The flexitarian diet is a combination of vegetarian and flexible. It’s a style of eating that predominantly encourages a diet that’s similar to vegetarianism. However, the difference is that the flexitarian diet allows consumption of animal products such as meat in moderation.
If you ever considered the vegetarian diet but then backed out since you can’t live without the delectable burger, the flexitarian diet might be an excellent option for you. Combing the words “vegetarian” and “flexible,” the diet suggests that users can enjoy the benefits of the vegetarian diet while still enjoying meat whenever cravings strike.
While the idea of eating plant-based foods isn’t new, flexitarian eating was introduced as a mainstream diet back in 2008. Dawn Jackson, a registered dietician, published her book in 2008 titled “ The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life.” In her book, Dawn describes her relationship with this eating style.[i]
The diet focuses more on adding plant-based foods to your diet rather than removal and restriction. Dieticians note that plants protect against diabetes, cancer, and other health conditions thanks to the essential phytochemicals, minerals, vitamins, and micronutrients.[ii]
The U.S. News and World Report, giving it a score of 4.1 out of 5, rank the flexitarian diet number 2.[iii] Keep reading to learn more about this flexitarian diet to determine whether it’s the right eating style for you,
What You Can Eat
If you choose to follow the flexitarian diet, you will focus on consuming more vegetarian foods. The diet allows for animal products throughout the week but in small amounts. The most important thing is to ensure you focus on vegetarian foods while taking animal products, especially meat, in small quantities.
Research shows that naturally increasing the consumption of plant-based foods that are rich in nutrients for optimal health promotion will result in a greater intake of vegetarian meals.[iv]
The good news is that timing of meals isn’t necessary while following the flexitarian diet. For people looking to lose weight, Dawn outlines the 300-calorie breakfast, 500-calorie dinner, and 400-calorie lunch, alongside two snacks in between of 150 calories each.[v]
The flexitarian diet largely focuses on vegetables. You should increase your veggie intake by experimenting with the latest cooking methods or utilizing vegetables in some of the most creative ways, like cauliflower rice and zoodles.
Instead of reaching for ice cream to fulfill your innate desire for sweet things, this diet suggests turning to delicious fruits. It provides the level of sweetness you desire, alongside many other nutrients such as water, fiber, and other valuable nutrients that improve satiety and keeps you feeling hydrated. You should try to create new desserts with fruits, such as frozen bananas that have been dipped in chocolate.
Grains have previously got an unprecedented reputation that they don’t deserve. Whole grains provide nutrients and fiber. Include your regular favorites such as brown rice and oatmeal, and try adding in ancient grains such as millet, quinoa, or amaranth.
Besides the plant-based proteins, consumers should also consider adding eggs to their meals. Eggs are a superb way to get enough protein when enjoying meatless meals.
Although you do not have to eliminate animal proteins and meat, you will want to include extra vegetarian meals in the diet and plant-based proteins such as seeds, nuts, lentils, beans, and tofu.
This diet allows consumers to consume dairy, and thanks to dairy’s bone-strengthening combination of vitamin D and calcium, it’s a highly nutritious option. Also, you can include dairy alternatives, kefir, yogurt, cheese, and milk in this eating plan.
Spices, Herbs, And Oils
You can get more creative by using different aromatic spices, flavorful herbs, and oils. These help to add more favor in a more healthy manner.
What Not To Eat
Although the flexitarian diet is based on adding more nutritious foods, there are a few foods that you should not eat.
Meat In Excess
The main purpose of a flexitarian diet is to encourage more vegetarian foods, so it’s reasonable that excess meat isn’t compliant. With no official rules guiding meat consumption among flexitarian, different people will have separate definitions of what excess means.
Added Sugars – In Excess
Like other healthy diets, you will have to reduce added sugars if you choose to follow the flexitarian diet.
Although refined carbohydrates are allowed occasionally, the flexitarian diet encourages users to stick to whole grains.
Does The Flexitarian Diet Aid Weight Loss?
If you are looking for ways to lose weight, there are an unlimited number of commercial diets and eating plans that you can choose from, but the flexitarian diet is considered to be one of the best. For starters, if you follow the diet and start including more plant-based foods in your meals, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, you will likely feel full for longer and end up taking few calories.
