Does a flexitarian or semi-vegetarian diet make sense for you?

Are you looking for a way to improve your diet? Do you want a plan that is flexible and easy to follow? If you said yes to both of those questions, then a flexitarian diet may be right for you.

Flexitarianism is also known as semi-vegetarianism, since the diet consists mainly of plant-based foods and occasionally includes meat on the menu. The great thing about flexitarianism is that it’s flexible, hence the name.

According to Dawn Blantner, the author of “The Flexitarian Diet,” there are three different levels that you could potentially follow while maintaining a flexitarian diet:

  • Beginner: Limits meat and poultry consumption to 26 ounces (about eight servings at 3 ounces per serving) per week and aims to have two days of the week be completely meatless.
  • Advanced: Limits meat and poultry consumption to 18 ounces per week and tries to maintain meatless meals for three to four days of the week.
  • Expert: Limits meat and poultry consumption to 9 ounces per week, with five days of the week being meatless.

Remember that a 3-ounce portion of meat is about the size of a standard deck of cards.

The health benefits

Words like beginner, advanced, and expert make me think of a video game, not a meal plan. With the video game lingo set aside, the main focus of becoming a flexitarian is to decrease your consumption of meat products and increase your consumption of plant-based foods.

So why should you consider following this nutrition trend? For starters, many studies have found that consuming a lot of red meats such as beef, pork and lamb is linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. Processed meats, like bacon, salami, hot dogs, and sausages, should also be avoided to further reduce this risk.

In addition to the increased risk of colon cancer, researchers have also found that people who eat high amounts of meat also tend to consume less plant-based foods, which means they’re missing out on the cancer-protecting and other beneficial properties found in many of these foods. Eating a diet based mainly on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes increases your consumption of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals — all beneficial nutrients when it comes to protecting against cancer.

Other health benefits of a diet rich in plant-based foods include:

  • Lower blood cholesterol levels
  • Lower levels of triglycerides, a type of fat
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decreased risk of becoming overweight or obese
  • Decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
  • Decreased risk of diabetes and better blood glucose control in those with diabetes

Easier than you think

With a wide variety of plant-based food products flooding the market, it may be easier than you think to decrease your meat intake. You may be surprised to learn that 110 new meat substitute products were introduced in 2010 and 2011. With the demand for meatless products on the rise, producers have focused on the manufacturing a product that can satisfy their consumers with products that closely mimic the taste and texture of meat.

Like any change you make, you should start your semi-vegetarian diet by making small simple changes. Don’t rush into things and try to completely change your diet overnight. This could certainly be overwhelming and cause you to call it quits before you even start to see the benefits of becoming a flexitarian. Perhaps throwing some veggie burgers on the grill one last time, before it’s put in the garage for storage, would be a great way to start your journey to becoming a flexitarian!

This guest post is from Elizabeth Poisson, a recent graduate from Central Michigan University with a B.S. in Dietetics and Biomedical Sciences. Poisson has experienced firsthand the benefits of eating a nutritious diet and participating in regular exercise. She is working to become a registered dietitian.
Photo by Matti Mattila
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