Best Foods for Heart Health? A 10-Day Flexitarian Experiment
 
Cooking with a group may be a helpful way to learn new dishes.

Best Foods for Heart Health? A 10-Day Flexitarian Experiment

Abbott asked Kyleigh Roessner, registered nurse and healthcare blogger, to take a break from eating meat every day and give the flexitarian diet a try. Here's what she learned from her 10-day experiment.

I'm an enthusiastic meat eater. I'm currently attempting to perfect the art of searing a perfect rib eye on my cast-iron skillet, and for me, it seems like a meal is incomplete without an animal protein sitting center stage.

However, I'm fully aware that I'm failing the daily servings recommendations for the best foods for heart health, foods such as fruits and green vegetables. My signature move is to buy a frozen package of green beans, throw it in the microwave, and forget about it completely while I lovingly sear the perfect steak.

So, it's time to refocus my diet to improve heart health, decrease my overall weight, and maybe learn a few tricks about cooking veggies for me and my family by trying a flexitarian diet.

Remember to always consult your doctor before embarking upon any significant dietary changes. Your doctor or a dietitian can provide valuable resources and tips for your new balanced meal plans.

For those who are unfamiliar, a flexitarian diet is essentially meals focused on non-animal protein sources, filling plates instead with beans, lentils, nuts, vegetables, eggs and dairy. Additionally, there should be a decrease in processed foods.

Pamela Nisevich Bede, a sports dietitian with Abbott's EAS Sports Nutrition, praised the virtues of flexitarianism. "I love the flexitarian diet because it doesn't necessarily pigeon hole you into one way of eating or another," she told Shape. "We know that certain diets like vegetarian or vegan sometimes get to be a little bit too restrictive, and the more flexibility that you can introduce while still staying on a regimen is a good thing."

Expectations

Before I began the 10-day experiment, I made some predictions about the experience:

  1. I will miss my steak.
  2. I may or may not lose a couple of pounds.
  3. I should save some money, as meat in my area is not cheap.

I also measured my blood pressure, which was a pretty average 120/72. The American Heart Association explains that vegetarians have a lower risk of high blood pressure, so let's see if a few days of flexitarian eating has a similar effect.

Method

Bede offers would-be flexitarians great advice to combat hunger, by adding plant-based protein sources like lentils, tofu or protein shakes. (Did you know tofu is one of the best foods for heart health?)

I tried to implement that advice by relying on beans, protein shakes and lentils. I also used simple modifications of my normal diet. Chicken fajitas simply became fajitas, and chili was just as good without the ground beef. Teriyaki stir-fry went from good to amazing when I swapped the chicken for udon noodles. And I highly recommend replacing your ground beef for lentils at your next Taco Tuesday.

I also relied on some dishes that never involved meat in the first place, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and eggs with hash browns.

I did purchase one commercially prepared meat substitute for variety, however, I only used that option once, preferring to forego meat altogether.

Eating out was mixed-bag. I was able to order a veggie burrito and a black bean burger, but some restaurants just didn't have an appealing meatless option. At that point, I put the flex in flexitarian and ordered the grilled chicken sandwich with no guilt.

Reflections

Ultimately, a flexitarian diet was much easier to manage than I anticipated, and there were some unexpected perks. More than once I would come home after a busy day and kick myself for not setting out a pound of meat to defrost, only to be pleasantly reminded that my meal didn't require that step. Very convenient!

As for my predictions:

  1. I didn't miss my steak at all. Now after 10 days, it feels like I have got it out of my system.
  2. I didn't lose a significant amount of weight, though that may be due to the onset of fall baking. (Pumpkin is a vegetable, right?)
  3. I saved money! Even the veggie burrito is a dollar cheaper than the steak burrito I usually order, and the beans, lentils, noodles and protein shakes saved me quite a bit of money over my pounds and pounds of animal proteins.

My blood pressure remained about the same, at a 118/70, though I'm interested to see what would happen if I continued to limit my meat consumption.

Unexpectedly, what I craved the most during those 10 days were deli sandwiches: ham, cheese, tomato and lettuce. There just isn't a good veggie substitute in my book for a great deli sandwich.

The takeaway

A consciousness for what I choose to eat. Meat doesn't have to be a given for a meal to be complete, and in some cases, it is completely unnecessary. I see many meatless meals in my future for the sake of my health, for convenience, for my wallet, and to improve heart health.