The number of calories you take daily usually determines a successful weight loss journey. Since this diet recommends consuming fewer calories, you’ll likely lose weight.
Furthermore, one polish study showed that following a vegetarian diet reduces your risks of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Not to mention that people following plant-based diets usually weigh 15% less than those who eat animal products, resulting in more benefits from the reduced incidence of obesity and other related medical issues.
According to a review of 87 studies published in 2006, the rate of obesity amongst vegetarians ranges between 0% and 6% said the authors of this study. Also, the bodyweight of female and male vegetarians is average by 3 percent to 20% lower than that of people who eat meat.[vi]
What Are The Rules Of The Flexitarian Diet?
If you’re looking to become a flexitarian, you should consider adding five food groups into your diet; these include vegetables, fruits, spice, sugar, dairy, and whole grains and “new meat” – non-meat proteins such as eggs, peas, and beans.
- The 5-week eating plan provides snacks, dinner, lunch, and breakfast recipes. You can easily follow the plan as outlined or opt to swap the recipes from different weeks to meet your daily needs.
- It’s a 3, 4,5 program – breakfast options are approximately dinners 500, lunches 400 and 300 calories. Snacks are approximately150 calories; add two snacks and your overall total calories are 1500 per day.
- Depending on your weight, height, gender, and activity levels, you can change the plan to allow for a few or more calories.
- You can also follow this diet at your pace. Just jump in and start trying out most of these recipes, sticking to the eating style verbatim for five weeks. You can also take it slow and test each of the recipes.
- Avoid alcohol or drink it in moderation – two drinks for men and one drink for women.
Possible Health Benefits
The benefits of a healthy, balanced diet rich in valuable nutrients are well documented. Research shows that eating more unprocessed foods, including nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, proteins, plant-based fats, vegetables, and fruits[vii], can:
- Reduce risks of chronic diseases such as type II diabetes and cancer
- Promote heart health
- Promotes weight loss
- Improve well being and health
Also, the International Food Information Council identifies various possible health benefits like:
- Helping an individual get adequate minerals and vitamins through the diet
- Reducing an individual’s risks of developing heart disease
- Helping with enough fiber intake that helps with the absorption of nutrients and digestion
- Well-aligned with USDA recommendations for 2015 – 2020, which recommends adding a range of proteins, whole grains, dairy, vegetables, and fruits to your diet.
A 2018 study also proposes that following the flexitarian diet might help people minimize their effect on the environment. Also, it notes that eating meat in moderation might overcome many nutritional deficits people might experience with vegetarianism like vitamin B12, zinc, and iron.
Research also shows that the flexitarians might live approximately 3.6 years longer than the carnivorous peers, largely because they are not vulnerable to risks of heart disease or stroke. Moderate consumption of animal products is also part of a more healthy and balanced diet.[viii]
Sample Shopping List
Without any restrictions on the flexitarian diet other than limiting or avoiding processed foods, there are numerous foods you can eat if you choose to start following this eating style. The shopping list below offers suggestions for getting started on the flexitarian diet. Keep in mind that this isn’t an exclusive list, and you might find other foods that are more appealing to you.
Following are some of the products you should consider adding to your shopping cart:
- Healthy fats – olive oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, avocados
- Frozen and fresh fruits – apples, bananas, berries, oranges, grapefruit
- Vegetables – carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli
- Dark leafy greens – collard greens, Swiss chard, arugula, spinach, kale
- Dairy products – cottage cheese, manchego, parmesan, feta, yogurt
- Frozen or fresh fish – shrimp, snapper, cod, salmon, halibut
- Poultry and meat – turkey breast, chicken breast, lean beef
- Legumes – chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, black beans
- Bread – pumpernickel, sourdough, whole grain
- Grains – couscous, barley, brown or white rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, sorghum
- Plant proteins – peas, and beans, lentils like red lentils, white beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, and black beans
As you can see on the list above, this diet largely emphasizes plant-based proteins and less animal products.
