Adopting a Flexitarian Diet

Which vegetarian diet could you most easily incorporate into your lifestyle?

Credit: Wellness Matters

Adding more plant-based foods to your diet has proven health benefits

“Meatless Mondays” have become a popular practice in North America, following a trend toward healthier eating. Learn the differences between various non-meat diets to see which one best fits your lifestyle

While you might not be a full-fledged vegetarian, you may be moving toward eating more plant-based foods. If so, you’re not alone. Increasing numbers of Canadians are adopting a flexitarian diet – one that’s flexible enough to allow some meat, poultry and fish, but also includes more fruits and vegetables as well as a wider variety of plant foods such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy foods, nuts and seeds. 

A Flexible Diet

A well-balanced flexitarian (or vegetarian) diet – one that delivers adequate nutrition and calories from a healthy mix of carbohydrate, protein and quality fats, along with plenty of vegetables – offers many health benefits.

In general, even semi-vegetarians weigh less than non-vegetarians. This weight difference has many positive effects on overall health, including a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, largely due to the lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. There’s also a decreased risk of bone loss. Even longevity may be affected – on average, semi-vegetarians live 3.6 years longer than non-vegetarians.

A flexitarian diet that incorporates a modest amount of meat while dramatically increasing the emphasis on plant foods is an excellent approach to nutrition. It can also be a transitional step to following one of the vegetarian diets, most of 
which fall into one of the following categories:

  • Vegan is a diet where no foods or ingredients of animal origin are consumed. While it is an exceptionally healthy way of eating, it requires extra planning, as it can be hard to find enough vegetarian protein (beans, soy or nuts) when eating out. Without animal protein, it’s also important to keep an eye on vitamin B12, iron, calcium and vitamin D levels. Vegans often take supplements to ensure they meet these nutrient needs.

  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian is an eating style that allows dairy products and eggs. This is a healthy approach to eating when it includes whole grains and a wide variety of vegetables and fruit.

  • Pescetarian is a largely vegetarian or vegan diet with the exception of the inclusion of fish and seafood.
Macrobiotic Vegetarian is a vegan diet based exclusively on unprocessed foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Sugar and refined oils are avoided. This diet emphasizes Asian vegetables like daikon and seaweed. 

  • Raw Vegan diet consists of unprocessed vegan foods that have not been heated above 115 °F (46°C). 

Diet tip: Start down the road to achieving a more plant-based diet by making one dinner a week a vegetarian meal (e.g., meatless chili, vegetable lasagna, vegetable and tofu stir-fry). Try this Meatless Monday recipe for Moroccan Chickpea and Vegetable Stew to get you started.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.