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The complete beginner’s guide to Flexitarian Diet

Maintaining a purposeful diet makes sense for a host of good reasons. Whether you are working toward overall good health and wellness or you would like to simply make conscious choices about what you eat, choosing to live with a careful diet can most often be a positive step. This is why some people choose a vegetarian or vegan diet. But for some people, completely eliminating one type of food is not possible or desirable. The Flexitarian Diet can be the answer here. 

The Flexitarian Diet combines two words and ideas: vegetarian and flexible. The Flexitarian diet relies primarily on vegetables and other meatless foods, but it allows for some meat in small amounts. The idea is to help us get the health benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet while allowing the indulgence, and potential health benefits, of eating meat. 

People choose to give up eating meat for all kinds of reasons. There are health benefits to the vegetarian diet, but there are also some trade-offs to being a vegetarian. Some choose to give up meat for environmental reasons. The goal of the Flexitarian diet is to work toward the health and environmental benefits of being a vegetarian while allowing for some flexibility. The Flexitarian diet might better be understood as a lifestyle more than a diet. 

What is the Flexitarian diet? What are the benefits of the Flexitarian diet? And how can you get started on the Flexitarian diet? This guide will give you all the basic information on the Flexitarian diet.   

What is the Flexitarian Diet?

plant bassed

The Flexitarian diet, or Flexitarian lifestyle, is sometimes referred to as a casual vegetarian diet. It simply means that you live primarily off of plant-based foods with only occasional meat products allowed. Some of the popularity of Flexitarianism is due to increasing awareness of the environmental impact of animal agriculture. Meat production takes a huge environmental toll, and some people feel that they can minimize their own environmental impact by vastly reducing their meat consumption. 

A Flexitarian diet relies on plant-based protein in place of meat. Things like beans and legumes, peas, nuts, and seeds take the place of meat. Yet, the Flexitarian diet allows for occasional animal-based foods in your diet. The goal is to vastly reduce the amount of meat you consume without completely eliminating it. 

There are tremendous health benefits to a plant-based diet. We will list these below, but the increase in soluble fiber and the reduction of animal fats and cholesterol all have an immediate impact on heart health and weight loss. By indulging in the occasional meat dish, people remove the pressure to remain strictly vegetarian and this helps them stay the course with a primarily plant-based lifestyle. 

Benefits of the Flexitarian Diet

The benefits of a vegetarian/vegan diet have been known for a long time. Simply by reducing things like cholesterol and fats from your diet have almost immediate benefits to your heart and can help you lose weight. These benefits seem to remain constant with the Flexitarian diet. The benefits of the Flexitarian diet include:  

- Heart disease

A diet that is high in fiber and healthy fats is great for heart health. This is an established medical fact. 

Research has shown that people who live a vegetarian lifestyle or indulge primarily in things like fish have much lower rates of certain types of heart disease than meat-eaters. This is due to the fact that increased intake of healthy fiber along with a decrease in the consumption of animal fats helps reduce blood pressure and increase good cholesterol. 

A more recent study from 2020 found that people who live with a Flexitarian diet reaped the same benefits for heart health as those who adhere to a strict vegetarian diet. It turns out that a Flexitarian diet leads to similar reductions in body mass index, total cholesterol, and blood pressure as a vegetarian diet. 

- Weight management

The Flexitarian diet can help you lose weight. The immediate reason for this is the overall reduction in calories, overly processed foods, and the increase in plant-based foods. 

Most studies of this kind have focused on vegetarian diets which have been proven to lead to weight loss and healthy weight management. However, more recent data shows that a diet that is primarily vegetarian but not exclusively like the Flexitarian diet leads to the same benefits for weight loss as a purely plant-based diet.  

It is useful to note that both vegetarians and flexitarians derive far greater benefit toward weight loss than those who adhere to a traditional meat-eating diet. 

- Diabetes

So prevalent is type 2 diabetes that it is now on the order of a global epidemic. It has long been understood that the best way to prevent, combat, or control type 2 diabetes is through a healthy diet. A predominantly plant-based diet is an extremely healthy form of just such a plant-based diet. 

The reason for this is that most plant-based diets are relatively low in sugar and high in fiber. These kinds of diets are also low in unhealthy fats. 

A healthy diet that emphasizes mostly plant-based foods has been found to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 34 percent. A healthy diet that consists mainly of plant foods includes things like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, and only small amounts of meat. This type of diet also eliminates foods and drinks that contain added sugar. 

