Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to give up your monthly steak night with the guys or your mom’s Thanksgiving turkey.
While the health benefits of cutting out meat are tempting — some studies show that vegetarians live an average of 3.6 years longer and weigh about 15% less than their carnivorous counterparts because of a diet lower in calories, cholesterol and fat and better blood pressure — sometimes we just crave our Caesar salad with the chicken. Thus, the flexitarian diet was born.
Being a flexitarian, or flexible vegetarian, means adopting a plant-rich diet, but still permitting yourself to eat meat, fish or poultry occasionally. The diet still is one rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients, because meat is substituted with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes and nuts, and should be tackled as adding healthy foods to your meals, not subtracting.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that those curious about becoming a flexitarian start by adopting one day per week of meat-free meals. If that’s something you want to try, be sure to check out Meatless Monday’s website.
If your goal is weight loss, a flexitarian diet may be the right one for you. It is, after all, more flexible than strict vegetarianism or the other extremes of Paleo or Atkins diets, and there is an abundance of tasty recipes. The negatives are that the emphasis is on cooking at home, and it can be tough if you don’t like fruits and vegetables.
Another plus of the diet is the fact that you're doing the Earth a favor. Chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows are collectively the largest producers of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — in the United States. And, as this infographic shows, if every American dropped one serving of chicken per week from their diet, it would save the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as taking 500,000 cars off the road!
Don’t know where to start with the flexitarian diet? Try some of our vegetarian recipes! You might be surprised how delicious some of these meatless meals really are: