The Flexitarian diet is it exactly as it sounds, a flexible vegetarian diet or a semi-vegetarian diet with the allowance of a small amount of meat every now and then. Flexitarianism has many of the same benefits as vegetarians but with less rules and more allowances while still practicing healthy eating.
How does the Flexitarian diet work?
The flexitarian diet is fairly easy to follow given it has no intense restrictions or recommended calories, although, you will need to eat less meat and increase your intake of plant food.
The main guidelines you should aim to follow in your diet plan include:
- Try to incorporate as manyveggies, legumes, wholegrains and fruits in your diet as possible
- Avoid food and drink with added sugar
- Find protein inplant food rather than meat
- Eat mostly veggies but include meat in your diet on occasion
There are plenty of great health benefits associated with the flexitarian diet, many of which are very similar to those of a vegetarian and vegan diet. Vegan diets, given their total lack of animal products, are proven to have more extreme health benefits than both the vegetarian and flexitarian diets, but only in some areas. This does come at the cost of following very strict dietary rules and consuming solely plant-based items, which for former non-vegetarians and non-vegans, can be difficult.
The point of the flexitarian diet is not to restrict your diet like vegetarianism and veganism, but to include a greater amount of plant-based food and veggies while decreasing your meat consumption for better health results and benefits, which makes it the best diet for those not wanting to make huge nutritional sacrifices.
Some of the great benefits include:
- Much lower risk of heart disease through the consumption of healthy fats and fibre rich food
- Can help with the prevention of cancer through a higher intake of antioxidants
- Can help to lower cholesterol
- Higher chance of weight loss by lessening your intake of high calorie food and boosting your intake of plant food
- Will lower the risk and help with the management of type 2 diabetes
- A healthy diet without having to go completely meat-free
What should a flexitarian be careful of?
As great as these benefits are, there are downsides and things you should be cognisant of before beginning the flexitarian diet. While you are still consuming nutritious plant-based foods, a lack of animal protein can cause the body to develop deficiencies, dependent on the food choices you are using to substitute the meat.
Flexitarianism deficiencies include:
Zinc – Zinc serves many different purposes including the healthy functioning of your immune system, the healing of injuries and the development and growth of your body. The catch is, zinc is not produced in the body and therefore needs to be absorbed through certain foods. Some of the symptoms of zinc deficiency include diminished appetite, slower healing of injuries, diarrhea and dry skin. Zinc is normally found in nuts & seeds, dairy, eggs, beef, lamb & pork and some shellfish.
Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 is responsible for our red blood cell and DNA production and is normally found in fish, meat, dairy, poultry and eggs. Some of the symptoms of a more extreme vitamin B12 deficiency include weakness, pale skin, fatigue, dizziness, mouth ulcers and mood swings.
Calcium – Calcium is extremely important for bone health and is vital for sustaining the communication lines between your brain and the rest of your body. Calcium also plays a part in preserving and maintain the cardiovascular system and enabling muscle contraction. Calcium is found in dairy, salmon, cheese, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Iron – Iron is responsible for supplying your red blood cells with adequate oxygen. When you lack iron, your boy is at risk of anaemia, which means your body will struggle to provide oxygen to your body tissue. Some symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, pale skin, cold feet and hands, dizziness and shortness of breath. Iron can be found in seafood, pork, black beans, red meat, dark leafy greens.
Omega-3 – Omega-3 are fatty acids found in various different foods. Omega-3 fatty acids are comprised of three separate types which all serve their own purpose including healthy brain function and energy levels. You will find omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts, fatty fish, flax seeds and fish oil.
All of this being said, if you hope to transition into successful flexitarianism, you will need to be strategic with your meal plans to ensure you are absorbing all of the right nutrients through the correct food sources.
What are some foods that a flexitarian can’t eat?
There are plenty of delicious plant-based foods and whole foods you can include in your diet, many of which contain the nutrients you need, however, there are also plenty of foods you should aim to avoid including processed meats, greasy fast food, added sugar and preservatives, other processed foods and refined carbs.
To get a full list of foods acceptable for inclusion in the flexitarian diet, make an appointment with a dietitian who will also be able to supply you with some incredible flexitarian meal ideas!