3 Reasons Why a Flexitarian Diet Might Be Your Healthy New Normal

3 Reasons Why a Flexitarian Diet Might Be Your Healthy New Normal

by Elizabeth Vennefron, RDN

A flexitarian is like a laid-back vegetarian, meaning they may still enjoy Uncle Eddie’s world-famous ribs while also trying to consume a balanced diet. The flexitarian diet encourages mostly plant-based foods and moderate amounts of meat and other animal-based products. As dietitians, we believe that all foods fit, so this is a new lifestyle or eating pattern that we are down to try! If you have been thinking about decreasing your meat consumption, have had changes to your shopping and eating patterns as a result of COVID-19 or are looking for ways to improve your overall health, flexitarianism might be the right choice for you.

One of the best things about going flexitarian is that there are no specific rules: no calorie counting or macronutrient micromanaging. The focus is on the type and amount of food being eaten. The flexitarian diet encompasses mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. It prioritizes protein from plants and smaller amounts of meat and animal-based foods. It also encourages minimally processed foods and limits added sugars. These are all principles that align with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And in a time when food supplies can be a bit disrupted or different from the norm, a dietary pattern that includes a wide variety of foods is a perfect fit.

There are many health benefits to eating flexitarian.

Consuming fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains as part of a plant-based diet provides us with key nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

  • Vitamins and minerals are essential for our bodies to develop and function at their highest levels.
  • Fiber can help manage blood sugar, lower cholesterol and aid in digestion.
  • Antioxidants such as Vitamins C, E and A are beneficial in preventing or delaying cell damage from oxidative stress.

Incorporating foods that contain these key nutrients can help prevent or manage chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Following a flexitarian diet may also support a healthy weight. As high calorie and processed foods are limited, the focus is shifted to plant-based foods, which are naturally lower in calories and saturated fat.

Decreased meat consumption can mean a healthier fatty acid profile.

Reducing certain animal-based proteins, like higher-fat red meats, is a great way to reduce saturated fat content. A simple way to reduce animal-based protein consumption is to reduce portion sizes. Most Americans are consuming 2-3 times the amount of protein need in one sitting! A big focus of the flexitarian diet is limiting the meat component to 4-6 ounces per serving (about the size of your palm), and incorporating more meatless meals. We always encourage starting small, so this may mean cutting back your daily 8-ounce portion of meat at dinner to 6 ounces for a few weeks, before then cutting back to 4 ounces or even going meatless for a day.

The whole approach to flexitarianism is flexibility.

You can work your way into this lifestyle slowly, quickly or at whatever pace feels right to you. After decreasing portion sizes of meat to 4-6 ounces at a time, you can begin slowly making your way through the different tiers in the flexitarian lifestyle. Dawn Jackson Blantner, RDN, the creator of this eating pattern, lays out three tiers of the lifestyle.

  • Beginner – 2 meatless days and 6-8 meatless meals/week totaling up to no more than 26 ounces of meat.
  • Advanced – 3 meatless days and 9-14 meatless meals/week totaling up to no more than 18 ounces of meat.
  • Expert – 5 meatless days and 15+ meatless meals/week totaling up to no more than 9 ounces of meat.

Limiting animal-based protein and consuming enough daily protein can be difficult if you don't know where else to find high-quality sources of this essential macronutrient. Fortunately, Kroger has you covered with a variety of meatless meals, meal plans and plant-based products. If you’re not sure of how much protein you should be consuming each day, a Registered Dietitian can help. Any change can be hard, and our team is ready and available to assist you with all aspects of change, from making meal plans to selecting the right products. Let’s create a healthy new normal, together.

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Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.