Can’t give up meat? Become a ‘flexitarian’
November 7, 2007
Like vegetarians, “flexitarians” eat a primarily plant-based diet composed of grains, vegetables, and fruits, but they occasionally obtain protein from lean meat, fish, poultry, or dairy. A quarter of Americans fit the description, consuming meatless meals at least four days a week, according to the American Dietetic Association.
Why it’s here to stay: Flexitarianism is exactly what dietitians, nutritional researchers, and public health advocates have been recommending for years. “It’s about eating a varied diet that’s low in saturated fat and high in fiber,” says Milton Stokes, M.P.H., R.D., chief dietitian at St. Barnabas Hospital in New York City, and an ADA spokesperson. Because the emphasis is on produce rather than protein, flexitarians are more likely than most Americans to meet the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables and the vitamins and minerals they contain.
It is estimated that about three percent of the population are vegetarians – those who never eat meat, fish or fowl. About one percent of that number includes people who consider themselves vegan – they also exclude dairy, eggs and other animal byproducts from their diets.
But flexitarians could be estimated as high as 40 percent of the American population, according to Charles Stahler, co-director of the Vegetarian Resource Group.
The rise in flexitarians could be linked to a number of factors, including issues such as health and fitness. Also, economic pressure has forced traditional grocery stores to carry more ethnic and natural foods, making it easier to buy vegetarian products.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future likes the term flexitarian because it suggests moderation, something the center has been trying to promote with their Meatless Monday health campaign.
Meatless Monday is a national program to help prevent heart disease, stroke and cancer — the three leading causes of death in America. The goal is to reduce consumption of saturated fat by at least 15 percent by 2010. The campaign defines meatless as abstaining from meat and poultry, but not fish and seafood. They do not promote giving up meat entirely, but want to recognize the health benefits connected with decreasing consumption of meat.
There are all sorts of vegetarians, including so-called flexitarians, who adhere mostly to a vegetarian diet but still occasionally eat meat. Here’s a look at the various categories of food consumers:
Vegans: Do not eat meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs or honey.
True vegetarians: Do not eat meat, poultry or fish.
Flexitarians: Include the groups below:
Vegetarian: Those who say they are vegetarian, or “almost vegetarian,” but use some meat, poultry or fish.
Vegetarian inclined: Replace meat with meat alternatives for at least some meals, usually maintain a vegetarian diet, or eat four or more meatless meals per week.
Health-conscious: Strive for a balanced eating plan or eat two to three meatless meals per week.