Flexitarian diet: a lifestyle that is based on a flexible vegetarian diet

What principles is it based on what and how much is one allowed to eat?

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By Alex

Flexitarian diet

The flexitarian diet is a varied eating style that favors a greater consumption of plant-based foods. Less rigorous than a vegetarian diet in the strict sense (or a vegan diet), it allows, from time to time, the consumption of foods of animal origin. There are no hard and fast rules to follow or precise doses and calories to respect. This type of diet provides, more than anything else, general indications of eating behavior which everyone can then adapt and personalize according to their own personal needs.

What is the flexitarian diet?

We could define the flexitarian diet as a flexible vegetarian diet. In fact, about 80% of it is based on the consumption of foods of plant origin and, occasionally, it also allows the possibility of consuming a portion of meat, fish, eggs, milk and their derivatives, as long as they are of high quality and locally sourced.

It is therefore a rather balanced dietary regime, which does not demonize the consumption of animals and their derivatives but rather their abuse.

The concept underlying this diet is therefore not purely ethical, but health-related.

What does flexitarian mean?

The word “flexitarian” is a neologism that comes from the union of the terms “Flexible” and “Vegetarian”. “Flexitarian” therefore refers to a flexible diet that is inspired by the vegetarian one. In fact, it favors the consumption of plant foods but does not completely exclude meat or fish which are instead consumed in a moderate manner.

Origin

This diet was created by Dawn Jackson Blatner, an American nutritionist who, in 2008, published the book “The Flexitarian Diet”, in which she explains the method of this diet, point by point.

The philosophy on which this diet is based is the idea that nutrition, above all else, must be oriented towards health.

Rise and success

Since the release of Blatner’s book, her diet has begun to spread and has met with great success. She is also popular among celebrities. Paul Mc Cartney, Gwyneth Paltrow and Meghan Markle, just to name a few examples, said they had revolutionized their lifestyle after adopting the flexitarian diet.

The success of this diet must fundamentally be sought in the flexibility that reverberates in various contexts of our lives. After all, the society in which we live imposes increasingly tighter rhythms on us. Not to mention the fact that there are more and more people who, due to work schedules, school and commitments of various kinds, are forced to eat at least one meal outside the home.

The food suggestions of the flexitarian diet are compatible with the needs of modern lifestyle. Without forgetting the psychological aspect. In fact, it is not an excessively restrictive or too limiting and “punitive” dietary regime, which requires drastic and definitive sacrifices.

Healthy and balanced, the flexitarian diet is an eating style that can always be continued, and which can be customized to accommodate the most varied needs.

The basic principles of the flexitarian diet

The flexitarian diet is based on a few simple principles. Here are what they are:

  • Consume mainly plant products, and therefore fruit, vegetables, legumes and cereals
  • Prefer protein sources of plant origin over those of animal origin
  • Take, from time to time, foods of animal origin and consequently be “flexible” and not rigid in eating
  • Limit your intake of sweets and added sugars
  • Choose foods that are as natural as possible
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Subdivision of macro nutrients

To give a practical example, the “typical week” must be composed as follows:

  • 40% vegetables
  • 20% whole grains
  • 15% legumes
  • 20% foods of animal origin (fish, meat, eggs)
  • 5% oilseeds

What flexitarians eat

The main difference between flexitarians and vegetarians is that flexitarians eat everything, preferring, however, foods of plant origin, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and cereals. They only occasionally consume meat, fish, sausages, milk, eggs and cheese.

The flexitarian diet is therefore based mainly on healthy plant proteins and minimally processed plant foods.

To give a practical example, let’s see a list of the most common foods that are part of a flexitarian’s weekly menu.

  • Proteins: soy, tofu, legumes, tempeh
  • Cereals: buckwheat, spelt, quinoa
  • Fresh fruit: oranges, peaches, apples, strawberries, grapes, pears, berries…
  • Non-starchy vegetables: carrots, peppers, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower…
  • Starchy vegetables: corn, squash, potatoes, sweet potato
  • Nuts: walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios
  • Oilseeds: flax seeds, chia seeds
  • Spices and aromatic herbs: basil, thyme, ginger, mint, oregano, turmeric, cumin
  • Foods high in good fats: avocado, peanut butter, coconut, olives
  • Vegetable milks: coconut milk, hazelnut milk, almond milk, soy milk
  • Condiments: apple cider vinegar, reduced sodium soy sauce, mustard, no added sugar ketchup, nutritional yeast
  • Drinks: water (still and carbonated), tea and coffee

What are the benefits of the flexitarian diet?

