A Guide to the Flexitarian Diet

The flexitarian diet, which emphasizes fruits, veggies, whole grains and plant-based protein, is a smart and healthy choice. One panelist noted that this diet is “a nice approach that could work for the whole family.”

What is the The Flexitarian Diet?

Flexitarian is a marriage of two words: flexible and vegetarian. The term was coined more than a decade ago by registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner in her 2009 book “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life.”

With a flexitarian diet – often called a semi-vegetarian diet – you don’t have to eliminate meat completely to reap the health benefits associated with vegetarianism. Instead, you can be a vegetarian most of the time, but still enjoy a burger or steak when the urge hits. By eating more plants and less meat, it’s suggested that people who follow the diet will not only lose weight but can improve their overall health, lowering their rate of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and potentially live longer as a result. And because it reduces the meat you consume, it’s considered planet-friendly.

Today, the message remains consistent, Blatner says. “The focus is still: Eat more plants and be flexible instead of strict about it,” she says. “There is a bigger push to be clear this is a ‘lifestyle,’ not a traditional ‘diet.’”

  • Family friendly. Family members can easily all eat the meals together with little or no modification. And the food options are healthy and balanced enough for all ages.
  • Budget friendly. Foods for this diet are easy to find at a typical grocery and don’t require expensive or speciality food items.
  • Planet friendly. The diet considers the environmental effects of food choices. It’s largely plant-based and/or the foods are mainly sustainably grown/produced.
  • Vegan or vegetarian friendly. Recipes can be easily modified for a vegan or vegetarian diet.
  • Gluten-free friendly. Recipes can be easily modified and still follow a gluten-free diet
  • Halal friendly. Recipes can be easily modified and still follow the diet.
  • Kosher friendly. Recipes can be easily modified and still follow the diet.
  • Low-fat. The diet encourages a moderate consumption of healthy fats, like olive oil, and discourages unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats — with less than about 30% of total calories coming from fat.

How Does It Work?

  • Focus on non-meat proteins like beans, peas or eggs.
  • Include fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy and seasonings.
  • Gradually reduce meat portions and increase meat-free days per week during each stage.
  • Follow at your own pace: jumping or easing in.

Becoming a flexitarian is more about adding food groups to your diet – not taking any away. For instance, seasonings make meals more delectable.

“Seasonings make eating fun,” says Vahista Ussery, a registered dietitian nutritionist, chef and founder of To Taste, a culinary nutrition consulting and education company. “Food is more than calories and nutrients – it is about enjoyment. When following any diet, it is important to incorporate flavor to make the food taste good and increase adherence to the diet. Seasonings, such as spices and herbs, are also nutrient rich, providing disease-fighting phytonutrients. It’s a win-win.”

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