Nutrition Articles

Meatless Meals Benefit Your Health

A ''Flexitarian'' Diet Meets in the Middle

"What do you eat?!” may be the question most often heard by vegetarians, as if meat is the only food group available. Obviously, as the five million thriving vegetarians in America have shown, there’s a lot to eat, without choosing meat—and they’re healthier as a result.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, vegetarians have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and asthma. While simple recipes abound for tasty meatless fare, vegetarianism is a leap that many aren’t prepared to take. But you can still have many of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet without trading your turkey for Tofurkey by trying "flexitarianism" on for size. Flexitarians, or semi-vegetarians, are “sometimes" vegetarians, meaning people who reduce some of their meat consumption and fill the gap with other plant-based food groups—eating a mostly vegetarian diet, yet remaining flexible.

Although the name is new, the idea is not. In fact, a few generations ago, meat was most often eaten in side-dish portions, while other food groups took center stage. Beans, vegetables, and grains supplied the bulk of a meal, while the meat supplied the flavor. This might sound backward, but many nutrition experts agree that our health would benefit if we took this “old-fashioned” approach to eating.

Eating less meat and more grains, beans, fruits and veggies means you’ll be consuming fewer calories, less saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. And that adds up to a lot of health benefits. On average, people who eat less meat are leaner, less apt to weight gain than people who eat the most meat, less prone to cancer, especially colorectal cancer, and suffer from fewer heart problems.

Another benefit is that you’ll save money. Meat costs more per pound than most foods. You can use that extra cash you save to get a gym membership, new running shoes, or an iPod for your workouts.

Committing to a 100% vegetarian diet isn’t necessary to achieve the health benefits that vegetarians enjoy. There aren’t specific guidelines to exactly how much meat to cut out to achieve these benefits, but cutting back even slightly is a positive change. A national health campaign known as Meatless Monday promotes cutting out meat one day each week, but you could try meatless lunches during the week for the same effect.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • i think this is awesome! - 9/6/2015 4:39:33 PM
    Why isn't vegan a choice for meal plans on Spark, OR no dairy, bread? - 7/5/2015 2:32:51 PM
  • Just go vegan!! Whole foods plant based for the win! - 6/25/2015 11:27:49 AM
  • CLAY10237
    Eating lots of vegs/fruits has always been a huge part of my diet. I try to have two meatless days a week instead of fish. Love fish but it is just too expensive these days. I disagree that more vegs in the diet will automatically reduce weight, BP, cholesterol. Grains, beans and nuts are very high in carbs and a carb is a carb. Any eating plan requires moderation, portion control and exercise.
    Check out "Vegetariana" by Nava Atlas. Her cookbooks have easy and accessible recipes. Some of the recipes in the "Moosewood" series, tho really tasty, can be a bit complex or have unusual ingredients. - 5/25/2015 10:00:56 PM
  • Hi, in our household we're eating less and less meat, as I like our diet to be varied and nutritious and using pulses and vegetables is important for that.

    HOWEVER the assertion that you will be eating fewer calories and less fat just isn't automatically true. I only eat whole foods, and fast, abstaining from meat, for the whole of Lent - invariably putting on weight over the period. There are lots of great benefits to eating plenty of veg but there simply isn't the lean protein available, so I find you end up eating more fat and carbohydrates alongside through pulses and dairy than you would with lean meat. Vegetarianism is great, but there are health benefits to eating lean meat and fish, too, and this is one of them.

    My ideal is to eat very little meat with a plate of varied veg - wish there was a cookbook for the almost-veggie, but we're slowly putting together a family version :) - 5/10/2015 5:34:09 PM
    I agree with many of the comments that each individual is welcome to eat as she/he decides. Personally I have experimented with various types of diet plans, and have found that switching things up according to the changes in my own life/years/body/h
    ealth has been helpful. I am at another cross roads again so I have gone to my doctor for a food plan. She ran my blood work and told me what I need to eat/not eat, and supplements I should take. We are all different people with our own unique bodies, lifestyles, cultures, beliefs, etc. It is nice to share what works for us and leave the choices up to the individual. I wish all of you well with your choices and will support you whether your choices or beliefs are different from what I am doing at the time. - 3/1/2015 10:12:10 AM
  • What about The Flexitarian Diet by Dawn Jackson Blatner? Great book!! - 1/18/2015 2:41:49 PM
    My family eats very small meat portions, we always have, 2-3 ounces per person, 5 nights a week. This seems completely reasonable. It minimizes our impact on the environment, and provides some of the nutrients only found in animal products, as well as adding complexity to our diet. I have no moral dilemma with meat consumption. Why should I apologize for my place in the food chain? But overconsumption of meat products is unhealthy and should be limited. - 10/16/2014 9:44:57 AM
    I try to get my husband to eat spaghetti and sauce, minus the meat, but he just won't go for it. It would be better for our checkbook as well as better for us!I won't stop trying! - 6/30/2014 12:13:58 PM
  • This article felt more condescending toward meat and cheese than inclusive of vegetarian ideas. How about putting pears, eggplant, onion and other fruits/veggies on the grill? Pasta with garlic and olive oil? Why not? Then add a bit of mint. Fried rice with vegetables to give it flavor? Beans soup or vegetable stews? If done properly, a diet including meat can be just as healthy as a vegan diet, and meat-eaters can do both.

