Check out my latest article published in the Temple News.

Flexing Healthy Diets

Flexitarianism offers a nutritious middle ground between being a meat eater and a vegetarian.Grace-Dickinson

Not everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving this year centered his or her meal around turkey.

Vegetarian Times magazine reported approximately 3.2 percent of Americans are vegetarians, meaning at least 7.3 million people did not consume one bite of the famous Thanksgiving bird.

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.

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  • Reply
    December 7, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Registered Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner is most responsible for the surge in popularity of the flexitarian way of eating. Her book The Flexitarian Diet has brought a great deal of attention to this topic. It is an awesome resource packed with great recipes and nutrition tips. I highly recommend it.

  • Reply
    December 7, 2009 at 11:49 am

    I think I am an accidental Flexitarian =). I don’t buy meat to keep in the house but I tend to eat it here and there.

  • Reply
    December 7, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Good article.
    I eat many vegan dishes, meals, snacks. But I also eat fish of all variety, chicken, turkey, eggs, etc. Its really debatable whether a label is really all that necessary to have.

  • Reply
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    December 7, 2009 at 12:26 pm

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    Flexitarianism | health
    December 7, 2009 at 2:10 pm

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  • Reply
    December 7, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    What a great article! It would be so wonderful if everyone goes meatless at least twice a week.:)

  • Reply
    The Candid RD
    December 7, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Great article! That’s so neat that you are a free lance writer, I’d love to do that. I am close to a flexitarian, but I eat meat everyday. I just don’t eat a lot (maybe 2-3 ounces). So….I’m not a flexitarian, but I’m definitely not a typical American eater either!
    Thanks for the informative post.

  • Reply
    Simply Life
    December 7, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    So interesting! I could definitely be happy with a veggie thanksgiving, but I think I’d be the only one in the room who felt that way 🙂

  • Reply
    Meg @ Be Fit Be Full
    December 7, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    This is a great post! I found that I am definitely eating less and less meat and consider myself borderline “flexitarian”

  • Reply
    December 7, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    It really comes down to eat what you want, you don’t need a label. if you want to eat meat, go ahead, if you want a vegetarian meal, you can have that too. Although it does have a label, that’s really just choosing your diet at will. meals do not have to be focused around meat and I think many people understand that now and the need to cut back.

  • Reply
    December 7, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Dawn Jackson-Blatner is wonderful! Her book, “Flexitarianism” is absolutely wonderful and the recipes are all great…I’ve tried a lot of them! Being from Chicago, I am so proud to have her representing the Windy City! I would consider myself something close to a Flexitarian…more and more so these days, anyways. Great post!

  • Reply
    December 8, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Yeah I think you should just eat what you want. I think when people get involved in cutting out food groups that troubles begin. Everyone is different. I can’t give up my chicken or turkey and don’t see any reason to. I think it would only be because other people do it. But again everyone is different and I don’t judge. It’s just preference 🙂

  • Reply
    December 8, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Great article! I consider myself a flexitarian – I have really cut down on my meat intake the last few months and as a result have tried a lot of new foods: lentils, squash, chickpeas, tofu (although I’m not the biggest fan).

  • Reply
    December 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Great article Misss Grace!

    I think I’m just a protein (eggs, chicken and fish mostly) +veggie crazed girl in general. I get plenty of both.

  • Reply
    Vern Myers
    January 8, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Hmmm… Flexitarian!

    I wasn’t familiar with this term before reading this. I thought I was just a vegetarian wannabe that liked a little meat occasionally, and wasn’t strong enough or committed enough to make a clean break!

    The wife and I have been exploring vegetarian diet and reducing meat over the years until we now eat very little meat. I try not to get hung up on labels, but it’s interesting to know there are sufficient numbers of people on a similar path for a term to exist!

    Thanks for sharing all the good vegetarian information and recipes!

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