Switching from traditional diets to vegetarianism isn't a simple affair. For many, it requires trial and error and a gradual transition.
A flexitarian diet has long been used as a bridge between meat-based diets and strict vegetarianism, as it eases the transition with its flexible routine. Today, we'll discuss everything about flexitarianism in detail, including its benefits and a transition plan.
What is a Semi-Vegetarian aka a Flexitarian?
Flexitarianism or semi-vegetarianism is a hybrid dietary lifestyle that is slightly different from other types of vegetarianism. Usually, vegetarians eat plant-based foods while avoiding meat. Some even avoid other animal products such as dairy, eggs, etc.
However, flexitarians take a different route than traditional vegetarians and consume meat and other animal-based products too. As its name suggests, it is a flexible diet and allows its adherents to avoid a dramatic switch to a fully vegetarian diet.
It is highly suitable for people who want to become vegetarians but find it difficult to make the transition. By allowing themselves meat and other animal products, flexitarians make the transition easier.
Some people don't consider flexitarians vegetarians because they do not eat a strict vegetarian diet. The flexible nature of this diet allows many people to dip their toes into vegetarianism and see how quickly and easily they can switch.
By adding or removing animal products, they can determine their effects on their body and measure their progress accordingly. So, unlike other vegetarian diets, flexitarians do not have any specific dietary rules to follow and mix up different foods as they prefer.
What do Flexitarians Eat?
Flexitarians can eat everything from plant-based foods to meat and dairy. While eating many plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits, they limit their meat consumption.
The amount of meat eaten by flexitarians depends upon how far they are in their journey and how well they can adjust to their new diet. Usually, those who have just started gradually reduce their consumption to make the transition easier.
People often adopt flexitarianism because they want to have a healthy lifestyle. So, they focus on eating a more nutritious diet that involves more plants and less meat. Similarly, they don't consume all kinds of meat, as they usually switch to pasture-raised and organic chicken. You can also add fish to your diet to fulfill the protein requirements.
A well-balanced flexitarian diet can provide you with lots of benefits. However, to make full use of it, you should be aware of its nutritional impact and how you should consume the most important nutrients to avoid deficiencies.
Before discussing where flexitarians can get their protein from, it's important to understand what protein is and its functions inside your body. The most important thing to understand is that our body cannot function without it properly. However, meeting the intake requirements can become tricky if you switch to a different diet.
It's made up of smaller units called amino acids that set up the foundation of muscles, brain, and metabolism. Thankfully, you can find protein from both animal-based and plant-based sources.
Plant-based proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids; hence they're incomplete. A plant may contain a large amount of one type of amino acid but lack the other. So, you've to eat different plant protein sources to ensure adequate protein intake instead of relying on incomplete proteins.
Different people have different protein requirements. People with a sedentary lifestyle should aim for around 0.8g of protein for every kg of bodyweight. On the other hand, someone with an active lifestyle, such as athletes, requires 1.5-2g protein per kg body weight.
It's better to divide your protein intake between different meals to ensure you stay energetic throughout the day instead of eating all the protein in one meal.
Flexitarians have more freedom regarding their protein consumption than strict vegetarians. Some of the best protein sources for flexitarians are:
Iron is a crucial nutrient, and the body requires it in adequate amounts for proper functioning. Hemoglobin carries oxygen throughout the body from the lungs, and its production requires sufficient amounts of iron. Similarly, myoglobin is needed for muscle maintenance, which also involves iron.
Iron has two main types called heme iron and nonheme iron. Haem iron comes from meat and non-heme iron's primary source is plants. Dietary iron is mostly made up of non-heme iron so that you can meet its requirements from plant-based foods.
If there is an iron deficiency, your body starts absorbing more of it. The absorption of iron is slightly different from other nutrients, as it happens slowly. However, you can aid it by eating more vitamin C. If you have enough vitamin C in your body, it absorbs non-heme iron more than usual.
