Health Habit: Eating Flexitarian

This week’s health habit: Eat more plant-based foods.

Plant-based eating has been shown to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and a myriad of other diseases.  More people are incorporating plant-based foods into their diets these days.  With the increase of plant-based eating and media spotlight on the trend comes confusion regarding the meaning.  Most would automatically assume vegetarian or vegan eating patterns when they hear those terms.  Some would also assume that animal-based foods such as eggs, meat, dairy and fish cannot be a part of a healthy and balanced diet. Vegetarian and vegan diets offer healthful benefits, but so do diets including animal-based foods. Plant-based foods in combination with animal-based foods may comprise a healthful diet. 

Eating plant-based or plant-forward may also be known as being flexitarian.  People following such eating patterns place more focus on meals with a higher percentage of plant-based foods on their plates than animal-based.  Flexitarian eating patterns allow for people to eat more plant-based without having to give up meat or animal products.  A high percentage of this population may use animal-based food alternates such as tofu, soy or almond beverage, and veggie burgers.  Omission of food groups is not necessary, which is one of the main draws to this eating pattern.  

Plant-based eating doesn’t mean that one is missing out on important macronutrients, vitamins and minerals.  For example, macronutrients such as protein can be found in nuts, seeds and whole grains.  Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are found in plant foods. This means that when one consumes plant foods, they’re still getting the same amino acids that are found in animal-based foods. Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, etc. to help fight diseases. Some vitamins in plant-based foods have limited bioavailability, which means that there may be better options from other vegetables or animal-based foods.  An example of that would be calcium; vegetables such as broccoli are better sources or milk products. 

Here’s an example of what a flexitarian eating pattern would look like:

Breakfast: Granola & berry parfait with Greek yogurt

Mid-morning snack: Cottage cheese and melon

Lunch: Black bean and zucchini quesadilla

Snack: Pita chips and hummus dip

Dinner: Chicken and vegetable enchiladas

            As you can see in the sample meal plan there are plant-based and animal-based foods with a focus on plants being the main source of nutrition.  There are some simple things you can do to slowly transition your meals towards being plant-based.  For example, if your snacks are mainly processed foods, you can try adding a fruit or vegetable. Snack can be veggie sticks with your favorite dip or your favorite berry with a little yogurt. Maybe try having sautéed green beans or zucchini with the steak and potatoes on your plate for dinner. You can substitute the chicken in your quesadilla with beans or sautéed vegetables. If you have a spiralizer in your kitchen, try zoodles with pasta sauce instead of spaghetti noodles. These small changes can lead to big gains in health status

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