Get the benefits of more plant-based food while keeping some meat on your plate.
If you have the desire to incorporate the benefits of a diet filled with healthy fruits and vegetables, but aren’t ready to give up meat, a flexitarian diet might be just the ticket.
The flexitarian diet, sometimes called a semi-vegetarian diet, is a different way of thinking about food more than it is a traditional diet, but if you embrace the approach you’re likely to lose weight. (You still have to watch the calories.) Flexitarians focus on eating a vegetarian diet most of the time, but occasionally, as "flex" would imply, have meat.
The diet was popularized in 2009 by Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian nutritionist, who wrote “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life.”
Blatner describes it as an “inclusive eating plan.” Instead of counting calories or measuring food, it’s about adding more plants to the foods you already eat, trying new things, and keeping an open mind.
You might consider a flexitarian diet if you’re interested in:
- Weight loss
- Health benefits from eating less meat
- Trying a vegetarian diet but may want an occasional hamburger
Studies show that vegetarians typically weigh less and have fewer chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. The flexitarian diet delivers the benefits of a vegetarian diet but allows meat on occasion, which can also have health benefits.
Getting enough of some nutrients — vitamin B12, protein, calcium, and iron, for example — can be a challenge for vegetarians. But with a little planning, and maybe an occasional piece of salmon, you’ll be able to meet nutritional requirements.
The five “flex food groups” will help guide you in this new eating plan. When we feel deprived we’re likely to fail, so Blatner makes an effort to include foods that will satisfy typical cravings.
- The “new meat” group introduces alternate sources of protein, including beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, eggs, and what Blatner calls “the veggie white meat,” or tofu.
- The vegetable and fruit group provides the bulk of the diet. You’re encouraged to increase your vegetable consumption, which naturally reduces your calories. Most people also have a sweet tooth, so, unlike many other diets that restrict fruit consumption, here it’s encouraged.
- The whole grain group taps into the role bran, germ, and endosperm play in losing weight and preventing heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
- The dairy food group is rich in nutrients — calcium and vitamin D, protein, B vitamins, potassium, and vitamin A — from cheese and milk. You’ll also get beneficial bacteria from yogurt and kefir. Non-dairy alternatives such as soy milk are included.
- The fifth group is “sugar and spice” — mostly condiments, herbs, spices and a variety of sweeteners — that Blatner says are “the little things that take food from fair to fabulous.”
Blatner includes a five-week meal plan in her book, complete with shopping lists. In keeping with the diet’s flexible nature, you’re encouraged to mix and match recipes to satisfy personal tastes. The book and the website also provide helpful tips and many recipes, most of which have no more than five main ingredients.
You may have to visit the grocery store more often to maintain supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables if you go flexitarian. If you don’t cook a lot this diet may require you to get better acquainted with your kitchen. For those already at home in the kitchen, making substitutions and converting meat-based recipes into meat-free versions will help you add more vegetables, which is the cornerstone of the diet.
Whether you need to address a specific health concern or just want to eat more plant-based food, this diet offers health benefits with a lot of flexibility.
March 25, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN