Blog Diets Flexitarian Diet Pros and Cons: A Balanced Approach to Eating

Flexitarian Diet Pros and Cons: A Balanced Approach to Eating

Nowadays, there’s a diet for everyone. You’ve probably heard about keto, paleo, Whole30… the list goes on and on. An option that has gained a lot of popularity is plant-based diets due to their countless health benefits. 

However, if you eat meat on occasion but still want to get all the benefits of a vegan diet, you may find following a vegan diet to be too restrictive. 

Enter the flexitarian diet. This approach offers the best of both vegan and meat-based diets. As a result, it allows you to enjoy a variety of foods without strict restrictions. It’s perfect for those who are looking to improve their eating habits while also being kind to the planet. 

This post will help you grasp the essence of a flexitarian lifestyle to help you determine if it’s the right choice for you and know how to incorporate it into your daily routine. 

Understanding the Flexitarian Diet

What Is a Flexitarian Diet?

The flexitarian diet is a type of eating pattern that was created by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner. She wanted to promote vegetarianism due to its health benefits while still being able to enjoy meat-based products once in a while. 

So where does the term come from?

The term “flexitarian” combines “flexible” and “vegetarian”, which perfectly describes the diet. Unlike strict vegetarianism or veganism, the flexitarian diet allows for occasional meat consumption. At its core, it emphasizes plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains while allowing meat and dairy in moderation. 

Key Principles of Flexitarian Eating

One of the key benefits of a flexitarian diet is that it isn’t about eliminating food groups and is about finding balance. The key principles of a flexitarian diet include:

  • Prioritize plant-based sources. Make fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats your primary sources of food. 
  • Limit meat consumption. While you’re allowed to eat meat, it’s consumed less frequently and in smaller quantities. 
  • Choose quality over quantity. Opt for organic or sustainably sourced meat and dairy products. These often have a better nutritional value and are less likely to have unwanted chemicals, such as artificial hormones. 
  • Experiment with plant proteins. Incorporate a variety of plant-based protein sources such as tofu, tempeh, and legumes. 
  • Be flexible. Adapt the diet to your lifestyle and preferences without feeling guilty or pressured to adhere strictly. 
See also
7-Day Protein Diet Plan For Weight Loss

Pros of the Flexitarian Diet

There are several benefits of a flexitarian diet. The two main ones include improved health and being an eco-friendly alternative. Let’s take a closer look at each one. 

Health Benefits

Adopting a flexitarian lifestyle has countless health benefits. The diet encourages a higher intake of nutrient-dense plant-based foods, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. 

As a result, it can help reduce inflammation, promote good digestion, and better-looking skin. In addition, evidence suggests that those who follow a plant-based diet have lower risks of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure (1). 

Environmental and Ethical Advantages

A flexitarian diet is not just beneficial for your health. It’s also good for the planet. By reducing meat consumption, you contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions and decrease deforestation, which are two environmental issues that are tied to livestock farming. 

Furthermore, choosing sustainably sourced animal products can support ethical farming practices, which ensures better animal welfare and reduced environmental impact. 

More Flexibility

Finally, one of the biggest benefits of the flexitarian diet is that it allows for better adherence, thanks to its flexibility. This makes it easier for people to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet in the long term. 

See also
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Cons of the Flexitarian Diet

While there are several benefits of a flexitarian diet, there are also several disadvantages you must consider. Here are some of the cons of a flexitarian lifestyle. 

Nutritional Challenges

While the flexitarian diet offers several health benefits, it may also pose some nutritional challenges (if not done correctly). 

One of the primary concerns is the potential for inadequate protein intake, particularly if meat consumption is significantly reduced. The good news is that it can easily be mitigated by including a variety of plant-based protein sources, such as beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. 

Another challenge is ensuring adequate intake of essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are typically found in animal products. Consult a health professional to determine if supplementation is right for you or the best way to get these nutrients. 

Practical Difficulties

Adopting a flexitarian lifestyle may also come with practical difficulties. For example, meal planning can take more time as you try to ensure a balanced intake of nutrients while experimenting with new plant-based recipes. In addition, dining out may require more thoughtful choices to stick to your dietary goals. 

However, despite these challenges, many people find the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences, and with practice, these difficulties can be managed effectively. 

Flexitarian diet pros and cons  

Practical Guide to Implementing the Flexitarian Diet

Getting Started with Flexitarianism

Transitioning to a flexitarian lifestyle doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Here are some practical tips and tricks to help you ease into this diet: 

  • Start gradually. Start by gradually reducing your meat consumption. For example, start with Meatless Mondays or choose a couple of plant-based meals a few times a week. Remember that there’s no determined amount of meals you need to make in order to be considered flexitarian. For example, you can easily follow the 80/20 approach, which is 80% of your meals being plant-based and 20% containing meat. 
  • Try new recipes. Experiment with new recipes that highlight plant-based ingredients, and stock your pantry to have versatility staples such as beans, lentils, and whole grains. Try to keep a recipe bank with modifications you make to the recipes and which ones you want to include in your regular meal plan. 
  • Focus on the protein. One of the most challenging ingredients to add is protein. Make sure there’s a protein source in every meal. This can include having Greek yogurt in the morning, lentils at lunch, tofu at dinner, and edamame as a snack. 
  • Meal plan. To help you stay on track, make sure you’re meal planning and meal prepping. This can help you balance the meals to ensure you get all the nutrients you need and help you stay on track. 
See also
The No Sugar Diet For Optimal Health

Sample Flexitarian Meal Plans

To help you get started, here’s a three-day sample meal plan to help you visualize what a flexitarian diet looks like: 

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Smoothie bowl with spinach, banana, berries, almond milk and topped with chia seeds and nuts. 
  • Lunch: Quinoa salad with mixed greens, chickpeas, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and lemon-tahini dressing. 
  • Dinner: Lentil and vegetable stir-fry with chicken, served with brown rice. 
  • Snack: Hummus with carrot and celery sticks. 

