The flexitarian diet is an increasingly popular plant-based diet that allows for occasional meat-eating. If you are looking to change your eating habits, read more to find out if the Flexitarian diet is for you.
What is a Flexitarian Diet?
The flexitarian diet is an increasingly popular plant-based diet that allows for occasional meat-eating.
Some critics suggest that Flexitarians are “vegetarians with benefits” and technically, they’d be right.
Created by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, the flexitarian diet is not as strict as a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, it claims to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your health with a diet full of vitamins and nutrients but incorporating animal products from time to time.
Who is a Flexitarian Diet for?
The Flexitarian diet is becoming increasingly popular, especially with people who do not want to commit to a rigid diet like full vegetarianism or veganism.
Some flexitarians eat meat three to four times per week. Where others may only eat meat once or twice per month. Rather than excluding food from your diet, the Flexitarian approach is more about adding new foods to enhance your diet.
As this is a fully flexible diet, your approach to flexitarianism is very much down to personal preference. It allows for flexibility to adapt to your lifestyle or health conditions.
If you want to reduce your meat intake, or if you have been following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet and would like to reintroduce meat to your diet then the flexitarian approach may appeal to you.
Why should you follow a Flexitarian Diet?
Motivations for following a Flexitarian diet are quite diverse. They can range from an interest in taking better care of your health to environmental concerns.
From a health perspective, red meat is particularly high in fat. Reducing your consumption of red meat can result in weight loss and even reduce your risk of suffering from a number of diseases. Additives in various types of meat, such as salt and other chemicals, are linked to certain types of cancer.
Another reason for adopting a Flexitarian diet includes animal welfare and environmental concerns.
Over the last twenty years, small and medium-sized farms have given way to large scale factory farms. Large numbers of animals are raised in confined spaces which creates a very stressful environment for the animals.
Hazardous air pollutants are created by millions of gallons of manure, which also contains contaminants dangerous to humans.
Consumers eating animal products from factory farms can be at risk of contracting E. coli and Salmonella, as well as suffering the consequences of unchecked use of antibiotics on animals.
Furthermore, after growing concerns in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, many people have adopted a plant-based diet in a move to avoid eating meat as often.
Benefits of a Flexitarian Diet on your health
Diets rich in fibre and healthy fats are good for a healthy heart.
A study conducted over 11 years on 45,000 adults living in Great Britain found that vegetarians had a 32% lower risk of heart disease compared to non-vegetarians.
The study compared vegetarian and omnivore diets so it is difficult to ascertain the effects of a flexitarian diet. However, as the flexitarian diet is primarily plant-based, it’s likely to show similar results.
Good fats include:
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
Bad fats include:
- Trans fat
- Saturated fat
A study conducted on the correlation between a vegetarian diet and weight loss discovered that a vegetarian diet had significant benefits on weight reduction compared to non-vegetarians.
Plant foods are naturally lower in calories but leave you feeling fuller for longer. Replacing high calorie processed foods with plant foods will lower your calorie intake and improve any nutritional deficiency.
Type 2 Diabetes is a serious condition where either your pancreas cannot make enough insulin, or the insulin doesn’t work properly.
Plant-based diets aid weight loss and contain many foods that are high in fibre and low in unhealthy fats and added sugar. Eating predominantly plant-based foods is likely to prevent Diabetes, manage it or even send it into remission.
A flexitarian diet in conjunction & exercise regime can reduce risks of breast and prostate cancer.
A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre can reduce the risk of several types of cancers. For example, wholegrain foods are likely to decrease your chance of colorectal cancer.
Downsides of eating fewer animal products
Depending on the adequacy of food choices, some people may be at risk of nutrient deficiency when cutting back on meat and animal products.
Possible nutrient deficiencies to be aware of include:
- Vitamin B12
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products. Depending on the number of animal products consumed by a flexitarian, a vitamin B12 supplement may be required.
Most nuts and seeds, whole grains and legumes contain both iron and zinc. A great way to improve your iron absorption from plant foods is to include a source of vitamin C.
Depending on your preferences, you may wish to limit your intake of dairy products. However, you will need to ensure your diet includes adequate amounts of calcium to promote healthy bones and strong muscles.
Some examples of plant-based foods that are rich in calcium include bok choy, broccoli, kale, and sesame seeds.
Flexitarians who choose to avoid fatty fish should ensure they get enough Omega 3 fatty acids. Plant-based sources of Omega 3 include walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds.
How to adopt a Flexitarian Diet
Although typically known as the Flexitarian diet, you may come to the conclusion that it is more of a lifestyle choice.
There are no strict rules, calorie control or macro counting (although it doesn’t hurt to have an idea about what your daily macro intake is). However, there are a few guidelines, or general ideas to follow:
- Stick to mostly fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains
- Get your protein source from plants instead of animals
- Remain flexible and eat meat and animal products from time to time
- Opt for the most natural form of foods and avoid processed foods
- Limit artificial sweeteners and added sugars
- Limit sweets
Foods you should eat
Here are a few ideas If you’re unsure of where to find the key nutrients in a plant-based diet:
- Five portions of fruit and vegetables per day
- Apples, oranges, berries, grapes and cherries
- Whole grains – brown rice, barley, whole wheat and quinoa
- Protein sources – lentils, beans, peas, nuts and seeds
- Soluble fibre – lentils and beans, which can reduce high cholesterol
- Polyunsaturated fats
- almonds, pine nuts, flaxseed, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts
- Peanut butter, avocado, olives and coconut oil
- Iron sources – spinach, cabbage, kale and broccoli
- Vitamin C – a small glass of fruit juice, sweet peppers, or tomatoes is recommended to increase iron absorption
- Non-starchy vegetables – bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, carrots and cauliflower
- Starchy vegetables – Squash, corn and sweet potato
- Milk alternatives – almond, coconut or soy milk
When including animal products in your meals, aim for the following:
- Free-range eggs
- Lean poultry – organic, free-range or pasture-raised
- Wild-caught fish
- Lean meat – grass-fed or pasture-raised
- Dairy – organic from grass-fed or pastured animals
Foods you should avoid
When following the Flexitarian diet, aim to avoid these foods as much as possible:
- Processed meat
- Refined carbohydrates
- Added sugars, sugary drinks and sweets
- Fast foods
The Flexitarian diet promotes a focus on more plant-based foods while reducing your intake of animal products and unhealthy processed foods.
The view of the Flexitarian approach is to enhance your diet, rather than restrict it, by allowing for occasional meat-eating to suit your health and lifestyle.
Eating a Flexitarian diet can help you lose weight, reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. However, careful planning of your meal choices is important to avoid nutritional deficiency.
The Flexitarian diet may be for you if you want to improve your health and reduce your carbon footprint without committing to a rigid vegetarian or vegan diet.
Until next time…