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What is The Flexitarian Diet?

If you’ve always wanted to be a vegetarian but feel uneasy about taking the plunge into a diet or lifestyle that disallows all animal products, the flexitarian diet might just be the perfect solution for you.

The flexitarian diet was created by the dietitian Dawn Jackson who wanted to make sure people like yourself could enjoy the benefits and advantages of a vegetarian lifestyle without entirely omitting animal products. While whole-foods remain the staple of the flexitarian diet, some animal products are allowed, but in moderation. It makes sense then that this flexible lifestyle choice is called the flexitarian diet.

Indeed, the flexitarian diet does not follow any strict rules. You don’t have to count your calories, and you don’t need to calculate your macronutrient intake which is why it’s not really a diet but a lifestyle. Flexitarianism is driven by the following subjective principles:

  • Eating mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
  • Getting most of your protein-intake from plants as opposed to animal sources.
  • Allowing for flexibility by eating meat or other animal products from time to time.
  • Avoid processed foods and opt for whole, natural foods as often as possible.
  • Limit the number of sweets and foods that contain added sugar.

Debunking Myths About the Vegetarian Diet

It is vital that you feel comfortable and informed before making the decision of changing your diet or lifestyle. If you’ve been talking about this transition with your friends or co-workers, it’s entirely possible that you’ve been asked specific questions repeatedly. It’s also likely that you’ve heard some less than favorable claims about the vegetarian diet.

For this reason, we thought it would be important to clarify some misleading ideas about the vegetarian lifestyle:

“Vegetarian diets do not provide enough protein.” This is not true. There are plenty of plant sources that can help vegetarians meet the required protein intake. For flexitarians, it’s possible to get protein from eggs and dairy products. It remains, however, that eating a wide variety of plant protein sources every day is enough to maintain proper protein levels.

“All vegetarians end up with iron-deficiency and anemia.” This is false! In fact, studies show that vegetarians living in North America tend to get the same amount of iron as meat eaters. However, it is worth noting that iron in meat is more easily absorbed. For vegetarians, iron is absorbed more efficiently when enhanced by vitamin C. Anemia or iron-deficiency is therefore not just an unlikely occurrence – it’s avoidable too.

“Vegetarians don’t get enough calcium.” This isn’t exactly accurate for vegetarians. Since vegetarians can still drink milk and consume other milk products, their calcium intake tends to be normal. Vegans, however, do sometimes get less calcium. Nutritionists and doctors, therefore, recommend eating more of the vegetables that are rich in calcium like bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, collards, and kale.

“All vegetarian foods are healthy.” Nope. The faux-meats at the supermarket, for instance, can be pretty unhealthy. Processed foods (including tofu at times) are problematic. They usually contain loads of sugar, salt, and chemical products to enhance flavor and texture.

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What are the benefits of a plant-based diet, or just eating more plant-based foods?

Several studies have been done to determine the long-term health effects of whole food plant-based diets such as the vegan diet. Among the many benefits of following a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diet are:

  • Reduced risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Reduced risk of developing all cancers compared to meat-eaters.
  • Lower risk of death from illness.
  • Better prevention and management of diabetes.
  • Improved treatment and regression of heart disease.
  • Lower blood pressure.

Vegetarianism: Getting to Know the Spectrum

Now that you’re more familiar with the facts surrounding the vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian diets, you can dive deeper into understanding the different lifestyles.

Remember to pick a lifestyle that works for you and that you can make the switch gradually to allow your body to get accommodated to your new diet. Starting slowly, having realistic expectations and changing your understanding of food is all very important to successfully switching diets.

Consider these different versions of the vegetarian lifestyle:

Vegetarians

Do not eat meat, poultry or fish. Can choose to eat animal by-products such as honey.

Vegans

Do not eat any meat or animal-based products including honey, eggs, and milk.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians

Do not eat meat, poultry or fish but do eat eggs and dairy products.

Pescatarian

Do not eat meat or poultry but do eat fish and shellfish.

Lacto vegetarians

Do not eat meat, poultry, eggs or fish but do drink milk and consume dairy products.

Ovo vegetarian

Do not eat meat, poultry, fish or dairy products, but do eat eggs.

Beegan

Does not eat meat, poultry, fish or other animal by-products like eggs or milk but does consume honey and bee products.

What are the potential risks of eating more plant-based foods or following a plant-based diet?

While most risks relating to the vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian diet are avoidable, it’s still important to be aware of the potential downsides. If you’re going into a vegetarian or vegan diet, be careful of the following:

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

An excellent way to avoid these deficiencies is by choosing vegetarian or vegan recipes suggested by a nutritionist. A nutritionist can help you create a repertoire of delicious plant-based meals using whole foods that meet all your nutritional needs.

Flexitarianism: A Real Solution?

You may be surprised to find that the flexitarian diet is not only good for your health, it’s also great for the environment!

Indeed, by not consuming as much meat, you are helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are helping to preserve natural resources by limiting land and water use.

If you’re looking for a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle, you’ll be amazed at how much energy and positive change you’ll feel once you embark on the journey of eating a whole-food plant-based diet. The beauty of flexitarianism is that you can enjoy the best of “both” world.  By enjoying a diet that is predominantly plant-based, you’ll be lowering your risk for chronic illness. By adding the occasional animal protein, you’ll be preventing possible nutrient deficiencies. You can always speak with a nutritionist to get proper guidance and to help make your transition successful. With just a few clicks, you can also find delicious vegan and whole-food recipes that are full of protein, are low in fat and low in carbs.  Being healthy has become surprisingly easy!


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