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The term “flexitarian” refers to a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet, but occasionally eats meat or fish.
A mashup of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian,” the term flexitarian describes someone who consumes more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and plant proteins and less meat than someone eating the Standard American Diet which is high in meat, dairy, saturated fat, sugar, refined grains and processed foods.
Studies have found that Flexitarians weigh about 15 percent less than those who eat meat regularly.
They also have a lower rate of cancer, a much lower rate of heart disease, and they even tend to live a bit longer- about 5 years on average.
Benefits of a Flexitarian Diet
The most obvious advantage of this diet is its flexibility. You can ease your way into a flexitarian lifestyle simply by adding one or two more meatless meals to your eating plan each week and gradually increasing the number of plant-based meals in your diet at your own pace.
For this reason almost everyone finds this diet approachable, from the biggest of meat eaters to those with a family to feed.
Another perk of flexitarianism is there are no “off-limit foods” with this diet — within reason, of course. As with any healthy-eating diet, flexitarianism encourages whole foods over processed foods.
Plant-based diets tend to be higher in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients which collaboratively promote good health and support the body’s major functions including digestion, metabolism, cellular growth and repair, immune function, and more.
Lower in calories and saturated fats which promotes healthy weights and heart health.
It goes without saying that eating a mostly plant-based diet, as flexitarianism endorses, will support many of these same health benefits.
What to Eat and What to Avoid
What to eat is fairly simple; almost anything you have been eating you can still eat.
The trick here is to substitute most meats with vegetables instead.
You will also find that vegetables have very few calories, so you can eat much, much more than if you were using meat in a recipe.
Common food choices include:
- Proteins: such as soybeans, tofu, tempeh, legumes, and lentils.
- Non-starchy vegetables: like leafy greens, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.
- Starchy vegetables: including winter squash, peas, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
- Fruits: like apples, oranges, berries, grapes, and cherries.
- Whole grains: such as quinoa, teff, buckwheat, and farro.
- Nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats: including almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, peanut butter, avocados, olives, and coconut.
- Plant-based milk alternatives: such as unsweetened almond, coconut, hemp, and soy milk.
- Herbs, spices, and seasonings: like basil, oregano, mint, thyme, cumin, turmeric, and ginger.
- Condiments: including reduced-sodium soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast, ketchup without added sugar.
- Beverages: for example, still and sparkling water, tea, and coffee.
When incorporating animal products, flexitarians typically choose the following:
- Eggs: Free range or pasture raised
- Poultry: Organic, free range, or pasture raised
- Fish: Wild caught
- Meat: Grass fed or pasture raised
- Dairy: Organic from grass-fed or pastured animals
You could easily adapt this to a low-carbohydrate diet, a ketogenic diet, or even a paleo diet.
Some foods you should limit or avoid:
- Processed meats: Bacon, sausages, and lunch meats
- Refined carbs: White bread, white rice, bagels, and croissants
- Added sugar and sweets: Soda, donuts, cakes, cookies, and candy
- Fast food: Fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, and milkshakes
The Flexitarian diet is thought to have 3 “levels”
- Level One – You start off having two days each week where you eat no meat. Not two meals, but two complete days.
- Level Two – You move up to 3 or 4 days of no meat meals.
- Level Three – You have 5 or 6 days of no meat meals.
How fast you move from one level to the next is completely your choice.
Don’t feel badly if you move to level 2, only to find you ate meat one extra meal more than you had planned.
Life happens! Try again next week!
Sample Menu Plan
Keep in mind that the main idea here is to incorporate vegetables, and lots of them!
So if your family always has pizza on Friday nights, that doesn’t have to change!
Simply exchange that sausage and pepperoni for olives, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, or pineapple!
Here is a sample menu (for a vegetarian day) to help get you started:
Breakfast – 1 slice of whole grain toast with 1.5 tablespoons of nut butter and 1 piece of fruit
Lunch – Veggie burger on a whole wheat bun with avocado slices, tomatoes, and lettuce. Add whatever condiments you like! 1 piece of fruit
Snack – 3 Fresh pineapple rings, cut up with 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts of your choice and a sprinkle of ginger
Dinner – Tofu mixed with 2 cups of mixed veggies, stir fried with a bit of peanut oil and pineapple juice. Toss in 1 cup of cooked rice and a side of green salad with veggies, if you like.
Dessert – Frozen grapes or a cup of Mexican hot chocolate.