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A Detailed Guide to a Flexible Diet for Beginners

Diet for Beginners

A flexitarian diet is a style of eating that encourages primarily plant-based foods while allowing moderate intake of meat and other animal products.

It's more versatile than an entirely vegetarian or vegan diet. 

Guide to a Flexible Diet for Beginners
Guide to a Flexible Diet for Beginners

 

If you're looking to add more plant-based foods to your diet but don't want to cut out meat entirely, a flexible diet might be for you.

This article provides an overview of the Flex Diet, its benefits, foods to eat, and a week's meal plan. 

What is a flexible diet?

The Versatile Diet was created by registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner to help people reap the benefits of a vegetarian diet while enjoying animal products in moderation.

That is why the name of this diet is a combination of the two words flexible and vegetarian.

Vegetarians eliminate meat and sometimes other animal foods, while vegans completely limit meat, fish, eggs, dairy and all food products of animal origin. 


Since flexitarians eat animal products, they are not considered vegetarians or vegans.

The flex diet doesn't have clear rules or recommended amounts of calories and macronutrients. In fact, it's more of a lifestyle than a diet.

It is based on the following principles:

  • Eat mainly fruits , vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
  • Focus on plant-based protein instead of animal-based.
  • Be flexible and incorporate meat and animal products from time to time.
  • Eat the least processed, most natural foods.
  • Limit added sugar and sweets.

Due to its flexible nature and focus on what to include rather than restrict, the Flexible Diet is a popular choice for those looking to eat healthier.

The creator of the Flexible Diet, Dawn Jackson Blatner shows how to start a flexible diet by incorporating a certain amount of meat each week in her book.

However, following her specific recommendations is not required to start eating flexibly. Some people on the diet may eat more animal products than others.

Overall, the goal is to eat more nutritious and less meat.

SUMMARY

The flex diet is a semi-vegetarian style of eating that encourages less meat and more plant-based foods. There are no specific rules or recommendations, making it an attractive option for those looking to cut back on animal products.

Possible health benefits

Flexible eating may offer a number of health benefits .

However, since there is no clear definition of this diet, it is difficult to assess whether the well-studied benefits of other plant-based diets apply to the Diet. flexible or not.

However, research on vegan and vegetarian diets remains useful in highlighting how semi-vegetarian diets can promote health.

It's important to eat most fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and other minimally processed whole foods to reap the health benefits of plant-based eating. .

Reducing meat consumption while continuing to eat refined foods with added sugar and salt will not lead to the same benefits .

Heart disease

A diet rich in fiber and fats health heart

A study that followed 45,000 adults for 11 years found that vegetarians had a 32 percent lower risk of heart disease than non-vegetarians

This may be because vegetarian diets are often rich in fiber and antioxidants that can lower blood pressure and raise cholesterol .

A review of 32 studies on the effects of a vegetarian diet on blood pressure found that vegetarians had an average systolic blood pressure nearly seven points lower than meat eaters

Because these studies looked at strict vegetarian diets, it was difficult to assess whether the Flexibility Diet had a similar impact on blood pressure and heart disease risk.

However, the flexitarian diet is primarily plant-based and will most likely have the same benefits as a completely vegetarian diet.

Losing weight

Flexible eating can also be good for your waistline.

This is partly because dieters limit processed, high- calorie foods and naturally eat more low-calorie plant foods.

Several studies have shown that people who follow plant-based diets may lose more weight than those who don't .

A review of studies in a total of more than 1,100 people found that those who were vegetarian for 18 weeks lost 4.5 pounds (2 kg) more than those who didn't .

This and other studies have also shown that people who follow a vegan diet tend to lose the most weight, compared with vegetarians and omnivores

Since the Flexibility Diet is closer to a vegetarian diet than a vegan diet, it can help with weight loss but maybe not as much as a vegan diet.

Diabetes

diabetes is a global health pandemic. Eating a healthy diet, especially one that's mostly plant-based, can help prevent and control this disease.

This is most likely because a plant-based diet helps with weight loss and is packed with foods high in fiber, low in unhealthy fats, and added sugars

One study of 60,000 participants found a 1.5% lower incidence of type 2 diabetes among vegetarians or vegans compared with non-vegetarians ( 8Trusted Source ).

Additional research found that vegetarians with type 2 diabetes had 0.39% lower hemoglobin A1c (three-month mean blood sugar) than people with the disease who ate animal products.

Cancer

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes all have nutrients and antioxidants that may help prevent cancer .

Research shows that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower overall incidence of cancer , but especially colorectal cancer

A seven-year study of colorectal cancer cases in 78,000 people found that semi-vegetarians had an 8% lower risk of developing this type of cancer than non-vegetarians ( 11Trusted Source ).

Therefore, incorporating more vegetarian foods with a flexible diet may reduce your cancer risk.

SUMMARY

A flexible diet may help with weight loss and lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. However, most studies have analyzed vegetarian and vegan diets, so it's recommended. It is difficult to assess whether flexible eating offers the same benefits.

Can be good for the environment

Flexible diets can be beneficial for your health and the environment.

Reducing meat consumption can help conserve natural resources by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as land and water use. 


A review of plant-based diet sustainability research finds that switching from a normal Western diet to a flex diet in which meat is partially replaced with real foods plant foods, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7%

Eating more plant foods will also drive the need for more land to be devoted to growing vegetables for humans instead of fodder for livestock.

Growing plants requires much less resources than raising animals to eat. In fact, growing plant protein uses 11 times less energy than producing animal protein

SUMMARY

Flexible diets and swapping meat for plant-based protein are good for the planet. Plant-based diets use less fossil fuels, land, and water.

Cons of eating less meat and animal products

When flexitarian diets and other plant-based diets are well planned, they can be very healthy.

