Choosing the right diet seems to become more complicated each year. From fat-shredding to fasting, most weight loss plans contain more rules and regulations than the National Football League. In an exclusive interview on Jan. 10, registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner explained why and how the flexitarian diet simplifies weight loss by putting the focus on flexibility. She is the author of "The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life."
"Flexitarian is the combination of two words: Flexible plus vegetarian," Dawn explained to me. And because flexibility plays a key role in this diet, a flexitarian weight loss plan permits "meat, chicken and fish on occasion."
What's different about this approach compared to plant-based diets? Rather than condemn meat, poultry and fish as bad for you, a flexitarian diet features the positive benefits of plant-based foods. And when it comes to shedding pounds, research shows that shifting to this approach can boost weight loss by an average of 15 percent, says Dawn.
"It's a plan that is pro-plants, not anti-meat," emphasizes Dawn. Among the benefits:
- reduced risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease
- improved cholesterol and blood pressure
- makes it easier to lose weight
Dawn suggests these steps to taking advantage of the flexitarian approach to dieting:
- Reportion Your Plate. Downsize your meat and grain portions while pumping up the produce. Aim to have 25% of your plate meat/poultry/fish, 25% whole grains (such as brown rice or whole grain pasta) and 50% veggies.
- Reinvent Old Favorites. Take your current favorite recipes and swap out the meat for fiber-rich beans. For every 1 ounce of meat substitute 1/4 cup beans instead.
- Refresh Your Recipe Repertoire. Challenge yourself to try a new vegetarian recipe each week. Ask friends for their favorites or look through vegetarian magazines, cookbooks and websites for one that catches your eye.
- Redirect Meaty Cravings. You won’t miss meat but you may miss its meaty flavor. Satisfy your cravings by enjoying daily vegetarian sources of “umami” (the Japanese word for meaty/savory) such as low-sodium soy sauce, mushrooms, potatoes, green tea and tomato sauce.
When it comes to planning meals and snacks, Dawn recommends down-sizing the number of snacks that you allow. She advises that those who want to lose weight eat three balanced meals daily and limit themselves to one to two 150-calorie snacks.
"If you graze you will gain weight. because too many opportunities to eat turns into too many calories," she cautions.
If you're concerned about getting enough protein, here's a simple way to calculate it: For every ounce of meat, eat one-fourth cup of plant-based protein, such as tofu, says Dawn. Some ideas to inspire you:
- Veggie Burger. Grill a veggie burger and enjoy it with all the classic toppings such as ketchup, mustard and pickles.
- Hummus. Enjoy hummus as a dip for veggies or as a sandwich spread.
- Pasta. Toss canned white beans (rinsed & drained) into your favorite pasta dish for extra protein and fiber.
- Burrito. Make a fast and flavorful burrito with canned low-fat refried beans, shredded lettuce, tomato and guacamole in a whole wheat or corn tortilla.
- Morning Scramble. Mash tofu with a pinch of turmeric and sauté with baby spinach and pesto for a quick morning scramble.