The Flexitarian Diet May Have Significant Health Benefits

A new study found that the flexitarian diet, which occasionally includes meat or fish, may be more effective at reducing specific cardiovascular risk factors than the vegan diet.

It's well known that dietary choices can significantly impact health. But with so many diets to choose from, deciding on which one to follow can be overwhelming.

For example, there's the vegan diet, which is entirely plant-based, the highly popular Mediterranean diet, and the flexitarian diet — a semi-vegetarian eating plan that includes small portions of meat and other animal-based foods.

Moreover, people can choose a dietary plan based on health goals, such as diets to boost heart health and eating plans to improve brain function.

Regarding health goals, studies have shown that the vegan diet may benefit heart health more than the plant and animal-based omnivore diet. However, some scientists say that meat is not unhealthy and humans should consume this high-quality animal-based protein for optimal overall health.

To help clarify which diet type is most beneficial for heart health, scientists in Germany compared flexitarian, vegan, and omnivore diets to see which was most effective at reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors.

The study, published on February 12 in BMC Nutrition, found that while the flexitarian and vegan diets improved heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and metabolic issues, the flexitarian diet may reduce two of these factors more effectively.

To conduct the research, the team divided 94 healthy participants into groups based on their eating patterns. Long-term flexitarians consumed 50 grams or more of meat per day, vegans consumed no meat, and omnivores had a meat intake of at least 170 grams per day.

The scientists collected information on the participants' diet, diet quality, and physical activity levels through questionnaires. They also had the participants undergo blood tests and exams to check metabolic biomarkers, cholesterol levels, and arterial stiffness.

After sorting through the data, the team found that flexitarians and vegans had a higher diet quality overall. They also had better insulin, triglyceride, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels than omnivores.

However, people who followed a flexitarian diet had more favorable MetS scores and pulse wave velocity (PWV) values than participants in the other two groups.

MetS-score, or metabolic syndrome severity score, indicates whether a person has metabolic risk factors for heart disease, and PWV values measure vascular stiffness.

Still, the study had limitations. For example, the number of participants was relatively small, and information on dietary patterns was self-reported. Nevertheless, the study's authors say that while more research is needed, overall, the results showed that the flexitarian diet had a beneficial impact on cardiovascular disease risk factors.

What is the flexitarian diet?

In general, the flexitarian diet falls somewhere between omnivore and vegan eating patterns. Flexitarians are considered "flexible vegetarians" who eat a wide range of fruits and vegetables and small portions of meat, dairy, eggs, or fish two to three days a week.

People following this semi-vegetarian diet plan might also include daily servings of plant-based proteins such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fiber-rich whole grains.

The flexitarian diet might be an option for people who want to follow a plant-based diet but still want to enjoy meat or other animal-based foods. However, this eating pattern might not be the best choice for people with certain health conditions, so it's best to consult a healthcare professional before making radical dietary changes.

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