I didn't scare you, did I? No, we are not going to start this last month of the year with strength-training. I'll save that for the New Year!
You have probably heard of the Flexitarian diet, though, which is similar to a Mediterranean diet in that you eat mostly plant-based foods, with a minimum of animal protein. “Flexitarian” basically means a “flexible vegetarian” and is easier to adhere to than a strict vegetarian or vegan way of eating. You could probably call it a lifestyle, instead of diet.
Did you know that most people don’t eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, opting for the same ones over and over? A flexitarian way of eating encourages diversity in your choices, and since the bulk of what you eat will be vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you can try many different things you haven’t before.
In fact, I encourage you to if you decide on a more plant-based diet. This way of eating is a great way to create diversity in your gut microbiome as well and keep your digestive tract healthy, so bonus.
And, you don’t count calories or adhere to any strict rules. Double-bonus!
You stick with mostly plant-based meals and incorporate animal products (a good complete source of protein) a few days a week.
Another way to do this, which I have found successful and easy to do, is to add a minimal amount of protein to the meal. I will use (1) chicken breast for the two of us in a meal that relies on the vegetables to do the heavy lifting. Add some cannellini beans, diced tomatoes and a side of green beans and you are all set.
Another element of this way of eating is to eat food that is the least processed and in its natural form. Simple, whole foods. If you just reduce the amount of meat you eat, and continue to eat highly processed food products, that contain added salt and sugar, there is no real benefit.
And limit your sweets. This includes fruit. Fruit is good for you, don’t get me wrong, but sugar is sugar so if you have a sweet tooth, you may be inclined to eat more fruit than vegetables, as you cut back on meat. Err on the side of vegetables and you may find that the sweet tooth goes away, over time. At least that has been my coaching experience, with clients who embrace a whole foods diet.
Diets that are rich in fiber and healthy fats are good for your heart. In a recent study of over 48000 participants, vegetarians and pescatarians (fish eaters) had lower rates of heart attacks and coronary artery disease. And in a 2020 study it was found that flexitarian, vegetarian and pescatarian diets were all similar in that those that reduced or excluded meat from their diets had lower BMI, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol overall.
A flexitarian eating pattern may also help you manage or maintain your weight. Plant-based diets are lower in calories and eating more plants and less processed limits high caloric intake.
It is also noted that a flexitarian diet can help with blood sugar, minimizing the risk of adult-onset diabetes and some types of cancer, particularly colorectal, given that vegetables have more fiber and less sugar than processed foods.
And this way of eating may be good for the environment, by decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions and excess land and water use, attributed to meat production.
As you can see, a plant-based diet can be very healthy and sustainable. It needs to be well-planned though so you don’t miss out on essential nutrients.
Oftentimes, vegetarians have a B12 deficiency because they are not eating animal products which contain B12. Also zinc and iron can be lower as well, again because they are best absorbed from animal sources.
It may be necessary to include B12-fortified food or supplements. Most nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes have iron and zinc, however to increase absorption make sure you are getting enough vitamin C.
If you limit dairy as a flexitarian or vegetarian, make sure you eat calcium-rich bok choy, kale, chard and sesame seeds (tahini).
What to eat?
Proteins (plant-based): tofu, soybean, tempeh (fermented soybean), legumes and lentils
Non-starchy vegetables: greens, bell pepper, Brussel sprouts, carrots, cauliflower and green beans
Starchy vegetables: peas, corn, sweet potato and winter squash
Fruits: apples, oranges, berries, grapes and cherries
Whole grains: quinoa, teff, buckwheat, farro
Nuts, seeds and healthy fats: almonds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, flaxseed, peanut butter, avocados, olives and coconut
Plant-based milks: unsweetened almond, coconut, hemp or soy
Condiments: reduced sodium soy sauce(I use Braggs Aminos), apple cider vinegar,salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast (cheese substitute), sugar-free ketchup
Drink plain or sparkling water, tea, coffee.
When choosing animal protein products get:
Free-range or pasture-raised eggs, poultry
Grass-fed or pasture-raised meat
Organic dairy from grass-fed or pastured animals
Do your best to reduce your meat intake, increase your vegetable diversity and eat the best quality you can afford. You will feel the difference.
Here is a link to vegetarian dinners for you to try as you “flex” this week. Enjoy!