What Is The Flexitarian Diet?

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“If you can’t be flexible in life, you become irritable with life.” – Rubyanne

Nice quote, right? There’s a lot of truth in that short phrase. 

But, dieting is definitely one area where you’d never expect to see the word ‘flexible.’ 

Annnndddd…perhaps that’s why dieting often makes us irritable! 

While most diets seem to be strict and rigid, there’s one diet that’s gaining popularity for its flexible nature. 

A diet that’s flexible? Surely this is too good to be true…except it is absolutely true, and effective! 

The flexitarian diet is just that: flexible. 

But, there’s so much more to it than that. So, let’s dive right in to learn more…


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The Flexitarian Diet

In simplest terms, the flexitarian diet is a flexible vegetarian diet, still sticking to vegetarian staples, yet allowing room for a delicious steak or chicken breast when you want, or are craving, meat. 

While many diets are subtraction based, focusing on removing food items from the list of things you can eat (sometimes even whole food groups), the flexitarian style of eating focuses on addition. 

And truly, the addition concept is brilliant! 

Dieting can be a mental battle, one where you fight the notion of “I can’t eat this, and I can’t enjoy that.” But, the flexitarian diet flips that notion on its head, focusing instead on adding an abundance of nutritious plant foods into each of your meals. 

There are no strict rules of adherence with the flexitarian diet, allowing followers of the plan to still indulge in meat from time to time. 

Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way To Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, And Add Years To Your Life, explains the eating plan in this manner:

 “I want to be a vegetarian because of the countless health benefits. I also want to enjoy backyard barbecue hamburgers in the summertime, hot dogs at a Cubs baseball game, Grandma’s pork roast made with love…The answer is to become a flexible vegetarian, a flexitarian.” 

Nutrition experts believe the plan is healthy and sustainable to follow as a lifestyle (long term) as it is “grounded in plant based eating with flexibility for animal products in moderation.” 

The flexitarian diet does not set any caloric or macronutrient goals to meet daily or weekly. Though meal plan options are available if you need suggestions. 

Instead, the greater goal is to increase or add in greater amounts of plants and plant-based foods into your diet over time. 

And, when dairy, eggs, or meat products are consumed, they are enjoyed in smaller portions, less frequently. 


What’s On Your Plate

So, practically speaking, what kinds of foods would you primarily consume on the flexitarian diet?

Let’s look at this categorically…

Veggies
You’ll want to choose a variety of starchy and non starchy vegetables, which truly makes your possibilities endless here.

With vegetables being the primary staple in this type of diet, your goal being to add in these whole, real, plants as much as possible, you can let your creativity run free. 

Try out new cooking methods, various seasonings, and enjoy these nutritious, healthy additions! 

A few examples: kale, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, squash, peas, corn, brussel sprouts, cauliflower 

Fruits
Fruits are often referred to as nature’s candy. However, due to consuming diets high in added or processed sugars, we can nearly become desensitized to the rich, sweet flavors fruits have to offer. 

Fruits can keep you feeling full longer, providing satiety due to their fiber content. They have a high water content, helping to keep you hydrated, and they can satisfy your sweet tooth…healthily! 

So, explore new fruits and old favorites here, adding nature’s candy into your day when you crave something sweet. 

A few examples: apples, berries, bananas, grapefruit, grapes, watermelon, kiwi 

Whole Grains
Choose whole grain options while following the flexitarian diet as opposed to refined grains. These options are both nutritious and full of fiber, keeping you feeling full longer. 

A few examples: whole grain, sour dough, and pumpernickel breads, couscous, brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, oatmeal, millet, buckwheat 

Protein
While you certainly have the flexibility to reach for animals products like eggs and meat here, seek to choose plant based proteins most often. 

A few examples: lentils, tofu, black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, tempeh, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds

Dairy
Unlike many vegetarian diets, dairy is permitted on the flexitarian diet. 

Try to find organic products from grass fed or pasture raised animals. 

Milk alternatives are also great options (non dairy nut and nut free milk and yogurt choices, for example). 

