The flexitarian diet, also known as semi-vegetarianism, is defined as vegetarianism with the occasional consumption of meat and/or fish (Derbyshire, 2017). This “diet” has been gaining traction over the years as a way to decrease meat consumption in an effort to improve overall health. Individuals following this diet typically limit meat intake to less than 3 days of the week (Hudders, 2014).
The drive for a flexitarian lifestyle is twofold: reduce consumption of meat, particularly red meat, in order to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease; and to improve animal welfare. The most cited reasons for choosing a flexitarian lifestyle include: health, cost savings, animal welfare and food safety (NatCen., 2016).
Studies have shown that a flexitarian/semi-vegetarian diet has overall health benefits due to the increased focus on micronutrients and fiber consumption in a more plant-based diet (Clarys, Deliens et al., 2014).
The current research highlights that a semi-vegetarian diet can decrease the risk for diabetes and high blood pressure and is speculated to be an effective treatment in inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. gut inflammation) due to the increased consumption of dietary fiber (Chiba, 2014).
Overall, the research supports the movement toward a semi-vegetarian diet. This swap can help individuals consume more plant-based foods, thus increasing micronutrient and fiber intake. A flexitarian diet is an easy way to consume less meat and focus on plant-based foods, which tend to be less consumed foods in the typical diet (Turner-McGrievy GM, Wirth MD, Shivappa N, Wingard EE, Fayad R, Wilcox S, et al., 2015).
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Clarys P, Deliens T, Huybrechts I, Deriemaeker P, Vanaelst B, De Keyzer W, et al. Comparison of nutritional quality of the vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diet. Nutrients (2014) 6(3):1318–32. doi:10.3390/nu6031318
De Backer CJ, Hudders L. From meatless Mondays to meatless Sundays: motivations for meat reduction among vegetarians and semi-vegetarians who mildly or significantly reduce their meat intake. Ecol Food Nutr (2014) 53(6):639–57. doi:10.1080/03670244.2014.896797
Derbyshire, Emma J. Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Front Nutr (2017). http://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2016.00055
NatCen. Are We Eating Less Meat? A British Social Attitudes Report. (2016). http://www.natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/british-social-attitudes-are-we-eating-less-meat
Turner-McGrievy GM, Wirth MD, Shivappa N, Wingard EE, Fayad R, Wilcox S, et al. Randomization to plant-based dietary approaches leads to larger short-term improvements in dietary inflammatory index scores and macronutrient intake compared with diets that contain meat. Nutr Res (2015) 35(2):97–106. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.11.007