Flexitarianism is a relaxed vegetarian diet, to the point that flexitarians are sometimes referred to as “semi-vegetarians.” The term “flexitarian” is the combination of two words: flexible and vegetarian. It promotes a healthy style, but more flexible than being 100% vegetarian. Concretely, a flexitarian person consumes meat or fish only from time to time.
Flexitarianism differs from vegetarianism in that the flexitarian may occasionally eat meat or fish. They tend to eat animal products 2 to 4 times maximum per week and increase or decrease according to their desires or goals. It is also distinguished from the omnivore because the latter eats everything without a frequency limit. Since flexitarian diets do not completely eliminate meat and still maintain an intake of dairy products, they are preferred by people who want a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle but find veganism too restrictive.
What does a flexitarian diet look like?
Becoming flexitarian involves switching to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds but low in sugars and meat. You will continue to include dairy products in your diet because they are an important source of several major nutrients like protein and calcium. But that’s not the only advantage. For a diet to be sustainable, we must love what we eat: a flexitarian diet means you don’t have to give up the pleasure of eating some of the foods you currently enjoy.
What are the nutritional benefits of the diet?
From a nutritional point of view, the flexitarian diet has certain advantages over vegan and vegetarian diets. Since humans are omnivorous, people following a vegan or vegetarian diet must compensate for the nutrients provided by animal products. If they don’t, they risk developing nutritional deficiencies and health problems.
This particularly concerns individuals with specific nutritional needs: adolescents, pregnant women, the elderly, or people suffering from certain chronic diseases. For these, they need specific supplements to compensate for very reduced intakes of certain nutrients. Vegan diets, in particular, can lead to deficiencies in vitamins B2 and B12, which are provided naturally only by animal products, iron, and zinc, which are mainly present in meat, or calcium and iodine, which comes largely from dairy products.
In a flexitarian diet however, the richness in foods of plant origin, balanced with a high intake of dairy products and a low amount of meat, generally achieves a complete healthy mix of high-quality protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fatty acids.
What does a flexitarian diet mean for your health?
The healthy and balanced mix of nutrients that make up the flexitarian diet is good news for our health. Studies suggest benefits in weight and blood pressure control and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared to the non-vegetarian diet. Flexitarians recognize that while meat provides valuable protein and nutrients, eating too much red meat, and especially processed meat, can, in the long run, increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, among others.
A global study modeling diets showed that adopting a flexitarian diet is associated with a significant decrease in premature mortality, 19% reduction with the flexitarian diet, and 22% with the vegan diet. The reduction in premature death is explained by the decrease in heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. In summary, a flexitarian diet is recommended for a healthy diet based on products of plant origin.
Featured image: Brooke Lark | Unsplash
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