What Is the Flexitarian Diet, and Does It Help You Lose Weight Faster? - Prevention.com | AbcVitaminNutrition

What Is the Flexitarian Diet, and Does It Help You Lose Weight Faster? – Prevention.com

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The keto diet and Whole30 may be the most talked about diets of the last few years, but according to U.S. News and World Report’s best diets for 2019, they are among the worst for your health goals. Why? They’re so restrictive, forcing you to cut out entire food groups in the name of a slimmer waistline.

If you want to lose weight or simply eat healthier without giving up the foods you love, consider the Flexitarian Diet. Ranked as the third best overall diet in America—right after the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet—the Flexitarian Diet is a mostly vegetarian meal plan, except you don’t have to eliminate meat or dairy.

What is the Flexitarian Diet?


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The Flexitarian Diet combines the words flexible and vegetarian to define a way of semi-vegetarian eating that emphasizes plant-based foods, with the flexibility of enjoying animal products in moderate amounts. The diet became popular in 2009 when registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner wrote The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life, which includes a 5-week meal plan focused on adding food groups to your diet—unlike other diets that restrict foods. The plan includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack recipes.

As the name suggests, the Flexitarian Diet is flexible, so there are no hard calorie restrictions or macronutrient guidelines, or ratios for plant- to animal-based foods. However, the book provides a ballpark number of calories to aim for at each meal to ensure you’re eating enough and feel satisfied. For example, breakfast is around 300 calories, lunch is 400, dinner is 500, and snacks 150. This daily total is 1,500 calories—an ideal total for those who are trying to shed pounds. But aside from weight loss, the goal of the Flexitarian Diet is to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and meat alternatives, like beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds, and fewer processed foods and added sugars.

Why experts recommend the Flexitarian Diet for weight loss and better health

One of the reasons the Flexitarian Diet has gained a following over the past several years is because it can help people can reap the benefits of vegetarianism without completely eliminating meat. Doctors and dietitians recommend semi-vegetarian eating plans like the Flexitarian Diet because they’re easy to follow and encourage you to eat a large variety of foods that not only help you shed excess pounds but improve your overall health.

Additionally, studies have shown that vegetarian and plant-based eating plans can lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, and is associated with reduced incidence of all cancers, especially colorectal cancer. A 2017 review of multiple studies on semi-vegetarian diets suggests that this type of eating leads to improved metabolic health, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as short- and long-term weight loss. Moreover, a 2018 study in Circulation suggests that a low-calorie vegetarian diet is as effective in reducing bodyweight and fat and improving heart health as the Mediterranean diet. What’s more, a 2018 study in BMJ also showed that plant-based diets, like the Flexitarian Diet, can help reduce the risk for diabetes while improving the psychological well-being and quality of life in people living with diabetes.

What to eat on the Flexitarian Diet

Unlike other diets that have numerous lists of foods you can’t eat, the Flexitarian Diet is focused on what you can eat, with an emphasis on wholesome foods.

There are five Flex food groups, including:

  • The “New Meat” refers to plant-proteins like beans, legumes, tofu, and tempeh
  • Fruits and veggies, including a variety of non-starchy and starchy vegetables
  • Whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, oats, barley, millet, corn, and farro
  • Dairy includes animal- and plant-based yogurt, milk, kefir, and cheese
  • “Sugar and spice” are ingredients and condiments that boost flavor, such as herbs and spices, sweeteners, and vinegars. This section includes healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, and oils

    When incorporating animal products into the Flexitarian Diet, you’re encouraged to make more sustainable protein choices, like:

    • Free-range or pasture-raised eggs
    • Organic or pasture-raised meat, dairy, and poultry
    • Wild-caught seafood

      Although there aren’t any food restrictions on the Flexitarian Diet, you should limit:

      • Alcohol
      • Processed meats
      • Fast food
      • Added sugars

        One potential drawback of the Flexitarian Diet

        Although the Flexitarian Diet is a healthy way of eating, people who limit or completely cut out animal products could run the risk of nutrient deficiencies because many important nutrients are found in animal products such as zinc, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12. This is why meal planning on the Flexitarian Diet is especially important to ensure you have nutritionally balanced plate that includes protein, carbs, and healthy fats at every meal.

        How to get started on the Flexitarian Diet

        If your diet is heavy in animal proteins and you’re interested in trying a semi-vegetarian approach, incorporate the changes gradually. Cut your meat intake in half by swapping half a portion of meat or poultry with plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, or tofu. Fill your plate with more fruits and vegetables and try new whole grains. Meatless meals are becoming more and more popular, which makes it easier to find delicious Flexitarian recipes to try. And when dining out, find a restaurant that offers vegetarian options for you to try and inspire your home cooking. Looking for more? Check out The Flexitarian Diet book, available on Amazon.

        Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, is a nationally recognized nutrition expert with a focus on culinary nutrition and communications, and is the author of 52-Week Meal Planner: The Complete Guide to Planning Menus, Groceries, Recipes, and More.

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