The Flexitarian Diet - The Best of Both Worlds

There is a new diet trend making its way into the healthcare industry, the flexitarian diet. If you want to enjoy the health benefits of a plant-leaning diet without the major restrictions associated with diets like keto, low-carb, and vegan, a flexitarian diet might be right for you.

Key takeaways:
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    The term “flexitarian” is the combination of the 2 words, “flexible” and “vegetarian”.
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    If you’re looking for an adaptable, healthy style of eating, flexitarian may be right for you.
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    With this type of diet, you can experience the best of both worlds, eating mainly plant-based and occasionally incorporating animal products.
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    Flexitarian diets are popular because they offer both short-term and long-term benefits, without the long-term risks of more restrictive diets.
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    Always check with your healthcare provider when making significant diet changes to make sure it’s safe for your unique health picture.

You can enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet with the practical inclusion of some meat, dairy, seafood, and eggs in moderation. The combination of the flexitarian diet strikes an effective balance between health and sustainability.

“Flexitarian” is a relatively new term that was coined about a decade ago by registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner. This new term “flexitarian” blends the two words “flexible” and “vegetarian.”

As the word implies, it’s about dietary flexibility, creating more options with less restriction, making it a more sustainable way to eat. The goal of the flexitarian diet is to reap the benefits of eating mostly plant-based but without restricting foods like eggs, dairy, seafood, and meat products, eating these in moderation. Balancing the diet this way makes sticking to it long-term that much easier.

How does a flexitarian diet work?

Eat the rainbow. Fill at least ½ of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables. These colors represent different health benefits in the form of antioxidants and bioflavonoids. The more colors you eat, the more health benefits you’ll enjoy.

Focus mainly on plant-based proteins like tofu, peas, beans, seitan, legumes, nuts, seeds, and tempeh.

Moderately incorporate other forms of animal protein such as dairy, eggs, seafood, and meats (2–3 days per week) and be aware of portion sizes (smaller is better). Begin by gradually reducing meat and dairy portions and incorporating more plant-based or vegetarian days per week.

Include whole grains and fiber-containing foods to help regulate bowels and improve digestion.

Go as fast or as slow as you need to when making the transition. The flexitarian diet is gentle enough to jump into right away, however, to ensure long-term habits, feel free to make the transition gradual over time.

You might be accustomed to other diets seeking to remove foods or food groups from your diet, however, the flexitarian diet is different. It’s important to remember the aim of the flexitarian diet is to incorporate more foods and create more food rotation, not less.

Four major benefits to eating a flexitarian diet

1. Versatility

By expanding your normal food list to include even more food types, there is something here for everyone. Restrictive diets can make family meals and eating out difficult. The flexitarian diet often requires little modification to ensure everyone has something to eat that they enjoy.

2. Environmentally friendly

Meat-based food systems of agriculture and farming require more energy, land, and water resources to maintain compared to a more flexitarian diet. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (dairy and egg vegetarian diet) “is more sustainable than the average American meat-based diet.” By incorporating more plant-based foods in your diet you’ll be helping your health and the health of our planet.

3. Nutritionally balanced

Studies published in The Journal of Plant Physiology have found that “plant-based diets are often higher in folate, manganese, thiamin, potassium, and vitamin E” and that “plant foods also provide a wide array of phytochemicals that have important regulatory roles in human health” and when paired with moderate amounts of animal products could be a healthier balance of nutrition.

The Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that animal sources can have higher levels of “vitamins A, B12, D, K2, [and] minerals such as iron and zinc, and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid” like DHA and EPA “which are more readily obtained from animal sources as opposed to plant sources”.

4. Improves health

Nutritionists and dietitians all agree that a diet that focuses on a high intake of fruits and vegetables is the healthier route when it comes to important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The flexitarian diet offers these nutritional benefits and more.

The Cleveland Clinic published an article listing several additional health benefits to the flexitarian diet including:

  • Decreased risk of heart disease.
  • Weight loss.
  • Decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Cancer prevention.
  • Decreasing your carbon footprint.

Potential risks for those with digestive disorders

Even though the flexitarian diet offers a multitude of benefits, it may not be the right diet choice for everyone. There are still some risks for certain populations. For some people who suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s Disease, the increase in roughage and fiber can sometimes pose a potential problem, causing an increase in digestive discomfort.

If you suffer from a digestive disorder, make sure you discuss the flexitarian diet with your doctor to make sure it’s a safe option for you.

And the award goes to

The flexitarian diet has been ranked highly in many categories by the U.S. News & World Report including:

  • #1 in Best Weight Loss Diet.
  • #2 Best Diet Overall (1st was the Mediterranean Diet).
  • #2 in Best Plant-Based Diet.
  • #2 in Best Diabetes Diets.
  • #2 in Best Diets for Healthy Eating.
  • #2 for Best Diets to Follow.
  • #4 in Best Heart Healthy Diets.

It’s easy to see that overall, the flexitarian diet checks a lot of boxes. It’s healthy, it’s easy, it’s tasty, and it works. Trying a flexitarian diet is all about sustainability, for both yourself and the planet. Who doesn’t want to get healthier and lower their carbon footprint at the same time?

With slow and steady changes, you can easily transition to a way of eating that ensures a practical way of eating for years to come. The goal isn’t severity or restriction here, it is all about flexibility and adaptability as the flexitarian diet is more of a lifestyle diet rather than a crash diet.

If you are looking to improve your health and the health of the planet but vegan or vegetarian never fully appealed to you because you love a good steak now and then, flexitarian might just be the diet for you!


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