sources of protein, as well as beans – such as lentils, black, kidney and garbanzo beans. Patience also recommended seitan, Quorn products, nuts, nut-butters and “a protein-packed grain called quinoa” as healthy protein alternatives.
With more convenient food choices, followers of a flexitarian diet are able to enjoy meals containing meat prepared by omnivore friends or family members and are still able to eat at restaurants or vendors that may not offer a variety of vegetarian options. It also enables followers to indulge in some turkey, like Bartorillo, who said she would most likely consume a few bites on Thanksgiving.
For meat-eaters, making the effort to become a flexitarian can be worthwhile. Not only does the plant-based diet increase one’s longevity, but it allows meat-eaters to help increase the life of the environment, in addition to the well-being of the animals that inhabit it.
Those interested in moving toward a plant-based diet should experiment by going meatless at least two days a week. Try skipping the leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, and replace the ordinary meat on your plate with tofu, beans or any another meatless protein source.
Grace Dickinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.