5 Reasons This Dietitian Is Considering A Flexitarian DietPublished on Saturday, May 06, 2023 by
Why am I considering a flexitarian diet?
In a recent Foodguides article, I defined the various types of plant-based diets, including the flexitarian diet. As a recap, the flexitarian diet is a predominantly vegetarian diet that occasionally includes meat or fish. Personally, this is a diet pattern that I am trying to adopt in my own life. Let me explain why.
As the name suggests, the flexitarian diet provides flexibility and room for individuality. Oftentimes, rigid diets can be hard to implement initially, or they are not sustainable on the back end once implemented. Even as a dietitian, I admittedly don’t like food rules. If I tell myself I can’t have something, all I can concentrate on is that very thing. Patterns like this can lead to binge eating or feelings of guilt and shame if you’re not able to follow through on your original plan. The nature of the flexitarian diet is that it leaves room for meat products while bypassing any of the unwanted, and dare I say, unhealthy guilt or shame that could have otherwise accompanied it.
2. A More Diverse Gut Microbiome.
Diets that predominantly consist of plant foods are shown to have improved health outcomes, specifically in relation to the gut. Of course here at Foodguides, we strive to help individuals have a happy, healthy gut! A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that compared to 4 other diet groups, individuals following the flexitarian diet have the most diverse gut microbiome. A standard American diet (low in fiber, high in refined grains, sugar, and processed foods) was shown to have the worst outcomes on gut microbiome diversity. And yes, a 100% plant-based diet was included in the mix as well!
You may be wondering why a plant-based diet didn’t result in the most diverse microbiome. Diets rich in fiber and varied in fruits and vegetables are shown to have positive outcomes on gut health. However, the study discussed that animal proteins also provide beneficial bacteria for the gut. Therefore, some inclusion of all food groups into your diet seems to create the most varied microbiome.
3. Improved Lipid Profiles.
The gut isn’t the only area where a flexitarian diet proves beneficial. A randomized clinical trial published in 2020 compared nutrient profiles of 3 different diet groups. The group that followed a 70% plant-based diet with 30% animal products was found to have increased fiber intake and decreased total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol, AKA the “bad” cholesterol. With a family history of high cholesterol, it's important for me to take measures to protect my levels preventatively.
4. Money Savings.
A non-health-related reason to adopt the flexitarian diet is the impact on your wallet. We all know that grocery prices right now are not our friend. Even so, whole-food, plant-based protein sources such as beans, lentils, and whole-food soy products are generally less expensive than meat products. With the flexitarian approach, I can include meat products when they are on sale or have a craving, but I’m not always filling my cart with the most expensive options in the store.
5. Social Settings.
Anyone who has ever followed a specific diet pattern has experienced the awkwardness of having to explain their diet preferences while sitting around the table with friends. Even more frustrating is having to eat prior to a social event because you’re not confident you will find something on the menu or that your host will prepare items that fit your diet needs. The flexitarian diet allows you to participate in all portions of the meal that you choose, without turning the spotlight on your diet.
Each of these 5 reasons why I am considering a flexitarian diet is only scratching the surface of its benefits. If you try it out for yourself, I’d wager that you will find your own unique reasons for enjoying this diet pattern. Are you curious about how to get started with it? Stay tuned as that’s a topic for another time…
- Cotillard, A., Cartier-Meheust, A., Litwin, N.S., Chaumont, S., Saccareau, M., et al. (2021). A posteriori dietary patterns better explain variations of the gut microbiome than individual markers in the American Gut Project. American Journal of Clinical nutrition, 115(2), 432-442. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqab332
- Palvarinta, E., Itkonen, S.T., Pellinen, T., Lehtovirta, M., Erkkhola, M., and Pajari, A.M. (2020). Replacing animal-based proteins with plant-based proteins changes the composition of a whole nordic diet- a randomized clinical trial in healthy Finnish adults. Nutrients, 12(4):943. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7231027/
Savannah DuffyMS, RDN, LD