Debating Diets: What does it mean to be ‘flexitarian?’

Thinking about starting a new diet? While the amount of information available can be overwhelming, it’s possible to find a diet that is safe, suitable and effective for your lifestyle.

Isabel Valdez, physician assistant and instructor of general internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, discusses what you need to know about the flexitarian diet.


How does the flexitarian diet work?

The flexitarian diet has it all in the name: flexibility. It’s a predominantly vegetarian diet with a smattering of meats. Protein can come from an animal source whenever you have a hankering for meat, but most of the protein is plant based.

Think of being flexitarian more as a lifestyle modification than a strict diet. Our vegetarian, vegan and omnivore friends follow their diet preferences to their wishes. Flexitarians are somewhere in the middle.

Why is this becoming a popular lifestyle?

It’s an easy way to make healthy meal decisions. Your plate may be filled with generous helpings of vegetables, nuts and legumes. You can even enjoy pasta or rice in moderation so long as it’s made from whole grains to add fiber in a natural way.

Who should avoid this diet?

No one in particular needs to avoid this diet. In fact, this lifestyle would be a good option for those with heart disease, cholesterol issues and diabetes. Just be sure to talk about your new lifestyle with your doctor or dietitian.

What are recommended foods? Discouraged foods?

Most foods are fair game and it helps the waistline if you keep the foods on the healthy side by avoiding fried, greasy options. Remember, just because the okra is fried doesn’t mean it is necessarily healthier.

What kind of physiological changes or side effects should be expected?

Eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes may lower blood sugar or cholesterol.  Again, talk it over with your doctor at your next appointment.

What else should people know before considering this diet?

This lifestyle comes with a perk: it’s good for Mother Nature. Plant-based meals tend to be more sustainable for the earth, leaving a smaller carbon footprint than consuming meat.

Valdez shares a personal anecdote: I only recently noticed that I’m flexitarian; it was not a choice I made, but rather something I was already doing. I make a lot of salads and used to add chicken breast almost every time. However, it occurred to me that I was negatively impacting the earth for my 4 ounces of chicken because it took too many resources to produce.

Making the switch to legumes was an easy change. I started to cook lentils and chickpeas as my source of protein. I still eat meat and I do so when I know that it was sourced responsibly and for the masses, such as at a restaurant.

Additional Resources

Check out more from the Debating Diets series.

See dietitian-approved recipes.

Learn about the Medical Weight Management Clinic at Baylor.

-By Nicole Blanton

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