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What is the Flexitarian Diet?
Recently, both vegetarian and vegan diets have been rising in popularity. Going to a more plant-based diet can help you lose weight and eat healthier. However, for many people, completely giving up meat altogether seems daunting and unsustainable. If you’re someone who’s considered vegetarianism but isn’t willing to completely give up on ever having a perfectly cooked steak again, the flexitarian diet could be a great option for you.
What are the Basics of the Flexitarian Diet?
Many times diets fail because they are so rigid. People eventually give up because they want to eat a burger at a summer bbq, or pumpkin pie during the holiday season. Completely removing their favorite foods eventually becomes too hard, and so they abandon their diet altogether. That’s where the flexitarian diet shines. Instead of asking you to convert to a completely new way of eating, this diet allows you to eat mostly plant-based foods, but occasionally add meat.
And the very name of the diet explains how you should add in meat: your options are flexible. There are no specific rules, no limitations on the number of calories you can eat, and no points system that you must obey. You’re simply encouraged to eat more minimally processed plant-based foods, such as fruits and veggies, quinoa, legumes, and whole grains while cutting out added sugars. That’s because just adding more plants and whole grains to your diet is good for you.
You can start out slow by removing meat from just two or three days of the week, and then increase the number of meatless meals as you wish. The inventor of the diet, Dawn Jackson Blatner, actually suggests this in her book, The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life. She suggests eventually moving from two meatless meals a week to three or four. For people who like the diet and are motivated to do so, they should then move from there to having five meatless meals a week. Of course, with no specific guidelines, you can adapt the diet to fit your needs.
What are the Benefits?
Because the diet is relatively new, there aren’t many specific studies that have been done on this diet yourself. However, scientists have generally found plant-based diets to provide many health and medical benefits. Because the flexitarian diet is mostly plant-based, and therefore similar to the more traditional vegetarian and vegan diets, many of their benefits can be applied to the flexitarian diet.
May Lower Your Saturated Fat
A major benefit of vegetarian and vegan diets is less saturated fats, both in what you eat and in your body. One recent study found that those who followed a plant-based diet had much lower saturated fatty acids, which affected their bodily fluids, including blood plasma. Because saturated fat may be associated with heart disease, the flexitarian diet could have a positive impact on your risk for heart disease and heart attack.
May Lower Your Blood Pressure
A recent meta-analysis of multiple studies found that vegetarian diets have a large impact on blood pressure. In fact, it found that on average, vegetarians have a lower systemic blood pressure than non-vegetarians by seven points! This is great news for the potential of the flexitarian diet to help prevent high blood pressure.
May Lower the Risk of Type-2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
As you might expect, because people on plant-based diets consume less saturated fat, they’re at less of a risk of being overweight and obese, two contributing factors to Type-2 Diabetes. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition even found that those eating plant-based diets actually lose intramuscular fat (the fat in the muscles themselves), which can sometimes lead to insulin resistance, and maybe even eventually Type-2 Diabetes.
Helps with Weight Loss
While everyone aims at improving their health, perhaps the most desired immediate benefit of this diet is weight loss. The flexitarian may help you see the difference in your waistline. Because the diet calls for more whole foods, and fewer calorie and sugar-dense processed foods, many people naturally consume fewer calories on this diet, while still feeling full. Adding more foods that are rich in fiber, which includes many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can lead to a full feeling while also fueling your body with nutrients. Consuming fewer calories while feeling satisfied and full is a great recipe for weight loss.
Save Money on Your Grocery Bill
There’s no way around it, meat is expensive. This is especially true if you eat a lot of red meat. If you’re someone who typically serves meat as the main dish, switching to plant-based meals on many days of the week can save you money in the long run. Veggies and grains are also versatile and flexible, and you can easily replace one vegetable in a recipe with a different one you have on hand, which may also decrease your spending at the grocery store.
What are the Drawbacks?
There aren’t too many drawbacks to the flexitarian diet if you plan well and are very intentional about your meals. However, one of the biggest problems that people on a plant-based diet can face is getting enough protein and vitamins and minerals that are found mostly in meat. Flexitarians need to be mindful that they’re getting enough Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, Iron, Zinc, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Vitamin B-12 in particular is only found in animal products, so some flexitarians may want to consider taking a supplement to ensure they’re getting enough. Chlorella is a great plant-based supplemental option since it contains active B-12, the same type you get from animal sources.
The flexitarian diet is great, but it doesn’t mean you can stop exercising. Exercising remains an important part of a healthy lifestyle, so make sure you’re still getting at least 20-30 of exercise a day.
What Are Some Foods to Eat?
To make sure you’re still getting the nutrients you need, you’ll need a balanced diet. Here are the main types of recommended foods for flexitarians:
Plant Proteins: beans, soybeans, lentils, and tofu
Whole Grains: quinoa, brown rice, farro, buckwheat, oats, etc.
Starchy Vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn squash, peas, etc.
Non Starchy Vegetables: Carrots, greens, brussel sprouts, broccoli, peppers, etc.
Fruits: A great way to add sweetness without adding sugar
Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butters: These provide healthy fats
Other Sources of Healthy Fats: avocados, olive oil, chia seeds, coconut, etc.
Another way to make a healthy change to your diet as a flexitarian is to stay away from red meat. When you do include meat in that day’s meals, try to stick with poultry or seafood, and limit your red meat intake.