Iron deficiency is a major nutritional concern for millions, especially those who follow a vegetarian diet. Nonetheless, you can still have enough iron if you eat a well-balanced diet. Moreover, flexitarians usually don't suffer from iron shortage as they can add meat to their diet when required.
There are a few things you can do to enhance iron absorption. The first is to have a small amount of vitamin C whenever you eat something rich in iron, such as broccoli, tomatoes, etc.
It's better not to have tea, coffee, or wine while you eat an iron-rich food as they have tannins that slow iron absorption. In addition to that, it is better to have cooked or boiled vegetables than to eat them raw. For instance, cooked spinach provides you with more iron.
While you limit your iron intake from meat, you can have plant-based iron from different sources such as:
Vitamin B12 is a micronutrient that you require alongside macronutrients to keep your body running healthily. It is also known as cobalamin, and every adult per day needs around 2.4mcg of it. However, the requirement goes up to 2.6-2.8 for breastfeeding and pregnant women.
Vitamin B12 performs multiple important functions inside your body, and the first one is DNA synthesis.
Our bodies cannot function without DNA, and vitamin B12 plays a central role in its generation. Usually, pregnant women are given vitamin B12 doses to have a healthy baby.
Similarly, the DNA structure is also maintained with the help of vitamin B12. Since healthy DNA can help you fight aging, vitamin B12 is often hailed for its anti-aging properties as it keeps the vitality of your DNA intact.
Vitamin B12 is also essential to the red blood cell production inside our bodies. Red blood cells are the transporters of oxygen throughout the body, and a problem in their output or functioning can lead to serious health issues.
If there is a vitamin B12 deficiency, the result is often anemia, in which the red blood cells are deformed and can no longer perform their functions properly. For instance, they usually become elongated, restricting them from traveling seamlessly in the bloodstream.
As a result, your organs cannot get the vital oxygen they need to function, and you feel fatigued. In extreme cases, a vitamin B12 shortage may prevent you from completing ordinary daily tasks.
Vitamin B12 also plays a critical role in the nervous system. Nerve cells are connected to the muscles through axons, which have electrical impulses.
Vitamin B12 is an important part of the myelin sheath that insulates one nerve cell from the other and prevents cross-connections. If there's a vitamin B12 deficiency, the whole messaging network of the body gets disturbed, resulting in different neurological disorders.
You don't need to worry about these problems if you get your vitamin B12 through a well-balanced diet. Unfortunately, plant-based foods don't have vitamin B12, so vegetarians must resort to using supplements. However, flexitarians can easily get around this problem by adding animal-based products to their diet, such as milk, eggs, etc.
Well-balanced nutrition is income without healthy fats, so having Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is a must whether you are a flexitarian or someone else. It is important to note that Omega-3 fatty acids have to come from your food as the body cannot make them. The cell wall structure is impossible without Omega-3 fatty acids.
Similarly, they also provide you with energy to keep all organs and the immune system running smoothly. They are also an integral part of the hormones involved in blood clotting, inflammation prevention, artery wall movement, etc.
Omega-3s have excellent anti-inflammatory properties, so their consumption can keep heart issues at bay. When you consume enough Omega-3 in your diet, your arteries work better, and blood vessels also deal well with any damage.
Similarly, Omega-3 can also lower blood lipid levels and help your body control its blood pressure. When blood pressure comes under control, the chances of heart issues such as stroke, cardiac arrest, etc., are reduced considerably.
Omega-3 can also be highly beneficial in dealing with arthritis by easing the inflammation around joints. As a result, there are fewer chances of having arthritis and osteoporosis, both of which are crippling diseases and have a devastating effect on your overall health.
Some studies have suggested that Omega-3 may also help prevent cancer, especially colon cancer.
A better Omega-3 consumption has also been linked to better and longer sleep. Omega-3 is closely associated with melatonin which is a sleep hormone. As you consume more Omega-3, the amount of melatonin inside the body also goes up, resulting in sound and peaceful sleep.
Omega-3 consumption improves metabolism, which is essential for weight loss. Similarly, Omega-3s can help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity by improving gut health.
