Nutrition Articles

Meatless Meals Benefit Your Health

A ''Flexitarian'' Diet Meets in the Middle

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"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

  • Just go vegan! So worth it, regardless of how you were raised or what you are used to. I was raised to eat meals with meat at the center, from burgers to tacos to carne asada (Mexican household) to being able to eat Big Mac combo meals as a young child or footlong Subway subs piled with meat or Whoppers from BK on the regular. I ate plenty of meat growing up, and have been vegan for years now. You CAN cut out meat. I promise you, and you will feel so so SO much better. - 12/2/2015 12:32:26 PM
  • Over the years I've moved to mostly vegetarian and feel great!!!
    Well over half of our meals are vegetarian and we started doing Meatless Monday. It starts with one step! - 12/1/2015 8:06:06 PM
  • I started "Flexitarian" before I knew it was Flexitarian....wa
    nted a semi-vegetarian eating program for health.....combin
    ing that with SP's recommended calorie regimen and am losing, have abundant energy AND I'm eating delicious foods. No complaints here. I suspect that nutrition is not a "one size fits all" situation and that requirements actually vary greatly with individuals. So glad that I have finally learned to eat this way.
    - 12/1/2015 4:42:33 PM
  • I started "Flexitarian" before I knew it was Flexitarian....wa
    nted a semi-vegetarian eating program for health.....combin
    ing that with SP's recommended calorie regimen and am losing, have abundant energy AND I'm eating delicious foods. No complaints here. I suspect that nutrition is not a "one size fits all" situation and that requirements actually vary greatly with individuals. So glad that I have finally learned to eat this way.
    - 12/1/2015 4:42:33 PM
  • I like the article, I already eat this way mostly but it's good to get more tips and ideas for eating healthy. - 12/1/2015 2:46:47 PM
  • Interesting article. I never heard the term Flexitarian before. Not sure that I can be one--I like meat too much to ever give it up. My daughter was a vegetarian for years which caused me to modify some recipes, but I still ate meat. - 12/1/2015 11:08:05 AM
  • My husband has been vegan for a year now. This man never exercised. Now he bikes and runs 6 days a week. And I'm not talking simple strolls he bikes almost 20 miles on his road bike and runs no less than a 3 miles, sometimes 10 miles. So to say that being vegan leaves you low energy is completely false.

    A good number of our meals are Indian cuisine inspired. I have made a gluten-free, soy-free, vegan lasagna. You can do a lot with cashews in your cooking. Ice cream and pudding made with avocado. Mushrooms, legumes, and hemp seeds for burgers. Dates used for "brownie bites". Vegan's are not at a loss for tasty food options or treats and they don't all have to be soy based. - 12/1/2015 9:11:02 AM
  • ETHELMERZ
    Thanks for that, I know for SURE I can't stand all those vegetables and soy products, so tiresome tasting, yucky after a few weeks. Vegan eating would be like going to PRISON!! Leaves a body feeling low energy, taking stupid supplements, eating horrid vegetables, trying to add stuff to make them palatable, it's a scam. - 12/1/2015 4:56:25 AM
  • i think this is awesome! - 9/6/2015 4:39:33 PM
  • HOPEFULSHEART
    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
  • LIGHTLY_
    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

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