Have you heard of a “flexitarian diet”?
The aim: Weight loss and optimal health.
The claim: Flexitarians weigh 15 percent less than their more carnivorous counterparts; have a lower rate of heart disease, diabetes and cancer; and live an average of 3.6 years longer.
The theory: Flexitarian is a marriage of two words: flexible and vegetarian. The term was coined more than a decade ago, and in her 2009 book, “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life,” registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner says you don’t have to eliminate meat completely to reap the health benefits associated with vegetarianism – you can be a vegetarian most of the time, but still chow down on a burger or steak when the urge hits.
The Flexitarian Diet is ranked:
#4 (tie) in Best Diets Overall
#5 (tie) in Best Weight-Loss Diets
#4 (tie) in Best Diabetes Diets
#8 (tie) in Best Diets for Healthy Eating
#14 (tie) in Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets
#8 (tie) in Best Heart-Healthy Diets
#2 in Best Plant-Based Diets
#5 (tie) in Easiest Diets to Follow
How does The Flexitarian Diet work?
Flexitarian meals revolve around plant proteins rather than animal proteins. You might have cereal topped with soy milk, nuts and berries for breakfast; black bean soup with a salad and whole-grain roll for lunch, an apple with peanut butter for a snack and a barbecue veggie burger with sweet potato fries for dinner. Jackson Blatner provides tips like a tofu tutorial; a cheat sheet on veggies that taste like meat; strategies to “fend off flatulence;” and preparation tricks for different kinds of beans. Great Northern beans, for example, have a delicate flavor and are tender and moist, so she suggests pureeing them and making dips.
You can follow her regimen at your own pace. Jump in and try most of the recipes, sticking to the meal plan verbatim for five weeks. Or take it slowly, and test one of the recipes every once in a while. The Flexitarian Diet includes what she calls a “Flex Swap” feature: suggestions for recipe alterations and ingredient substitutions, such as adding chicken, turkey, fish or red meat to a vegetarian recipe. Jackson Blatner offers advice for all kinds of followers; if you already eat well most of the time, for example, she’ll show you how to add variety. The diet is molded after her philosophy “Eat more plants, and do the best that you can.”
How much does it cost?
No exotic ingredients are required, so groceries shouldn’t cost more than they typically do. Bypassing the butcher also helps keep the tab reasonable. The diet’s individualized nature gives you financial wiggle room – by making dinner from whatever produce is on sale, for example. There’s no membership fee, but you will need “The Flexitarian Diet” book.
Will you lose weight?
Likely. Research shows vegetarians tend to eat fewer calories, weigh less and have a lower body mass index (a measure of body fat) than their meat-eating peers. If you emphasize the plant-based component of this diet – eating lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains – you’ll likely feel full on fewer calories than you’re accustomed to. With that calorie deficit and a little physical activity, you’re bound to shed pounds. How quickly and whether you keep them off is up to you.
[Read: Plant-Based Diets: A Primer.]
- Vegetarians weigh about 15 percent less than nonvegetarians. That’s according to a review of 87 previous studies, published in Nutrition Reviews in 2006. The obesity rate among vegetarians ranges from zero to 6 percent, according to the study authors. And the body weight of both male and female vegetarians is, on average, 3 to 20 percent lower than that of meat-eaters.
- Even semi-vegetarians (or flexitarians) tend to weigh less than full-fledged carnivores do, found a six-year study of 38,000 adults published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders in 2003.
How easy is it to follow?
Very. Jackson Blatner stresses that you don’t have to follow the diet exactly – it’s all about progress, not perfection. The book includes ample guidelines and even shopping lists. These resources take much of the hard work and planning out of the equation.
Convenience: 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: “The Flexitarian Diet” book is packed with them. 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: Allowed. Check out restaurant menus beforehand to find healthy meals; if a restaurant doesn’t have a website, call and ask them to fax or email you a copy. Be wary of words such as fried, crispy, breaded, creamy, scalloped or sauteed – instead go for broiled, baked, grilled, roasted, poached and steamed.
Alcohol: Allowed. Moderation is key, i.e., one drink a day for women, and two for men. Stick with drinks in the 100-calories-or-less range, such as a 12-ounce light beer, 5-ounce glass of wine or a shot of liquor in club soda – not tonic water, because it has calories.
Timesavers: Detailed meal plans and grocery lists are provided.
Extras: Jackson 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. Here, find answers to frequently asked questions about flexitarianism, dieting and weight loss; strategies to make healthy changes speedy and efficient; tips to tame cravings; and how to clear common diet hurdles, such as parties and traveling.
Fullness: Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. If you’ve built a healthful vegetarian diet around fiber-packed veggies, fruits and whole grains, you shouldn’t feel hungry between meals.
Taste: 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.
Health & Nutrition
Experts were impressed with the Flexitarian Diet’s nutritional completeness and safety. One described it as “nutritionally sound,” and dieters can expect to stay in line with the government’s nutrient recommendations.
What is the role of exercise?
Strongly encouraged. Ideally, you should get 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week (or intense exercise for 20 minutes, three times per week), along with strength training at least two days per week. But anything is better than nothing, says Jackson Blatner. In “The Flexitarian Diet,” she outlines how to view the world as your gym, maintain motivation and overcome exercise barriers.
Article from US News
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Cathy Bowers RD