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Health & Fit Add more plant-based options to your diet with this healthy 7-day flexitarian meal plan

05:25  26 november  2020
05:25  26 november  2020 Source:   msn.com

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a person holding a tray of food: A flexitarian meal plan can help jump start a healthy plant-based diet. d3sign/ Getty images © d3sign/ Getty images A flexitarian meal plan can help jump start a healthy plant-based diet. d3sign/ Getty images
  • The purpose of the flexitarian diet is to reduce the amount of animal-based products you consume and replace them with whole, plant-based options.
  • Research suggests several advantages to reducing your consumption of animal products while eating more whole grains, veggies, legumes, and other plant-based foods.
  • People with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease may benefit from the flexitarian diet.
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

A flexitarian diet is exactly what its name implies — it's a flexible way to kickstart healthy eating and potentially shed some pounds and improve your health in the process.

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Generally speaking, the purpose of the flexitarian diet is to reduce the amount of animal-based products you consume and replace them with whole, plant-based options.

For example, replace your barbacoa taco filling with spiced black beans. However, this does not mean replacing your jerky snack with potato chips.

To lose weight on a flexitarian diet, you'll need to choose the right foods to support that goal, says registered dietitian-nutritionist Scott Keatley, RD, CDN.

"Technically, potato chips and table sugar are vegetarian but we know that if our diet includes too much of these types of food we will not lose weight," Keatley says. "However, picking whole-grains, fruits, and vegetables as well as some lean proteins make for a high-fiber … calorie-controlled diet."

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Here's how to try a flexitarian diet with a 7-day meal plan as well as more on the benefits you may reap from following it.

What to eat and drink on the flexitarian diet

A flexitarian diet encourages a lot of healthy behaviors, like rarely eating red meat and loading up on lean protein and whole foods. Here's a list of foods that experts recommend eating frequently, in moderation, and rarely while following a flexitarian diet.

Foods/drinks to have often:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds (recommended portion of 1 to 2 ounces per day)
  • Water

Foods/drinks to have in moderation:

  • Low-fat cheese
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Caffeinated beverages

Foods/drinks to avoid whenever possible (true for all eating plans):

  • Processed meat (bacon, salami, hot dogs, sausage)
  • Refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, and pastries made with white flour)
  • Processed snacks (candy, chips, cookies)
  • Drinks with added sugar (soda, sweetened juice, energy drinks)

7-Day flexitarian meal plan

If you're interested in trying out a flexitarian diet, here's a 7-day sample flexitarian meal plan, according to registered dietician Shena Jaramillo, MS, RD. Adjust serving sizes and calorie proportions to your specific needs.

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Day 1

a bowl of food on a plate: Hummus is a great protein-packed snack. Elisete Domingues / EyeEm/Getty Images © Elisete Domingues / EyeEm/Getty Images Hummus is a great protein-packed snack. Elisete Domingues / EyeEm/Getty Images

Breakfast: Oatmeal (made with dairy-free milk), topped with fruit and walnuts

Lunch: Mixed green salad with spiced chickpeas, avocado, cherry tomato, cucumber, and balsamic vinaigrette

Snack: Bell pepper and hummus

Dinner: Butternut squash and black bean frittata

Day 2

a close up of food: A savory chicken stir fry for dinner will hit the spot on day 2. Graphiqa-Stock/Getty Images © Graphiqa-Stock/Getty Images A savory chicken stir fry for dinner will hit the spot on day 2. Graphiqa-Stock/Getty Images

Breakfast: Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, apple slices

Snack: ¼ cup walnut halves

Lunch: Whole-wheat pita with mixed greens, bell pepper, and roasted chickpeas

Snack: Sliced pear

Dinner: Chicken stir fry with mixed vegetables and nutritional yeast

Day 3

a dish is filled with food: Avocado on whole wheat toast is a classic way to start your day right. OatmealStories/Getty Images © OatmealStories/Getty Images Avocado on whole wheat toast is a classic way to start your day right. OatmealStories/Getty Images Breakfast: Whole-wheat toast with avocado, sprouts, and chickpeas

Snack: Sliced apple with peanut butter

Lunch: Quinoa and broccoli stir-fry with roasted tofu

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Snack: 1 cup of strawberries

Dinner: Whole-wheat pita with vegetables, balsamic vinegar, and low-fat cheese


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Day 4

a sandwich sitting on top of a wooden table: Celery with peanut butter is a crunchy, fulfilling snack. MSPhotographic/Getty Images © MSPhotographic/Getty Images Celery with peanut butter is a crunchy, fulfilling snack. MSPhotographic/Getty Images

