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Health and Fitness News

The Flexible Vegetarian

Thinking about going vegetarian but aren’t ready to make the leap? Try the Flexitarian Diet.

Many people are choosing to cut back on meat and animal products for health reasons, preference, or environmental concerns. Maybe you’re one of them. You know you need to eat more plant-based foods, but you’re not ready to go 100-percent vegetarian or vegan. If you still want to enjoy a hamburger or steak every once in a while, the Flexitarian Diet may be right for you.

Allowing more flexibility when it comes to your diet choices, the Flexitarian Diet encourages a mainly vegetarian way of eating. Designed by registered dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner and outlined in her 2009 book, The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life, the Flexitarian diet can give you the health benefits of a vegetarian way of eating, while still allowing you to enjoy animal products in moderation.

Sound interesting? Keep reading to learn more.

Guiding Principles

Tired of restrictive diets? You’re in for a treat. Because there are no rules or restrictions on calories or food choices on the Flexitarian Diet. Instead, the diet is seen as a lifestyle that encourages healthy eating. As you would expect, the majority of your foods with the Flexitarian diet will include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and your protein will be plant-based rather than animal. What makes this diet unique is that you’re allowed to occasionally eat meat and other animal products. By adding more plant-based foods to your diet, you’ll naturally eat less animal products. Added sugars, sodium, refined carbohydrates, and highly processed foods are discouraged, and whole foods should be eaten as much as possible.

Good for Your Health

Research shows numerous health benefits for eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, so a semi-vegetarian diet will also be good for you. Eating fewer animal products, sweets, and refined carbs will aid weight loss. Additionally, the Flexitarian Diet is high in fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fat—three things that are good for heart health. As a result, this semi-vegetarian diet lowers your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Since a plant-based diet promotes weight loss, is high in fiber, and is low in added sugar and unhealthy fat, the Flexitarian Diet may even help prevent or control type 2 diabetes. Want another big perk? The antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes may ward off cancer. And avoiding red meat and processed meats will help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

Good for the Environment

By eating less meat, you're not the only beneficiary. You may do the planet a favor. One study found that animal protein requires 11 times more energy than growing plant protein. It may not be the main reason you go Flexitarian, but eating more plant-based foods will lower the demand for meat and leave less of an environmental footprint.

The Possible Downsides

As with any lifestyle modification, the Flexitarian Diet has its own risks. Avoiding or reducing the amount of meat in your diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies if you’re not careful. Animal foods are especially rich in iron, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. On the Flexitarian, vegetarian, or vegan diet, you must be careful to take supplements or eat plant foods high in these nutrients. You’ll likely need to take a vitamin B12 supplement since you can only get this vitamin from animal sources.

Think you’re ready to give Flexitarian a try? Talk with your physician to make sure you understand how it will affect you. If you like the answers, give it a shot!