5 Simple Ways to Start Your Flexitarian Journey from a Dietitian

(BPT) – If you’ve heard the buzz about eating “plant-based” diets or being a “flexitarian,” you’re not alone. According to a OnePoll survey, 47% of Americans (ages 24-49) identify as flexitarian, meaning they eat mostly plant foods including vegetables, legumes, and fruit but are not strictly vegetarian or vegan.

Why try a flexitarian diet?

A flexitarian diet could mean better health for yourself and the planet, without entirely omitting animal foods. Higher in antioxidants, fiber, and phytochemicals from plant foods, vegetarian diets (which closely resemble flexitarian eating) may help lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, and may aid in weight management. As for the planet, in a review of 14 varied plant-based diets, research showed that a flexitarian eating style may help lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Keep in mind that not all earth-friendly foods are better for your health and that reading ingredient labels is important. A company serving up flexitarian options that are both better for the planet and your health is GOOD PLANeT Foods. Their newest product, Olive Oil Cheese, is the only dairy-free cheese made with superfood olive oil to support heart health. CEO of GOOD PLANeT Foods, Bart Adlam, explains, “We created the first ever Olive Oil Cheese to make it easier for flexitarians who are aiming to eat more plant-based foods while still enjoying the goodness of cheese. Our Olive Oil Cheeses are dairy-free, and full of all the deliciousness, joy, and have the same melt of your favorite cheeses.”

How should you start your flexitarian journey?

Below, registered dietitian Bianca Tamburello, RDN, shares five tips for starting a flexitarian way of eating to incorporate more plant foods into your diet.

1. Start with whole plant proteins including beans, lentils, legumes, and tofu.

Eating more plant proteins is the cornerstone to adopting a flexitarian way of life. Cut back on animal-based foods slowly by eating meals with half meat and half plant proteins. For example, make taco meat with half ground beef and half beans. Later, transition to multiple meat-free meals per week where your main protein is plant-based, like beans, lentils, and legumes. Try these wholesome proteins in stews, stir fries, pasta dishes, crockpot recipes, sandwiches, and burgers.

2. Choose plant-based alternatives with health benefits!

Tamburello recommends looking for plant-based foods with health-promoting ingredients, like GOOD PLANeT’s Olive Oil Cheese. The Olive Oil Cheese is the only dairy-free cheese made with heart-healthy olive oil (most vegan cheeses are made with coconut oil). She explains, “The swap to olive oil in vegan cheese makes it higher in healthy unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fat. Research shows that olive oil is linked to numerous health benefits including less inflammation and better heart health.” GOOD PLANeT’s Olive Oil Cheese melts perfectly for pizzas, pastas, burgers, paninis, and quesadillas.

3. Look for convenient vegetables and fruits for easy meals.

High in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, eating more vegetables and fruit is an important part of a plant-based diet. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that you aim to fill half your plate with veggies or fruit at meals. Cut back on cooking and prep time by choosing convenient produce like frozen, pre-cut, and steam-in-bag. These options are just as nutritious as fresh and can help you effectively boost your fruit and veggie intake. Keep frozen cauliflower rice and stir fry medleys in your freezer for a delicious veggie base in minutes and frozen fruit for snacking, smoothies, and bowls.

4. Don’t forget nuts and seeds.

Tamburello shares, “Nuts and seeds are small but mighty, offering up healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, plant protein, and important vitamins and minerals.” Being nutrient-dense, these important plant foods pack high levels of nutrients per serving. Enjoy one to two ounces of nuts and seeds per day in trail mixes or sprinkle as a topper on oatmeal, smoothie bowls, yogurt, and salads.

5. Prioritize plant foods high in vitamin B12 and iron.

Iron and vitamin B12 are two nutrients that are important for regular body functions. Vitamin B12 and iron are more abundant in animal products, which puts strict vegans or vegetarians at risk of being low in these important nutrients. Prioritize plant foods high in iron (legumes, beans, nuts, and leafy greens) and vitamin B12 (fortified cereals and nutritional yeast) and enjoy them regularly to keep vitamin B12 and iron levels high.

For recipes and more information for GOOD PLANeT Foods Olive Oil Cheese, see here.