Flexitarian diet might be right for you

It’s a flexible, semi-vegetarian diet that emphasizes but is not limited to plant foods.

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This flexible dietary pattern allows for a transition to greater intake of plant foods, without sacrificing food preferences.

This flexible dietary pattern allows for a transition to greater intake of plant foods, without sacrificing food preferences.

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Theree are many reasons people might limit or avoid meat, including religious beliefs, concern for the ethical treatment of animals, health concerns and concerns about the well-being of the planet.

But, while most people think of vegetarian or vegan diets as the only other options, there is another one — a flexitarian diet.

A blend of flexible and vegetarian, the term was introduced more than a decade ago and, as the name suggests, describes a flexible, semi-vegetarian diet that emphasizes but is not limited to plant foods.

That makes it less restrictive than a vegetarian or vegan diet, allowing for small amounts of animal products like meat, eggs and dairy foods.

The diet boosts the intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains while keeping meat and other animal products to a minimum.

That’s good for meat lovers who want to eat more healthfully but don’t want to completely shy away from, say, hamburgers or steak, avoiding the all-or-nothing approaches of vegetarianism or veganism.

There are more specific diet classifications that describe the philosophies behind reducing meat consumption, such as climatarian, a reduction in beef and lamb consumption for the benefit of the planet, and reducetarian, a diet that aims to include less red meat, poultry and seafood as well as less dairy and fewer eggs regardless of how much intake is reduced or the motivation behind it.

Chicago dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life,” classifies flexitarians in three groups: beginners, advanced and experts. The higher the classification, the fewer animal foods she prescribes. The meat prescriptions range from six to eight meatless meals to 15 or more meatless meals a week.

Jessica Cording, a dietitian and author of “The Little Book of Game Changers: 50 Health Habits for Managing Stress & Anxiety,” shies from strict classifications.

“I think that the optimal number of animal-based meals per week can vary from one individual to the next,” Cording says.

While a flexitarian diet is sometimes used as a transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet, with a stricter limitation or elimination of meat and other animal products, it doesn’t have to be viewed as a temporary transition diet. It can be a permanent healthy lifestyle change. The beauty of the flexitarian diet is that it allows for splurges on special occasions like hot dogs on the Fourth of July, turkey at Thanksgiving and eggnog at Christmas.

A review of 25 studies evaluated the health benefits of flexitarian or semi-vegetarian diets. Early findings suggest that diets that limit the intake of animal foods were linked to improved body weight and improved indicators of metabolic health, blood pressure and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies have shown a significant association between meat intake and body mass index: The greater the meat intake, the higher the BMI.

While BMI is not a perfect predictor of health, researchers have found that the higher your BMI, the greater risk for certain diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers.

Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter written by experts on health and nutrition.

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