The Flexitarian Diet: What, Why & How To Eat Less Meat

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If you’re looking to eat healthier but don’t want to give up meat, you may want to consider adopting the Flexitarian Diet. This diet is exactly what it sounds like –– you’re a “flexible vegetarian” who enjoys animal products in moderation. This means you can still enjoy the benefits of plants while satisfying those burger and steak cravings. 

WHAT IS A FLEXITARIAN DIET?

The Flexitarian Diet was first developed nearly a decade ago by registered dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner in her book, The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life. She has taught flexitarian eating to thousands of clients over the years who swear they’ve enjoyed tremendous health benefits and an improved quality of life. 

“The Flexitarian Diet guides you gradually to a casual vegetarian lifestyle that is flexible enough to include all of your favorite foods,” she writes. “This inclusive diet does not focus on taking away foods but adds new foods to those you already eat.”

When it comes to adopting a Flexitarian Diet, key principles to focus on include:

  • Incorporating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains into your meals. 
  • Including more protein from plant sources, instead of just animal sources. 
  • Eating foods that are less processed. 
  • Satisfying your sweet tooth via whole foods with natural sugars instead of foods with added sugars. 

There are no set calories or specific goals on a Flexitarian Diet –– the goal is just to eat more plants than animal products. As Blatner describes in her book, it is a “liaison between the standard American diet we all enjoy and the healthier, more alternative vegetarian lifestyle.”  

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A FLEXITARIAN DIET?

Plants have long been revered for their powerful benefits toward optimized health. A study published in Translational Psychiatry suggests that a plant-based diet drives weight loss, reduces systemic inflammation and prevents the onset of chronic diseases. The Flexitarian Diet includes all of these life-changing properties and will mold it according to your lifestyle –– instead of you having to follow a specific pattern or metric. 

WEIGHT LOSS

Weight loss is crucial for optimal health, but you don’t have to cut meat out to do it. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that semi-vegetarians generally weigh less than non-vegetarian meat-eaters. 

“Not only does weight loss help people fit in smaller pant sizes,” Blatter writes, “a small 5 percent weight loss decreases the risk of chronic disease and positively affects overall health, including the circulatory (heart, veins, and arteries), nervous, respiratory, reproductive, immune, muscular, skeletal, digestive, urinary, endocrine (hormone regulation), and integumentary (hair, skin, nails) systems.”

IMPROVED HEART HEALTH

Research suggests that people who eat a plant-based or plant-forward diet have a reduced risk of developing heart disease. This is attributed to the Flexitarian Diet’s decreased total and saturated fats as well as the increased fiber and antioxidants, which reduces inflammation. One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that LDL (bad) cholesterol levels dropped almost 15 points four weeks after eating a Flexitarian Diet. 

LOWER RISK OF DIABETES

Diabetes is often a lifestyle disease, which can generally be caused by a poor diet and lack of exercise. A low-sugar, plant-based diet can decrease your risk of developing diabetes and its complications. A study published in Diabetes Care found that 43 percent of people were able to decrease their diabetes medication after adopting a plant-based diet in a 22 week study. 

LOWER RISK OF CANCER

Plants produce phytochemicals that protect cells from damage, preventing chronic diseases like cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Not only do phytochemicals protect cells, Blatner says they also “stop the progression of tumor growth and slow biochemical signs of aging.” These essential compounds are only found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains. 

INCREASED LIFE EXPECTANCY

Research has shown that a Flexitarian Diet can help you live a long, healthy life. A study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that semi-vegetarians live on average 3.6 years longer than nonvegetarians. 

GREATER TASTE AND FEWER CRAVINGS

You may be hesitant to adopt a Flexitarian Diet fearing a lack of flavor, but this diverse diet actually exposes you to a lot of new, delicious food. 

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