However, some people may be at risk of nutrient deficiencies when they cut back on meat and other animal products depending on how adequacy their other food choices are.

Possible nutrient deficiencies in the Flexible Diet include

  • Vitamin B12
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

A review of research on vitamin B12 deficiency found that all vegans are at risk for deficiency, with 62% of pregnant vegans and up to 90% of elderly vegans being deficient

Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products. Depending on the amount and amount of animal products that flexible eaters choose to include, a B12 supplement may be recommended.

Vegetarians may also have lower stores of zinc and iron, as these minerals are best absorbed from animal foods. While it's possible to get enough of these nutrients from plant foods alone, flexible dieters need to plan their meals accordingly to achieve this

Most nuts and seeds, whole grains, and legumes contain iron and zinc. Supplementing with a source of vitamin C is a good way to increase iron absorption from plant-based foods 

Some flexible dieters may limit dairy and need to eat plant-based sources of calcium to get adequate amounts of this nutrient. Plant foods rich in calcium include broccoli, kale, bok choy, and sesame seeds.

Finally, flexible eaters should be cautious about getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, which are often found in fatty fish. Plant-based sources of the omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), include walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds

Remember that a flexible diet gives you the flexibility to consume different amounts of meat and animal products. If the diet is well planned and includes a variety of whole foods, nutritional deficiencies may not be a concern.

SUMMARY

The limited consumption of meat and other animal products can lead to a number of nutritional deficiencies, particularly in B12, iron, zinc and calcium. Flexible dieters may be at risk depending on their food choices.

Foods to eat on a flexible diet

Flexitarians emphasize plant-based proteins and other minimally processed, whole plant foods while limiting animal products.

Foods to eat regularly include:

  • Protein: Soybeans, tofu, tempeh, legumes, lentils.
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Green vegetables, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, cauliflower.
  • Starchy vegetables: squash, peas, corn, sweet potatoes.
  • Fruits: Apples, oranges, berries, grapes, cherries.
  • Whole grains: Quinoa, teff, buckwheat, farro.
  • Nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats: Almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, peanut butter, avocado, olives, coconut.
  • Plant-based milk alternatives: Unsweetened almond, coconut, hemp, and soy milk.
  • Herbs , spices and seasonings: Basil , , oregano, mint thyme, cumin , turmeric , ginger.
  • Condiments: Low soy sauce sodium , apple cider vinegar, salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast, ketchup without added sugar.
  • Beverages: Filtered and carbonated water, tea, coffee .

When incorporating animal products, choose the following when possible:

  • Eggs: Raised in the wild or pasture.
  • Poultry: Organic, free-range or pasture.
  • Fish: Wild caught.
  • Meat: Grass-fed or pasture-raised.
  • Dairy: Organic from grass-fed or raised animals.

SUMMARY

The flexible diet includes a variety of completely plant-based foods with an emphasis on plants rather than animal proteins. When including animal products, consider choosing free-range eggs, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed meat and dairy.

Foods to minimize in a flexible diet

The flex diet not only encourages limiting meat and animal products, but also limits highly processed foods, refined grains, and added sugars.

Foods to minimize include:

  • Processed meats: Bacon , sausage, bacon.
  • Refined carbs: White bread, white rice, bagels, croissants.
  • Add sugar and sweets: Soda, donuts, cakes, cookies, candies.
  • Fast food: French fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, milkshakes.

SUMMARY

Dieting doesn't just mean reducing meat consumption. Limiting processed meats, refined carbs, and added sugars are other important aspects of the Flex Diet.

A sample flexible eating plan for a week

This one-week meal plan gives you the ideas you need to get started on a flexible diet. 


Second

  • Breakfast: Diced oats with apples, ground flaxseed, and cinnamon.
  • Lunch: Salad with greens, shrimp, corn, black beans and avocado.
  • Dinner: Lentil soup with wholemeal bread and a side salad.

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Whole grain toast with avocado and hard-boiled egg.
  • Lunch: Burrito bowl with brown rice, beans, and vegetables.
  • Dinner: Zucchini noodles with tomato sauce and white beans.

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Coconut yogurt with bananas and walnuts.
  • Lunch: Whole grain pack with hummus, veggies, and chickpeas.
  • Dinner: Grilled Salmon, Baked Sweet Potatoes, and Green Beans.

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Smoothie made with unsweetened almond milk, spinach, peanut butter, and frozen berries.
  • Lunch: Caesar kale salad with lentils and tomato soup.
  • Dinner: Grilled chicken, quinoa, and roasted cauliflower.

Friday

  • Breakfast: Greek yogurt with blueberries and pumpkin .
  • Lunch: Chard rolls with mixed vegetables and peanut dipping sauce.
  • Dinner: Lentil stew and side salad.

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Easy eggs with sautéed vegetables and fruit salad.
  • Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich with berries on wholemeal bread.
  • Dinner: Black bean burger with avocado and sweet potato fries.

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Tofu mixed with mixed vegetables and spices.
  • Lunch: Quinoa salad with dried cranberries, pecans, and feta cheese.
  • Dinner: Stuffed bell peppers with ground turkey and a side salad.

Eating a flexible diet is about limiting the consumption of meat and animal products while focusing on nutritious plant-based foods. Some people may choose to eat more or less animal products than with the meal plan above.

SUMMARY

This one-week meal plan provides meal ideas to help you get started with flexible eating. Depending on your preferences, you can choose to remove or add more animal products.

Epilogue

The semi-vegetarian flex diet focuses on healthy plant-based proteins and other minimally processed, whole foods from plants but encourages meat and animal products in moderation.

Flexible dieting can help with weight loss and lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. It might even be good for the planet.

However, planning your flexible food options well is important to prevent nutritional deficiencies and reap the most health benefits.

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