Inclined to turn vegetarian, but not willing to give up on the delicious meatballs and chicken tikka? Wish to obtain the benefits of a vegetarian diet without giving up on meat all together? Then you should consider adopting the Flexitarian diet.
“Go meatless and lose weight”. This is the slogan of the Flexitarian diet. The goal of the Flexitarian diet is to add more plant-based foods while cutting back on meat.
What is a Flexitarian diet?
The term “Flexitarian” has been around for a while, but came into notice with the publication of the book the “Flexitarian Diet”, released in 2008. As the name implies, the Flexitarian diet is all about giving flexibility, i.e. a range of options to the dieters in terms of meal plans and recipes. The term describes people who follow a vegetarian diet, but occasionally eat meat. The Flexitarian diet is a flexible and realistic way of being a vegetarian, without eliminating the meat altogether. Flexible eating puts more plant-based foods and variety into the meal, while helping you lose weight.
According to author and dietician Blatner, you do not have to give up on meat completely to obtain the health benefits associated with a vegetarian diet. All you need to do is eat a lot less meat. Blatner claims that people following a Flexitarian diet weigh 15% less than their carnivorous counterparts. People following this diet are also believed to have a lower rate of diabetes, cancer and heart diseases. It is also claimed that people on a Flexitarian diet live 3.6 years longer than those who follow the regular diet.
How does the Flexitarian Diet work?
The Flexitarian diet does not endorse a strict diet plan or rigid rules about what you should eat and what you should not. The diet is about “Five-by-Five Flex Plan”. It proposes five components that can help you lose 15% of your total body weight. The five components are:
- Flex food groups
- Five-week meal plan
- Flex recipes
- Flex fitness factor
- Flex-life troubleshooter
The Flexitarian diet is about adding five food groups in your diet, without eliminating any group. The five food groups are:
1. New meat:
This food group is concentrated mainly on protein-rich meat substitutes like lentils, peas, tofu, nuts and seeds. Try a whole grain and tofu roll for lunch or cereals with soy milk for breakfast to get your daily dose of protein.
2. Fruits and vegetables:
The diet emphasizes a generous consumption of antioxidant and nutrient rich fruits and vegetables. The fruit and vegetables provide us with the added benefits of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and several other disease-fighting compounds. It also provides high levels of fiber, which help us to stay full.
3. Whole grains:
The dieters should aim to consume whole, not refined grain products. Whole grains have three wholesome parts- bran, germ and endosperm. These three parts prevent you from diseases like diabetes, obesity and even cancer. Swap your white rice with brown rice. You can also explore uncommon whole grains like buckwheat, millet, rye, quinoa and wheat berries.
Dairy products contain Vitamin D and calcium, the dynamic duo that help in building and maintaining bones. Milk and milk products also provide high concentrations of potassium, Vitamin A, B12, riboflavin, niacin and phosphorus. You can try a wide range of milk products like low fat milk, cheese and yogurt.
5. Sugar and spice:
This food group is all about natural sweeteners, herbs and salad dressings.
A daily workout for 30 minutes is strongly encouraged in this diet. You should perform 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week.
Flex recipes, which make up half of the book, are the foundation of this diet. The book provides examples of vegetarian recipes and meals, along with the weekly shopping list. The recipes require minimal ingredients and take less than 20 minutes to prepare. The recipes mentioned in the diet are for both special occasions and daily meals.
The diet plan for the Flexitarian diet should comprise of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack recipes. Blatner, the dietician suggests eating one shift per day so that you do not feel overwhelmed. The diet may not work for you if you are reluctant to eat extra vegetables in your diet.
The total calorie intake in the Flexitarian diet should be 1500 per day. 60% of the calories should be obtained before dinner, so that you get ample energy to carry out the daily activities. You can tweak the calorie intake depending upon your height, weight, gender and activity level. Omit the snack if you want to make it a 1200 calorie plan.
- Breakfast- 300 calories
- Lunch- 400 calories
- Dinner- 500 calories
- Snacks- 150 calories
Sample Diet Plan:
Here is a sample diet plan of the typical Flexitarian diet.
Breakfast – 8 am:
- Two slices of whole grain bread with 1 tablespoon of almond or peanut butter
- One apple or orange
Lunch- 1 pm
- Brown rice with mixed vegetables
- Sprout salad
- One apple or orange
Evening snack- 4 pm
One small bowl of yogurt topped with nuts like almonds, pistachio or flax seeds
You can also top the yogurt with fresh fruits
Dinner- 9 p.m.
- Tofu/paneer/ Chicken curry with two chapattis
- 1 cup of green salad with olive oil dressing
- Mexican hot chocolate for dessert
Advantages of Flexitarian Diet:
Research has shown that the Flexitarian diet offers long lasting benefits, besides aiding people in weight loss.
The biggest advantage of this diet is its lack of rigidity. The flex meals are interchangeable and offer many choices. According to the author, more than eight million recipes can be created by the combination provided.
2. Weight loss:
Researchers have shown that people who follow a Flexitarian diet weigh less, eat fewer calories and have a lower body mass index. Eating high amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains keep you fuller on fewer calories.
3. Cardiovascular benefits:
A study has concluded that eating a full day vegetarian meal twice a week can reduce the intake of saturated fat by 15%. A plant-based diet keeps the cholesterol and blood pressure in check, keeping heart disease at bay. Plant protein is higher in fiber than animal protein with less fat and no cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, the Flexitarian diet or semi-vegetarianism can be nutritionally beneficial if carefully planned.
Disadvantages of Flexitarian Diet:
1. Does not provide instructions:
The Flexitarian diet might be a healthy one, but it is not suited for people who need specific directions. The book does not provide systematic instructions on how to include meat in a vegetarian diet or how to wean oneself gradually from meat. This is left entirely to the reader.
2. No guidance on the amount of meat to be consumed:
The diet does not provide any specific guidance on the amount of meat to be consumed. The only meats mentioned in the book are extra lean turkey, chicken breast, chicken sausage or sirloin. There is nothing mentioned about the inclusion of grilled steak, pork roast and hot dogs.
3. Difficult for the non-vegetarians:
People who eat high amounts of meat everyday might find it difficult to go “meat-lite”. Going vegetarian for the rest of the life might not appeal to non-vegetarians.
4. Slow weight loss process:
The Flexitarian diet is not one of the best diets to lose weight. The weight loss process is rather slow. You can lose only 1 to 2 pounds a week.
5. Nutritional deficiency:
Going vegetarian is not an easy task. It can lead to deficiencies in certain nutrients like Vitamin B12, protein and amino acids.
Tips on How to Become a Flexitarian:
Blatner has suggested some simple tips to incorporate more plant-based meals in the diet.
1. Do the 50/50 swap:
To follow the Flexitarian diet, decrease the meat in your meal by half. Swap it with plant-based protein foods like beans, paneer, tofu, kidney beans, lentils and garbanzo beans. You need to swap 1/4th cup of beans for every one ounce of meat. When eating meat, take small portions and eat slowly.
2. Try filling and satiating foods:
Add fruits, whole grains and vegetables to your diet to make the meal more nutritious and filling.
3. Meat-free recipes
Incorporate at least one new vegetarian recipe every week to get out of the meat eating habit.
4. Try vegetarian restaurant foods
Restaurants all across the world offer vegetarian dishes. Make sure to try a new vegetarian recipe to expand the palate and inspire your culinary creativity.
5. Choose organic foods
Purchase organic meat and sustainable fish and vegetables. Try to buy more fruits and vegetables and less meat.
There are no serious side effects associated with the Flexitarian diet. It would still be better to consult your doctor before making any dietary changes.