Torn between trying to either be a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian? Do you often crave for a hamburger or chicken tikka, but also want to reduce meat consumption? Let us introduce you to the flexitarian diet, which is being touted as the ultimate food compromose. With this flexible approach to eating, you can have your kale and eat your steak too! It’s time to put the fun back into healthy eating with the flexitarian diet. So, let’s explore the ins and outs of this diet trend and discover how it can benefit your taste buds, your health as well as the environment!
What is a flexitarian diet?
A flexitarian diet is a flexible approach to eating what is primarily plant-based, but also includes occasional consumption of animal products. The flexitarian diet is a relatively new term that combines the words “flexible” and “vegetarian”. Flexitarians eat animal products too and so they are not considered vegetarians or vegans, but they focus more on plant-based food, so they are not entirely non-vegetarians too.
“This diet has no clear-cut rules or recommended numbers of calories or macronutrients. Hence, it is 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. It allows for 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, power up 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, a Nutrition Consultant for MyThali program at Arogya World, explains that it is based on these principles:
1. Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, nuts and seeds, herbs and condiments.
2. Have meat and animal products occasionally, preferably lean meat and fish.
3. Focus on plant-based proteins like soya, legumes, quinoa, instead of animal based.
4. Eat more natural forms of foods and reduce processed ones.
5. Limit the use of refined sugar and sweets.
Also read: Kiss refined sugar a sweet goodbye 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. Further, it also prioritises natural produce and helps cut down the consumption of packaged foods which are high in salt, sugar and fats. “Fruits and veggies and nuts are rich in vitamins and antioxidants which help in lowering inflammation and reduce free radical damage,” says Dr Pasi.
2. Lowers the risk of chronic diseases
The Flexitarian diet is rich in nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants, which can help to lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Studies have shown that a plant-based diet can lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and improve insulin sensitivity. Research clearly indicates that vegetarians and fish eaters have lower rates of heart diseases than meat eaters. Dr Pasi believes that this is most likely because plant-based foods are rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
3. Weight management
Fruits, vegetables are low in calories but high in fiber, which help you feel full and satisfied. Several studies have shown that people who follow a plant-based diet may lose more weight than the meat eaters. This is partially also because flexitarians often limit high calorie and highly processed foods. Additionally, plant-based foods are typically more filling than animal products, which can help to reduce overall calorie intake.
4. Reduced environmental impact
Eating a plant-based diet can have a lower environmental impact than a meat-heavy diet. “Plant-based foods require fewer resources to produce, such as water and land, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than animal-based foods,” says Dr Pasi. More consumption of plant foods will increase the demand to grow more fruits and vegetables for humans instead of feed for livestock. Farming of fruits and veggies requires far fewer resources than raising animals to eat.