Flexitarian diet: Nutritionist explains the pros and cons plus everything else you need to know

Head of Nutrition at Jimmy Joy explains the flexitarian diet: is it good for weight loss, plus what are the benefits and drawbacks of the flexitarian diet

What's flexitarian diet
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Everyone wants to get fit for 2021 and while some people will go down the route of exercising more to boost metabolism, others might try dieting to lose some weight. Deciding on which diet to try next in the never ending battle to lose belly fat is not easy, especially because there are too many of them, all claiming to be the best solution for weight loss. In this article, we'll focus on one of the newer approaches, the flexitarian diet, which is touted to be great for the body and the planet, too.

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And to make sure we tell readers the naked truth, we asked an expert, Charlotte Bierens, Head of Nutrition at nutritionally-complete meal brand Jimmy Joy, to clarify some of the most often asked questions about the flexitarian diet. Is it actually good for long weight loss? What are the pro and cons of the flexitarian diet? What foods to avoid?

Interested in dieting?

IMPORTANT: Please be extra careful when trying a special diet, especially if you have a history of eating disorders and/or struggled with obesity before. Should there be any doubt, please always consult a medical professional before starting a diet.  Especially calorie-restricted diets can be detrimental to health and slow down metabolism, which might cause long-term health issues. Please be careful and sensible.

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What’s flexitarian diet

As Charlotte explains, "the flexitarian diet promotes a vegetarian diet while allowing animal products occasionally." It's good for the planet as people on flexitarian diet consume less meat (especially red meat) and more plant-based products, meaning the carbon-footprint is smaller.

The flexitarian diet is the best of both worlds as it offers a solution to one of the biggest concerns in veganism (e.g. vitamin deficiency), all the while not overdoing meat consumption for the sake of it. By eating meat occasionally, people on a flexitarian diet can ensure they supply their bodies with all the nutrients it needs to function properly, without supplementation.

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What are the pros of the flexitarian diet?

Charlotte likes to emphasise the social benefits and the – err – flexibility of the flexitarian diet: "With the flexitarian diet, people can reap the benefits of a plant-based diet but also enjoy animal products occasionally or in social events. There are no rigid rules."

A 2016 meta-analysis examined the correlation between vegetarian diets and weight loss and concluded by saying that "vegetarian diets appeared to have significant benefits on weight reduction compared to non-vegetarian diets", with most significant results achieved by people on the vegan diet. The research paper notes that long term trials would be needed to asses the longevity of the weight loss progress but it's a promising result nevertheless.

Another benefit of the flexitarian diet is its flexibility, compared to other diets such as keto. By not forcing the body (and mind) to adhere to a restricted diet, people on flexitarian diet might not over-consume food and therefore manage their weight more easily.

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What are the cons of the flexitarian diet?

"Because there are no rigid rules, there might be a lack of awareness about the replacements required to obtain all nutrients", Charlotte explains, "If it is not well-planned, there might be deficiencies of B12, zinc, iron, calcium, and omega-3."

As in most cases when it comes to dieting, the best results are observed when the right balance of macros and micronutrients are achieved: not having meat with every meal is already a big step towards sustainability, there is no need to completely remove meat and dairy products from diet for the sake of it.

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Can the flexitarian diet help long term weight loss?

A flexitarian diet might support a weight loss process. This happens because there is a decrease in processed, high-calorie foods and an increase in vegetables, fruits and whole foods. "With a well-planned flexitarian diet, it is possible to get all the nutritional requirements while keeping the cholesterol and saturated fats low", Charlotte concludes.

What food should you eat MORE when on a flexitarian diet?

  • Legumes such as lentils, peas, chickpeas and beans are a great source of carbohydrates, protein and fibre.
  • Wholegrain foods, including barley, brown rice, buckwheat oatmeal etc. 
  • Starchy foods are also a good option in moderate quantities. Potatoes shouldn't be shunned from the diet completely as they have a range of health benefits, especially sweet potatoes
  • Fruits and vegetables are an obvious choice for flexitarians but make sure not to include loads of non-fibrous fruits in the diet as they may spike insulin levels.
  • Nuts and seeds are a great source of protein and healthy fats

What food should you eat LESS when on a flexitarian diet?

  • Processed meats are to be avoided in every type of diet as they may contain additives and most usually these products are also saturated with sugars/salt too
  • Refined carbs tend to be digested quickly when consumed causing a spike in blood insulin levels. For the same reason, refined carbs will make people hungry sooner than fibrous food that takes longer to digest
  • Added sugar is bad. Full stop.
  • Fast food might be a convenient but it is also usually over-portioned, high in bad fats, has loads of salt in it and it generally contains little to no micronutrients

Get Fit for 2021!

This is part of T3's Fit for 2021 programme, which will be running throughout January. We aim to bring you tips on diet, lifestyle and exercise that will help you shape up for what is certain to be a difficult year. One thing we can guarantee: it WILL be better than last year. And hopefully we'll help you get the most out of it. 

Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is T3's very own fitness and nutrition writer. In his free time, he swims, runs, cycles and tries various resistance training workouts so he can ramble about them to people who aren't really interested in fitness.