    I was once a vegetarian and there is a wonderful plethora of foods that kept me satisfied. I married a meat-eater, so now we eat meat, just as many animals do in the wild. I am thankful to these animals for giving their life and feel guilty only if the meat is wasted. Sadly, these animals do not know how to survive in the wild, only ranches. I also respect those like my best friend, nephew and cousin who are hunters and are incredibly in tune to nature and sit in a tree perch for hours. They eat everything that they hunt and have a love for their environment.

    Living in the full spectrum of the meat-eating scale, I really do not think it matters whether you eat meat or not; it is all fine as long as you are eating healthy meals. Even eating some cheese for protein and calcium is okay. Just respect different eating styles and embrace the diversity. - 4/11/2014 7:44:36 AM
    I have to disagree with your statement about not having enough land to grow vegetables. Not sure where you got your "facts".
    Think of all the land now being used to grow feed corn for animals who will be eaten for food. Not to mention all the land they occupy before being slaughtered.
    - 10/31/2013 6:00:45 AM
    I am a vegetarian and have struggled with weight all my life. It can be healthier to avoid meat but it depends on how you eat overall. I don't eat meat for many reasons-- I do think meat is murder, but just as importantly I don't like the texture. The real reason I am commenting is that the statement about most vegetarians loving cold cuts twanged for me. It may be true that a lot of vegetarians eat veggie cold cuts (altho I personally don't know any) but I think it is false to say that most love them. I hate cold cuts and I agree that most of the veggie substitutes for cold cuts are laden with sodium. If I wanted something with the texture of meat, I would eat meat. - 3/3/2013 1:26:37 PM
    I have known 11 people who are vegetarians, all of them have extra weight, too much grains, beans and cheesy foods, they enjoy alot of rice and veggie dishes. Two of them recently began to eat fish and chicken as side dishes, and lost weight, finally. It certainly isn't for everyone, and there is not enough land being used for growing vegetables to be enough if everyone suddenly became vegetarian or vegan, it would wear out the earth if that happened, saving nothing. - 2/19/2013 10:25:26 PM
  • I consciously choose not to eat meat as much as possible. I may buy some form of meat this year maybe five times. Some months, I may only eat two meat dishes. Others, like during the holidays, I eat more. However, I strive to not eat meat, and may someday just become a vegetarian. I consider myself flexitarian, and I'm proud of it. I strive to be what I feel is a consistent flexitarian: choosing to not eat meat whenever possible, but remaining flexible so that, for example, I can enjoy a Thanksgiving meal without having to fight with my family who wouldn't understand my viewpoints or enjoy freshly caught fish my dad was proud to have hooked. Some may see this labeling as pointless, most of which I've noted are people that sometimes don't eat meat, but on a more random or unintentional basis. That's fine with me if it's fine with you. However, the label isn't pointless to me, because I have labelled myself, and the label gives me more motivation to keep up with my goals. Just because you ate cheerios for breakfast and didn't throw hunks of sausage in the bowl but then chose a chicken quesadilla for lunch doesn't mean you are flexitarian, but it doesn't mean you need to criticize my (and other flexitarians') beliefs either. If you don't want to be labelled as flexitarian, then don't label yourself as it. - 1/3/2013 9:40:29 AM
  • I gave up meat for lent this year, and I did it completely the wrong way. I filled in the gaps with all the wrong food (cheese, cheese, and cheese), and (with school and everything) completely undid all of the hard work I'd done the previous summer. Maybe I'll take another go at this, but step by step. - 6/12/2012 2:10:46 AM

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