I hate to say it but vegetarians get a bad wrap. Once the cat is out of the bag the list of questions start: Why don’t you eat meat? Is it for the animals? Is it for your health? Isn’t it difficult? You just eat salad and vegetables? Do you know you aren’t getting enough protein? Blah, blah, blah….

Sorry all you non-vegetarians but as much as you want to say we are part of the dark side, you’re wrong. Eating meatless meals several times a week is becoming a rather healthy eating trend. Research studies continue to show that a vegetarian lifestyle or simply a low-meat diet reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes and even cancer.

A vegetarian diet also forces you to consume more fiber and less fat. Who doesn’t like the sound of that? Those are two of the best things you can do when trying to lose weight…eat more fiber and less fat.

To benefit from a vegetarian diet you don’t necessarily have to be vegetarian. There’s a new diet called “flexitarians.” Flexitarians are those who don’t eliminate meat from their diet 100 percent. They occasionally consume meat products but the majority of their caloric intake…approximately 80 percent…comes from a plant or soy based diet.

Flexitarians typically stay away from red meat allowing the other 20 percent of their calories to come from lean protein such as chicken, turkey and fish.

As noted before vegetarians and flexitarians focus more on a fiber-rich diet that helps keep you full longer on fewer calories which in turn helps you lose weight or maintain your healthy weight. Studies have shown that on average vegetarians weigh less than meat eaters.

Meatless meals are lower in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and include more vitamins and nutrients. Non-meat eaters eat more fruits and vegetables that contain an abundance of vitamins including vitamin A and C. Their diets are rich in potassium, and phytonutrients like beta-carotene and lycopene.

However, vegetarians do need to be careful because B vitamins, especially B12, and iron are primarily found in animal-based foods, consequently causing non-meat eaters to become deficient in those nutrients. Vegetarians simply need to supplement their diet with vitamin supplements or fortified foods that might possibly have those specific vitamins.

There are a lot of options when it comes to eliminating or reducing your diet of animal-based foods. Swap out meat for beans. You not only get your protein but you get fiber. Pasta dishes are also easy to make meat-free. Dabble with soy and tofu. The soy and tofu take on the flavor of whatever you are cooking and are extremely versatile. Ethnic foods are notorious for using tofu.

If you’re not ready to give up meat altogether yet try the flexitarian lifestyle. Maybe eventually you will find yourself slowly eliminating all meat from your diet.

It’s been proven that less meat is better for your health and more and more health professionals are advising people to limit their animal protein. So the proof is out there.

It’s not only better for your health by warding off diseases it is also a great diet to lose weight on.

A healthy lifestyle begins with a healthy diet.