According to the results of several scientific researches, the flexitarian diet can bring various health benefits:

  • improving the health of the cardiovascular system
  • keeping bad cholesterol and triglyceride values under control
  • keeping adequate blood sugar levels
  • helping prevent and manage type 2 diabetes
  • keeping the pressure at bay
  • helping keep weight under control

Although not scientifically proven, it also seems to influence a lower incidence of various tumors, especially colorectal cancer.

flexitarian diet
The flexitarian diet that has the advantage of flexibility: although it favors plant-based products, it does not completely eliminate the consumption of meat, limiting it to once or twice a week.

Benefits to the environment

In addition to your health, the flexitarian diet also benefits the environment.

A reduced consumption of meat, in fact, helps to preserve natural resources as it implies a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and also the use of land and water.

Growing plants requires far fewer resources than raising animals.

Greenhouse gas emissions resulting from vegan and ovo-lacto-vegetarian diets are 50% and 35% lower than omnivorous diets, with corresponding reductions in the use/exploitation of natural resources.

What are the advantages of the flexitarian diet?

In addition to all the health benefits explained above, the flexitarian diet also offers numerous other advantages, such as:

  • if well calibrated, it is a balanced diet that provides all the nutrients useful for the body
  • associated with an active and dynamic lifestyle, it helps prevent various diseases such as metabolic and cardiovascular diseases
  • by eliminating some gluten-containing foods, it is also suitable for those who suffer from celiac disease and must follow a gluten-free diet
  • it has no major contraindications
  • anyone can follow it, adults and children, after consulting their pediatrician
  • it’s easy to follow
  • involves the use of easy-to-find foods
  • does not impose major limits on those who have to eat meals outside the home

Flexitarian diet for weight loss

By following the flexitarian diet and consuming a maximum of 1500 kcal per day, it is possible to lose up to 15 kg in 6-12 months. In this specific case, calories should be distributed as follows over the day:

  • 300 calories for breakfast
  • 150 calories for mid-morning snack
  • 400 calories for lunch
  • 150 calories for mid-afternoon snack
  • 500 calories for dinner

Based on the needs of the individual, it is obviously possible to reduce or increase the calories, for example by decreasing them to 1200 or increasing them up to 1800.

In these cases, it is essential to consult a nutritionist who will know how to give the most correct and appropriate indications for any individual case.

Flexitarian diet: menu example

Let’s see some practical examples of how to compose the various meals of the day if you decide to follow a flexitarian regime.

Breakfast

  • green tea, low-fat yogurt with cereals and fresh fruit
  • vegetable milk, seasonal fruit, barley flakes and oilseeds
  • vegetable yogurt with 1 tablespoon of oat flakes, dried raisins and a fresh fruit
  • coffee, vegan pancakes and red fruits

Lunch

  • pasta with broccoli sauce, steamed courgettes seasoned with EVO oil and fresh fruit
  • risotto with radicchio, mixed salad + walnuts, a fresh fruit
  • spelled with sautéed vegetables, mixed salad and fruit
  • Saffron risotto, cooked mixed vegetables (fried or steamed) and wholemeal bread

Dinner

  • legume soup, baked vegetables and a fruit
  • grilled chicken breast, mixed salad and fruit
  • rice with courgettes and peas, fresh fruit
  • omelette or boiled eggs with baked vegetables and bread
  • Baked swordfish and mix of cooked and raw vegetables, bread

Snacks

  • low-fat yogurt and dried fruit
  • green tea and a fruit
  • detox herbal tea and a fruit
  • freshly squeezed orange juice and dried fruit
  • fruit salad
  • coffee and dried fruit

Contraindications

Being a very varied diet that does not totally exclude any food category, the flexitarian diet does not present any particular contraindications.

However, since foods of animal origin are greatly reduced, it is important to regularly monitor some blood values, such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc and calcium.

Except for particular pathologies and intolerances, it is a diet that anyone can follow, even children. In this second case, it is always better to consult your pediatrician.

In case of chronic pathologies and/or particular pharmacological treatments, always seek the advice of your doctor or a specialist.

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