Is The Flexitarian Diet Right For You?
Being a vegetarian isn’t easy; ask anyone that has been actively following the lifestyle for any amount of time. However, the benefits of a diet high in plant-based food are undeniable, from a lower incidence of heart disease, to healthier body weight and everything in between.
In addition, foods that are derived directly from plants are usually higher in nutritive value (vitamins, minerals, antioxidant content) and contribute to health to a greater degree than the conventional western diet. The evidence is clear; a diet high in plant-based foods is the best choice.
If nothing else, we can be sure that the thousands of pounds of greasy burgers and chili fries we consume in the United States has something to do with the epidemic level rates of obesity in this country, and let’s not forget that pesky fact that heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women.
WHAT IS THE FLEXITARIAN DIET
If you’ve been a meat-eater for most of your life, and have recently decided to embark on a fulfilling vegetarian lifestyle, undoubtedly your taste buds will be less than satisfied as a result of meat withdrawal.
In a way, it’s even understandable- the way our bodies were primitively hardwired, we gain the greatest satisfaction from foods rich in animal protein and fat.
Enter the flexitarian diet- a unison of two words, flexible and vegetarian.
Essentially, it means you are a vegetarian most of the time, but the diet is flexible enough that you can occasionally have your meat-laden meal, be it a burger or barbecue.
In addition, the diet style does not require you to go “all in” from the get go, but rather in a slow transitional manner so that you keep as much of your sanity as possible.
The good news- the flexitarian diet does not require significant “restriction” of foods, but rather promotes consumption of the 5 major groups, that include:
These are foods that supply large amount of both soluble and insoluble fiber to the body, essential for normal intestinal transit of food. In addition, whole grains deliver a good source of slow digesting carbs, which help stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Good sources of whole grains in your diet include brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain barley, quinoa, and finally whole-wheat flour. White flour products are never encouraged since they lack measurable fiber content and result in large insulin spikes and crashes.
Dairy products are helpful in vegetarian diets, especially since they provide much needed protein and calcium. They can play an important role in helping to meet daily nutritional needs and caloric requirements, in addition to offering you some solace from what can become a “boring” diet, especially if you have no insight into cooking.
Choose parmesan and cheddar cheese more often (two of the better varieties), low fat milk, and plain unsweetened yogurt for your dairy choices. Feel free to add a few fruits to your yogurt to spruce things up.
Fruits And Veggies
What’s a vegetarian diet without these delicious foods direct from nature? Fruits and vegetables form the base of the Flexitarian diet, since they are essentially the foods that contribute to health the greatest extent.
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of anti-oxidants, supply much of the needed vitamins and minerals for normal metabolic and enzymatic function, and are chock full of fiber, which help to keep waste moving nicely along the intestinal tract, and can even help keep guard on cholesterol levels.
Aim to mix it up by consuming fruits and vegetables of all colors, but limit high sugar fruit and eat fruit in moderation since it is loaded with sugar. Berries are a good low sugar option, as is melons and green apples.
Sweeteners And Flavor Enhancers
While not your typical “food group,” these food items are frequently used in Vegetarian and Flexitarian diets, but yet are scarcely mentioned. These refer to foods that are commonly used to enhance or bring out the flavor of a meal, the absence of which could pave the way for rapid boredom and resentment of the lifestyle.
Typically, foods that are included in this category are low calorie being frequently spices and flavor enhancers. However, it also includes sweeteners, such as honey, or agave nectar, which can quickly increase your caloric consumption if a keen eye isn’t kept on them. Sugar should be reserved for meals in which they cannot be excluded, however, whenever possible choose substitutes.
Protein Rich Foods/Heavy Hitters
The major drawback of a Flexitarian/ Vegetarian diet is what can be the massive protein deficit it can accrue when vegetarian proteins are avoided. Quite likely, protein is the most important macronutrient that a person can take in; it is responsible for maintaining structural integrity of the body, synthesis of new cells, enzymes, and essential for proper recovery following injury, illness, or training.
As such, it is imperative to source and include foods that are vegetarian friendly, yet loaded with protein.
Eating nuts, in addition to meals with beans, lentils, soy products, and even eggs will give you quality protein. Yes, eggs. Although you do not have to consume eggs (it depends on personal preference), it sure is helpful to get a complete protein source in your diet, notably absent in meat substitutes.