More and more people are turning to vegetarian diets for a variety of reasons. Whether the reasons are for more energy, to save money and spare animals, or for environmental concerns, they are trying to make the switch and balance a healthy vegetarian diet into their current lifestyle. For many it is easier to adapt this lifestyle on a part time basis. In fact, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, only 2.5 percent of adults are true vegetarians. (True vegetarian being defined as one who abstains from all fish, meat and poultry.)
So what do we call those who follow a vegetarian diet “part time”? In the last few years the term Flexatarian has been coined to describe those who follow a vegetarian diet a few times a week while still eating meat on occasion. The Vegetarian Resource Group estimates that 5 to 9 percent of Americans fit this “almost vegetarian” definition.
So the question that comes to mind is can the health benefits of a vegetarian diet also be achieved by following a “flexatarian” diet? According to Angela J Ginn RD LD CDE of the ADA, small changes make all the difference. She recommends a number of simple changes to achieve goals, including going meatless once a week. “This will give you a chance to discover vegetables, beans, or soy for a protein option.”
In fact research supports that a flexetarian diet can provide health benefits . A recent study by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health found that eating a full vegetarian meal one day a week can reduce saturated fat intake by fifteen percent . A reduction that added up over time can dramatically cut your risk of certain cancers, heart attack and stroke.
American Dietetic Association spokesperson Dawn Jackson Blatner RD, LDN explores this further in her book “The Flexetarian Diet” . Blatner says that “Flexetarians weigh fifteen percent less, have a lower rate of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and live an average 3.6 years longer than carnivores.” It has been found that unlike fad diets, flexatarian diets incorporate more plant based meals and cut down on meat. While extending the benefits of fruits and vegetables.
These benefits also reach out to your pocket book and the planet. Eating plant based diets even once a week can cut down on pollution, reduce your carbon footprint, and save the lives of animals. Take a look at prices in the local grocery store. Replacing one to two meals a week to plant based can cut your grocery bill a considerable amount. And it redirects grain stores from feeding cattle, and into the food stream for human consumption.
But is it difficult to make the change? Kristin S, a young mother from New Jersey, finds it easy to incorporate vegetarian meals into her family’s diet. “Breakfast has always been a vegetarian meal for our family, so that’s easy.
My kids love peanut butter sandwiches, so they’re a lunchtime staple for us, along with a vegetable, dairy and fruit. Another lunch favorite is Annie’s shells and white cheddar, with frozen peas or broccoli mixed in, and some fruit.
They also like soy nuggets. For dinner, they eat at least some portion of what I cook for my husband and I.” When asked if she felt health benefits were being achieved she had this to say, “I do. I think eliminating meat and adding/increasing other forms of protein can be beneficial in any capacity.”
The best way to start would be to take the advice of Ginn and make simple changes. Take a trip through the produce isle and plan a meal by color. (Make it a game for young children and see if you can plan a meal by the colors of the rainbow. )
Low fat dairy items and the many varieties of meat replacements are a good starting point to experiment with. Kristin feels she never runs out of meal ideas. “ I have a new goal to make a meal plan for each week. Just yesterday I wrote down all the vegetarian dinners I could think of that I’ve made in the past (and enjoyed!), and have a list of 25. I enjoy trying new recipes and always cook one new dinner recipe each week, so that can easily make a month of dinners with no repeats!”
There are many great websites and cookbooks to get you started. One publication to take a look at is the magazine Vegetarian Times . They offer a vegetarian starter kit that can be easily downloaded. What ever changes you make will surely benefit your health, and the health of the planet, in the long run.