Not Ready to Go “Whole-Hog” into Plant-Based Eating? Consider “Flexitarianism”

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If you’re interested in shifting to a more plant-based diet but aren’t quite ready to be fully vegetarian or vegan, try being a flexitarian (from flexible + vegetarian). This healthy trend focuses on eating plant foods more or most of the time, rather than avoiding meat completely.*

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How does your plate look? Does it typically align with the Harvard Healthy Plate model, where fully half holds fruits and vegetables and the other half is evenly split between protein and whole-grain carbs?

Although Americans at every age generally meet or exceed recommended amounts of animal-based protein, including eggs and milk, we fall short when it comes to seafood, nuts, seeds, and legumes, such as beans, peas, lentils, and soy protein.** So what?  Well…

 

  • Plant-based foods are rich in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, maintain a healthy digestive tract (and microbiota), and confer protective phytochemicals found only in plants.
  • Protein-rich beans, peas, and nuts are good sources of iron and zinc, especially if you eat them with Vitamin-C foods like fruit or tomato salsa.
  • Nuts, seeds, and “oily” fruits (think olives and avocados) are good sources of unsaturated fats and, unlike many meats, have little or no saturated fat. Fish provide omega-3 fatty acids, part of the group of “good fats.”

Vegetables—the new protein AND the new carbs?
My husband and I are flexitarians, not strict vegetarians. We both eat fish, and he eats meat occasionally, more as a condiment. Here are some of his favorite recipes to get more plant-based protein in our meals:beanbox-3

Veggie burger chili

Squash, chickpea, and red lentil stew

Spicy 15-bean soup

Spaghetti squash

Indeed, creative cooks everywhere are experimenting with vegetable-carbs like spiralized zucchini, edamame and chickpea pasta, and sweet potatoes and squash in lieu of processed starches like white rice and conventional pasta. People are even using the sticky water drained from chickpeas to whip up meringues and mayo, or to replace eggs in baked goods. It’s called “aquafaba” and it has a following: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=aquafaba%20everything

“Flexitarian” menus are a hot trend in dining out, too!
In Washington, DC, José Andrés restaurant Beefsteak is named for the beefsteak tomato, not a cut of meat. In San Francisco, Al’s Place lists meats under “sides” on the menu. And if you visit Philadelphia’s Vedge, try the wood roasted carrot (pumpernickel, sauerkraut, carrot mustard, carrot kimchee) or the Ssamjang glazed tofu (edamame puree, roasted miso, yuba crackling, sea beans) or maybe the eggplant braciole (smoked eggplant, italian salsa verde, cured olive).

So your mom was right—eat your vegetables, y’hear? And get some “flex” in your diet.

–Keep moving, Jen

*Delmonico, Susan MS, RDN. “The protein shift: plant-based options.” IDEA Food and Nutrition Tips. Nov-Dec 2016.

** HHS and USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th ed. Accessed Nov. 23, 2016 http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.

 


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