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Can You Be a Vegetarian and Still Eat Meat?

"Flexitarians" can have their meat and eat it, too.

Health Reasons Spur Interest continued...

Though her preference is to follow a strictly vegetarian diet, Nijhawan began including fish in her diet several years ago for health reasons. Instead of ordering pasta in a restaurant, she'll now order salmon. "If someone said red meat would keep my arteries open, maybe I'd add that too, but for now, it's just fish," Nijhawan says, adding that she does cook chicken for her family and will occasionally make a lamb curry for guests. She recommends limiting meat intake to two to three times per week.

Flexitarianism -- if we can use that as a term -- is part of a trend to rediscover plant-based eating as an option, says William Hart, PhD, associate professor of human nutrition at St. Louis University. "I like the idea," he says.

It may be easier to maintain your current weight on a vegetarian-based diet because the high-fiber content makes you feel fuller more quickly, and that means you might take in fewer calories. Hart nonetheless admits that we're a nation of carnivores. "There's a huge amount of meat -- and good quality meat at that -- available in this country," he says, adding that there's nothing wrong with eating a 4-ounce steak. "Meat represents a lot of nutrients in a compact package," he tells WebMD. "It's the 12- or 16-ounce steaks -- or even larger portions -- that get us into trouble."

Just Eat Less

This movement of "sometime vegetarianism" isn't about promoting meat is "evil," says Hart. "We just don't need such quantities. We can build it into a meal ... use it as a complementary flavor."

In fact, keeping some meat in your diet can be a good thing, he says. "Variety helps. No one food is perfect." Hart adds that while many of us are moving closer to a more vegetarian diet, we don't want to give up other foods that taste good and -- in moderation -- aren't bad for us.

If you do want to limit your consumption of animal protein, make sure you learn how to plan meals that are both balanced and varied. Vegetarian cookbooks, magazines, and references such as Diet for a Small Planet will help you create a healthy diet, says Hart.

Because many vegetable proteins are not "complete," keeping a small amount of meat in your diet is one way of making sure your proteins are complementary, Hart explains. If you do want to eliminate meat entirely, he advises that you still include milk and eggs in your diet, because certain nutrients -- such as vitamin B12 -- are present in animal products such as meat, poultry, fish (including shellfish), and to a lesser extent milk, but are not generally present in plant products or yeast.

Whether you call yourself a flexitarian, a sometime vegetarian, or prefer not to label yourself at all, nutritionists say the bottom line is that as long as you're not overdoing it, you can have your meat and eat it, too.

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