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Overnight oats with almond milk, chia seeds, mixed berries, and a drizzle of honey. 
  • Lunch: Quinoa and black bean salad with avocado, cherry tomatoes, corn, and lime vinaigrette. 
  • Dinner: Grilled salmon with a side of roasted sweet potato fries and steamed broccoli and cauliflower.
  • Snack: Zucchini chips with tzatziki dressing (made with coconut yogurt)
See also
Whole Foods Diet: Nourishing Your Body Naturally

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and feta cheese with a slice of whole-grain toast.
  • Lunch: Lentil soup with a side salad (mixed greens, beets, carrots, cucumber, and light vinaigrette).
  • Dinner: Stuffed bell peppers with quinoa, mushrooms, and tofu. 
  • Snack: Apple slices with almond butter

Keep in mind that this meal plan is adjustable. You can make several days of plant-based meals or focus on only one meal a day that contains an animal product. Remember you can adjust the flexitarian diet to your preferences and needs. 

Read more: The Vegetarian Intermittent Fasting Guide to Plant-Based Fasting and Feasting

Comparison with Other Popular Diets

Some confuse the flexitarian diet with a vegan or vegetarian diet. While they’re pretty similar, they’re also slightly different. 

Flexitarian vs. Veganism

Veganism excludes all animal products, while the flexitarian diet allows for occasional meat and dairy consumption. While both diets emphasize plant-based foods, flexitarianism offers more flexibility and may be easier for some to maintain in the long term.

However, veganism provides a higher assurance of ethical and environmental benefits due to the complete exclusion of animal products. 

Flexitarian vs. Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism excludes meat, but includes dairy and eggs. On the other hand, the flexitarian diet allows for limited meat consumption, including seafood, poultry, and beef. Both diets promote plant-based eating and offer similar health benefits. 

See also
7-Day Protein Diet Plan For Weight Loss

The flexitarian diet could be a more sustainable approach for those who are not ready to give up meat entirely, but still want to have all the benefits of a predominantly plant-based diet. 

Flexitarian diet pros and cons

Scientific Insights on the Flexitarian Diet

Several scientific studies support the health benefits of a flexitarian diet. For example, a study published in the journal Nutrients found that those who followed a semi-vegetarian diet had a lower body mass index (BMI) and reduced risk of obesity (X). 

Another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighted that plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and improved overall health outcomes (X). In addition, it shows that they can be a more sustainable approach than other diets. 

Finally, a meta-analysis showed that most studies determined that following a flexitarian diet promoted significant weight loss, improved health, and better food quality (X). 

Ultimately, there is an abundance of scientific evidence to help support all the possible health benefits provided by the flexitarian diet.

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FAQs

  • What foods do flexitarians eat?

Flexitarians primarily follow a plant-based diet, but occasionally include meat and animal products. Typical foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and plant-based proteins such as tofu and tempeh. When flexitarians consume animal products, they usually eat lean meats, fish, eggs, and dairy in moderation. 

  • How often do flexitarians eat meat?

The frequency of meat consumption varies among flexitarians. Some may include meat in their diet once or twice a week, while others may consume it only on special occasions. The key is to prioritize plant-based foods while treating meat as a supplementary addition rather than a staple. 

  • Can you eat cheese on a flexitarian diet?

Yes, cheese can be part of a flexitarian diet. Flexitarians have the flexibility to include dairy products, such as cheese, in their meal plans. However, it’s generally recommended to choose high-quality, minimally processed options and consume them in moderation. 

  • Can you lose weight on a flexitarian diet?

Yes, absolutely. A flexitarian diet can support weight loss by emphasizing nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. By reducing meat consumption and focusing on plant-based options, you can create a calorie deficit and improve overall health. However, individual results may vary, and it’s important to maintain a balanced and mindful approach to eating. 

  • Is flexitarianism better than veganism?

This depends on individual preferences and health goals. Flexitarianism offers more flexibility and makes it easier for people to transition to a healthier, more sustainable diet without giving up animal products entirely. At the same time, veganism eliminates all animal products and may offer more significant environmental and ethical benefits. Both diets have their pros and cons and the best choice depends on your personal values and lifestyle. 

  • Is a flexitarian diet suitable for everyone?

A flexitarian diet is generally suitable for most people, but it may require adjustments based on individual nutritional needs and preferences. Consult a health professional before you make any significant dietary changes, particularly if you have specific health conditions. 

The Bottom Line

The flexitarian diet offers a balanced and flexible approach to eating that can benefit both your health and the environment. By prioritizing plant-based foods and enjoying meat in moderation, you can achieve a sustainable and nutritious diet that suits your lifestyle. 

The key to success is flexibility, making mindful choices without feeling restricted. So if you’re ready to take the next step toward leading a healthier, more balanced way of eating, a flexitarian diet may just be the perfect fit for you. 

DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES

  1. Association of Healthful Plant-based Diet Adherence With Risk of Mortality and Major Chronic Diseases Among Adults in the UK. (pubmed, 2023)
  2. Comparison of Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet. (pubmed, 2014)
  3. Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. (pubmed, 2017)
  4. Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. (pubmed, 2003)

 

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