Becoming a “flexitarian”

If you have been working hard to cut out processed foods and start eating organically and/or locally grown foods, does that mean you can still eat meat? The answer is…sometimes. According to Michael Pollan:

There are literally scores of studies demonstrating that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits reduces the risk of dying from all the Western diseases. In countries where people eat a pound or more of fruits and vegetables a day, the rate of cancer is half what it is in the United States. We also know that vegetarians are less susceptible to most of the Western diseases, and as a consequence live longer than the rest of us.

So becoming a vegetarian doesn’t exactly fit into your lifestyle? Not to worry, because you can still reap the same health benefits as a vegetarian if you, as Thomas Jefferson once said, treat meat as a “condiment for the vegetables.” If you cut back to less than one serving of meat per day you can consider yourself a “flexitarian” with a risk of heart disease and cancer that is equally as low as a vegetarian.

Think about it like this – the less meat you consume the more of something else you will eat instead, and hopefully that will be veggies and fruit. And “by eating a plant-based diet you will likely consume fewer calories (which is itself protective against many chronic diseases).” Easy enough, right?

It is also important to consider the following when thinking about the optimal way to fit meat into your diet:

  • “The more meat there is in your diet – red meat especially – the greater your risk of heart disease and cancer.”
  • Ideally, you should purchase meat from a local source (check your farmers’ market), and if that is not possible go with organic.
  • You are what you eat eats too…some of our food animals, such as cows and sheep, are ruminants that evolved to eat grass; if they eat too many seeds they become sick, which is why grain-fed cattle have to be given antibiotics.”  So in the case of red meat look for beef from cattle that have been 100% grass-fed.

We have been trying to eat more like “flexitarians” ourselves and have found it easiest to just think of meat as a side dish, topping or flavor contributor rather than a main course (or just as an occasional main course). It was a difficult transition at first, but we know the health benefits are more than worth it in making this our  “new normal”.

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45 thoughts on “Becoming a “flexitarian””

  1. Lisa-great site. I have been trying to tell your story for over 14 years. Let’s talk about meat and local. I own my own abbatoir, AWA approved and fighting the good fight to help promote good, fresh,clean food. Michael Pollan is one of my heros too; however our food world is such an onion.

  2. Actually red meat and chicken are deemed “bad” and tee cause for heart disease etc
    But that’s only bc u and others are stating half truth.
    The FULL truth is that GRAIN FED cow and non pastured chicken is bad.
    If u buy 100% grass fed beef and pastured chicken the omegas and lineolic acid as well as other nutrient values are DRASTICALLY different and vastly more healthy.
    Half Truths scare.
    This is why I do my own research and studying

    1. Show me just one – only one – study that demonstrates the meat from grain fed animals is drastically worse for you than the alternative. Just asking for one.

  3. The problem when cutting out too much meat is that people will replace meat with grains, not typically fruits and vegetables. Although grains have vitamins and nutrients in them, they are not as bioavailable (the ability for the body to absorb the vitamins and nutrients) as the vitamins and nutrients in produce and meats. There are high levels of phytates in grains, which inhibit the absorption of not only the vitamins and nutrients in grains, but also the vitamins and nutrients in other foods. There are many vegetarians and vegans who have severe nutrient deficiencies and a host of health problems from following their diet for a long period of time. I believe we eat too much protein in this country, too. I lean towards more of a Paleo/primal diet (80/20 rule). I found that my meat consumption is about the same, but my grain intake is down and my produce consumption is up. I would like your thoughts on why you believe grains are good for people. The average American consumes about 75% of their calories from carbohydrates and this mostly isn’t from produce, but bread, pancakes, cereal, cheetos, crackers, rice, pasta, etc. The average American is also overweight We have unprecedented levels of infertility, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, autoimmune diseases, inflammation, etc.

    1. Grains are perfectly healthy foods and none of what you wrote is based on science. Carbohydrates that are unprocessed are perfect foods. The autoimmune diseases are from so much dairy and meat in our diets.

      1. Actually there is NO science to back that meat and dairy are the reason for autoimmune disease either and that is an inaccurate statement to make. There is a lot of evidence to prove that conventionally GROWN grains are a huge factor in auto immune disease and if you are eating meat and dairy that also consume that grain then that causes harm as well. So NO grains are not perfectly healthy foods and definitely not for everyone.

