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Flex Your Flexitarian Muscles

Flex Your Flexitarian Muscles

Worldwide, vegetarians overwhelmingly outnumber meat-eaters! According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, around 4 billion folks eat a mostly plant-based diet; 2 billion are mostly meat-eaters. But in America, only around 4.7 million folks are complete vegetarians, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group. Another 1.6 million or more are vegans that never eat any animal-related products.

However, 22 million of your friends and neighbors are flexitarians; that is, they eat meat, fish and/or poultry occasionally, but their diet is plant-centered. So, if you don’t want to give up all animal products (salmon, skinless poultry, low fat dairy), well, they’re a group who can teach you a thing or two about maximizing your health and satisfying your occasional desire to enjoy animal protein.

What’s wrong with eating meat?
If you’re talking about red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton and goat) or processed meats (salted, cured, fermented, smoked or otherwise processed to enhance flavor and act as a preservative), plenty. Not only are they loaded with heart-clogging, brain-dimming, wrinkle-inducing, sex-life stalling, inflammation-promoting saturated fat, they are, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), linked to cancer.

WHO classifies red meat as probably linked to cancer and processed meats as definitely linked to colorectal cancer—and studies show the incidence in the US among white people under age 50 is rising significantly. In addition, processed meats have been linked to everything from high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, diabetes and stroke to worsening of COPD.

Are you typical?
Unfortunately, the typical American is what we might call an anti-vegetarian. They’ve never met a vegetable … well, that’s it. They’ve never met a vegetable—or a fruit.

From ages 14 to 70, 80 to 90 percent of men are not getting the recommended intake of fruit. For women of the same ages, 70 to 80 percent are also missing out on the benefits, including gastrointestinal health and weight control.

The stats on veggie consumption are just as bad: Men and women ages 50 to 71 eat more veggies than other age groups, but 78 and 68 percent of them respectively still miss out on the minimum daily recommended intake. And many age groups in this country come perilously close to having100 percent of their population miss the recommended levels of intake. Yikes!

Flex those flexitarian muscles!
If you’re interested in trying out a less-animal-based diet, there’s lots of help around. The Monday Campaigns’ Meatless Monday suggests declaring one day a week as meat-free, and offers free, downloadable meatless cookbooks.

And we have a great five-step plan to get you started!

  1. Turn fish and skinless poultry into side dishes, not the main course. Limit your serving size to three to six ounces per meal.
  2. Adopt smart plate geometry when eating animal protein: make half your plate veggies and fruits, a quarter of your plate 100 percent whole grains, and a quarter of it animal-based proteins.
  3. Always get between five and nine servings of fresh veggies and fruit daily. One serving of fresh fruit = one apple or 1 cup of cut-up fresh fruit; a serving of 100 percent whole grain = ½ cup cooked brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or cooked oatmeal, 1 ounce dry pasta or brown rice; a serving of veggies = 1 cup raw vegetable or 2 cups leafy salad greens.
  4. Explore the world of vegetables and mainly-vegetable entrees your family will love. Check out the Cleveland Clinic’s online treasure trove (the Heart Healthy Recipe Center). Some great main course salad choices: Bean and Artichoke Salad, Cold Asian Salad with Salmon, Quinoa and Apple Salad with Almonds and Mint, Tuna and Avocado Cobb Salad!  
  5. For end-of-summer fun: explore the goodness of grilled tofu (marinated of course), corn, root veggies and even romaine lettuce! Concoct a veggie burger from chickpeas, lentils, shredded zucchini, carrots (blanched), mushrooms, onions and herbs and spices. Bye, bye, beef burger.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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