- The flexitarian diet involves eating more plants and less animal products.
- It’s less restrictive than other diets and has been linked to a range of health benefits.
- In general, dietitians recommend creating a colourful and well-balanced plate full of plants and other foods.
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Plants are having a moment. While cooped up at home during the pandemic winter, Americans are looking to add something green to their lives â€” be it houseplants or plant-based eating â€” now more than ever.
Google searches for “flexitarian diet” and “semi-vegetarianism” have recently reached national highs, suggesting that Americans are curious about plant-based eating but also might not understand how to put it into practice.
Alyssa Pike, RD, told Insider the flexitarian diet is generally defined as a semi-vegetarian diet with low to moderate consumption of animal products.
“The goal is to glean some of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet without requiring the person to comply with a 100% vegetarian eating pattern,” Pike, manager of nutrition communications for IFIC, said.
Eating more plants and less animal products has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, type two diabetes, and certain cancers, Pike said.
If you’re looking to reap those health benefits without restricting your diet too much, flexitarian eating could be a good fit. Here are some simple tips for getting started.
Think about where you’re starting and set some realistic goals
Unlike many other diets, flexitarian eating does not involve any calorie or nutrient goals, Pike said. Instead, the objective is to slowly reduce one’s consumption of animal products, which can look different depending on where you’re starting from.
For someone who eats a lot of animal products and would like to cut back, it might make sense to eat less meat while keeping other animal products on your plate.
“Dairy and eggs can be that sweet spot, where those are providing some of that protein without going too heavy on the meat or too far towards the plants,” Pike said.
If you want to cut back on meat, try ‘Meatless Mondays’
For those who are aiming to eat less meat, starting with one meatless meal a day or one meatless day a week can be a low-commitment way to start a flexitarian diet.
“Meatless Monday” is one common option for trying out a flexitarian diet, said nutritionist Wendy Bazilian, author of “Eat Clean, Stay Lean.” She added that you could also approach it the other way around, eating mostly plants and having just a few meals with meat, poultry, or fish each week.
New flexitarians seeking alternate sources of protein can try beans, lentils, and other legumes, as well as nuts, seeds, and plant-based protein powders, to make sure they’re getting a well-balanced diet.
In general, try to build a colourful plate featuring 3-4 food groups
Flexitarian or not, your goal should be to include foods from three to four groups (such as fruits and vegetables, carbs, and protein) on your plate at every meal.
“If you’re making yourself breakfast and you notice that you have protein and you have grains, take a second to think, ‘Is there a way that I could add a fruit or vegetable to this meal?'” Pike said.
Approaching each meal as an opportunity to add plants can feel easier than overhauling your whole diet, Pike said.
Bazilian added that plant foods tend to be colourful and nutrient-dense, so making sure there’s a pop of colour on your plate will help promote plant-based eating.
Stock up on some plant-based staples that won’t go bad right away
Fresh fruits and vegetables are great for getting a wide range of nutrients, but they’re also expensive and often go bad within a week.
While a flexitarian eating plan would ideally include some fresh produce, Bazilian said buying “plant pantry staples” such as canned beans, frozen edamame, and grains like quinoa and oats can make the diet easier.
She also recommended stocking up hummus, carrots, and celery since those vegetables typically keep for longer, as well as frozen fruit for smoothies. These plant-based options are great alternatives for when you want to snack smarter, and you won’t have to throw them out days after your grocery run.