A few specific examples: milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir, coconut milk, almond milk, oat milk (these dairy alternatives generally can be found in yogurt selections as well)

Eggs
You can also consume eggs on the flexitarian diet, providing a healthy choice for protein in the place of meat. 

Look for free range and pasture raised options when purchasing eggs. 

Herbs, Spices, Oils
Many herbs and spices boast wonderful health benefits, so be sure to include them in dishes to enhance both flavor and your health! 

A few examples: olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, basil, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, cinnamon, cayenne (avocados (in addition to the oil) are a great example of a healthy fat choice as well)

Meat
While meat is allowed on the flexitarian diet (remember, think flexible vegetarian here), it would of course, not be advised to include meat frequently. 

As the goal here is to add in an abundance of plants and plant based items into your diet, meat will become a less frequent choice. 

Specifically, the diet recommends at least 2 meatless days per week. But overall, it is simply advised to not consume meat in excess on this plan. 

When you do choose to include meat, look for organic, free range, pasture raised, or wild caught options. 

A few examples: salmon, tuna, halibut, shrimp, turkey breast, chicken breast, grass fed lean cuts of beef

Beverages
Feel free to enjoy your coffee and/or tea, barring you don’t make a habit of including added sugars, syrups, creamers, and other chemically-laden additives. 

Coffee, in and of itself, is an antioxidant powerhouse and boasts a wealth of benefits to your health, so we wouldn’t want to skip one of the world’s most enjoyed beverages!

You can also enjoy both water and sparkling water on the flexitarian diet. 

Added Sugars, Refined Carbs, Saturated Fats
When focusing on your health, you’ll want to limit your intake of added or processed sugars, refined carbs, and saturated fats, and the flexitarian diet is no different in this area. 

While occasional indulgences are deemed okay, limiting these items will benefit your health, allowing you to fully reap the benefits of the nutritious plant/plant based foods you’re adding into your diet/lifestyle. 


Benefits Of The Flexitarian Diet

We’ve already learned of the benefit of flexibility in this style of eating, a component that makes this diet sustainable long term, but what other benefits can you gain from following the flexitarian diet? 

By simply incorporating an abundance of nutritious, real food items into your diet, (foods that are fresh and/or plant based) you can…

Reduce Your Risk Of Heart Disease

  • studies have shown vegetarians have a 32% decreased risk of heart disease
  • people who follow a vegetarian diet have a lower systolic blood pressure compared to those individuals who regularly eat meat

Manage Diabetes

  • for those with type 2 diabetes, studies show that following a mostly vegetarian diet can improve both physical and psychological health
  • research shows type 2 diabetes patients who followed a vegetarian diet had a .39% lower hemoglobin A1c than those diabetes patients who consumed animal products

Prevent Cancer 

  • eating a diet full of plants and plant based foods means you’ll be consuming nutrient-dense foods, many of which contain cancer fighting antioxidants 
  • studies show that followers of vegetarian diets have lower overall incidences of cancer
  • one study, in particular, showed that even semi-vegetarians were 8% less likely to get colorectal cancer compared to non-vegetarians

Promote Weight Loss

  • plant foods are naturally low in calories, and consuming a diet rich in these foods provides satiety with a lower calorie intake
  • eating fewer high calorie, processed foods and meats means consuming fewer calories overall, promoting weight loss
  • studies indicate that those individuals who follow a vegetarian diet may lose more weight than those not following this type of eating plan

*It is important to note here: due to the flexible nature of this style of eating, the above benefits may not be reaped if you tend to indulge too much when it comes to saturated fats, meats (specifically red meat and processed meat), sodium, and processed sugars. 

Potential Drawbacks

There are a few cons to the many pros of following the flexitarian diet. 

Depending on your food choices, if you lack variety in your meals while following the flexitarian diet, you could be at risk of becoming deficient in some vitamins and minerals, namely:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

These same deficiencies can be common in those individuals following a vegetarian diet. 

To avoid nutritional deficiencies, be sure to “eat the rainbow” including a variety of options from each category of recommended foods listed in the flexitarian diet.


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