Flexitarian Diet: Health Benefits, Foods To Eat And Avoid And A Sample Meal Plan

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Diet Fitness

oi-Neha Ghosh


on November 10, 2020

Flexitarian diet, also called a semi-vegetarian diet is an increasingly popular plant-based diet that emphasises on eating plant-based foods and allows for occasional meat consumption in moderate amounts. There are many reasons why people are adopting a flexitarian diet, these include religious restrictions, health consciousness, weight management and issues relating to the animal welfare or animal rights.

In this article, we’ll explore what is a flexitarian diet and what foods to eat and avoid.

What Is A Flexitarian Diet?

The word flexitarian is a combination of two words ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarian’, which means that the diet provides a more flexible approach to vegetarianism when compared to other vegetarian or vegan diets. The flexitarian diet suggests you to reap the benefits of a vegetarian diet without eliminating animal products from the diet entirely [1].

The diet focuses on consuming more plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and whole grains while still enjoying meat in moderation.

The flexitarian diet was developed by dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner in 2009 and published a book titled The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life. The focus of the diet is on less restriction and removal of foods and more on adding plant-based foods. The diet is for everyone who wants to eat a healthy, nutritious diet but doesn’t want to give up on their meat indulgences.

The flexitarian diet is based on the following principles:

  • Consuming more plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains.
  • The intake of protein from plant-based foods.
  • Flexible in your diet wherein you can eat meat and other animal products in moderation.
  • Consuming less processed foods and limiting added sugar and sweets.

In 2019, the flexitarian diet was ranked no. 3 in the Best Diets Overall category, in terms of promoting long-term health and preventing diseases and no. 2 in Best Diets for Diabetes.

Health Benefits Of The Flexitarian Diet

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1. Aids weight loss

A research study found that overweight adults who were given five different plant-based diets such as vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian and omnivorous diet showed a significant improvement in weight loss [2].

Another 2015 study reported that post-menopausal women who maintained a semi-vegetarian diet for over 20 years had a significantly lower body weight, body mass index (BMI) and percentage of body fat compared to non-vegetarians [3].

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2. Controls blood pressure levels

Flexitarian diet can help stabilise your blood pressure levels. A 2020 study published in The British Journal of Nutrition pointed out that following a flexitarian diet lowered blood pressure levels and BMI. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease [4].

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3. Reduces diabetes risk

A study showed that post-menopausal women who were following a semi-vegetarian diet for long-term had significantly lower glucose levels and insulin levels [5]. Another 2009 study published in Diabetes Care showed that the risk of type 2 diabetes was lower in semi-vegetarians than non-vegetarians [6].

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4. May manage cancer

Increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds have been shown to prevent cancer. A study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine showed that a 7-year study on colon cancer cases in 78,000 people found that semi-vegetarians were 8 per cent less likely to get colon cancer compared to non-vegetarians [7].

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5. Treats inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)

A study reported that a semi-vegetarian diet was effective in preventing relapse of symptoms in patients with IBS [8]. Another research study concluded that increasing the intake of dietary fibre through a semi-vegetarian diet could be used as a supportive treatment for patients with Crohn’s disease [9].

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Foods To Eat On The Flexitarian Diet

  • Protein-rich foods such as legumes, lentils, soybeans and tofu.
  • Starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, corn and peas.
  • Non-starchy vegetables such as bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots and cauliflower.
  • Fruits such as apples, oranges, grapes, berries and cherries
  • Whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa and farro.
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and pistachios.
  • Plant milk such as coconut milk, soy milk, hemp milk and unsweetened almond milk.
  • Healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil.
  • Herbs and spices
  • Beverages such as tea, coffee and water.
  • Eggs and poultry
  • Fish and meat
  • Dairy from grass-fed or pasteurised animals.
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Potential Health Risks Of The Flexitarian Diet

The flexitarian diet doesn’t completely exclude any particular food group, so it doesn’t cause any health risks. However, eating less meat and other animal products could put you at a risk of nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B12, zinc, iron, calcium and omega 3 fatty acids.

Also if the flexitarian diet is well planned and includes a variety of whole nutrient-dense foods, the flexitarian diet should not cause a concern.

Moreover, no matter which diet you follow, exercise should be a part of your daily routine. Flexitarians should get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week along with strength-training exercise at least two days a week.

Note: But before you try out the flexitarian diet, it’s important that you consult with your dietician to understand whether the diet is suited for you.

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Sample One Day Flexitarian Meal Plan

  • Breakfast: Avocado toast with sprouted whole grain toast, spinach and egg.
  • Lunch: A bowl of chicken or chickpeas, chopped kale or tomatoes and roasted potato cubes.
  • Snack: Apple and pecans
  • Dinner: Lentil soup with whole-grain bread and a side salad.

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