The flexitarian diet emphasizes fruits, veggies and whole grains.
The flexitarian diet provides a great way to boost your overall intake of plant-based foods without the restrictions you’d find with a vegetarian or vegan eating regimen, says Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietitian based in Sparta, New Jersey, and author of “2 Day Diabetes Diet.”
As its name suggests, the flexitarian diet is flexible, and emphasizes the consumption of plant-based foods, but makes allowances for animal food products.
The flexitarian meal plan emphasizes eating an array of healthy foods, including:
— Beans and legumes.
— Dairy products.
— Whole grains.
“The balanced style of this diet along with the focus on increasing your consumption of plant-based foods without restriction is what makes it a popular plan, one that’s easy to follow and maintain,” Palinski-Wade says.
The flexitarian diet is part of a healthy lifestyle.
“The flexitarian eating pattern is more of a lifestyle change as opposed to a diet, consisting of consuming more plant-based, whole foods and limiting processed and packaged foods that contain refined carbohydrates, excess sodium and added sugars/sweeteners,” says Lon Ben-Asher, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. “There are no set rules for following the flexitarian eating pattern, and everyone has their own way of incorporating it into their lives due to its flexibility.”
What does science say about the flexitarian diet?
Research published in 2020 in the British Journal of Nutrition analyzed the health profiles of people on the flexitarian, pescatarian and vegetarian diets. Flexitarians were generally less likely to be overweight or to have obesity or hypertension than omnivores. Those conditions are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Adherents of each of these three diet plans had lower blood pressure than omnivores, the study found.
Previous research suggests that the flexitarian diet may be beneficial for:
— Diabetes prevention.
— Weight loss.
Pros and cons of the flexitarian diet
There are pros and cons of the flexitarian diet, says Lana Nasrallah, manager of clinical nutrition at UNC Health, a not-for-profit integrated health care system owned by the state of North Carolina and based in Chapel Hill.
Pros of the flexitarian diet:
— The flexitarian diet is a good option for people who want to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
— The flexitarian diet embraces all food groups.
–The flexitarian diet is a good option for people who are looking to cut back on animal products without having hard rules to follow.
— Science suggests the flexitarian diet provides some health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health.
— People with dietary restrictions or food allergies can easily find substitutions when on the flexitarian diet.
Cons of the flexitarian diet:
— Flexitarians may need nutrient supplementation depending on how often they eat animal-based foods.
Here are 10 flexitarian diet meal recipes:
1. Avocado toast and egg
This tasty dish provides protein and healthy fats, says Kaylee Jacks, a sports dietitian with Texas Health Sports Medicine in Dallas.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
— 1 slice of whole grain toast.
— ½ avocado.
— 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
— 1 whole egg.
— 1 teaspoon of black pepper.
— 1 whole egg.
Directions: Toast the slice of bread. In a separate dish, smash the avocado in half and add pepper and lemon juice. Spread the smashed avocado onto the toast. Cook the egg however you prefer it. Top the egg on the toast and serve.
2. Broccoli summer salad
Summer is the perfect time for fresh salads, says Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition. “This colorful recipe showcases omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, which support good eye health,” she says. “The orange juice dressing lends sweetness to the salad, while the broccoli and sunflower seeds create texture for a recipe sure to please the whole family.”
You’ll need these ingredients to make a salad that serves four:
— 1 cup of broccoli florets.
— 1 cup shredded carrot.
— ¼ cup of chopped red onion.
— ¼ cup of chopped red bell pepper.
— 3 tablespoons of unsalted sunflower seeds.
— 1/3 cup of chopped walnuts.
— ½ cup of mandarin oranges, canned in juice.
And these are the ingredients you’ll need for the dressing:
— 1 teaspoon of minced garlic.
— 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
— 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil.
— 1/4 cup of orange juice.
— Black pepper, to taste.
Directions: Combine broccoli, carrot, onion, bell pepper, sunflower seeds, walnuts and oranges in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour the salad dressing into the salad and mix well. Let it chill for at least an hour to let flavors combine. Serve chilled.
3. Chickpea salad
Jacks recommends this tasty and easy-to-make meat-free dish.
You’ll need these ingredients to make four servings:
— 15 ounces of chickpeas.
— 1 medium bell pepper, chopped.
— ½ cup of chopped onion.
— ½ cup of chopped celery.
— 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
— 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.
Directions: Combine the ingredients in a bowl and serve or store in the refrigerator.
4. Chopped Southwest salad with serrano vinaigrette
“This fresh chopped salad is full of color, and the citrus dressing drizzled over the vegetables brings them to life,” Nasrallah says. This salad can be served as a side dish or as an entree.
You’ll need these ingredients to make the dressing:
— Olive oil.
— Lime juice.
— Serrano pepper, chopped.
— Garlic, minced.
— Salt and black pepper, to taste.
And these are the ingredients you’ll need for the salad:
— Romaine lettuce, chopped.
— Black beans, rinsed and drained.
— Jicama, peeled and chopped.
— Red bell pepper, diced.
— Corn, rinsed and drained.
— Avocado, diced.
