Torn between trying to be vegetarian or non-vegetarian? Do you often crave a burger or chicken tikka, but also want to cut back on meat? Let us introduce you to the flexitarian diet, touted as the ultimate food compromise. With this flexible approach to eating, you can have your kale and eat your steak, too! It’s time to put the fun back in healthy eating with the flexitarian diet. So, let’s explore the ins and outs of this dietary trend and find out how it can benefit your taste buds, your health, and the environment.
What is a flexitarian diet?
A flexitarian diet is a flexible approach to eating that is primarily plant-based, but also includes the occasional consumption of animal products. The flexitarian diet is a relatively new term that combines the words “flexible” and “vegetarian.” Flexitarians also eat animal products, so they’re not considered vegetarian or vegan, but they focus more on plant-based foods, so they’re not entirely non-vegetarian, either.
“This diet has no clear rules or recommended amounts of calories or macronutrients. So it’s more of a lifestyle change than a strict diet,” says nutritionist Dr. Meghana Pasi. The flexitarian diet is not a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. Allow some animal products in moderation, such as fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. However, the emphasis is on reducing meat consumption and increasing plant-based foods. The recommended ratio is 80 percent plant-based and 20 percent animal products.
Also Read: Dear Vegans and Vegetarians, Boost Your Protein Intake With These 5 Foods
The flexitarian diet is primarily plant-based, with a focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods. This means that the diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. The emphasis is on eating real food, as opposed to highly processed packaged foods. Dr. Pasi, nutrition consultant for the MyThali program at Arogya World, explains that he relies on these principles:
1. Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, nuts and seeds, herbs and seasonings.
2. Consume meat and animal products from time to time, preferably lean meat and fish.
3. Focus on plant-based proteins like soy, legumes, quinoa, rather than animal-based.
4. Eat more natural forms of food and cut down on processed ones.
5. Limit the use of refined sugar and sweets.
Also read: Say goodbye to refined sugar with these 3 healthy alternatives
Potential health benefits of following a flexitarian diet
1. Keeps you well nourished and boosts immunity
A vegetarian diet provides more nutrients than a non-vegetarian diet. In addition, it also prioritizes natural products and helps reduce the consumption of packaged foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat. “Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are rich in vitamins and antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and reduce free radical damage,” says Dr. Pasi.
2. Reduces the risk of chronic diseases
The flexitarian diet is rich in nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Studies have shown that a plant-based diet can lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and improve insulin sensitivity. Research clearly indicates that vegetarians and fish eaters have lower rates of heart disease than meat eaters. Dr. Pasi believes this is probably because plant-based foods are rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
3. Weight control
Fruits and vegetables are low in calories but high in fiber, which helps you feel full and satisfied. Several studies have shown that people who follow a plant-based diet can lose more weight than people who eat meat. This is also partly because flexitarians often limit high-calorie, highly processed foods. Also, plant-based foods are often more filling than animal-based products, which can help reduce overall calorie intake.
4. Reduction of environmental impact
Eating a plant-based diet may have less of an environmental impact than a diet rich in meat. “The production of plant-based foods requires fewer resources, such as water and land, and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than animal-based foods,” says Dr. Pasi. Increased consumption of plant foods will increase the demand to grow more fruits and vegetables for humans instead of livestock feed. Farming fruits and vegetables requires far fewer resources than raising animals for food.