Wholesome Foods: by Laura Mancuso

by Laura Mancuso – I.V. Wellness Resources program director

Flexitarian Diet
The flexitarian diet is a marriage of two concepts: flexible and vegetarian. The term was coined more than a decade ago by registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner in her 2009 book, “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life.”
Flexitarian is a type of vegetarian diet, like lacto-vegetarian or pesco-vegetarian diets, that isn’t as strict as a classic vegetarian diet. With a flexitarian diet, also known as a semi-vegetarian diet, you don’t have to follow a completely meat-free lifestyle to reap the health benefits associated with vegetarianism. Instead, you can choose meatless meals most of the time, but still enjoy a burger or steak on special occasions.
By eating more plant foods and less meat, studies show that people who follow the diet may not only lose weight but can improve their overall health by lowering their rate of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And because it reduces meat consumption, it’s considered planet-friendly. Today, the message remains consistent.
How Does the Flexitarian Diet Work?
Focus on non-meat proteins, like beans, peas or eggs.
Include fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy and seasonings.
Gradually reduce meat portions and increase meat-free days per week during each stage. Tip: If you’re craving meat, you can replace traditional meat with plant-based meat alternatives, such as veggie burgers.
Follow at your own pace by either jumping in or easing in.
Becoming a flexitarian is more about adding food groups to your diet – not eliminating them entirely. For instance, using a variety of spices and seasonings can make meals more delectable and nutritious.
Family friendly. Family members can easily all eat the meals together with little or no modification. The food options are healthy and balanced enough for all ages.
Budget friendly. Foods for this diet are easy to find at a typical grocery and don’t require expensive or specialty food items.
-Planet friendly. The diet considers the environmental effects of food choices. It’s largely plant-based and/or the foods are mainly sustainably grown/produced.
-Vegan or vegetarian friendly. Recipes can be easily modified for a vegan or vegetarian diet.
-Gluten-free friendly. Recipes can be easily modified and still follow a gluten-free diet
-Halal friendly. Recipes can be easily modified and still follow the diet.
-Kosher friendly. Recipes can be easily modified and still follow the diet.
-Low-fat. The diet encourages a moderate consumption of healthy fats – like olive oil – and discourages unhealthy fats – such as saturated fats – with less than about 30% of total calories coming from fat.
Can I Lose Weight on the Flexitarian Diet?
Yes, you’ll likely shed pounds on the flexitarian diet, especially with regular physical activity. Semi-vegetarian diets tend to fall between fully vegetarian diets and non-vegetarian diets for weight loss, evidence suggests. If you emphasize flexitarian’s plant-based component, you’ll probably feel full on fewer calories than you’re accustomed to.
The short- or long-term weight loss happens as a positive effect of eating more plants rather than being on a restrictive diet. How quickly you lose and whether you keep weight off is up to you.
Is the Flexitarian Diet Easy to Follow?
The diet is highly flexible and adaptable, even while traveling or during holidays.
It’s convenient. Recipes abound, and meal prep shouldn’t be too time-consuming. Eating out is doable, and alcohol is allowed. The diet emphasizes flexibility – you don’t have to stick to any rules all day, every day.
Recipes are simple. “The Flexitarian Diet” book is packed with meal ideas. They’re designed to help you easily prepare healthy flexitarian foods that you’ll enjoy. Each recipe calls for an average of only five main ingredients.
Eating out is allowed and manageable. Check out restaurant menus beforehand to find healthy meals; most menus are now available through the restaurant’s website or elsewhere online. Be wary of foods described as fried, crispy, breaded, creamy, scalloped or sautéed. Instead, go for broiled, baked, grilled, roasted, poached and steamed.
Timesavers are built into the diet. Detailed meal plans and grocery lists are provided.
Extra information is available at your fingertips. Blatner’s website includes recipes (searchable by category), grocery lists, FAQs and other information about the diet. The book is packed with advice, including a section called FlexLife Troubleshooters.
Feeling full shouldn’t be a problem. Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. If you’ve built a healthful flexitarian diet around fiber-packed veggies, fruits, beans, lentils and whole grains, you shouldn’t feel hungry between meals.
Taste varies daily. Recipes range from “lunch nachos” to a grilled cheese and rosemary-tomato sandwich, Caribbean black bean couscous and veggie enchiladas. For dessert, try a peach-raspberry crepe or pineapple with candied ginger and pecans.

-Nutritionally sound.
-Diverse foods and flavors.
-Filling – it’s rich in high-fiber foods.
-No off-limit foods or food groups.
-Convenient – grab and go options.
-Has proven health benefits.
-Lacks in-depth nutritional guidance.

The Flexitarian Diet is ranked No. 1 in Best Plant-Based Diets and No. 5 in Best Diets Overall by the U.S. News and Health Report where 30 diets were evaluated with input from a panel of health experts. U.S. News & Health