Environmental Nutrition Newsletter

Environmental Nutrition Newsletter

Q. What does it mean to be a flexitarian, and is it a good thing?

A. Today's buzzword is flexibility, which also applies to eating styles. A flexitarian is someone who is a flexible vegetarian or a semi-vegetarian, one who limits animal protein intake without giving it up completely. This lifestyle is becoming more popular as people become more health-conscious, as well as eco-conscious, considering that livestock production is responsible for an estimated 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The best of both worlds. The debate about whether the vegetarian way is the healthiest way to live rages on. In a study published in the April 2006 issue of Nutrition Reviews, vegetarians were found to have a lower body weight, and also reduced risk of hypertension, cancer and diabetes.

In contrast, some evidence suggests that vegetarianism may be linked with increased risk of osteoporosis. Vegetarians, especially vegans, were found to have lower bone mineral density than non-vegetarians, according to a study in the October 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It can be challenging for vegetarians and vegans to get important nutrients such as protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. The flexitarian diet is one way to marry the benefits of eating less meat and more plant-based foods.

Sampling flexitarianism

If you'd like to give this lifestyle a try, take the advice of Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., L.D.N., dietitian and author of "The Flexitarian Diet" (McGraw-Hill, 2008.) Start by going for your own flexible eating level. If you're a beginner, you might want to go meatless only two days per week; more advanced flexitarians might enjoy up to four meatless days per week.

The key to flexitarian success is to consider meat as a condiment in your dishes, not as the main event. And it's not just about what you don't eat, it's about what you do eat--a variety of healthy plant foods, such as whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Blatner's book also includes delicious vegetarian recipes to put flavor and appeal into meatless meals.

Remember, whatever diet you decide to follow--whether it's vegetarian, flexitarian or omnivorous--make sure that it's well-balanced and provides good sources from all of the major food groups: protein (meat, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy foods), dairy (or high-calcium foods), whole grains, fruits and vegetables.


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Health - Sample a Semi-Vegetarian Lifestyle With a Flexitarian Diet