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The Flexitarian Diet: Finding Balance Between Health and Sustainability.

According to Veganism Statistics India (2022), around 574 million Indians follow a meat-free or vegan diet due to individual food practices or choices or being in the mainstream. What if you’re inclined to incorporate more plant-based foods in your diet but are also a meat lover?

Then here’s your solution, a Flexitarian diet is for you.

What is a flexitarian diet? The name itself says that it’s a combination of two words “flexible” & “vegetarian”. The flexitarian diet is a flexible (works mostly for everyone & easy to follow), semi-vegetarian diet that includes more plant-based foods and along with that animal products as well.

The principles of this diet include:

· Including fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds.

· Focusing on plant-derived protein, instead of animal protein.

· Being flexible enough to add on meat & animal protein every so often.

· Eating less processed, canned, and junk foods.

· Limiting extra sugar, sweets, and carbonated beverages.

As the name itself is very fancy, you might be thinking that you’d have to go to the near grocery market to fetch something or the other but let me tell you how wrong you are. You can fill up your plate with the following food items and get started with the Flexitarian Diet.

· Proteins like soybeans, peas, lentils, legumes, tofu, eggs, and meats.

· Vegetables are mostly everything, focusing on greens, beans, carrots, cauliflower, corn, sweet potato etc.

· Fruits like apples, oranges, berries, grapes, and cherries.

· Grains like barley, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, and pasta.

· Nuts, seeds & healthy fats like almonds, flaxseed, chia seed, walnut, cashew, pistachios, peanut butter, and avocados.

· Herbs like basil, mint, cumin, turmeric, and ginger.

· Beverages like tea, and coffee.

In the case of animal products, try to have eggs and meat pasture-raised and fish wild-caught.

Talking about foods that need to be minimized, include:

· Processed meats like bacon, and sausage.

· Refined carbs like white bread, and white rice.

· Extra sugar like candies, chocolates, cakes and carbonated beverages like soda, and cold drinks.

· Junk foods like fries, burgers, pizza, samosa, bhaji etc.

Now if you’re wondering., apart from exciting your taste buds- Does this diet provide any health benefits? The answer is Yes.

This diet manages or prevents-

1. Type 2 diabetes as it focuses on a plant-based diet that is high in fibre like legumes, fruits, veggies, whole grains, seeds, and nuts and low in unhealthy fat, and extra sugar.

The biggest dilemma of this diet for a person with diabetes is that “after fruits & veggies” come “grains” but here, it’s better to include more animal protein than that of grains. Otherwise, swapping grains like rice for lighter vegetables like spinach, kale, and cabbage could be a great option.

2. Weight management as it limits extra calories, highly processed foods, junk but it is debatable because it depends on what you were eating before, and what is the current portion size. Otherwise, studies have shown that after 16 weeks of following the Flexitarian Diet, individuals had less body fat compared to those who followed the normal diet.

3. Heart heath because again this diet is rich in fibre, antioxidants and good fats. These may reduce blood pressure, and increase good cholesterol. Studies revealed that people who adhered to any diet excluding/reducing meat intake had lower BMI, total cholesterol and hypertension compared with omnivores.

4. Cancer because this diet makes the food plate nutrient-dense. Research says that cases of colorectal cancer in 78,000 people semi-vegetarians were 8% less likely than non-vegetarians to get this type of cancer.

Drawbacks of following this diet:

Due to the limitations towards certain foods, some people may be at risk of nutrient deficiencies like vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and calcium.

The crux

The flexitarian diet focuses on a plate with a plant-based diet but also allows for a bit of meat. This diet is flexible for individuals as it’s easy to follow and not rigid.

Following this diet can result in a lot of health benefits because it is rich in antioxidants, proteins, good fats, and fibres. Therefore, it shows positive results in cardiovascular disease, cancer, weight management, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

However, it also has some downsides. For example, this diet lacks in vitamins like vitamins B12, and D and minerals like zinc, calcium, folic acid, iron etc.

Nevertheless, planning your flexitarian diet with all the possible good food choices definitely going to prevent the nutritional deficiencies and gather the most health benefits.

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