Inclined to turn vegetarian, but not willing to give up on the delicious meatballs and chicken tikka? Wish to obtain the benefits of a vegetarian diet without giving up on meat altogether? Then you should consider adopting the Flexitarian diet.
“Go meatless and lose weight”. This is the slogan of the Flexitarian diet. The goal of the Flexitarian diet is to add more plant-based foods while cutting back on meat.
What is a Flexitarian diet?
The term “Flexitarian” has been around for a while but came into notice with the publication of the book the “Flexitarian Diet”, released in 2008. As the name implies, the Flexitarian diet is all about giving flexibility, i.e. a range of options to the dieters in terms of meal plans and recipes. The term describes people who follow a vegetarian diet but occasionally eat meat. The Flexitarian diet is a flexible and realistic way of being a vegetarian, without eliminating the meat altogether. Flexible eating puts more plant-based foods and variety into the meal while helping you lose weight.
According to the author and dietician Blatner, you do not have to give up on meat completely to obtain the health benefits associated with a vegetarian diet. All you need to do is eat a lot less meat. Blatner claims that people following a Flexitarian diet weigh 15% less than their carnivorous counterparts. People following this diet are also believed to have a lower rate of diabetes, cancer and heart diseases. It is also claimed that people on a Flexitarian diet live 3.6 years longer than those who follow the regular diet.
Tips on How to Become a Flexitarian:
Blatner has suggested some simple tips to incorporate more plant-based meals in the diet.
Do the 50/50 swap:
To follow the Flexitarian diet, decrease the meat in your meal by half. Swap it with plant-based protein foods like beans, paneer, tofu, kidney beans, lentils, and garbanzo beans. You need to swap a 1/4th cup of beans for every one ounce of meat. When eating meat, take small portions and eat slowly.
Try filling and satiating foods:
Add fruits, whole grains, and vegetables to your diet to make the meal more nutritious and filling.
Incorporate at least one new vegetarian recipe every week to get out of the meat-eating habit.
Try vegetarian restaurant foods
Restaurants all across the world offer vegetarian dishes. Make sure to try a new vegetarian recipe to expand the palate and inspire your culinary creativity.
Choose organic foods
Purchase organic meat and sustainable fish and vegetables. Try to buy more fruits and vegetables and less meat.
Foods to Eat on the Flexitarian Diet
Flexitarians emphasize plant proteins and other whole, minimally processed plant foods while limiting animal products.
Foods to eat regularly include:
- Proteins: Soybeans, tofu, tempeh, legumes, lentils.
- Non-starchy vegetables: Greens, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, cauliflower.
- Starchy vegetables: Winter squash, peas, corn, sweet potato.
- Fruits: Apples, oranges, berries, grapes, cherries.
- Whole grains: Quinoa, teff, buckwheat, farro.
- Nuts, seeds and other healthy fats: Almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, peanut butter, avocados, olives, coconut.
- Plant-based milk alternatives: Unsweetened almond, coconut, hemp, and soy milk.
- Herbs, spices, and seasonings: Basil, oregano, mint, thyme, cumin, turmeric, ginger.
- Condiments: Reduced-sodium soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast, ketchup without added sugar.
- Beverages: Still and sparkling water, tea, coffee.
When incorporating animal products, choose the following when possible:
- Eggs: Free-range or pasture-raised.
- Poultry: Organic, free-range or pasture-raised.
- Fish: Wild-caught.
- Meat: Grass-fed or pasture-raised.
- Dairy: Organic from grass-fed or pastured animals.
Foods to Minimize on the Flexitarian Diet
The Flexitarian Diet not only encourages limiting meat and animal products but also limiting highly processed foods, refined grains and added sugar.
Foods to minimize include:
- Processed meats: Bacon, sausage, bologna.
- Refined carbs: White bread, white rice, bagels, croissants.
- Added sugar and sweets: Soda, donuts, cakes, cookies, candy.
- Fast food: Fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, milkshakes.
A Sample Flexitarian Meal Plan for One Week
This one-week meal plan provides you with the ideas you need to start eating flexitarian.
- Breakfast: Steel-cut oats with apples, milled flaxseed, and cinnamon.
- Lunch: Salad with greens, shrimp, corn, black beans, and avocado.
- Dinner: Lentil soup with whole-grain bread and a side salad.
- Breakfast: Whole-grain toast with avocado and poached eggs.
- Lunch: Burrito bowl with brown rice, beans, and vegetables.
- Dinner: Zucchini noodles with tomato sauce and white beans.
- Breakfast: Coconut yogurt with bananas and walnuts.
- Lunch: Whole-grain wrap with hummus, vegetables, and chickpeas.
- Dinner: Grilled salmon, baked sweet potato and green beans.
- Breakfast: Smoothie made with unsweetened almond milk, spinach, peanut butter, and frozen berries.
- Lunch: Kale Caesar salad with lentils and tomato soup.
- Dinner: Baked chicken, quinoa and roasted cauliflower.
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with blueberries and pumpkin seeds.
- Lunch: Chard wraps with mixed veggies and peanut dipping sauce.
- Dinner: Lentil stew and a side salad.
- Breakfast: Over-easy eggs with sauteed veggies and fruit salad.
- Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich with crushed berries on whole-grain bread.
- Dinner: Black bean burgers with avocado and sweet potato fries.
- Breakfast: Tofu scramble with mixed veggies and spices.
- Lunch: Quinoa salad with dried cranberries, pecans, and feta cheese.
- Dinner: Stuffed bell peppers with ground turkey and a side salad.
Eating a flexitarian diet is about limiting the consumption of meat and animal products while focusing on nutritious plant-based foods. Some people may choose to eat more or fewer animal products than shown in the above meal plan.
Eating flexitarian may provide several health benefits. However, since there is no clear definition of this diet, it’s difficult to assess if and how researched benefits of other plant-based diets apply to the Flexitarian Diet. Nevertheless, research on vegan and vegetarian diets is still helpful in highlighting how semi-vegetarian diets may promote health.
It appears to be important to eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and other minimally processed whole foods in order to reap the health benefits of plant-based eating. Decreasing meat consumption while continuing to eat refined foods with lots of added sugar and salt will not lead to the same benefits.
Diets rich in fiber and healthy fats are good for heart health. A study following 45,000 adults over 11 years found that vegetarians had a 32% lower risk of heart disease, compared to non-vegetarians. This is likely due to the fact that vegetarian diets are often rich in fiber and antioxidants that may reduce blood pressure and increase good cholesterol.
A review of 32 studies on the effect of vegetarian diets on blood pressure showed that vegetarians had an average systolic blood pressure almost seven points lower than that of people who ate meat. Since these studies looked at strictly vegetarian diets, it’s hard to assess if the Flexitarian Diet would have the same effect on blood pressure and heart disease risk. However, flexitarian eating is meant to be primarily plant-based and will most likely have benefits similar to fully vegetarian diets.
Flexitarian eating may also be good for your waistline. This is partly because flexitarians limit high-calorie, processed foods and eat more plant foods that are naturally lower in calories. Several studies have shown that people who follow a plant-based diet may lose more weight than those who do not.
A review of studies in more than 1,100 people totals found that those who ate a vegetarian diet for 18 weeks lost 4.5 pounds (2 kg) more than those who did not. This and other studies also show that those who follow vegan diets tend to lose the most weight, compared to vegetarians and omnivores. Since the Flexitarian Diet is closer to a vegetarian diet than a vegan one, it may help with weight loss but possibly not as much as a vegan diet would.
Type 2 diabetes is a global health epidemic. Eating a healthy diet, especially a predominantly plant-based one, may help prevent and manage this disease. This is most likely because plant-based diets aid weight loss and contain many foods that are high in fiber and low in unhealthy fats and added sugar.
A study in over 60,000 participants found that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes was 1.5% lower in semi-vegetarians or flexitarians compared to non-vegetarians. Additional research showed that people with type 2 diabetes who ate vegetarian diets had a 0.39% lower hemoglobin A1c (a three-month average of blood sugar readings) than those with the condition who ate animal products.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes all have nutrients and antioxidants that may help prevent cancer. Research suggests that vegetarian diets are associated with a lower overall incidence of all cancers but especially colorectal cancers.
A 7-year study on cases of colorectal cancers in 78,000 people found that semi-vegetarians were 8% less likely to get this type of cancer, compared to non-vegetarians. Therefore, incorporating more vegetarian foods by eating flexitarian may reduce your cancer risk.
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