With all of these benefits, it's a no-brainer to include Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Here are some excellent Omega-3 sources for flexitarians:
The reason for including fish is that flexitarians have the option to eat it, so it's better to eat it 2 times a week, but not more than that.
There has been an influx of diabetes-friendly diets on the market. However, you already have a ready-made, excellent alternative to those in the form of flexitarianism. Research has suggested that a flexitarian diet can help you reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes significantly.
Although the amount of money you spend on food is your own choice, flexitarianism isn't expensive. There are no special foods or ingredients that you cannot find, and everything is readily available. Meat is the most costly part of anyone's diet. So, by replacing it with alternatives, you will see an uptick in your savings.
Luckily, there are several meat alternatives available to have one according to your taste and budget. It's not a baseless assumption either, as vegetarians have been shown to save some $700+ a year after switching.
Assists Weight Loss
Having a healthy weight is everyone's goal, but achieving it isn’t easy. Unfortunately, the market is filled with fad diets that promise all sorts of crazy transformations at the expense of your health. However, flexitarians don't have to buy any of that as they already have what they need to maintain a healthy BMI.
It's beyond doubt that plant-based foods have fewer calories, meaning that you see an improvement in your weight once you start consuming them. However, the results depend upon how much meat you can substitute with plant-based alternatives.
Improves Heart Health
The research is clear about the benefits of flexitarianism for heart health. Although it is mostly about vegetarian diets and not flexitarianism, adding more plant-based foods can definitely help improve your heart health.
Multiple studies have repeatedly shown how adding plant-based foods can boost the performance of your heart by lowering your blood pressure. A study on flexitarianism has revealed that by adding 70% plant-based foods into your diet, you are 20% less likely to die from a heart ailment.
Focusing on nutrient-dense foods can be critical for someone switching to a flexitarian diet. Many do it because they want to lose weight.
However, if you don't consume nutrient-dense foods, you will have to eat more to get the required calories, which can either maintain your current weight or even add some pounds. Flexitarian diets consist of nutrient-packed foods that give you a better bang for your buck.
Benefits the Environment
Switching to a plant-based diet is undoubtedly healthier for the environment too. The meat industry and animal agriculture are major contributors to greenhouse gasses, which are destroying our planet. Switching to a flexitarian diet ensures you reduce your carbon footprint without compromising nutrition.
You can still eat meat occasionally, which is a much better route than not reducing meat consumption. Taking practical measures like that can help you sustain your diet for longer and help the environment in a meaningful way.
How to Transition to Being a Flexitarian?
Let’s face it. If you go all in and make the massive dietary change of becoming a flexitarian overnight, you will likely revert back to your old habits sooner than later. And that’s why you need to gradually transition into this dietary lifestyle.
There is no point in trying to have the perfect flexitarian diet in the first week. So, you should be kind to yourself and make the transition gradually. For instance, going completely meat-free all of a sudden isn't advisable. You can go for meatless mondays or perhaps, eat completely meat-free twice a week or so.
Similarly, trying too many dishes at once can also be daunting. Learn new dishes and adjust to new tastes gradually.
Restricting Meat Consumption
Regarding meat reduction, you can follow a thorough plan that helps you make the transition and doesn't overburden your body.
Limit your meat consumption to five days a week and 28 ounces during the first week.
You can add more fruit and vegetables to your plate during the second week and extend a fully plant-based diet to 3-4 days a week.
So, you will reduce your meat consumption to 3 days a week and 18 ounces. During the 3rd week, when your body is better adjusted to a plant-based diet, you can limit your meat consumption to just 2 days a week and 9 ounces while adding up on vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods.
Flexitarianism is an excellent entry into the world of vegetarianism, as it strikes the perfect balance between a dietary shift and gradual transition. It allows you to go at your own pace without overburdening your body.
In addition, it also offers distinct benefits such as better protein intake, Omega-3 intake, etc. So, if you're looking for an easy way into vegetarianism, it doesn't get any easier than flexitarianism.