Directions: To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, serrano pepper, garlic, honey and salt and black pepper to taste.
For the salad, spread lettuce evenly across a large serving platter. Arrange beans, jicama, bell pepper, corn and avocados on top of lettuce. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Drizzle with dressing before serving. If you want some dairy, top with fresh cheese.
5. Harissa chicken tray bake with garlic yogurt
While the flexitarian diet leans toward plant-based foods, it does allow for meat, fish and poultry dishes. “This chicken tray bake is packed with flavor from the harissa (a peppery red chili paste) and the garlic yogurt sauce. You can make it with minimal effort,” Nasrallah says.
These are the ingredients you’ll need for the dish:
— 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into ½ inch cubes.
— 1 red bell pepper, cut into ½ inch cubes.
— 1 ½ pounds of chicken thighs and drumsticks.
— 2 tablespoons of harissa.
— 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.
— Salt and pepper to taste.
— 1 clove of garlic.
— ½ cup of plain yogurt.
Directions: Heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the chicken, peppers and onions in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together harissa and olive oil. Pour over the chicken and vegetables and toss to combine.
Arrange the chicken and vegetables on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. While the chicken cooks, place the yogurt in a small bowl. Grate the garlic and add to the yogurt, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, spoon yogurt over the chicken and vegetables. For extra veggies, serve with an arugula salad tossed in olive oil, fresh lemon juice and salt to taste.
6. Massaman curry
Full of vitamins C and K, this savory vegetarian dish helps provide some variety to break up the “same old, same old” routine, Zumpano says. “Skipping the meat and switching to a low-fat coconut milk helps keep saturated fat low without sacrificing satiety,” she says. “Remember to serve over a whole grain such as brown rice or Israeli couscous for extra fiber and vitamins.”
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make six servings:
— 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed.
— 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes.
— 2 large carrots, sliced.
— 1 bell pepper, cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes.
— 1 onion, sliced.
— ½ can of light coconut milk (about 7 ounces).
— 1 cup of unsalted vegetable broth.
— 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
— ¼ teaspoon of salt.
— 1 teaspoon of five-spice powder (a Chinese spice blend).
— 1 teaspoon of cumin.
— ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
— ½ teaspoon of turmeric.
— 2 teaspoons of freshly minced ginger root.
— ½ cup unsalted peanuts.
— 1 cup brown rice.
Directions: Cook the rice according to directions on the box. Steam sweet potatoes and carrots until they are fork tender and set aside.
Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for three minutes, then add bell peppers and sauté for another three minutes. Add coconut milk and vegetable broth as well as all spices, including minced ginger root. Add chickpeas, sweet potatoes and carrots. Stir gently to combine, then reduce heat to low-medium. Let simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to low.
Once the sauce thickens, which should take about five minutes, add peanuts. Serve over brown rice.
7. Peanut butter banana sandwich
This sandwich provides protein and could be part of a healthy lunch or a snack, Jacks says. And it’s easy to make.
These are the ingredients you’ll need:
— 2 slices of whole grain bread.
— 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.
— ½ of a banana.
Directions: Spread peanut butter onto slices of bread. Slice the banana in half and place the slices on top of the peanut butter.
8. Overnight oats
This easy-to-make dish is good for breakfast or as a snack, Jacks says.
You’ll need these ingredients:
— ½ cup of low-fat Greek yogurt.
— ½ cup of rolled oats.
— ¼ cup of blueberries.
— 1 tablespoon of chia seeds.
— A splash of low-fat milk.
Directions: Place yogurt into a mason jar, and add rolled oats on top of the yogurt. Top with chia seeds and a splash of low-fat milk. You don’t need to blend the ingredients, just layer them. Refrigerate overnight or for eight hours, and top with blueberries and serve.
9. Plant-based power bowl
This tasty dish is packed with nutrients and is easy to make, Jacks says.
You’ll need these ingredients:
— 2 cups of shredded lettuce.
— ½ cup of quinoa.
— ¼ cup of black beans.
— ¼ cup of edamame.
— 1 cup of sauteed onions and bell peppers.
— 1 tablespoon of hummus.
Directions: Combine in a bowl and serve. This dish also stores well in the refrigerator.
10. Strawberry-pineapple smoothie
This drink is rich enough to be a snack or a dessert. “Adding a small amount of almond butter adds richness and filling protein,” Nasrallah says.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
— 1 cup chopped frozen or fresh strawberries.
— 1 cup chopped frozen, canned or fresh pineapples.
— 1 cup unsweetened almond milk.
— 1 tablespoon almond butter.
Directions: Combine strawberries, pineapple, almond milk and almond butter in a blender. Process until smooth, adding more almond milk as needed for desired consistency.
To recap, here are 10 easy flexitarian diet recipes:
— Avocado toast and egg.
— Broccoli summer salad.
— Chickpea salad.
— Chopped Southwest salad with serrano vinaigrette.
— Harissa chicken tray bake with garlic yogurt.
— Massaman curry.
— Peanut butter banana sandwich.
— Overnight oats.
— Plant-based power bowl.
— Strawberry-pineapple smoothie.
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