Is a Flexitarian Diet Right For You?

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food-pyramid-300x252-8454932Humans are born omnivores. We are at the top of the food chain from the moment we arrive because our digestive system is designed to process animal and vegetable matter alike (plus, we are gifted with the intellect to overcome the evolutionary travesty of our weak physical form, which would otherwise have caused us to become extinct long ago). That said, many people, young and old, choose to sustain themselves with other types of nutrition. There are vegans, who eschew animal products entirely (no meat, no dairy, no leather, not even honey). Then there are vegetarians, who avoid meat, but still snack on animal foodstuffs like milk and cheese. Finally, there are pescetarians and pollotarians, who mainly follow a vegetarian diet, but include fish or chicken, respectively. Finally, there are flexitarians. These are people who opt for vegetarian fare…with occasional meat.

I know what you’re thinking – this sounds like a regular diet. But in fact, more and more people are dumping the meat-and-potatoes dinners of yesteryear to focus on a healthier, vegetarian-style diet without the hassle of actually giving up meat. In order to call yourself a flexitarian, you only have to follow one simple guideline: you must eat mostly vegetarian. But what does this entail? Can every third meal have meat? Does a minimum of 51% of your intake have to be meatless? What are you really allowed to eat on a flexitarian diet? Well, as you may have guessed from the title, it’s totally flexible.

The better question is: why become a flexitarian? Well, why does anyone change their diet? A very small percentage of vegans and vegetarians choose the lifestyle based on the belief that it is wrong to kill animals for our consumption (or in the case of vegans, it is wrong to exploit animals in any way for our benefit). Pretty much everyone else who chooses to limit their consumables in some way is doing it for health reasons. There is no denying that the intake of large quantities of red meat is not good for your health or longevity (and Americans, on average, ingest far more than people in other countries). It can cause serious health risks like heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), osteoporosis, diabetes, and even certain cancers, just to name a few. At the very least, a meat-heavy diet can lead to lethargy, indigestion, constipation, and obesity.

But these ailments stem from a diet that includes multiple servings of red meat each week. In fact, it’s not all bad. On a supplemental basis, red meat can offer some health benefits. It’s a great source of complete proteins, essential to any diet, and it’s high in zinc (which fortifies your immune system), iron (helpful for people with anemia…ladies), and also contains B vitamins, potassium, and magnesium, important for anyone whose lifestyle includes regular exercise. While you can certainly get these benefits from a variety of non-meat sources, it’s kind of nice to have the option of getting it all in one place (and let’s face it, a lot of people can’t give up meat because they love the taste).

So let’s get down to it. Why are so many people embracing flexitarianism? Isn’t it really just vegetarian for cheaters? In fact, most vegetarians agree that the movement towards less meat is wonderful. A lot of people are on the fence when it comes to vegetarianism. They want the health benefits of eating less meat, but they just can’t give up mom’s pot roast, or their Sunday-morning bacon. However, with so few true vegetarians out there supporting the cause of an animal-friendly planet, it is the flexitarians who are having a huge impact on the meat industry. By cutting their consumption in half (or more), they are effectively saving an animal every week. Most vegetarians are willing to encourage this practice, even though it means some animals will still suffer. So if you feel like you just can’t toe the line with a meatless diet, don’t give up completely. Consider flexitarianism as a great way to improve your health, and the health of our planet (while still getting an occasional fix of meat).

Jamie Palovoy is a content writer for Gourmet Food where you don’t have to be rich to enjoy a gourmet meal.

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