Flexitarian Diet 101: What It Is, How To Do It, Benefits and More

Combining the benefits of vegetarianism and the long-term merits of being flexible, the flexitarian diet is on the rise. Here’s a quick overview of this popular dietary regimen.

Plant-based diets, vegetarianism and going vegan are among some of the most popular dietary trends right now. ere’s certainly the ethical aspect, but the health benefits of foregoing meat, dairy and other animal products has been widely recognized. That being said, going vegan or vegetarian, or adopting a plant- based diet, can feel rather restrictive. Enter the flexitarian diet.

A portmanteau of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian,” the flexitarian diet is also sometimes known as the semi-vegetarian diet and basically describes a vegetarian-ish way of eating that follows the basic principles and benefits of a plant-based diet, along with the inclusion of some animal proteins to a lesser extent. This method was popularized by dietitian and author Dawn Jackson Blatner in her book “The Flexitarian Diet.”

There is, however, no exact, clear-cut formal definition of what constitutes a flexitarian diet. Some simply see it as “try to be vegan, but no need to be 100-percent strict,” which has given rise to the “lazy vegetarian” label. This assumption is unfounded, though, as the flexitarian approach is more about advocating lowered meat consumption in an active manner and, more importantly, there are guidelines that have been widely accepted.

The most popular guide to the flexitarian diet is, unsurprisingly, the one devised by Blatner. Her “The Flexitarian Diet” is definitely worth a read to anyone interested in learning more about this, but a rough outline of what she proposes is to adopt the diet in stages. Anyone new to this diet is advised to start with the Beginner level, which entails forgoing meat twice a week and eating no more than 26 ounces (around 737 grams) of meat in total during the remaining five days.

The next step would be the Advanced level which means going totally meatless for three to four days a week, consuming no more than 18 ounces (510 grams) of meat for the rest of the week. Finally, there’s the Expert level: Go vegetarian for five days a week, but feel free to add up to 9 ounces (255 grams) of meat in the remaining two days.

Besides this general overview, the flexitarian diet also encourages adherents to mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Protein intake—especially on meatless days—also needs extra attention. There’s also a big emphasis on consuming the least processed, most natural form of foods while also limiting added sugar. All in all, with its flexible approach and focusing on what to include instead of restrict, the flexitarian diet has become increasingly popular amid today’s increasingly health- conscious crowd. And then there, of course, the various benefits of this diet:

1. Decreases risk of heart disease

In a study by the American Heart Association presented in 2015, semi-vegetarians (so, basically those following some form of the flexitarian diet) had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Participants in the study who consumed at least 70 percent of food coming from plant sources had a 20-percent lower risk of dying from heart disease. There’s still some debate about the actual numbers, but the benefits of adopting a plant- based diet in both preventing and treating heart failure has been pretty well documented.

2. Accelerates weight loss

While not quite as effective as a 100-percent vegan diet, the flexitarian diet is also famously good for the waistline. For one, most plant-based foods are naturally lower in calories compared to meat and dairy. The diet also puts major emphasis on getting rid of processed food and sugars. There are plenty of vegan cookies and meat substitutes that are definitely vegan but at the same time high in calories or salt content. All of these combined are de nitely e ective when it comes to shedding kilos.

3. Creates a sense of fullness

Speaking of weight loss, flexitarian meals can help add to the feeling of fullness, which in turn helps with attempts to eat less in order to shed weight. This is mainly due to the boost in fiber intake as prescribed by a flexitarian diet. And some major sources of fiber—particularly pulses such as peas and lentils—are rich in micronutrients such as vitamin B6, iron, magnesium and so on.

4. Reduces carbon footprint

Currently, the agriculture and livestock industry are the third-largest generator of greenhouse gases, right behind transportation and fossil fuels. Eating less meat and replacing it with more whole-plant foods goes a long way in reducing one’s carbon footprint.

5. Saves money

This is perhaps more like an extra bonus, but flexitarian diets tend to put less strain on a household budget, especially since meat and dairy tend to cost more compared to plant alternatives with comparable nutritional value.

6. Easy to follow

The flexible nature of the flexitarian diet makes it relatively easy to commit to. ere’s some wiggle room to add, say, a burger, a steak or some sate once in a while, but the overall plan is still healthier than a regular diet. Sure, the flexitarian diet is no magic bullet, but when followed with sound judgement, the payoff can be immense.