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The Beginner’s Guide to the Flexitarian Diet

flexitarian diet food collection
Last Updated on May 29, 2022

Diets are often about elimination, so many people breathe a sigh of relief when they learn about the flexitarian diet. That’s because this diet promotes meat reduction in combination with a vegetarian diet.

Flexitarianism has caught the eye of many celebrities who don’t want to give up their porterhouse steak in exchange for a strictly plant-based diet. Snoop Dogg, Michelle Obama, and Katy Perry are some of the many celebrities who have publicized their reduced meat-eating habits.

So, if you're wondering whether a flexitarian diet is the right fit for you, we’ll explain how it works, its benefits, and the cons you need to watch out for.

How a Flexitarian Diet Works

flexible and vegitarian food in a plate

A flexitarian diet is as flexible as it sounds since the word comes from combining flexible and vegetarian. The flexitarian diet got its start in 2008 when author and dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner published a book on this way of life.

Blatner encourages people to eat meat only when they crave it. For some, that might mean a steak on the weekends. For others, that could mean a hamburger a few times per week. 

Although people on the flexitarian diet are encouraged to make choices based on their personal preferences and needs, Blatner offers guidance on how to approach a flexitarian diet. Her advice includes:

  • Eat 26 ounces of meat five days per week for two weeks.

  • Reduce meat consumption to 18 ounces of meat for 3 - 4 days per week.

  • Stay in maintenance mode by eating nine ounces of meat two days per week.

Note that it doesn’t matter when you eat your meat, whether it’s back-to-back or spread out over seven days.

Regardless, the primary purpose of the diet is to encourage people to eat more plant-based foods. Blatner argues (and much research supports), that you’ll reduce your chances of diabetes, cancer, and other health issues that high meat and low veggie intake can cause. 

Foods You Can Eat on a Flexitarian Diet

Organic Salad on a Balinese farm

The beautiful part about the flexitarian diet is that you can consume almost anything in moderation (although you should consume vegetables in abundance). Vegetarian foods are at the core of this diet, which includes items like:

  • Vegetables

  • Fruit

  • Grains

  • Legumes

  • Oi

  • Plant-based milk

Flexitarians eat a higher ratio of vegetarian foods than meat. But when the craving strikes, you are welcome to select the meat product of your preference.

That said, Blatner strongly advises against eating processed and low-quality meats. Instead, aim to supplement your animal protein intake with items like:

  • Grass-fed meat

  • Seafood

  • Fish

  • Eggs

Although Blatner offers some guidelines for how much meat to consume each week, the ultimate amount you eat is up to you. Some people find that even nine ounces of meat twice per week are too much.

Foods To Avoid

Although no food is technically off-limits in the flexitarian diet, you should avoid the following foods:

  • Anything with added sugar

  • Foods with refined carbs

The reason being is that since there are so few restrictions with flexitarianism, some people go on this diet while still being unhealthy. 

For this reason, it’s crucial to eat a primarily plant-based diet that is almost entirely free of added sugar and refined carbs like white bread.

Flexitarian Diet Pros

Studies suggest that the flexitarian diet can offer numerous health benefits, including lower body weight, improved metabolic health, and a reduced risk of several diseases. So, let’s take a closer look at the advantages of joining the flexitarian trend.

High Nutrient Intake

As long as you are not living strictly on cheese and whole wheat waffles, the flexitarian diet is an excellent source of nutrients. That’s because you’ll have access to all food groups while on this diet, with a particular emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

Easy To Follow

Many diets come with complicated meal plans, but the foundation of the flexitarian diet is a life of moderation. You can choose to eat vegetarian foods you like and leave out the rest. Similarly, it is okay to eat meat and fish up to a few times per week, and you can vary the type you choose.

Type 2 Diabetes Management

Whether you currently have type 2 diabetes or want to reduce your chances of getting it, the flexitarian diet may support these goals. According to research, glucose and insulin levels are lower in females who have reduced meat consumption.

Weight Loss

People on the keto diet would argue that high meat consumption is crucial for weight loss. The reality is that other studies show that people following semi-vegetarian diets have a lower body mass index.

Of course, this is dependent on you choosing the right foods. Since you can technically eat any food in moderation on the flexitarian diet, some people go overboard with the definition of moderation.

Flexitarian Diet Cons

Most dieticians and doctors agree that the flexitarian diet can be an excellent lifestyle change. However, below are some of the disadvantages of this diet.

Potential for Weight Gain

A person can technically be flexitarian while living on a diet of chips, fried veggies, and occasional bacon. But those are not healthy choices, and this mentality causes some flexitarians to gain weight.

If losing weight is the purpose of being flexitarian, we recommend changing your mindset from a diet to a lifestyle change. That way, making consistently healthy choices can help contribute to weight loss over time.

A Challenge for Meat Lovers

Although the flexitarian diet offers a relatively large amount of meat-eating leniency, it is still a challenging diet for meat lovers to follow. So, you might have to experiment with soy-based meats, mushrooms, and lentils to see if you can match similar flavors and textures as real meat.

What Are the Risks of the Flexitarian Diet

The most significant risks of the flexitarian diet are a potential lack of a few essential nutrients, including iron. Make sure the following nutrients are in your daily supplement:

  • Vitamin B12

  • Calcium

  • Zinc

Furthermore, some people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome might struggle with a diet high in fruits and vegetables. So, speak with your doctor if you have any concerns about how the flexitarian diet might affect you.

The Bottom Line

The Flexitarian diet is highly recommended by many dieticians, although you should always consider your situation before embarking on any dietary change. 

While die-hard carnivores will likely find this diet a challenge, it can be a great meet-in-the-middle eating style for people who want to reduce their meat intake.

References

Zohra Huda, Jill Ettinger, 25 Flexitarian Celebrities Who’ll Convince You to Eat Less Meat, retrieved from https://planetshine.com/flexitarian-celebrities/

Emma J. Derbyshire, Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216044/

Eva Batenhorst, Which Diet Is Right For You, retrieved from https://wou.edu/chemistry/home/student-activities-2/chemistry-corner/biochemistry-bites/the-flexitarian-diet/

Is Red Meat Bad for You?, retrieved from https://www.scripps.org/news_items/4258-is-red-meat-bad-for-you

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