The benefits of being vegetarian carry over to this diet, which is why the flexitarian diet is recommended for people who are curious about vegetarianism, and occasionally for former vegans or vegetarians who may have experienced nutritional deficiencies as a result of going completely meat-free. But it’s also a great option for anyone who wants to adopt a healthier lifestyle, because it foregrounds plants without being anti-meat, says Liz Weiss, RDN, of Liz’s Healthy Table in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Here’s a closer look at some of the possible benefits of the eating approach.

Lowers Risk of Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes

Given its second-place ranking in the Best Diets Overall category and second in Best Diets for Diabetes in the 2022 Best Diet Rankings by U.S. News & World Report, it’s not surprising that a study found that a vegetarian diet (the flexitarians’ stricter counterpart) was more effective at reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes than a “diabetes-friendly diet.”

In the study, 74 participants consumed the same number of calories for six months. Some went on a vegetarian diet, and others went on a diet that emphasized reducing sugars, refined carbs, cholesterol, and saturated fat. Interestingly, people on the vegetarian diet lost more subfascial fat (the fat that lines your muscles), and intramuscular fat (the type stored inside your muscles themselves). The fat stored in your muscles can impact your metabolism and lead to insulin resistance (and even type 2 diabetes).

One study found that flexitarians had a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes compared with nonvegetarians.

In addition, being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes, and this same study showed that flexitarians had lower BMIs than nonvegetarians.

Boosts Heart Health

Also, a large preliminary study found that people who followed a semi-vegetarian (aka flexitarian) diet had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. In the study, the researchers followed more than 450,000 Europeans for 10 years and found that the participants who consumed at least 70 percent of their food from plant sources (called “most pro-vegetarian”) had a 20 percent lower risk of dying of heart disease than those who ate fewer plant-based foods (called “least pro-vegetarian”). The researchers concluded that substituting some of the meat in your diet with vegetables may be a simple way to lower the risk of heart-related death. It’s worth noting that this study was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, and therefore its credibility is limited.

Contributes to a Longer Life

Research also suggests that flexitarians may live about 3.6 years longer than their more carnivorous counterparts, likely as a result of the reduced risk of disease.

Meanwhile, a study of over half a million people found that red and processed meat intakes were associated with modest increases in total death rates, death by cancer, and death by heart disease.

Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

An underrecognized benefit of going flexitarian is its benefit to our planet, says Sharon Palmer, RDN, “The Plant-Powered Dietitian,” who lives in Los Angeles. Palmer says eating less meat (and replacing it with more whole-plant foods, such as beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds) can reduce your personal carbon footprint. The agriculture and livestock industries account for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Is Easy to Follow

The other major advantage of going flexitarian is the diet’s straightforwardness and flexibility, says Blatner, which increases the chances that the diet would become a long-term lifestyle.

Helps You Save Money

There are no exotic (or particularly pricey) ingredients required for this diet plan, so groceries shouldn’t cost more than they typically do. And, if meat is the current star of all your meals, bypassing the butcher may actually save you money. The diet’s wiggle room concerning what you eat means that there’s wiggle room financially, as well.

Indeed, one study looked at how much money vegetarians save by comparing government-recommended weekly meal plans (which include meat) with comparable seven-day plant-based meals, and found that vegetarians can save up to $750 annually. Compared with the meat eaters, the veg dieters also ate more servings of fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

Keeps You Well Nourished

A position paper suggests that a vegetarian diet contains a greater amount of nutrient-dense food than nonvegetarian diets.

Additionally, the flexitarian diet prioritizes produce, which will likely cut down your consumption of processed and packaged foods that are often packed with added salt and sugar, says Blatner. “It’s great for someone who doesn’t want to be super strict about not eating their favorite animal-based meals,” says Weiss.

Improves Skin Health

For a glowing complexion, pack your plate with plants. A fruit-, veggie-, nut-, and legume-forward diet is rich in nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, and E, and polyphenols — these are antioxidant plant compounds — that help neutralize damaging, skin-aging free radicals, lower inflammation, protect against UV exposure, and build skin’s support structures, including collagen, notes a recent review.

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