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What Is The Flexitarian Diet?

Most people see diets as extreme ways of eating. For instance, carnivore and vegan diets come to mind. 


With the carnivore diet, you can (and should) eat all animal-derived foods. On a vegan diet, you go to the other extreme – absolutely no animal products.


But what if dieting didn’t have to be that strict? What if we could enjoy our nutrition, maintain good health, and still eat various foods?


The truth is, we might just be able to. Read on to find out.


What is The Flexitarian Diet?


In simplest terms, the flexitarian diet is a semi-vegetarian one. Folks following the diet can still eat meat and other animal products but should do so mindfully and sparingly. For reference, the average American consumes up to ten ounces of meat per day (1). Thus, the flexitarian diet offers a compromising and much more alluring option for those who aren’t ready to cut out meat entirely.


It’s difficult to say what exactly constitutes flexitarian, which is why Dawn Jackson Blatner – the author of The Flexitarian Diet – has created three categories:


  • Beginners, who consume six to eight meatless meals per week
  • Advanced, who consume nine to 14 meatless meals per week
  • Experts, who consume 15 or more meatless meals per week


What You Should (And Shouldn’t) Eat


The flexitarian diet isn’t difficult to understand. Plus, as you see what you should and shouldn’t eat, it makes lots of sense.


What you should eat:


  • All fruits and veggies
  • More plant-based proteins: varieties of beans (black, white, pinto, etc.), lentils
  • Yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, oats, and brown rice
  • Plant-based milk such as almond, oat, and soymilk
  • Cow milk
  • Fish
  • Olive oil
  • Eggs


Try limiting the following foods:


  • Red meat and lamb
  • Turkey and chicken
  • White rice and bread
  • Butter


Benefits of Trying the Flexitarian Diet


The flexitarian diet isn’t strictly vegetarian and is often compared to the Mediterranean way of eating (2). Researchers suggest that the two diets offer many of the same benefits.


Most notably, research finds that the Mediterranean diet is good for cardiovascular health, can reduce cancer risk, and improves cognitive function (3, 4, 5). These are promising findings for the flexitarian diet, given how similar it can be in some aspects.


Beyond that, some research suggests that a flexitarian approach to nutrition can aid with weight loss, improve metabolic health, and reduce the risk of diabetes type 2 (6, 7).


These effects make sense, given that the flexitarian diet emphasizes plant foods and limits animal products. Also, thanks to the emphasis on whole and nutritious foods, a flexitarian diet is a good way to control calories, feel more satiated, and lose weight. 


How to Get Started With the Flexitarian Diet


You can find numerous menus to start the flexitarian diet right now. You can get help from a registered dietitian. The problem is, we are creatures of habit, and we don’t do well with huge and sudden changes.


Instead, we recommend a more gradual approach to change your nutritional habits. For example, say that you want to start with the flexitarian diet. That’s great. Right now, it can be tempting to jump straight in and try to be perfect. 


But start moderately and focus on building better habits. For example, if you currently eat meat every day, try to include six to eight meatless meals per week. This will place you in the beginner category we discussed above. Over time, you can gradually increase that to 10, 12, and even 15 meatless meals.


At the same time, gradually reduce your processed foods intake and replace that with natural alternatives like fruits and veggies.


The bottom line? Do it gradually, and at a pace you can control and sustain.