Breakfast: Buckwheat cereal with blueberries

Snack: Carrot sticks with hummus

Lunch: Strawberry almond kale salad with citrus vinaigrette and grilled chicken breast

Snack: Celery with peanut butter

Dinner: Tempeh taco sliders with tomato, cabbage, and vegan sour cream

Day 5

a close up of a sandwich on a plate: Black bean burgers are a delicious alternative to bland, frozen veggie burgers. Photography by Matthew Lankford/Getty Images © Photography by Matthew Lankford/Getty Images Black bean burgers are a delicious alternative to bland, frozen veggie burgers. Photography by Matthew Lankford/Getty Images

Breakfast: Fruit smoothie

Snack: Baked kale chips

Lunch: Black bean veggie burger on a whole-wheat bun

Snack: Popcorn with nutritional yeast

Dinner: Veggie pasta salad with lime and balsamic vinegar

Day 6

a pan filled with food: Kick off day 6 with a protein-packed egg scramble. LauriPatterson/Getty Images © LauriPatterson/Getty Images Kick off day 6 with a protein-packed egg scramble. LauriPatterson/Getty Images

Breakfast: Egg scramble with mushrooms, onions, and peppers

Snack: Fruit smoothie

Lunch: Avocado "Reuben" sandwich on rye with mustard, sauerkraut, and vegan thousand island dressing

Snack: Rice cakes with nut butter and pomegranate seeds

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Dinner: Vegetarian chili

Day 7

a bowl of food with broccoli: Treat yourself on day 7 with some mac and cheese. You've earned it! antares71/Getty Images © antares71/Getty Images Treat yourself on day 7 with some mac and cheese. You've earned it! antares71/Getty Images

Breakfast: Whole-grain bagel with peanut butter and banana

Snack: Tomato, cucumber, and basil salad with tahini or vinaigrette

Lunch: Whole-wheat mac and cheese (either with real cheese or vegan cheese made with soaked cashews and nutritional yeast), roasted broccoli

Snack: Almonds and clementines

Dinner: Curried coconut quinoa with shrimp and roasted cauliflower

What the research says about a flexitarian diet

Research that is specifically on the flexitarian diet is limited since the guidelines aren't as strict as vegetarianism and veganism, which makes flexitarianism more difficult to study.

That said, there's plenty of research indicating the advantages of reducing your consumption of animal products while eating more whole grains, veggies, legumes, and other plant-based foods.

Better weight management and body composition

Jaramillo says that since plant-based proteins tend to be high in fiber, they can make you feel full for longer while reducing your overall caloric intake — which can ultimately lead to weight loss. Here's what the research says:

  • A 2011 comparative study showed a connection between the consumption of animal products and body mass index (BMI). The more animal-based foods in subjects' diets, the higher their BMI tended to be. While vegans had the lowest BMI, semi-vegetarians still had a lower BMI than non-vegetarians.
  • Another 2010 study found a positive association between total meat consumption and weight gain, even after adjusting for caloric intake. This aligns with the findings of a 2015 study, which reports that post-menopausal Korean women who maintained a semi-vegetarian diet over 20 years had a "significantly lower" BMI, as well as body fat percentage, than the non-vegetarians in the study.
  • Additionally, a 2019 study conducted in Spain found that a "pro-vegetarian" diet — which researchers defined as "preference for plant-derived foods but not exclusion of animal foods" — can help reduce the risk of obesity.

Lower blood pressure

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  • According to a 2020 review, a plant-based diet has been shown to lower blood pressure — even if small amounts of meat and dairy are still consumed.

Reduced risk of heart disease and heart failure

  • In 2017, researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York found that people who mostly ate a plant-based diet were 42% less likely to develop heart failure throughout the four-year study, compared to participants who ate fewer plant-based foods.
  • Similarly, a 2017 overview found evidence that high consumption of plant-based foods is associated with a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers believe this may be because plant-based foods are high in heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, as well as fiber and antioxidants.

Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes

  • A 2018 study in the Netherlands found that a diet that emphasized plant-based foods was associated with lower insulin resistance, lower risk of pre-diabetes, and lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Reduced risk of cancer

  • A 2015 study of more than 77,000 people found that semi-vegetarians were 8% less likely to get colorectal cancer — the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths — when compared to non-vegetarians.

Reduced inflammation

  • A 2019 review found that a plant-based diet may help to reduce inflammation, and thus, help to alleviate painful symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Insider's takeaway

A flexitarian diet offers an ideal compromise for people who regularly eat meat and want to cut down on meat and dairy products without giving them up entirely.

Research suggests that people with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease can benefit from the flexitarian diet.

Moreover, "anyone can benefit from a flexitarian diet — but those with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis may see the greatest benefit with decreased inflammation," says Jaramillo.

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