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Dec 12, 2018 OHIOHEALTH
Diets Deconstructed: Flexitarian Diet

Paleo, Keto, Low Carb. The types of diets are endless, and new ones seem to pop up every day. So, what are the differences and which ones are worth my time? We go to the experts in our series Diets Deconstructed.

Below, OhioHealth dietitian Michelle Mills, RDN LD, gives the low-down on the Flexitarian diet so you can decide if it’s right for you.

Diet Theory

The Flexitarian diet, based on the book The Flexitarian Diet, by Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN, promotes adding more plant-based foods to your diet, while also continuing to eat from the other four food groups. Her theory is that you can lose weight and achieve optimum health by eating more plant-based foods and less meat.

The book offers more than 100 recipe ideas — most with five ingredients or fewer — that can be prepared within half an hour. It also gives you a five-week schedule with daily meal plans that can be mixed and matched.

Expected Outcomes

Blatner claims that flexitarians weigh, on average, 15 percent less than people who eat more meat. She also says flexitarians have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and that they live 3.6 years longer than their meat-loving peers.

Encouraged Foods

You continue to eat from all food groups, but minimize your meat intake. You should aim for 300 calories at breakfast, 400 calories at lunch and 500 calories at dinner, plus two 150-calorie snacks. This gives a total of 1,500 calories a day, which is typically the recommended amount for women trying to lose weight. Women who are trying to maintain their weight and men who are trying to lose weight, may need to add more calories (usually a total of 1,800 to 2,000 is recommended). Check out this calorie calculator.

You can eat:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Meat substitutes (like tofu)
  • Eggs
  • Beans, legumes
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy
  • Spices, oils and healthy fats (like as extra-virgin olive oil)
  • Meat (in smaller amounts)

Discouraged Foods

No food is off-limits. You can even continue to drink alcohol. However, remember that your goal is to fill up on healthy plant-based options and reduce the less healthy options, including meat.

Dietitian’s Take

Who It’s For

With all the flexibility, this diet is for anyone. Obviously, if you have allergies or special dietary needs, you need to make the necessary adjustments.

Ease of Use

It may take some practice at first figuring out the calories for each meal and snack, but there are lots of apps that streamline that for you. As far as finding something to eat, it doesn’t get a whole lot easier than this. Fill up on vegetables, fruits and plant-based proteins, work in the other food groups, and go light on the meat. It should be easy to find tasty things to eat at home, in restaurants and at parties.

Sustainability

The diet is all about flexibility. It lets you get all the nutrients your body needs. You can fill up on fiber-rich foods that leave you feeling satisfied. There’s plenty of room for variety and you can even have a burger once in a while. It should be pretty easy to keep this as a life-long eating plan as long as you remember to tweak the total number of calories a day when needed.

Supplementation

Since no food groups are eliminated, and there is a focus on vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and other nutritious foods, no supplements are required.

Exercise

Exercise is encouraged with the Flexitarian diet. The ultimate goal is 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, or 20 minutes of intense exercise three days a week. But, sticking with the flexibility theme of this diet, something’s better than nothing. So, just get moving!

Bottom Line

The Flexitarian diet is a lifestyle option for people who want to eat less animal-based protein, but not give it up entirely. Unlike a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, this plan doesn’t fully eliminate any foods or food groups that could result in a loss of nutrients. Another positive thing about this diet is that it encourages you to try new plant-based recipes. Increasing your veggie intake is always a healthy thing!

This diet enables you to make it your own. Maybe start with “meatless Monday,” and work in additional plant-based meals and snacks as you go. Just keep in mind that you still need to incorporate adequate protein in your diet — typically 60 to 80 grams for women and 70 to 90 grams for men each day. And remember, plant-based proteins, like beans, are also a healthy source of carbs.

Curious about other nutrition plans? Check out our Diets Deconstructed series.

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