The Perfect Diet?

16 06 2010

That’s what Runner’s World says anyway.  The article beings by generalizing, “Many runners follow one of two food philosophies. You’re either a carnivore who has meatballs with your pasta, or you’re vegetarian, filling up on tofu stir-frys. But in recent years there’s been growing interest in a nutrition trend that allows you to have the best of both worlds.”  I think this is fairly accurate.  So many current day diets emphasize extremes.  It’s either eat no carbs and all protein or don’t eat any meat and consume only uncooked plant-based food!  Again, that is a big generalization but there is a lot of truth in it.  People really do need a common sense approach to nutrition (whether you are a runner, cyclists, or someone who occasionally goes for a walk around the block) that allows flexibility in eating yet is still a healthy diet.  It seems so simple and that’s really what this article is advocation.

“Nutritionists like Dawn Jackson Blatner, R. D., believe a ‘flexitarian’ diet is about striking the ideal balance: Namely, making plant foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes) the mainstay of our meals, while still eating animal protein—just less of it. Not going completely vegetarian means you still get beneficial nutrients in red meat and poultry (iron, zinc, protein, B vitamins) and fish (omega-3 fatty acids). But by eating less of them, you take in less of the unhealthy stuff, like saturated fat and cholesterol.”

We all need to eat more fruits and vegetables, that’s a universal truth and we all know it.  There is no way to get around that fact besides just going to the grocery store, buying more fruits and vegetables and then eating them.  Or, when at a restaurant order the steamed vegetables as a side.  The article explains, “Studies show eating a plant-based diet can decrease the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And research finds that semi-vegetarians have a lower BMI than their carnivorous counterparts.”  “Meat can be a nutritious part of the diet,” says Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet. “But limiting the amount we eat is important for health and disease prevention.”

The “Flexitarian Diet” gives a few tips on implementing and maintaining this healthier eating habit.  First, you need to divide your calories into the proper portions.  The Flex Diet recommends that your meals are about 50% vegetables with a good mix of starchy and non-starchy vegetables.  25% protein or meat from very lean sources.  Skip the ultra-fatty beef and get the lean stuff or go with ground turkey (edit: Keep in mind that you need to be reading nutrition labels.  Ground turkey can be just as fatty and the same calories as ground beef if it includes all parts of the turkey.  The healthiest option for turkey is to look for packages that are only made of ground turkey breast and the leanest dark meat.  And remember, when using ground beef go for the leaner beef such as 90/10 or better.).  The final 25% should come from whole grains.  Trade white rice for whole grain brown rice, opt for whole wheat bread over white bread.   It’s fairly simple, make the vegetables and fruits the focus of your meals and make meat and whole grains the side items!

Next, start slow.  Small changes over time are easier to manage and easier to stick with.  Start with one vegetarian meal a day or two vegetarian days a week.  Instead of having a hamburger at lunch have beans and rice instead once a week.  Little changes may not seem like much but they really do add up.

The Flex Diet also asks you to redefine protein.  Meat is not the only source of protein and you don’t have to eat a lot of it to get your protein requirements.  For instance, 4 ounces of chicken breast contains 28 grams of protein!  In addition, legumes, beans and nuts are all great sources of protein that can be substituted for a little meat.

The next tip offered is to try new stuff.  Instead of rice try a different grain such as quinoa or bulgur.  Look for different and more exotic fruits or vegetables that you’ve never tried before.  Buy them when they are in season and they will be cheaper.  Not to mention it’s easy to find a healthy recipe using those ingredients with our friend Google.com!

Finally, we don’t just eat to fuel our bodies.  We eat as a social experience and we need to enjoy what we eat, so don’t get worked up if you want to have a steak for dinner tonight.  Be flexible, have the steak, and over the next few days choose to eat more vegetable focused meals.

This really is a simple and common sense approach to eating healthy.  Don’t give up carbs, don’t give up meat, don’t go straight vegetarian if you don’t want to.  Just be flexible and switch the focus of your meals from meat to fruits and vegetables and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

For more information and the full article please head over to www.runnersworld.com/flex and check out the book “The Flexitarian Diet” by nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.

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