Other potential health benefits

Reduced risk of cancer

Diets that rely on nutritious plant-based foods with little to no meat products and one that reduces or eliminates processed foods are known to reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. Research shows that this type of diet can reduce your risk of all types of cancer, but the risk of developing colorectal cancer is known to be vastly reduced. 

Good for the environment

Some people decide to take on a vegetarian or flexitarian lifestyle for environmental reasons. Meat production consumes vast amounts of land and natural resources. Meat production is also one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels and therefore one of the main drivers of greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing or eliminating meat from our diet, we can make a contribution to ecological preservation and to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that are the cause of global climate change. 

A review of the research on the sustainability of plant-based diets found that switching from the average Western diet to flexitarian eating, in which meat is partially replaced by plant foods, could decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 7%.  Eating more plant foods will also drive the demand to devote more land to growing fruits and vegetables for humans instead of feed for livestock. Cultivating plants requires far fewer resources than raising animals to eat.

As a matter of fact, greenhouse gas emissions attributed to vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets are as much as 50 percent lower than those attributable to a conventional diet that includes meat as a staple of the diet. 

Does Flexitarian Diet Work for everyone?

Obviously, the decision as to whether or not the flexitarian diet is right for you is entirely up to you. There are other well-known diets such as the Mediterranean diet, that rely primarily on plant-based foods but allow some meat and fish. The Flexitarian diet is supported by nutrition experts, and it is deemed a healthy diet by the US Department of Agriculture.

All this said some people who have come to rely on meat-based protein in most or every meal may find the transition to a Flexitarian diet to be uncomfortable. It is most important that you get the nutrition you need from a balanced and healthy diet, no matter the diet style or program.   


What can I eat with a Flexitarian Diet?

flexitarian diet food

To adopt the Flexitarian diet, you will be eating mostly vegetarian foods. This means you will rely primarily on things like vegetables and fruits, legumes, beans, lentils, and nuts and seeds.  

Flexitarian means being flexible. You will be able to eat things like fish, poultry, and even red meat. The key is to only eat these foods as a minor part of your diet. You will be making a switch from eating animal-based foods in nearly every meal to eating these kinds of foods once or twice a week.


Sample menu for one week during Flexitarian Diet

There are many ways to stick with the Flexitarian diet. It does not require a great deal of rigor. A Flexitarian diet simply means you reduce the amount of meat you consume. As a way of getting a sense of how you can follow a meal plan, below is an example of a typical but delicious Flexitarian menu plan: 

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Flexitarian Diet Cons

While the Flexitarian diet is healthy for just about anyone, there are some cons to the diet. Some of the cons to the Flexitarian diet include:

Maybe a difficult transition for daily meat-eaters. If you have spent your life living on a "meat and potatoes" diet, you may find the Flexitarian diet to be a difficult transition. Going from eating meat in nearly every meal to eating meat once or twice a week could prove to be challenging. Remember, the diet is flexible, and a slow transition to a complete Flexitarian diet is acceptable.

May lack iron

Eliminating meat from your diet means eliminating one of the best sources of iron. Iron is a crucial nutrient for our health. To safely adhere to the Flexitarian diet you will need to pay attention to eating plenty of foods like soy, lentils, beans, seeds, leafy greens, and whole grains to ensure that you are getting enough iron.  

People with diabetes

People who live with diabetes will need to take care that they are eating the correct foods for maintaining their health. If you have diabetes or any other conditions that are specifically linked to diet, make sure you consult your doctor before taking on the Flexitarian diet. 

Flexitarian Diet FAQs

What is the Flexitarian Diet? The Flexitarian diet, or Flexitarian lifestyle, is sometimes referred to as a casual vegetarian diet. It simply means that you live primarily off of plant-based foods with only occasional meat products allowed. Some of the popularity of Flexitarianism is due to increasing awareness of the environmental impact of animal agriculture. Meat production takes a huge environmental toll, and some people feel that they can minimize their own environmental impact by vastly reducing their meat consumption. 

What are the benefits of the Flexitarian diet? The Flexitarian diet can help you lose weight, fight or potentially control type 2 diabetes, and reduce your environmental impact. 

What can I eat on the Flexitarian diet? To adopt the Flexitarian diet, you will be eating mostly vegetarian foods. This means you will rely primarily on things like vegetables and fruits, legumes, beans, lentils, and nuts and seeds. You are able to eat meat, poultry, and fish in small amounts. 

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