What is the Flexitarian Diet? The Plant-Based Eating Plan That Allows Meat

By | May 24, 2019

The evidence in support of following a plant-based diet is pretty convincing. Vegetarians tend to weigh less, have lower LDL (or bad) cholesterol, and decreased cancer risk. But giving up meat seems daunting, particularly if you can’t live without burgers, bacon, or a juicy rib eye. However, there’s a way you can have your steak and eat it too: the flexitarian diet.

As the name implies, this crowd generally eats vegetarian but aren’t sticklers. That means you can go ahead and order a burger when the craving hits. Sound tempting?

Here’s a look at whether it’s right for you.

What is the flexitarian diet?

This concept became popular after Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., published The Flexitarian Diet in 2008 and has become trendy given all the research supporting plant-based eating. The term even nabbed a spot in Merriam Webster, which defines flexitarian as someone whose “normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish.”

According to Blatner, she coined the term because consuming meat induced guilt since she was a practicing vegetarian.

“I developed this style of eating for people who know that vegetarianism is one of the healthiest and smartest ways to eat, but don’t want to sit in the corner at a BBQ with an empty bun,” she writes on her blog.

Blatner’s plan is separated into three stages, depending on your current meat consumption: beginner, advanced, and expert.

If you you can’t even fathom one-meat free meal each day, you’ll want to start at the first stage. However, those who already limit meat consumption can jump into advanced.

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How much meat can you eat on the flexitarian diet?

Generally, you’ll want to structure meals depending on your level:

Beginner: Aim to eat about 26 ounces of meat or poultry per wee and 2 meatless days.
Advanced: Aim for 18 ounces of meat or poultry per week and 3-4 meatless days.
Expert: Aim for 9 ounces of meat or poultry per week and 5 meatless days.

Beginner level seem overwhelming? Build up to it, suggests Holly Herrington, R.D. at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“Start with one to two meals [per week],” she says. “Then three meals, and then one whole day.”

What are the benefits of a flexitarian diet?

For starters, this plan isn’t restrictive like so many other fads.

“I love this diet because I think what makes it so appealing is how doable it is,” says Herrington. There’s no need to give up wings, burgers, or any other food that you love.

“It’s more of a push towards getting fruits and vegetables in,” she says.

Provided that meat is replaced with produce, instead of say, potato chips, you’ll receive a good variety of vitamins and minerals, says Herrington. Guys should get about 35 grams of fiber each day, but studies show only five percent of Americans eat enough of the nutrient.

Aside from the obvious, like regular bowel movements, fiber helps lower cholesterol, decreases the risk of heart issues, and can keep you full for longer.

Not impressed? Well. flexitarian diets also are linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and lower body weight, according to a 2016 review of studies published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

Will cutting out meat help with weight loss?

As with any diet, losing weight comes down to what and how much you’re eating. Eating a whole cheese pizza instead of chicken isn’t going to help shed extra pounds. And it’s entirely possible to overdo it on healthy foods like avocados.

“You can still get way too many calories from healthy foods,” says Herrington. Take nuts, for example. A serving of almonds 23 nuts, but it’s easy to eat double that if you don’t measure out a single portion.

“I don’t know a lot of people who eat 23 almonds and are like, ‘Oh i’m so full,'” says Herrington, “It’s about being mindful of your portions and overall healthy food choices. It’s not just about cutting out meat.”

What’s a typical meal?

There’s no need to worry about subsisting on tofu and salads. A typical flexitarian breakfast could include Greek yogurt with berries and peanut butter toast, eggs with vegetables, or yes, a tofu scramble. Whole-wheat pasta or veggie burgers make easy meat-free lunches, and vegetable stir-fry are great weeknight dinners.

Dedicate half of your plate to vegetables. Then, designate one-third each to protein and starches.

How to start

Before diving in, look at how many meals include meat each week. Then, develop a plan to slowly decrease consumption, advises Nathalie Sessions, R.D. at Houston Methodist Hospital. Herrington suggests starting with plant-based meal a week if you consume meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Paying attention to portion sizes will ensure you’re not overeating while helping you pack in enough fruits and vegetables.

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