Maybe you’re intrigued by the idea of a plant-based diet, but there are a few foods you can’t imagine giving up. Like the roast chicken dinner you like to cook on Sunday nights. The go-to shrimp scampi you order when you want Italian takeout. Or even the decadent steak restaurant that’s your family’s favorite for birthday dinners.
Guess what? There are no plant-based-diet police monitoring what you eat. It’s perfectly fine to eat a mostly plant-based diet while mixing in meat and dairy now and then. In fact, there’s a name for it—the flexitarian diet.
What you can eat on the flexitarian diet
Alexandra Lessem, a family nurse practitioner at Banner Health in Greeley, CO, says that on the flexitarian diet, you can eat just about anything. “It’s a predominantly plant-based diet with some meat, dairy, or eggs,” she said. “The bulk of what people eat is plant-based, but it’s not strict. The idea is to eat as healthfully as possible without being restricted. And there’s a focus on eating predominantly unprocessed or minimally processed foods.”
Everyone defines the flexitarian diet in their own terms. “It’s very adaptable and easy to adopt, and you can make it your own depending on how much you want to cut out or how serious you want to be,” Lessem said. “It can be a nice way for people to dabble in plant-based eating before diving in. It gives them and their families a way to try things out to see what works for them.”
Some people eat plant-based at home but allow meat at restaurants and when visiting family and friends. Some people eat plant-based meals for part of the day and include meat at certain meals. Lessem recommends Mark Bittman’s book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00, which outlines how to eat a plant-based diet until 6 p.m. and then have a dinner that may include meat.
Why you might want to choose the flexitarian diet
Lessem said there are lots of people who find the flexitarian diet is a good option. Try it if you:
- Are interested in cutting back on meat, eggs, and dairy without eliminating these foods altogether
- Want to accommodate family members who have varying levels of interest in a plant-based diet
- Want to lose weight and/or reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer
- Travel a lot or eat out for work and want the option of choosing meat if plant-based choices aren’t on the menu
- Want to reduce the environmental damage from factory farms and the meat processing industry and support local farmers instead
Are you ready to give the flexitarian diet a try?
It’s simple to start eating a flexitarian diet. Just incorporate more plant-based foods into your meals. “Choose one meatless day per week, one meatless meal per day, or whatever seems like it would work for you. The beauty of the flexitarian diet is it is really your own,” Lessem said.
Making a major dietary change can be a challenge, so Lessem recommends that you take a step toward a plant-based diet and see what happens. “I transitioned from an omnivorous to a flexitarian to a plant-based diet over a period of probably five to 10 years,” she said. “Some people do it faster, others do it slower, and others never get to fully plant-based—all of which are fine. The most important thing is being intentional about what you are eating and making more healthy choices rather than just mindlessly shoving whatever is in front of you into your mouth.”
The bottom line
If you’re interested in making plants a bigger part of your diet, but switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet seems too challenging, give the flexitarian diet a try. You can slowly add more plant-based meals as you transition.
To talk to an expert who can help you shape your diet around your goals and preferences, visit bannerhealth.com.
Would you like to learn more about how changing your diet can improve your health? Check out:
- Get “the Skinny” on Fats: The Good, the Bad and the Worst for You
- Are Eggs Everything They’re Cracked Up to Be?
- 7 Ways to Lower Your Sodium Intake