One of the new buzzwords in nutrition is "flexitarian." According to Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of "The Flexitarian Diet," "the term means a 'flexible vegetarian,' which refers to a vegetarian who occasionally decides to eat meat." Often, says Blatner, this decision is in response to a social situation, such as a vegetarian who decides to eat turkey on Thanksgiving or a hamburger at a barbecue.
Along the same lines, meat eaters who decide to eat more vegetarian options -- for example, a meatless meal several times a week -- also count as flexitarians. According to fitness advocate Carole Carson, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of meat eaters opt occasionally for vegetarian meals.
"Really, a person who wakes up in the morning wanting to be more vegetarian can be called a flexitarian," Blatner says. "It's a personal choice. A vegetarian may decide to occasionally have steak or chicken in a salad, and a meat eater may decide to opt more often for bean fajitas rather than steak fajitas."
At the center of flexitarianism is being pro-plant, not anti-meat. Blatner says there are tremendous benefits to decreasing meats and increasing plant-based foods.
"With a greater consumption of healthy plant-based foods, disease risk decreases," she says. "That can help prevent cancer, diabetes (and) heart disease and lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. It's exciting news, very powerful stuff."
When physicians suggest healthier diets, it's often easier for people who eat primarily meat-based meals and unhealthy snacks to make the change by easing into the flexitarian lifestyle. And many vegetarians enjoy allowing themselves the freedom to enjoy a salad with chicken on it, taste a relative's signature dish at a special celebration or have a hot dog at the ballpark.
According to Blatner, there are three main steps you should take if you would like to try flexitarianism:
1) Eat what you currently eat, but re-portion your meals. "Eat half as much as your usual portion of a meat-based meal, and add more vegetables to your plate," Blatner says. A small amount of meat remains to allow you to enjoy the taste you're familiar with; it's just paired with healthy greens and vegetables.
2) Reinvent your old favorites. "If you normally have turkey meat in your pasta sauce, replace the turkey with white beans," Blatner says. The spices in your recipe turn this into a delicious new option. Instead of a beef burrito, choose a black bean burrito to be more plant-based. Blatner shares the formula for optimal meat replacement: "For every ounce of meat you take out of a dish, substitute a quarter-cup of beans."
3) Refresh your repertoire of favorite recipes. Variety makes flexitarianism easier and more enjoyable, and family members will be more willing to sit down to pro-plant meals when you've added a dash of creativity to them. "Check out new vegetarian magazines, and talk to friends and family members about their favorite meatless recipes," Blatner says. Ask about homemade dishes, as well as what vegetarian and flexitarian friends order at local restaurants. You may find that a veggie burger at a local eatery is quite amazing, especially when topped with guacamole. Expanding your horizons with food options is immensely easy on recipe websites, such as Allrecipes.com.
It's empowering to take charge of your health, and a flexible approach to adding more plant-based foods gradually into your diet can be more successful than a drastic elimination of meats. "If I said 'no meats anymore,' my husband would be sneaking off to fast-food restaurants," says retiree Anne Pasteur. "He's not going to give up his steaks, but what he has noticed is that he's happy with a few slices of sirloin and a half-plate of steamed broccoli and cauliflower with a lemon vinaigrette on it."
Each pro-plant decision you make can improve your health. And if you're a beginning vegetarian or an established vegetarian who has experienced meal disappointment at social events and holidays, the chance to add a low-fat meat option to your plate also counts as improving your quality of life.
If you'd like to explore this new twist to your diet, check out Blatner's book and flexitarian diet information at her website (http://DawnJacksonBlatner.com).