Nutrition-wise blog

Should you be a flexitarian?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. February 22, 2011

The recently released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge Americans to eat a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets have many health benefits. With their emphasis on fruits and vegetables, grains, beans and legumes and nuts, this way of eating is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients.

Does this mean you have to become a vegetarian? Not necessarily, though, people who follow a vegetarian diet generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less and have lower cholesterol levels than do nonvegetarians.

You can still eat meat, poultry and fish in moderation as part of a plant-based diet if you're willing to be flexible. Indeed, many people who eat this way call themselves flexitarians. Want to give it a try? It could be just the jump start you need to begin eating healthier.

Start by going meatless one or two days a week. On those days, try the following protein-rich foods instead of meat:

  • Beans and legumes — great in casseroles and salads
  • Vegetarian refried beans — good substitute for meat in burritos and tacos
  • Tofu — perfect addition to stir-fry dishes

Plan menus that feature entrees you like and that are typically meatless, such as veggie lasagna, minestrone soup and pasta salad. If you need a snack, try a handful of nuts and some fresh fruit.

Do you have other suggestions for ways to transition to a more plant-based diet? Have you made the transition to a flexitarian or vegetarian diet? Please share your experiences.

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Feb. 22, 2011