It’s good for your health
The flexitarian diet is relatively new but, thankfully, there is robust research on semi-vegetarian diets that closely resemble the flexitarian diet. For example, a 2009 study with over 60,000 participants suggests that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is 1,5% lower in semi-vegetarians compared to non-vegetarians. A 2015 study that included 78,000 people found that semi-vegetarians were 8% less likely to get colorectal cancer, compared to non-vegetarians.
The research that does include the flexitarian diet directly is showing promise as well. A 2017 study suggests benefits for body weight, improved markers of metabolic health, blood pressure, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
It’s important to keep in mind that just reducing meat is not enough. Research shows that plant-based diets that include a lot of refined foods such as sweetened beverages, refined grains, fries or sweets don’t show the same health benefits.
Be careful about nutrient deficiencies
There is a potential downside to limiting or cutting out meat and animal products from your diet. Meat is a rich source of many essential nutrients that are harder to get from plants alone. Studies show that people on low-meat diets should be aware of the following nutrient deficiencies.
- Vitamin B12
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Flexitarians have an advantage compared to vegetarians because they can include meat from time to time. This reduces their risk for a deficiency in vitamin B12 which is only found in animal foods. Flexitarians who limit meat a lot should still keep an eye on levels of this important vitamin and consider a B12 supplement.
As a flexitarian, you should be also wary of getting enough omega-3 fatty acids. These are typically found in fatty fish such as tuna, salmon or sardines. You can boost your intake with the plant-based form of omega-3s that are found in flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds. Nuts and seeds are also a decent source of zinc and iron. And if you tend to limit dairy, keep an eye on calcium. Plant foods rich in calcium include broccoli, Brussels sprouts or kale.
It might be good for the environment
There’s one more benefit that you won’t feel directly but is just as important. A review of the research on the sustainability of plant-based diets found that switching from the average Western diet to the flexitarian diet could decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 7%. This assumes that you would partially replace meat with plant-based sources. Reducing meat consumption can help preserve natural resources by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as land and water use.
Now that you know about the health and environmental benefits of the diet, it’s time to check out what a flexitarian meal plan might look like. Check back for the next article for that.