The Flexitarian Diet: Advantages and Disadvantages

“Flexitarianism” is the hot new term for healthy dieting that minimizes meat without excluding it altogether. This is an inclusive eating plan, meaning it does not take away foods but rather adds new foods to those you already eat. The Flexitarian Diet gradually guides you to eat more veggies while still enjoying your favorite meats. Flexitarians weigh 15% less, have a lower rate of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and live 3.6 years longer than their carnivorous counterparts.

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As the name implies, it’s all about flexibility, giving readers a range of options: flexible meal plans, meat-substitute recipes, and realistic weight loss tips. Plus it’s a great way to introduce the benefits of vegetarianism into every family’s lifestyle.

The Flexitarian Diet

Registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, creator of the Flexitarian diet, invented the term “flexitarian” over a decade ago. In 2009, she published The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life, which outlined the basics of Blatner’s mostly-vegetarian eating plan. The diet states that flexitarians live longer (3.6 years long, to be exact) and weigh less (15 pounds less) than their omnivorous counterparts, and flexitarians also have a lower risk of certain diseases, like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

For years, research has shown that a vegetarian diet can be a major boon to health. However, there are also studies suggesting abstaining from meat most of the time can yield many of the same health effects.

For starters, people who define themselves as “vegetarian” — regardless of whether they occasionally eat meat or not — consume a healthier diet than self-proclaimed meat-eaters, one study found. For example, the study reports, the “vegetarians” who actually had meat also ate “more fruit and some vegetables, and less white potatoes and fried potatoes, than non-vegetarians.”

Flexitarian Diet Guidelines

The Flexitarian diet is about adding five food groups in your diet, without eliminating any group. The five food groups are:

1. New Meat

This food group is concentrated mainly on protein-rich meat substitutes like lentils, peas, tofu, nuts and seeds. Try a whole grain and tofu roll for lunch or cereals with soy milk for breakfast to get your daily dose of protein.

2. Whole Grains

The dieters should aim to consume whole, not refined grain products. Whole grains have three wholesome parts- bran, germ and endosperm. These three parts prevent you from diseases like diabetes, obesity and even cancer. Swap your white rice with brown rice. You can also explore uncommon whole grains like buckwheat, millet, rye, quinoa and wheat berries.

3. Fruits and Vegetables

The diet emphasizes a generous consumption of antioxidant and nutrient rich fruits and vegetables. The fruit and vegetables provide us with the added benefits of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and several other disease-fighting compounds. It also provides high levels of fiber, which help us to stay full.

4. Sugar and Spice

This food group is all about natural sweeteners, herbs and salad dressings.

5. Dairy

Dairy products contain Vitamin D and calcium, the dynamic duo that help in building and maintaining bones. Milk and milk products also provide high concentrations of potassium, Vitamin A, B12, riboflavin, niacin and phosphorus. You can try a wide range of milk products like low fat milk, cheese and yogurt.

Advantages of Flexitarian Diet

Research has shown that the Flexitarian diet offers long lasting benefits, besides aiding people in weight loss. It has been scientifically proven that vegetarians improve their life span to nearly 4 years more than non vegetarians. When you eat less meat, flexitarians can also benefit from extending their life spans.

1. Flexibility

The biggest advantage of this diet is its lack of rigidity. The flex meals are interchangeable and offer many choices. According to the author, more than eight million recipes can be created by the combination provided.

2. Cardiovascular Benefits

A study has concluded that eating a full day vegetarian meal twice a week can reduce the intake of saturated fat by 15%. A plant-based diet keeps the cholesterol and blood pressure in check, keeping heart disease at bay. Plant protein is higher in fiber than animal protein with less fat and no cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, the Flexitarian diet or semi-vegetarianism can be nutritionally beneficial if carefully planned.

3. Weight Loss

Researchers have shown that people who follow a Flexitarian diet weigh less, eat fewer calories and have a lower body mass index. Eating high amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains keep you fuller on fewer calories.

Disadvantages of Flexitarian Diet

The Flexitarian plan may be a poor fit for people who don’t have the time or inclination to prepare most of their meals at home. It may be particularly difficult for people who don’t have much experience cooking fresh vegetables, beans and legumes.

1. Does not provide instructions

The Flexitarian diet might be a healthy one, but it is not suited for people who need specific directions. The book does not provide systematic instructions on how to include meat in a vegetarian diet or how to wean oneself gradually from meat. This is left entirely to the reader.

2. Difficult for the non-vegetarians

People who eat high amounts of meat everyday might find it difficult to go “meat-lite”. Going vegetarian for the rest of the life might not appeal to non-vegetarians.

3. No guidance on the amount of meat to be consumed

The diet does not provide any specific guidance on the amount of meat to be consumed. The only meats mentioned in the book are extra lean turkey, chicken breast, chicken sausage or sirloin. There is nothing mentioned about the inclusion of grilled steak, pork roast and hot dogs.

4. Nutritional deficiency

Going vegetarian is not an easy task. It can lead to deficiencies in certain nutrients like Vitamin B12, protein and amino acids.

5. Slow weight loss process

The Flexitarian diet is not one of the best diets to lose weight. The weight loss process is rather slow. You can lose only 1 to 2 pounds a week.

Sample Flexitarian Diet Menu

A typical flexitarian meal plan looks like this:

Breakfast: 1 slice of whole-grain bread; 1.5 tbsp. peanut butter (or almond butter); 1 apple or orange.

Lunch: Veggie burger on a whole-wheat bun, topped with 1/4 cup sprouts, 1/4 Haas avocado, and 2 tbsp. barbecue sauce; 1 apple or orange.

Snack: 3 fresh pineapple rings, sprinkled with 2 tsp. candied ginger and 2 tsp. chopped pecans or almonds.

Dinner: Tofu/chicken/lean beef (1/2 cup) with 2 cups mixed veggies, ginger, and garlic stir-fried in 2 tsp. peanut oil and 1/4 cup pineapple juice (use only 100% juice). Serve with 1 cup of brown rice and garnish with cilantro.

Dessert: Mexican Hot Chocolate (1 cup skim milk, 1 tbsp. cocoa powder, 1 tbsp. honey, and cinnamon to taste).