The sixth installment of the series on eating patterns is about the Flexitarian Diet. Last month, we explored the MIND Diet and discussed how it emphasizes specific foods for brain health and cognition. Ranked #3 out of 41 total diets in the U.S News Best Diet Rankings, the Flexitarian Diet is just that—flexible. Largely based on a vegetarian framework, dieters may include meat when the mood strikes and can design their meals and snacks based on their own (mostly meatless) preferences. The diet was developed by a registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner and is found in her 2009 book, “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life.” While that’s a pretty ambitious goal for any eating style, plant-based diets have been shown to help people lose weight and lower their risk of heart disease and stroke.
Flexitarian Diet: The premise of the diet is that consuming mostly plant-based foods can help dieters lose weight and improve their overall health. The diet includes fruits, vegetables, grains, and what’s referred to as ‘new meats,’ which include non-meat proteins like beans and eggs. There is structure to the plan, including recipes for meals and snacks, as well as calorie counts for each. Having the book to reference may be necessary, at least in the beginning. While the meal and calorie framework exists, there is flexibility to swap recipes and adjust calorie intakes based on fitness goals and activity level.
Nutritional Considerations: As with other vegetarian diets, meeting protein needs is a consideration for those avoiding meat. With proper planning and choosing protein-rich plant foods, such as beans, quinoa and soy, dieters can meet their protein needs without meat. Eating a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures dieters get adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber. As intakes of fruits, vegetables and fiber increase, it’s important to increase water intake as well. Non-meat proteins, such as beans, also add fiber to the diet.
Target Audience: This diet is unique in that it easily appeals to both free spirits and structure-junkies. Recipes are available in the book and on the website, but much freedom for an individual’s preferences is allowed. For those looking to lose weight, this diet may appeal for its reliance on fruits, vegetables and grains, which help increase fiber and promote feelings of satiety. For those looking to improve heart health and lower their risk of heart disease, this diet may help reduce the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease by 20%.
Foods to Highlight: Quinoa is a grain that is high in protein, supplying about 8 grams per cup of cooked quinoa. It’s very versatile and can be eaten at any meal of day, such as ‘oatmeal-style’ with berries in the morning, or a cold salad with veggies and beans for dinner. When eating a vegetarian style of diet, it’s important to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as dark leafy greens, vibrant peppers and berries, which are full of fiber and antioxidants. If you’re a carnivore who is trying to decrease your meat intake, now is the time to experiment with non-meat protein foods, such as lentils, tofu and beans. Using the Flexitarian Diet recipes to introduce new foods and flavors to your palate is a great way to increase fruit and vegetable intake while decreasing meat intake and still feeling satisfied with both the amount and quality of food.