Health & Wellness, Nutrition

Ready to Go Flexitarian? How to Start a Flexitarian Diet (+ 4 Key Flexitarian Benefits!)

Finding a diet that works for you is a highly individualized process, one that’s largely based on your biochemical individuality. For example, I’m a vegetarian, and this is based upon numerous factors, such ashow I felt when I ate meat, my dislike for the taste, and learning more about what my body needed from a nutritional standpoint. But my journey to being a vegetarian was a gradual process. When I first cut out meat, I continued to include dairy, eggs, and gluten in my diet. As time went on, I cut out dairy and gluten to better support my individual needs.

You see, I believe you need to find what works best for you. The good news is that if you want to get more health benefits from eating a plant-based diet but you don’t feel that become a vegan or vegetarian is right for you, there’s another option: becoming a flexitarian!

What is a flexitarian? Well, the word is formed by combining two other words: flexible and vegetarian. So, basically it means eating a somewhat vegetarian, or semi-vegetarian, diet. A flexitarian diet still allows for some meat, but it has the potential for a lot more health benefits than a diet that is heavy in meat and other animal products.

If cutting out meat entirely isn’t for you, check out why switching to a flexitarian lifestyle may be a good compromise instead.

 

What Is a Flexitarian?

The flexitarian diet concept was first formally introduced in 2009 with the publication of The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life, by Dawn Jackson Blatner, a dietitian.

In her book, Jackson Blatner provides a comprehensive explanation of the flexitarian lifestyle and how to transition to flexitarian eating, plus recipes and a flexitarian diet plan to provide guidance on weekly meal planning and so forth.

Similar to the Mediterranean diet and other semi-vegetarian diets, a flexitarian diet calls for a partial vegetarian approach to eating.

Rather than stricter vegetarian and vegan approaches to eating, a flexitarian diet still allows for the consumption of meat and other animal products. But meals are plant-based, meaning that the emphasis is on eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds and limiting meat and animal products.

Following a flexitarian “diet” focuses on the foods you can include instead of what you must avoid. Rather than a diet per se, it’s considered more of a lifestyle choice.

Because of its emphasis on eating healthy whole foods and cutting down on animal products, a flexitarian lifestyle also offers several health benefits.

4 Flexitarian Benefits

You don’t have to totally give up meat, but studies show that eating less meat may provide a range of health benefits. I’ve listed four key benefits to eating a plant-based diet below. [1]

1. Lowers blood pressure

Fruits and vegetables contain lots of antioxidants, which help to lower cholesterol and inflammation. By extension, healthy plant-based diets can help to improve blood pressure.

2. Reduces the risk of heart disease

The antioxidant action and anti-inflammatory properties of fruits and vegetables help to protect the cardiovascular system and guard against heart disease, stroke, and arteriosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels).

3. Reduces the risk of diabetes and cancer

Studies show that vegetarian diets containing high amounts of healthy carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains coupled with lower amounts of fat help to increase insulin sensitivity and protect against diabetes and cancer.

4. Supports healthy gut microbiota and lowers gut inflammation

The high fiber content found in plant-based diets helps to increase “good” bacteria in the gut known as lactic acid bacteria and reduce bad bacteria strains. The diversity of healthy gut bacteria helps to protect against inflammation. It also increases the development of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which have many health benefits including boosting the immune system. [2]

 

Flexitarian - Dr. Piingel

 

How to Start a Flexitarian Diet

If you’re considering making any major changes to your diet, it’s important to keep in mind that we are all different. Yes, we have similar needs in terms of basic nutrients, but we are all individuals in terms of our genetic makeup, how much we exercise, and our baseline health. For example, someone with diabetes will have different dietary needs than someone who does not have diabetes.

If you have any medical conditions or major health concerns, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor before making big changes to your eating or exercising habits.

Keeping all of that in mind, here are a few tips to consider if you want to try transitioning to a flexitarianlifestyle.

1. Try “Meatless Mondays.” Start by cutting out meat just one day a week (it doesn’t have to be on Mondays, but you get the idea). For all the meat eaters out there, this can be a way to begin a gentle transition to eating less meat. Then you can slowly start cutting out meat on more days per week. And if you need a little help making the transition, you can try some plant-based meal services, such as Purple Carrot.

2. Add lots of fruits and vegetables to be sure you are eating a healthy flexitarian diet.

3. Eat a salad each day. This is great way to ensure that you’re getting several servings of veggies.

4. Get your protein from mostly plant sources, including legumes, tofu, tempeh, and other meat alternatives and plant-based foods.

5. Try dairy alternatives such as almond milk, almond butter, cashew milk, and cashew cheese.

6. Cut out processed foods and cut down on sugar and sweets. Consider trying natural sugar substitutes such as monk fruit sweetener.

7. Be sure you are getting all of your vitamins and minerals. Cutting down on meat and animal products can potentially lead to deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12. You may want to consider a B complex vitamin. Other vitamins and minerals to pay special attention to include calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Following a flexitarian lifestyle means eating a primarily plant-based diet with limited meat and animal products. It’s also called a semi-vegetarian diet.
  • There are many health benefits to following a flexitarian diet.
  • Check with your doctor before making major changes to your eating habits, especially if you have any medical conditions or health concerns.

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