If you've ever thought about going veggie but just couldn't part with spaghetti and meatballs, there's an option for you: the Flexitarian Diet. As the name suggests, it's a more flexible type of vegetarian eating.
This diet was dreamed up by Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian who cites an April 2006 study in Nutrition Reviews that found vegetarians weigh, on average, 15 percent less than non-vegetarians. She also points to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on vegetarians having lower cholesterol and advice from the American Institute for Cancer Research on eating a plant-based diet to lower cancer rates. Oh, and according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegetarians live about 3.6 years longer than the rest of us [source: Blatner].
Not a lot to argue with there.
Beginners start by cutting down to eating meat only five days a week, then cutting back to just two days if they choose. Many of us eat vegetarian meals already (grilled cheese, anyone?), so it's not as hard as it sounds. Blatner provides a meal plan and sample meals that actually sound good -- a peach and raspberry crepe, for example, is a snack. She also makes the point that there are a lot of delicious, healthy vegetarian ingredients that most of us haven't been exposed to -- sunflower seed butter, kefir, seaweed sprinkle. One of Blatner's recommended foods is mochi, a Japanese rice cake made out of sticky (glutinous) rice. It's often stuffed with some sort of sweet filling, like red bean paste.
The diet does still rely on calorie counting, which can be problematic. Study after study has shown that people underestimate the calories of what they eat. Luckily, in the age of the smartphone, you can download any number of apps to help you keep track.