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Everything You Need to Know About Being a Flexitarian

Have you heard of flexitarianism? Does this eating pattern have health benefits, such as weight-loss?

The moniker “flexitarian” is a combination of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian.” A flexitarian is a person whose diet is usually meatless but occasionally includes meat or fish. This term originated sometime in the mid-90s and is now one you are probably familiar with, but you may not know its meaning. Flexitarians strive to eat a mostly plant-based diet void of meat but will occasionally eat meat or fish if they are craving it. Boiled down, it is basically vegetarianism with intermittent cheating. Flexitarianism goes beyond just “Meatless Mondays,” although that campaign certainly popularized flexitarianism quite significantly. An easy way of thinking about it: flexitarians avoid eating meat more often than not.

Flexitarian meals center on plant-based proteins instead of animal proteins. Beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, peas, and eggs take center stage rather than a big T-bone steak. When flexitarians do eat meat, they generally seek out meat and fish that is environmentally-friendly and sourced in an ethical manner.

Benefits

According to a 2018 paper put out by U.S. News and World Report, which provides detailed rankings of forty diets on a host of levels, from how heart-healthy they are to how likely they are to help you lose weight, the flexitarian diet is one of the absolute best diets around. To rank these diets, U.S. News and World Report consulted a panel of nationally-recognized experts in nutrition, obesity, diet, food psychology, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The flexitarian diet was ranked as #3 in Best Diets Overall.

The Flexitarian Diet is also ranked:

#5 in Best Weight-Loss Diets

#2 (tied) in Easiest Diets to Follow

#2 in Best Plant-Based Diets

#3 (tied) in Best Diets for Healthy Eating

#3 (tied) in Best Diabetes Diets

#5 (tied) in Best Heart-Healthy Diets

Health

A flexitarian diet can be healthy and nutritionally adequate if you do a little planning. According to a study that included 38,000 adults who were followed for six years (published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders), semi-vegetarians (a group which includes flexitarians) are inclined to weigh less than meat-eaters do. A systematic review of 87 clinical studies revealed that vegetarians weigh approximately 15 percent less than their carnivorous counterparts.

A flexitarian eating pattern also confers cardiovascular benefits. Research that involved more than 450,000 people in Europe who were studied for greater than 10 years (on average) found that a flexitarian diet lowers your risk of stroke and heart disease. In fact, the study participants whose diets were more pro-vegetarian — those whose diets were at least 70 percent plant-based — were 20 percent less likely to die from heart disease.

The flexitarian diet can also help you prevent type 2 diabetes. Research has demonstrated that a semi-vegetarian type of diet, such as the flexitarian diet, is associated with a 20 percent decrease in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Cost

Because you can meander right on past the meat counter, you will likely save money on groceries since meat products are often the most expensive part of your grocery bill. Additionally, since this eating pattern is extremely flexible, you can purchase produce that is in season when it is more affordable. Beans and lentils, often consumed by flexitarians, are extremely economical as well as versatile.

Environment

Cutting back on your meat consumption has enormous environmental benefits. The livestock sector produces more harmful greenhouse gases than all automobiles, trucks, and cars combined. Cattle farmers have destroyed millions of square miles of forest areas for grazing pastures. Eating less meat drastically decreases your carbon footprint and lowers your use of the Earth’s natural resources.

Want To Try A Flexitarian Diet?

— Choose veggies with a meaty taste and texture. Mushrooms and eggplant provide the mouthfeel and taste of meat but are much healthier.

— Make your meat meal special. When you do eat meat, choose high-quality cuts of your favorite kind of meat. Eat slowly, truly savoring each bite. Enjoy meat when you and your special someone go out for date night. It'll make the date more memorable and the meal more enjoyable.

— Enjoy meat-free "themed" meal nights, such as taco night, pasta night, or pizza night. For example, everybody loves pizza, and this can easily be transformed into a meat-free, marvelously delicious meal. Skip the fatty sausage, pepperoni, and bacon, and pile your pie high with colorful vegetables. The cheese contains plenty of protein, but feel free to add garbanzo beans to up the protein percentage.

— Start small. Opt to go meat-free for just one day a week. After a month, try avoiding meat two days out of the week. This way, you are slowly decreasing more meat intake so you are less likely to feel deprived.

The Bottom Line

The flexitarian diet is a realistic, achievable, flavorful healthy eating pattern that does not rely on extreme measures. It emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and plant proteins and its flexible, easy-to-follow, affordable dietary pattern allows you to feel satisfied with fewer calories, which will likely lead to weight loss. It is full of powerful antioxidants and fiber, which can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.


[Image via Shutterstock]

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