Is the flexitarian diet right for you? | Health and fitness

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Densie Webb, environmental nutrition

There is a dietary movement underway that is shifting the focus from animal products to plant foods; It’s not a secret. And there are many reasons why people might limit or avoid meat, including religious beliefs, concern for the ethical treatment of animals, health issues, and concerns about the well-being of the planet. While most people think that vegetarian or vegan diets are the only options, there is another one: the flexitarian diet.

Almost everyone has an idea of ​​what constitutes a vegetarian or vegan diet, but what about a “flexitarian” diet? Mixing the terms “flexible” and “vegetarian”, the term was introduced more than ten years ago, and was even entered into the dictionary in 2014, making it official.

As the name suggests, it describes a flexible, semi-vegetarian diet that emphasizes, but is not limited to, plant foods. This makes it less restrictive than a vegetarian or vegan diet, as it allows the inclusion of small amounts of animal products, such as meat, eggs, and dairy. In other words, the diet increases consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while minimizing meat and other animal products. That’s good news for meat lovers who want to eat healthier, but don’t want to completely eliminate burgers or steaks from their diet. It avoids the “all or nothing” approach associated with vegetarianism or veganism.

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There are even more specific diet classifications that describe the philosophies behind reducing meat consumption, such as “climatic,” which describes reducing beef and lamb consumption to benefit the planet, and “reducing “, which describes a diet that aims to include less meat – red meat, poultry and seafood – as well as less dairy and fewer eggs, regardless of the amount of reduced consumption or the motivation behind it. tends. There is even a Reducetarian Foundation to promote the diet philosophy.

How flexible is the flexitarian diet?

Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of “The Flexitarian Diet: The Most Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Get Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life,” outlined a plan in his book for the flexitarian way of eating. In the book, she categorizes flexitarians into beginners, advanced, and experts. The higher the classification, the less feed it prescribes. Meat prescriptions range from six to eight meatless meals to fifteen or more meatless meals each week.

However, Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, INHC, registered dietitian, health coach and author of “The Little Book of Game Changers: 50 Health Habits for Managing Stress & Anxiety,” believes that strict classifications don’t always work. “I think the optimal number of animal-based meals per week may vary from individual to individual,” she says.

Although a flexitarian diet is sometimes used as a transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet with stricter limitation or elimination of meat and other animal products, it should not be considered a transitional diet. temporary. It can be a permanent healthy lifestyle change. The beauty of the flexitarian diet is that it allows for splurging on special occasions like hot dogs on July 4, turkey on Thanksgiving, and eggnog on Christmas.

How does the diet stack up?

Every year, US News & World Report magazine ranks popular diets. For 2021, it rated 39 diets and, again, the Flexitarian Diet ranked second (tied with the DASH Diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) only to the Mediterranean Diet as the best diet in the world. ‘together. If you look closely, you’ll find that flexitarian diets can be quite similar to the #1 ranked Mediterranean diet.

A review of 25 studies assessed the health benefits of flexitarian or semi-vegetarian diets. Early findings suggest that diets that limit consumption of animal foods were linked to improved body weight and better indicators of metabolic health, blood pressure and a reduced risk of type 1 diabetes. 2. It has even been suggested that following a flexitarian diet may benefit brain health.

Previous studies have shown a significant association between meat consumption and body mass index (BMI). The higher the meat consumption, the higher the BMI. Your BMI is an approximate measure of your weight relative to your height. (If you want to know your BMI, you can find several BMI calculators online.) Although BMI is not a perfect predictor of health, researchers have found that the higher your BMI, the greater the risk of some diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure is high. blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, respiratory problems and certain cancers.

Although dietitian Cording says the term “flexitarian” is familiar to nutrition professionals and people deeply interested in food and nutrition, it is not a widely recognized or used term. But based on what we know about the flexitarian way of eating and its health benefits, that’s likely to change.

(Environmental Nutrition is the independent, award-winning newsletter written by nutrition experts who are dedicated to providing readers with up-to-date, accurate health and nutrition information in clear, concise English. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition .com.)

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