Flexitarian Diet – The decision to try a vegetarian diet may not be as easy as turning your palm. Fortunately, there are always easy ways to start living a healthier life. The flexitarian diet can be a solution for those of you who are used to eating meat and want to switch to a vegetarian diet.
What is this?
Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner created the flexitarian diet. You could say this diet is a more flexible version of the vegetarian diet. This diet still prioritizes the consumption of plant-based food sources or a plant-based diet. However, you can enjoy animal food sources, such as meat, in moderation.
The name “flexitarian” itself is a combination of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian.” That is why this diet is suitable for people who are just starting a vegetarian diet. Flexitarian can also be an option for those of you who want to have a healthy diet without worrying about the many food restrictions.
Even so, this diet cannot be classified as a vegetarian or vegan diet because it still allows meat consumption. A true vegetarian diet should eliminate meat and sometimes other animal products. A vegan adopts an even stricter diet regimen, completely avoiding meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
The flexitarian diet has no clear rules or recommended calorie and nutrient counts. It’s more like a lifestyle than a diet.
This diet is based on the following principles.
- Eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. The portion will be larger than animal food.
- Prioritizing vegetable protein sources rather than animal sources.
- Choose whole, home-cooked, or slightly processed foods.
- It is permissible to consume meat and animal products, but the portion is not more than vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.
- We are limiting added sugar and the consumption of sweets.
There are no clear rules on how much meat you are allowed to eat while on this diet. However, you can set your limits so you don’t consume too many animal products and still prioritize vegetable intake. Depending on your level of commitment, you can eat between 250 – 800 grams of meat a week while on a flexitarian diet.
There are three basic steps to reduce the portion of meat consumption in this diet.
It is recommended that you avoid eating meat two days per week during the early stages. You should also keep your overall meat consumption to no more than 800 grams a week, or five days in a row. You can start by eating small amounts of chicken or beef, about 85 grams.
As you get used to eating more fruits and vegetables, focus on following a fully vegetarian diet 3–4 days a week. Once you start on a vegetarian diet, try not to eat more than 500 grams of meat for the rest of the day.
Do a vegetarian diet for five days a week. In the first two days, you are allowed to eat meat but do not eat more than 250 grams. But to start a flexitarian diet, try not to eat animal products for the first two days. Continue this restriction for another three to four days, until you can go without meat for five days straight.
Remember, the overall goal of the flexitarian diet is to eat more nutritious plant foods and less meat.
Here are some plant foods that should be eaten regularly.
- Protein: soybeans, tofu, tempeh, peas, and lentils
- Non-starchy vegetables: leafy greens, bell peppers, cabbage, green beans, carrots, and cauliflower
- Starchy vegetables: pumpkin, sweet potato, peas, corn, and cassava
- Fruits: apples, oranges, berries, and grapes.
- Whole grains: quinoa, oatmeal, buckwheat, and brown rice.
- Other sources of healthy fats are almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashews, peanut butter, avocados, olives, and coconut.
- Plant-based milk alternatives: unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk, and soy milk.
- Spices and seasonings: basil, garlic, cumin, turmeric, and ginger.
- Condiments: low-sodium soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, and no-sugar-added tomato sauce.
- Drinks: water, tea, and coffee
Meanwhile, choose meat or animal products that you can consume in the form of:
- goat, and
- other dairy or egg products (butter, cheese, yogurt, or mayonnaise).
You need to limit not only meat and animal products but also processed foods, refined grains, and added sugars.
As much as possible, reduce the consumption of some of the following types of food.
- Processed meat: nuggets, sausages, and meatballs.
- Refined carbohydrates: white bread, white rice, croissants, and other pastries.
- Added sugar and candy: soda, doughnuts, cakes, pastries, and candy.
- Fast food: French fries, burgers, fried chicken, and milkshakes.
There are several benefits that you might get by having a flexitarian diet that prioritizes plant foods.
1. Improve Heart Health
A plant-based diet has long been associated with better cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) health. With a flexitarian diet, you will increase your intake of fiber and good fats, which can lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013) shows that the effect of a high-fiber diet can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 32 percent.
2. Lose Weight
A diet is high in fiber from vegetables and fruits is also referred to as a more effective way to lose weight. Fiber intake can even help you maintain an ideal body weight. Research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (2016) reported that participants who underwent a vegetarian diet for 2 weeks were able to lose 2 kg of body weight.
This number is higher than the number of participants who did not follow the diet.
3. Managing Diabetes
Eating a healthy diet, especially plant-based foods, can help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. A plant-based diet high in fiber, healthy fats, and minimal added sugar helps control blood sugar. A study from PLoS Medicine (2018), which observed 200,000 participants, found that a plant-based diet with minimal animal intake can reduce the risk of diabetes by around 20 percent.
Some people may be at risk of malnutrition when they cut back on meat and other animal products. This depends on the nutritional content of the food choices.
Possible nutritional deficiencies to watch for on a flexitarian diet include:
- vitamin B12,
- calcium, and
- omega-3 fatty acids.
Flexitarianism allows you more freedom to follow a plant-based diet without having to completely avoid meat consumption.
If the diet is well planned and still adheres to the principles of balanced nutrition, you don’t need to worry about the risks that arise due to deficiencies of certain nutrients.