Flexitarian Diet – The Plant Strong Meat-Eater

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What does it mean to be flexitarian? Have you always been one, were you one previously, should you become one? Or, are you just plain lost when hearing about the latest diet craze sweeping the nutrition scene?

Well, don’t worry, we’ve got all things flexitarian covered in this ultimate guide to the flexitarian diet!

What is the Flexitarian Diet?

The world of diet and nutrition is ever-changing. We’ve seen a lot of fad diets come and go – Atkins, Grapefruit, Paleo, Cabbage Soup, etc. The list goes on and on and on…

The newest one on the scene is the flexitarian diet, which can be thought of as a “plant-strong” meat eater.

Related – 6 Vegan Supplements You Should Consider

Developed by Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian and author, the flexitarian diet is a new way to structure your diet; one that focuses on vegetables but doesn’t exclude meat altogether. As you probably guessed, the term “flexitarian” is a fusion of flexible and vegetarian.

Blatner first released The Flexitarian Diet in 2010, as an easy “how to” guide on shifting the focus of meals away from meat and more towards vegetables. One point that’s stressed repeatedly about the diet is that it’s not about ditching meat altogether, but merely eating less of it. On those occasions when you do consume meat, make sure it’s of the highest quality (grass-fed, organic, zero hormones/antibiotics) and you know where it’s coming from, if at all possible.

Basically, approach each day as if you were going to eat only a vegetarian diet, but if some meat happens to cross your path, you may partake without feeling guilty or wigging out!

Benefits of Being Flexitarian

Flexitarian DietStill a bit hesitant to make the shift to become a flexitarian or scared to call yourself one? Well, maybe one or two of these benefits will be able to ease your transition and give you peace of mind.

Improved Health

The biggest benefit to embracing the flexitarian diet is its effects on overall health. Diets focusing heavily on vegetarian eating, while allowing for modest amounts of meat have been well documented to improve markers of metabolic health and blood pressure, as well as reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. [1][4]

Weight Loss

A comprehensive review of the flexitarian diet lifestyle concluded that not only does the diet improve overall health, but it also is an effective means to enhancing weight loss and body composition. [1]

Researchers point to plant-based diets containing less calorically dense foods than meat-centric diets.

Longer Life Span

In line with the previous two points, people who choose to eat a predominantly plant-based diet tend to live a longer life. They have lower “all-cause mortality” compared to those who eat diets with high glycemic loads, red meat, or “animal-based low carbohydrate diets”, a.k.a. Atkins or Paleo. [3]

Nutrient Dense

Shifting the focus of your diet from meat-centered to plant-centered has the added effect of increasing your nutrient intake. Research has shown that plant-based dieters have higher intakes of fiber, vitamins A, C, and E, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, magnesium, and iron than that of “nonvegetarians”. [2]

See, your mom was onto something when she told you to eat your veggies…

Flexible

Vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and any number of other fad diets over the years are plagued by one common trait – they’re incredibly restrictive. Vegans can’t eat any animal-based product, paleo doesn’t allow for grains, vegetarian allows for animal-based product but not meat. No matter how you shake it, all of these diets are incredibly restrictive, which puts unnecessary stress on you when cooking, dining out, or hanging with friends.

The great thing about the flexitarian diet is that it doesn’t eliminate any food group at all. It’s flexible. You want to have a steak at dinner, go ahead. You want a potato with your steak, have at it. And add the butter, too!

Eco-Friendly

While this might not rank anywhere in the top five reasons for most of you reading this mega-guide to flexitarianism, eating less meat and more plants is environmentally friendly. By cutting back on meat, you’re helping reduce water usage, greenhouse gases and reliance on fossil fuels (to transport the meat).

It takes roughly 440 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef, while only 39 gallons of water are needed to produce a pound of vegetables. [6] Meat also produces greenhouse gases, which impact the earth’s ozone layer.

See, these little changes can end up having a much bigger impact than you may realize.

Money Saving

Let’s face it, meat isn’t cheap. Go into any grocery store, and you’ll be lucky to find ground beef for anything less than $4-5/lb. Sure, chicken breasts can be had for $1.99/lb on occasion, but by and large meat is a lot more expensive than plant proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.