      2. I am responding. The original claims need references to rebut properly. Not just opinion. I know and have read the science, but it’s obvious to me that the person making claims hasn’t. I won’t waste time on people who just spew their opinions, but I will challenge them to show where they got the opinions, and the qualifications and expertise of the person producing the original information.

      3. Have you heard of Dr. Neal Bernard? He is vegan, but gives scientific evidence for what you are saying with meat and dairy causing disease. I enjoy listening to him and thought I would share with you. I love your site also! Thank you.

    2. And how about posting the source of your claims that many vegetarians and vegans have severe nutrient deficiencies and a host of health problems? That’s a hugely sweeping statement to make, so it must be based on a report.

  4. The problem is people take “treat meat as a condiment” to mean treat all animal products as condiments. The real problem with meat in this country is the oppression with eating only the muscle meat. Muscle meat is the part that needs to be considered the condiment.

  5. Research has shown that Organic beef is in no way more healthy or safe than non-organic. You get 10 times more beta estrogen hormones from a serving of broccoli than from a serving of beef that came from an animal with an implant. Also, the statement made about animals needing to be on antibiotics because of being grain fed is completely inaccurate. Not all feedlot animals are on antibiotics. Also, the antibiotics that are used on cattle are species specific, and so they cannot contribute to an increased resistance to antibiotics in humans. Just thought you would like to know the facts. Let me know if you would like sources. And yes red meat eaters do live longer than vegetarians:)

    1. I know this comment was made a while back, but I just came across this site. I’m inspired by the method and agree 110% that Americans need more “real food” in their diets, but I’m saddened that so many people are misled by rumors spread on meat production practices. Thanks Chris for sharing the truth – I used to be on the Food Inc. bandwagon, but have since found out how many lies and misconceptions are spread by it (and now Chipotle, HSUS, etc). I also want to add that just because a type of meat isn’t certified as organic or 100% grass fed/cage free does NOT mean the animals were raised in an inhumane or unhealthy way. Likewise, “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.”

  6. Vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters?? It’s interesting that the quote you shared said that vegetarians live longer than the rest of us. I’m wondering where Michael Pollan got his information because everything I’ve researched and studied says that vegetarians actually don’t live as long as meat-eaters.

    1. Just to clarify, I don’t think meat should always be the main course, and I agree that it should be organic, etc. and I love this blog, but I don’t agree on the things Lisa wrote about meat.

    2. There is scientific data to support the benefits of a a vegetarian diet. Here’s a link to one published study: http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/6/2131
      Here’s a quote from the research: “Vegetarians experienced a 10% to 20% decreased in all-cause mortality. Similarly, vegetarians had 26% to 68% lower risks of mortality from ischemic heart disease, cardiovascular
      disease, and cerebrovascular disease. Vegetarians experienced a 48% risk reduction in mortality from breast cancer, and modest risks reduction from other-cause total mortality.”

  7. It pains me to see an otherwise well-thought-out blog missing such an important point. Red meat is full of nutrients that have been nourishing our ancestors for centuries. Of course, as Americans, we overdo the quantity and underdo (if that’s a word) the quality of almost everything we eat. But grass-fed (and finished) beef is something to be enjoyed regularly, if you can find an affordable source near you. But don’t take my word for it. Read up on the work of Weston A. Price:
    http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/its-the-beef

  8. I read the article.. read the comments, then reread a part of the article–the quote from Thomas Jefferson, and suddenly realized that I DO this already a lot of the time. Perhaps not with as much veggies as I should, but I often make something like spaghetti with a lb of ground venison. Divided between the 7 people in the house and usually one person worth of leftovers, this is only about 2 oz of meat per person–far less than a standard serving. I’ve also done a mushroom venison cream type sauce with 1/2 to 1 lb of meat, and put the sauce over a bed of brown rice. Not the greatest perhaps in my grains to veggies ratio, but I’m realizing that meals with meat as the main entree are really actually few and far between at my house. The only one i can recall recently was the beef hot dogs we had on Independence day.

