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Flexitarian Diet Guide – What To Eat, Pros and Cons

A more relaxed approach to a new eating lifestyle.

Looking out for your health begins with what you put in your mouth. Have you heard of the flexitarian diet? Perhaps it could be your new eating habit. Check it out.

Note: the data in this article is to inform only. BOXROX advises you to consult a doctor or specialist before making any decisions based on the information you are about to read.

What Is The Flexitarian Diet?

You have perhaps guessed it already, but the flexitarian diet is a combination of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian.” This means that this eating pattern is a mix of being a flexible vegetarian/vegan.

In simpler words, it is a vegetarian or vegan person that has the ability and can choose to enjoy animal products every once in a while.

The term flexitarian was coined by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner in her 2009 book Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life.”

The diet is also known by other nomenclatures such as “semi-vegetarianism,” “reducetarianism,” “demi-vegetarianism,” and “semi-veganism.”

It is regarded as one of the healthiest diets to date along with the Mediterranean Diet and the Volumetrics Diet.

What Can I Eat In a Flexitarian Diet?

In theory, everything. In practical terms, it depends on what you want.

Someone who follows the flexitarian diet can be described as a person who eats mainly plant-based ingredients, but that can consume an animal product from time to time. How frequently can that person eat a steak, for example? There is no consensus on that answer, and this is why it can be easy to follow the flexitarian diet.

example plate of compliant foods in low carb dietSource: Jez Timms on Unsplash

Diets are usually defined by restricting a defined list of ingredients or food or macronutrient. The keto diet excludes carbs and substitutes them for fat, while the paleo excludes all processed foods.

That is not the case for the flexitarian and, perhaps, that is why it is so highly ranked among diets throughout the world. It does not prevent you from eating anything entirely. Do you want to enjoy a grilled fish when going out? Go ahead. You are visiting Spain and cannot pass the opportunity to try a paella? No problem. There is a barbecue at the end of the week and you think the sausages there are divine? Of course you can eat them.

The only rule of the flexitarian diet is that a vast majority of the food you consume must be plant-based.

For parameters, the pescatarian diet, which cuts out the consumption of all animals except seafood, is some form of flexitarian diet. How often can a pescatarian eat fish? That is for that person to decide alone, and that is what the flexitarian diet says as well.

So in theory you can eat anything you want, as long as most of what you consume is plant-based. You can decide to stop eating meat on weekdays or eat animal-based food once a month or every few weeks. It is entirely up to you.

If you are just starting out, it is recommended that you follow three stages:

  • Stage 1 – forgo meat two days a week and no more than 28 ounces (800g) of animal product per week
  • Stage 2 – get used to eating more fruits and vegetables and do a fully vegetarian diet 3-4 times a week. Don’t consume more than 18 ounces (500g) of animal-based products on the remaining days of the week.
  • Stage 3 – allow yourself to eat animal-based products only twice a week and no more than 9 ounces (250g) in total on those two days.

There are no set days or weeks for how long each stage endures. You follow it as you seem fit and if you believe you can make the jump to the next stage. The diet has to be enjoyable and sustainable for you to maintain it.

Check out this simple list of what you should eat more, and what you should limit while doing the flexitarian diet.

Eat more:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Plant-based protein (beans, lentils, tofu, chickpeas)
  • Whole grains (brown rice, oats, quinoa)
  • Plant-based milk
  • Eggs
  • Dairy (cheese, yoghurt)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Healthy fats
  • Oils, herbs, spices

Eat less:

  • Meat and poultry
  • Fish
  • Anything with added sugar or refined carbohydrates
sample paleo diet dish Pescatarian Diet

If this diet is so forgiving and allows you to eat anything, why is it called a diet? Creator Blatner said it is all about “progress” and not perfection, and that is why this diet does not have a clear program to follow, although there are a few books you can buy with recipes.

Why Would You Choose Following the Flexitarian Diet?

Is the flexitarian diet the right thing for you? Honestly, it probably is, no matter who you are in the world.

Some common reasons for adopting a semi-vegetarian diet include:

  • Health concerns and consciousness
  • Issues relating to animal welfare
  • Animal rights
  • Climate change
  • Weight management
  • Economic reasons

Perhaps you begin the flexitarian diet because you are concerned with animal rights, which in this case is what vegans are all about, but at the same time you know there is one specific ingredient you cannot live without (perhaps cheese or bacon). You can begin this eating lifestyle and simply restrict the number of times you consume that specific ingredient you know you cannot live without.

flexitarian diet

A mostly plant-based diet is also good to save money as meat and fish sources are usually more expensive than grains, veggies and fruits.

Speaking of veggies and fruits, by following a flexitarian diet you might lose weight without even trying. A 2017 study analysed data from 25 papers that focused on a semi-vegetarian diet. In the end, participants’ body mass index was highest while following a non-vegetarian diet, lower while doing some form of flexitarian diet, and lowest when following a strictly vegetarian diet.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Decreased risk of heart diseases
  • Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Weight loss
  • Environmentally helpful

Cons

  • Not easy to follow if you don’t enjoy fruits and vegetables
  • Not recommended for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • It can lead to some nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B12, zinc and calcium

Conclusion

The flexitarian diet is easy to follow and you are in charge of how much you restrict what you eat, but the vast majority of what you consume must be plant-based ingredients. Begin by restricting the amount of meat you eat weekly and choosing a couple of days per week to eat only plant-based food. Increase the days you are fully vegetarian per week as you see fit.

This diet is regarded as one of the best in the world, but it is nearly impossible to follow if you don’t enjoy fruits and vegetables. It can help people lose weight and decrease the risk of heart diseases.

Read More: How to Create Your Own Diet Plan From Scratch

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