THE TERM “FLEXITARIAN” COMBINES FLEXIBLE AND VEGETARIAN TO DESCRIBE A DIET THAT REDUCES MEAT INTAKE WITHOUT EXCLUDING IT ALTOGETHER. THE HEALTH AND WEIGHT LOSS ADVANTAGES ARE SIGNIFICANT.
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STUDIES SHOW a strong connection between eating less meat, eating a plant-based diet and boosting your health and life expectancy. It also makes sense that going flexitarian helps weight management because it lowers your carbohydrate intake. A recent Harvard study showed that swapping meat and full-fat dairy (saturated fat-rich foods) with plant based equivalents such as legumes, nuts and seeds (rich in polyunsaturated fats) can reduce the risk of heart disease by 19 percent.
A study over 26 years, published in 2006, showed that people eating processed foods were 21 percent more likely to have cardiovascular disease, and 16 percent more prone to cancer compared to those who didn’t consume processed meat. An estimate was made that if the study group had eaten half as much meat, deaths in the group would have declined by 9.3 percent among men and 7.6 percent among women. DO I EAT TOO MUCH MEAT? There are a few signs that suggest you may be eating too much meat. These can include bloating, nausea and constipation, and subtler symptoms such as dark circles under the eyes, fatigue and even bad breath and body odours. Consult your GP about your meat intake as these symptoms can vary. WHAT DO I EAT INSTEAD OF MEAT? Remember that you don’t have to cut out meat completely, just reduce your intake. Tofu, although delicious, is not the only meat substitute you can eat to still get all the nutrients you would normally get from animal products. Mushrooms, lentils, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are just a few of the foods that can substitute for your meat intake. Not only will they help you eat your daily protein requirements, they are low in fat and cholesterol and are packed with other nutrients.
There are several apps around that will help you work out ways to substitute your meat intake by comparing the nutritional information of your normal meat meal to a plant-based substitute. You’ll be surprised how much you can reduce your saturated fat and carbohydrate intake. WHAT YOUR PLATE SHOULD LOOK LIKE y Half the plate should be fruits and/or
vegetables, not including potatoes. Remember to aim for your “two and five” each day; that’s two fruits and five vegetables.
One quarter of the plate should be whole grains like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta or brown rice.
One quarter of the plate should be some type of protein like fish, poultry, beans.
In limiting your red meat intake remember that some non-meats, like beans, have high levels of proteins.
Aim for a diversity of colours on the plate. DON’T-GO-THERE FOODS! What are the foods that contribute the most to weight gain? First off, cut back on non-contributing fluids other than water and, yes, that includes alcohol. Most sodas and soft drinks, fruit juices, bottled iced teas and energy drinks on the market are full of sugar and should be avoided at all costs. If you are struggling to lose weight, make water your only liquid intake. A sensible food diet is essential but many people are putting hidden sugars into their system through drinks they think are healthy. Read the content labels!
Secondly, avoid fried potato chips at all costs as the fat from the oil and the carbohydrate of the potato itself are one of the greatest contributors to weight gain in a modern Western fast diet. Processed red meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, salamis and pressed sandwich meats should be avoided. They don’t contribute to weight gain as much as fried chips but if you’re trying to lose weight stick to leaner meat option (fish, poultry, lean red meats that are fresh not processed).
Lastly, avoid all processed foods: chips, pretzels, popcorn. A good rule of thumb is to imagine the source of the food and compare it to how it looks now. The less it resembles its source, the more processed it is and the less beneficial it is. Pretzels, for example, are made of flour but look nothing like wheat. To reduce hunger, reach for something that gives your body more lasting energy, such as oatmeal or whole-wheat bread. SWEET SEASONAL SUMMER TREATS While added sugars should be avoided, you don’t have to forgo sweet things altogether. Summer brings a feast of delicious seasonal treats in fruits: bananas, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, grapes, rock melon, watermelon, nectarines, peaches, navel oranges, plums and strawberries. Taking advantage of these throughout summer can help those struggling with a sugar depleted diet, but try to eat more vegetable variety each day than fruit variety; remember, two fruits and five vegies. Your summer vegies include asparagus, beansprouts, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chillies, cucumber, eggplant, leak, lettuce, mushroom, pumpkin, rhubarb, snow peas, spinach, spring onions, sweetcorn, tomatoes, turnips and zucchini.
LIKE ANY significant change you’re thinking of making to your diet, it is best to consult your GP first. As healthy as the flexitarian diet is, you may have specific nutritional needs that you might not be meeting when deciding to lower your meat intake. It’s important to learn the nutritional value of the foods you are eating to make sure you are hitting all your nutrient requirements, just like meat, not all fruits and vegetables are the same. MORE: Dr Zac Turner (MBBS RN Bsc) can be contacted at www.drzac.co