The Flexitarian Diet: Benefits, How to Get Started & MoreBy Elizabeth Vennefron, RDN, LD
If you’ve been thinking about decreasing your meat consumption or are looking for ways to improve your overall health, flexitarianism might be the right choice for you. Let’s learn more about this diet, its health benefits and find out how to get started!
What is a Flexitarian Diet?
A flexitarian diet encourages eating more plant-based foods and less meat and other animal-based products. You can think of a flexitarian as a laid-back vegetarian, meaning even though they enjoy a plant-forward diet, they’ll still get their hands messy when Uncle Eddie brings his world-famous ribs by.
One of the best things about going flexitarian is that instead of counting calories or micromanaging macronutrients, your focus is shifted to the type and amount of food you’re eating. The flexitarian diet prioritizes protein from plants, and involves lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. It also encourages consuming minimally processed foods and foods free from added sugars. All of these principles align with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
What are the Health Benefits to Eating Flexitarian?
A flexitarian diet offers a bounty of benefits. Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains provides key nutrients, such as: • Vitamins and minerals, which are essential nutrients that your body needs in order to develop and function at its highest level.
- Fiber, which can help manage blood sugar, lower cholesterol and aid in digestion.
- Antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E and A, which are beneficial in preventing or delaying cell damage from oxidative stress.
Incorporating foods that contain these key nutrients can help prevent or manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Plus, since the focus is shifted to foods that are naturally lower in calories and saturated fat, following a flexitarian diet plan may also support healthy weight management.
How Do You Eat Less Animal-Based Protein?
A simple way to reduce your consumption of animal-based protein is to reduce your portion sizes. Most Americans regularly consume between 2 and 3 times the amount of protein needed in a typical sitting. A big focus of the flexitarian diet includes limiting the meat component to between 4 and 6 ounces per serving (4 ounces is about the size of your palm), as well as incorporating more meatless meals into your rotation. We always encourage you to make changes at a pace you’re comfortable with—this may mean cutting your portion sizes down in small steps, such as lowering your 8-ounce portion of meat at dinner into 6 ounces, before then moving down to 4 ounces or going meatless for the day.
What Do You Eat on a Flexitarian Diet?
Although you can work your way into this lifestyle at whatever pace feels right to you, you might still have questions such as, ‘how do I get started?’ and ‘how often do flexitarians eat meat?’. Dawn Jackson Blantner, RDN, the originator of this eating pattern, outlined three easy-to-follow tiers for entering the flexitarian lifestyle:
- Beginner: aim for 2 meatless days and 6-8 meatless meals per week, consuming no more than 26 ounces of meat per week.
- Advanced: aim for 3 meatless days and 9-14 meatless meals per week, consuming no more than 18 ounces of meat per week.
- Expert: aim for 5 meatless days and 15 or more meatless meals per week, consuming no more than 9 ounces of meat per week.
As dietitians, we believe that all foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle, and this well-balanced diet is one worth trying. To find more plant-forward eating inspiration, explore our 5-days of plant-based meals and shop our wide selection of plant-based products.
For nutritional advice or questions, schedule a Telenutrition appointment and connect one-on-one with one of our expert Registered Dietitians. From designing flexitarian meal plans to figuring out how to select the right products, our team is ready and available to assist you with all of your nutrition questions and concerns. Let’s create a healthy lifestyle, together.
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Disclaimer: This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. For questions or concerns, please contact a healthcare provider.