Everything You Need to Know About the Flexitarian Diet
Just when you’re finally up to speed on the keto diet all of your friends are talking about, another wellness buzzword pops up. But if the one you’re scratching your head over is “Flexitarian,” we’re here to demystify the nutrition term and fill you in on exactly what it means, what it can do for your health, and more.
What Does "Flexitarian" Mean?
Like Brangelina, this term is two words merged together to become one: flexible and vegetarian. "The Flexitarian diet means a flexible vegetarian diet," says Karen Cooney, a registered dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe. "The idea behind this diet is that someone reduces meat intake, but does not completely avoid it all together."
So you can have that steak if you really want it, but most of the time, you'll likely be eating non-animal products, like fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
What Are the Rules of a Flexitarian Diet?
The term was really coined nearly ten years ago, when the book The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life by Dawn Jackson Blatner was published. The super popular book outlines meal plans, including how many ounces of meat to eat each week for varying levels of Flexitarian followers, as well as recipes and shopping lists.
That said, you don't have to follow the rules of the book to be considered a Flexitarian. That's just one version of the Flexitarian diet. According to Cooney, there are no "clear-cut rules" to the diet, and it should be thought of as a "lifestyle, rather than just a diet."
However, there are some general guidelines, which she highlighted below. Most of the goals, particularly limiting sugar and processed foods, align with many other popular nutrition plans, too.
- Eat mostly fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grain.
- Overall goal is to eat increase plant food consumption and decrease meat consumption.
- Be flexible and occasionally add in meat and animal products.
- Limit sugar.
- Eat all-natural forms of foods and avoid processed, refined foods.
- Try to get most of your proteins from plant sources rather than from animal sources.
What Are the Benefits of a Flexitarian Diet?
"Certain people following this diet typically do it for health reasons or ethical reasons," says Cooney. "If you are looking to add more plant foods into your diet, but do not wish to completely cut out meat, then this plan may be for you."
Think of it as a less strict version of following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
But what does mostly cutting out meat really do for your health? As long as you're not swapping out the meat in your diet for sweeties or unhealthy foods, Cooney says that you'll likely be filling your body up with phytonutrients and antioxidants from fruits and veggies, "which can help protect them from heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and possibly certain cancers."
Because it's high in fiber and good fats, it could benefit heart health and stabilize blood sugar.
Are There Types of Meat You Shouldn't Eat on a Flexitarian Diet?
No matter if it's chicken, beef, or pork, stick to grass fed or pasture raised, suggests Cooney, and try to avoid processed meats like bacon, bologna, and sausage. Eggs should be pasture raised or free range, dairy should be organic from pasture-raised or free-range animals, while fish should be wild caught.
What Are the Potential Concerns of a Flexitarian Diet?
"Those following this diet should be aware of certain deficiencies, such as B12, iron, zinc, calcium, and omega 3 fatty acids," notes Cooney. The lack of meat in the diet might also bring up some concerns about protein, but Cooney says that if you're worried about not getting enough, foods like soybeans, lentils, legumes, tofu, and tempeh can be added into your regular meals.
Overall, Cooney stresses than it shouldn't be thought of as beneficial because you're cutting out meat, but because instead you're adding in more vegetarian meals into your body. "You are flooding your body, cells with good fats, fiber, and a massive amount of nutrients you may have been missing out on if following the SAD (Standard American Diet)."