Finding the Perfect Flexitarian Diet Plan
Have you been wondering how to eat less meat without making mealtimes miserable? But maybe a vegetarian diet feels a bit too difficult? A flexitarian meal plan might be for you! Here’s how to put a flexitarian diet plan into action.
So Exactly What is a Flexitarian Diet?
If you guessed that it’s a flexible vegetarian diet you're right. How flexible? Most of the food you eat should be plant-based, with a minimum amount of meat and other animal products. The phrase "flexitarian" was coined by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, who advocates vegetarian diets for their health benefits but also realizes that lots of people still want to eat some meat and animal products such as dairy. Plus, meat and fish in proper proportions can be quite healthy for you.
Getting Started with a Flexitarian Diet
The good news is that there are no exact rules for following a flexitarian diet. But that may be bad news for folks who don't know where to start. Let's begin with the basics: a ramp-up plan outlined by Dawn Jackson Blatner.
- Starting out. Here, those turning to the flexitarian diet for the first time have had success going meatless just two days a week at first. On the other five days that you do eat meat or fish, keep the amount to about five ounces per day (25 ounces per week). You can get a scale to figure out the exact amounts or estimate; five ounces of chicken or beef is about the size of an average person's hand.
- Full flexitarian. After you've eaten on the beginner level for a while, how long is your choice, you should lower your meat consumption to about 18 ounces on the two days that you eat meat. Again, how long you stay on this level is your choice, but your eventual goal is to get down to about nine ounces per week: two hand-sized portions of meat or fish a week.
Making a Meal Plan
So, what would an average day of eating the flexitarian way look like? Blatner gives us a sample one-day menu:
- Breakfast: Start your day with avocado toast, sprouted grain bread topped with an egg, spinach, and avocado. And caffeine junkies can take comfort in the fact that black coffee has almost no calories!
- Lunch: Make a kale salad with chickpeas or, if this is your meat day, a serving of chicken (baked and skinless is the healthiest way). Add in some roasted sweet potatoes and tomatoes, topped with a light salad dressing, perhaps apple cider vinaigrette or lemon with olive oil.
- Snack: Pecans and an apple.
- Dinner: Blatner suggests corn-tortilla tacos with lentils or white fish, cabbage slaw, salsa, and guacamole. Though you might want to go light on the guac: avocados have a relatively high fat content; a cup of guacamole has 366 calories.
What Foods Should I Consider for My Flexitarian Diet?
- Plant-based proteins. Some of the healthiest plant-based proteins include soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame beans. Lentils are high in protein, fiber, and iron. Chickpeas and peanuts also have lots of protein, as do almonds which are also a great source of vitamin E.
- Whole grains. Good whole grains to consider include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread. Remember to read the bread packaging to be sure the word "whole" is there.
- Fruits. The renowned Cleveland Clinic names its Top 5 Best Fruits: blueberries and pomegranate seeds for antioxidants, raspberries for high fiber and vitamin C, oranges for vitamin C and potassium, plus apples for vitamin A.
- Healthier Meats and Fish. In the meat department, you would do well going with chicken or turkey, and white meat has less saturated fat than dark meat. With seafood, wild Alaskan salmon has healthy fats, while white fish including flounder and cod are good lean choices.
The Pros and Cons of a Flexitarian Diet
Research on flexitarian diets shows that there are certain health benefits. Diets with more plant-based foods are almost always lower in cholesterol and saturated fats compared to meat-heavy diets. So, a flexitarian plan can be preventative against a host of health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Are there any potential drawbacks? A few. Removing or significantly reducing meat from your diet is unlikely to cause any serious health problems, but deficiencies can occur, specifically with iron. Flexitarian research shows that some women with semi-vegetarian diets had low levels of iron, iron deficiencies, and even anemia. So, if you go flexitarian it's a good idea to make sure you include iron-rich foods such as soy, seeds, beans, and whole grains in your diet.
Flexitarian benefits are undeniable and far outweigh any possible negatives. So, if you want to eat less meat without going full vegetarian, flexitarian meals may be your best bet.
Written by William McCleary for Knockaround.