Flexitarians eat a mostly plant-based diet with animal products added occasionally. The word “flexitarian” is simply the combination of the two words flexible and vegetarian, whereas a diet is simply a way of life. The theory behind the Flexitarian Diet is that it is a more flexible approach to healthy eating. Accordingly, you can still reap the benefits of loading up on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, without entirely having to kick animal products such as steak and burgers to the curb.

The basic principles in this diet are centered around eating more plants, in addition to the inclusion of some animal proteins. However, before you carnivores celebrate prematurely, the main approach of the diet strictly advocates actively decreasing meat consumption.

As the name implies, the diet is meant to be flexible. Some dietitians have taken a stance of advocating strict guidelines regarding how much meat one can or should eat. Some go so far as to break meat consumption into how many ounces of meat one should be eating. In my view, this is both rigid and cumbersome. I advocate starting out small by adding in meat-free meals, then you can expand and try to do a full day like a “meatless Monday”, if you are comfortable with this. The second step is that you could then try it two days a week.

As one might imagine, the words “flexitarian diet” brings various things to mind, which vary from person to person. However, for me, it is about having most of my meals or foods coming from plants. I try to find other ways to get protein into my diet, without relying on animal products. I look for plant proteins, like nuts and seeds and legumes, for example.

There are health benefits to a flexitarian diet, not to mention the financial savings with meat prices being so high. What are the possible benefits of the plant based flexitarian diet? Studies show that it lowers the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, decreases the risk of heart disease, helps with weight loss and could contribute to a longer, healthier life.

There are thousands of different diets or eating regimens out there. Yet, we keep trying to find “the one”. That is to say, the one that will help us lose weight or help eliminate specific health problems. Most are not sustainable and many are not science based. The Flexitarian Diet can be, in my opinion, both sustainable and realistic to follow. If you really stop to think about it, you can understand that a plant-based diet of eating fruits, veggies, and whole grains, inevitably will keep you feeling fuller longer on fewer calories. This, in turn, produces the effect we all are looking for, which is the shedding of extra pounds and better health outcomes. As many of our health complications or diseases are linked to overweight and obesity.

So how do I get started?

If your diet is heavy in animal proteins, you can ease your way into the Flexitarian Diet. First, start by re-portioning your plate. Half your plate should consist of veggies or fruits or just veggies. One fourth of your plate from a whole-grain and lastly, one fourth of your plate from a protein. One day a week, choose a plant protein and add it in for any meals you wish. Then, start adding other plant proteins in here and there until you feel comfortable doing a full day of meatless meals, and then simply expand from there.  Meatless meals are becoming more and more popular, which means it is easier to find delicious options. There are websites that specialize in simple meatless meals, and this is a good place to start. You can also find restaurants that offer vegetarian options to try. One thing beginners need to be careful about, is the idea that they need to replace the meat on their plate with another food that resembles a piece of meat. This is not what we are talking about when we say to eat more plants. These plant-based meat alternatives or meat substitute products are highly processed and can be high in sodium. Although they can be appropriate on occasion, it is my opinion that you should consider choosing more plants in their natural form and prepare them to eat.  However, as previously discussed, the diet is flexible for a reason. You are in control, and you get to make the choices. Remember, the thrust of the flexitarian diet revolves around plant-based foods being eaten most of the time and decreasing meat consumption, leaving leeway for an occasional meat choice. As always, if you have health concerns and have any specific dietary needs or restrictions, be sure to consult a dietitian for your specific situation. Happy eating!