Cutting back on the amount of meat you purchase each week in favor of other plant-based options keeps more money in your wallet, right where it belongs.

Keeps You Regular!

While this may not sound all that appealing, plant-based diets are high in fiber, which keeps things “moving along” in your GI system. The extra fiber keeps your regular and avoids the unpleasant constipation that can sometimes occur with other diets that eschew plants and carbohydrates.

Flexitarian Breakfast

A Day in the Life of a Flexitarian

Ok, now that you’re warming to the idea of becoming a flexitarian, what can you expect to eat on a normal day?

Breakfast

  • Greek yogurt mixed with cocoa powder, honey, and sliced banana
  • 1 pita pocket (warmed), topped with natural almond butter

Morning Snack

  • Stuffed mini-peppers with hummus, topped with walnuts

Lunch

  • Chickpea wrap – Tortilla filled with chickpeas, romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce
  • 1 apple
  • 1 cup veggies (carrot sticks, celery sticks, etc.)

Afternoon Snack

  • 1-2 cups pumpkin and black bean chili

Dinner

  • 8 oz grass-fed sirloin steak
  • Baked potato – with ALL the fixings
  • Grilled asparagus

Note – This is just an example of a typical day of eating following the flexitarian diet. Portions, number of meals, and specific food selections can be tailored to your preferred taste, calorie needs etc. The point to take away from this is the focus more on produce, and less on meat at every meal.

Transition Tips

Making the jump to full on flexitarian might not be the easiest shift for some of you, so here’s a few tips on making the transition as seamless as possible:

Swip Swap

Begin your transition by decreasing the amount of meat you consume at each meal. Swap half of the meat you’d typically consume at dinner for plant proteins such as black beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, or kidney beans.

Note: 1 oz of meat = ¼ cup cooked beans

Bulk Up

No, we’re not telling you to bulk up (though you can if you want). We mean “bulk up” your current meal plates with extra servings of vegetables, fruits, or whole grains so you get used to eating more plant-based foods regularly.

Experiment

For you crafty kitchen connoisseurs out there, try experimenting in the kitchen at least once per week with a vegetarian recipe. This lets you start to build a repertoire of meat-free recipes that will please your palate and have you not missing meat on occasion.

Veg Out

This doesn’t mean to sloth on your sofa at home eating bon bons. Veg out in this case refers to days when you’re dining outside of the home.

Next time you’re out to eat, instead of going for your standard order, try one of the restaurant’s vegetarian options. You’ll expand your horizons, and have the added bonus of gaining inspiration for future vegetarian meals when cooking at home.

Takeaway

Embracing the flexitarian way of eating is great for a number of reasons — it improves your health, prolongs your life, supports weight loss, and isn’t restrictive at all. More of you are probably already eating the flexitarian way than you realized, but now you just have a name for the way you eat.

At its core, the flexitarian diet is pretty easy to understand and follow: focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein (in moderate amounts). It’s not an all or nothing diet like so many others. You can even have your cake and eat it too!

References

1) Derbyshire EJ. Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2016;3:55. doi:10.3389/fnut.2016.00055. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216044/
2) Farmer B, Larson BT, Fulgoni VL 3rd, Rainville AJ, Liepa GU. A vegetarian dietary pattern as a nutrient-dense approach to weight management: an analysis of the national health and nutrition examination survey 1999-2004. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111(6):819-827. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2011.03.012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21616194
3) Orlich MJ, Singh PN, Sabaté J, et al. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA internal medicine. 2013;173(13):1230-1238. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6473. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191896/
4) McEvoy, C., Temple, N., & Woodside, J. (2012). Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: A review. Public Health Nutrition, 15(12), 2287-2294. doi:10.1017/S1368980012000936. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22717188
5) Newby PK, Tucker KL, Wolk A. Risk of overweight and obesity among semivegetarian, lactovegetarian, and vegan women. Am J Clin Nutr . 2005;81(6):1267-1274. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/81/6/1267.full
6) Beckett, J. L., and J. W. Oltjen. 1993. Estimation of the water requirement for beef production in the United States. J. Anim. Sci. 71: 818-826.

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