  9. After watching Food Inc 3 years ago I decided to try out a “pescatarian” lifestyle for 30 days. It went well and I really enjoyed it so I continued with it for 3 years. I consider myself a pretty healthy eater, lots of fruits & veggies, whole grains, legumes, etc, but I ate a lot of frozen “meat-less” items to supplement protein. At the end of last year I did some research and decided all that fake meat, wasn’t just fake meat, it was fake food! In December I decided to eat meat again, but only local, organic, grass-fed, meat and only occasionally. I came across this article and it perfectly defines me! People struggled with the definition of me being a “pescatarian” I can’t wait to tell them I am now considering myself a “flexitarian”. :)

  10. I live in an area of the Northeast that gets substantial snow fall each year and year-round farmer’s markets are out of the question. Our grocery store options are ShopRite and ShopRite. My husband and I both enjoy eating meat. What brands can we look for at ShopRite that are “real-approved”? Thanks in advance!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Meika. Despite the time of year, this link might help you locate local sources of meat: http://www.eatwild.com/. Though far from local, this brand seems to be available: http://www.claytonsorganicbeef.com/ and this link offers a little more info specific to ShopRite: http://doyoureallyknowwhatyoureeating.blogspot.com/2012/10/shoprite-raises-bar-on-natural-beef.html. And, using this post will help you further discern your meat choices: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/03/25/mini-pledge-week-3-meat/ Good luck. ~Amy

    2. don’t writeoff farm options.. there are lots of veggies that store well, like carrots & cabbage. You can also try growing sprouts at home for some greenage.

      Farmers with grass-fed beef don’t move them in the winter, btw… They grow hay (grass) on extra fields and harvest it for feeding in the winter or buy from someone else that grows it. But the animals are still eating grass all year–some fresh, some dried.

  11. Grain fed cattle need antibiotics because they generally live in feed lots with thousands of other cows and basically live in sewage. Grains are not healthy for herbivores but they can survive on them with hay although they may not be in optimum health. Grass fed cattle live closer to natural conditions and their meat is leaner and therefore healthier to eat. They also require less pharmaceuticals when grass fed because they are in large pastures and so do not contaminate their surroundings as much with fecal matter, bacteria, viruses and parasites.

  12. Ah ‘flexitarian’. I am not completely vegan or vegetarian, but I treat meat and dairy as a secondary. I never knew how to categorize myself. Thank you!

  13. I’ve noticed when you refer to meat in the rules and even here turkey is not mentioned. Was there reasoning for that – if I take the pledge should I stay away from turkey or apply it as with the other meats.

    Also, what about cold cuts? Boars’ Head?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Bridgette. I would apply the same rules for any meat you choose to eat. I don’t think the Boar’s Head brand is free from nitrates (although I’m not positive). I know Applegate Farms sells lunch meats free of nitrates. Jill

  14. Here’s a question – would local partially grass fed beef be preferable over non-local fully grass fed beef? Just wondering for the huge chunk of people who live in the areas with snow.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Yes, I would personally pick the local…you are right grass is not an option during harsh winters.

  15. I always suspect there is some religious system at work when people recommend eating less meat for health. For example, in reaction to the excess of the Romans, monks gave up meat unless they were “sick” in the middle ages. After awhile they would only eat in the infirmary so they could eat meat every day. When the cause of a disease is unknown, it is rife for speculation as to what causes it. This used to be true of TB and Polio, but now that we know what causes those, we do the same for heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

  16. Grass fed beef is incredibly good for you. It can be better for you than veggies if you can’t afford organic. Dairies such as kefir, homemade yogurt, any cultured dairies, etc are incredibly good and healing for your gut.

  17. Thanks for the link of grass fed beef. I’m often looking for new sites to try.

    I must say beef is getting such a bad rap though. Everyone thinks it causes heart disease and cancer but the studies done were never done on organic 100%grass-fed beef they were done on conventional meats(yuck). I believe the rise in heart disease and cancer is due to mainly our high carb diet, processed oils and high sugar intake….AKA The SAD diet :)

    Great article on this

    http://www.westonaprice.org/It-s-the-Beef.html

  18. I sent you a FB suggestion for a “local” beef farm in TN…Gourmet Pasture Beef. Here is there website:
    http://www.gourmetpasturebeef.com/
    I know it’s a little far from you, but they ship and if you are going to be in the area you can stop by and pick it up. They are an amazing family that I know personally – love them!
    It’s a great option for any TN followers you have – they are outside of Nashville.

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