Flexitarian and Plant Diets Affecting Your Health

Flexitarian and Plant Diets Affecting Your Health


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Are you a die-hard vegetarian looking to convince your omnivorous friends to follow your path? Or someone who wants to cut down on meat, but not forsake your weekly chipotle chicken burrito forever?

Vegetarian diets, which eliminate meat consumption, and “flexitarian” diets, which minimize it, are rapidly growing in popularity. Below we document some of the potential health benefits you gain by reducing or cutting out meat from your diet. Then we examine key biomarkers to monitor so you can optimize your low-to-no meat diet for overall health and peak performance.

How do we classify the variations on low-meat and no-meat diets? Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, and poultry. Some, called “lacto-ovo vegetarians,” eat eggs and dairy. According to “Vegetarianism in America,” a recent study published by Vegetarian Times, 7.3 million people follow vegetarian diets including elite athletes such as NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath and baseball player Prince Fielder.1 Vegans are vegetarians who abstain from consuming any animal products—including eggs, all dairy, and even honey. About one million Americans are vegans.

While increasing numbers of Americans are eliminating meat, many more are serious about minimizing it. Many people who eat meat are eating less of it in modified diets called “flexitarian” or “vegetarian-inclined.” Some, such as pescetarians and certain paleo diet enthusiasts, eat fish but not meat or poultry. Many flexitarians eat all forms of meat but less of it compared to the standard Western diet.

Overall, about 22.8 million people in the US follow a vegetarian-inclined diet, over three times the amount of people who are strictly vegetarian. Additionally, many Americans participate in the popular “Meatless Mondays,” an initiative by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that promotes foregoing meat consumption on (you guessed it) Mondays.


Many people argue that the less extreme alternative of reducing meat consumption is easier for people to adopt than eliminating meat altogether. In a large survey conducted by the advocacy group Humane Research Council, 84% of vegetarians and vegans resume eating meat after attempting to abandon it. About 43 % of these former vegetarians said they had considerable difficulty “sticking to a pure diet,” indicating that the all-or-nothing approach of eliminating meat is not sustainable. This data is corroborated by personal opinions: the Dalai Lama says he just couldn’t go all-or-nothing with meat and eats a low-meat, flexitarian diet. And while I like vegetarian and vegan foods, I am not sure if I can forsake salmon kebabs for the rest of my life.

The most commonly cited reason why people pursue a vegetarian or meat-minimal diet is for their health, not the environment or ethics. However, does science support the commonly held notion that a vegetarian diet is better for you?

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