Sample Meal Plan
While you don’t have to avoid any food, you’ll want to include more plant-based foods into your regular rotation on the plan. The five-day meal plan below should give you an idea of what you should have in your eating plan if you choose to follow the flexitarian diet.
Keep in mind that this eating plan isn’t exclusive, so if you choose to follow this eating style, other foods are more suitable for your budget, preferences, and tastes.
- Breakfast – eight ounces orange juice and California summer veggie omelet
- Lunch – one cup rainbow vegetable soup, quinoa salad, one and a half cups of citrus kale
- Dinner – two black bean arugula tostadas topped with the turmeric guacamole
- Breakfast – one antioxidant berry smoothie and one slice 5-minute avocado & egg toast
- Lunch – 3 ounces carrot sticks, ¼ cup of lemon herb lentil dip, and one low-fat tuna wrap
- Dinner – one serving Mediterranean salad topped with cauliflower tabbouleh, one serving of zesty grilled shrimp skewers, and one serving Mediterranean quinoa with stuffed red peppers
- Breakfast – one serving simple green juice and one papaya yogurt and walnut boat
- Lunch – one slice sourdough bread and one and a half cups of quick roasted tomato soup
- Dinner – three ounces of spring mix greens topped with olive oil, one cup of cooked couscous, one cup of slow cooker Moroccan beef stew
- Breakfast – one cup of strawberries and one serving of vegetable & goat cheese frittata
- Lunch – one serving chips and guacamole, and two poblano portabella mushroom tacos
- Dinner – quinoa kale salad and three cups blood orange, and one serving of creamy southwest chicken
- Breakfast – one orange, one serving feta oatmeal bowl, and savory spinach
- Lunch – two black sesame tofu and peanut dipper sauce
- Dinner – ¾ cup of baked coconut rice and one serving of Thai coconut chicken
Pros And Cons Of The Flexitarian Diet
There are numerous benefits to the flexitarian diet because you can personalize it to perfectly suit your health goals and nutritional needs. Nevertheless, like other commercial diets, there are a few downsides.
No foods are eliminated or removed from the flexitarian diet. Instead, the diet focuses more on increasing your intake of plant-based foods while minimizing the intake of animal-based products.
Because all foods are part of this diet, it’s easier to make changes to perfectly suit your needs and build meals around what you like. Also, you can confidently visit a restaurant or a friend’s dinner party and still focus on the main principles of the diet.
As mentioned above, the flexitarian diet includes all food groups. Therefore, it’s highly likely you will meet all the nutrient needs on a diet (possibly with some more planning to guarantee sufficient intake of iron).
For comparison, strict vegan and vegetarian diets may not have enough omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, usually found in fish. Moreover, a study published in the “Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found over 50% of vegetarians in a group reported the DHA zero intake.
The flexitarian diet permits the flexibility for people to still eat fish regularly and offer an improved nutrient balance.[ix]
Decreased Risks Of Diabetes
Consuming the flexitarian diet might help minimize the risks of type II diabetes. Three different studies, one of them from Diabetes Care and another from the Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Disease in 2009[x] and another from the Nutrition Journal 2014, found that the semi-vegetarian diet was associated with reduced risks of type II diabetes as compared to the non-vegetarian diet.[xi]
Another study published on Clinical Nutrition Research found that the semi-vegetarian females had reduced serum levels of insulin and glucose.[xii]
A few studies have shown that a semi-vegetarian diet is associated with reduced body weight. Also, a 2015 study found that the post-menopausal females following the semi-vegetarian diet had reduced body weight, body fat percentage, and BMI compared to the non-vegetarian females.
Another study conducted in 2014 and published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that semi-vegetarians had reduced rates of overweight and obesity than non-vegetarians.[xiii]
Lowered Risk Of Type II Diabetes
Consuming the flexitarian diet might help reduce the risks of type II diabetes. Three different studies, one from 2014, 2011, and 2009, found that the semi-vegetarian diet was related to reduced risks of diabetes than non-vegetarian diets.
Possible Low Iron Intake
A study involving Australian women showed that semi-vegetarian women had high rates of anemia, iron deficiency, and low iron levels compared to non-vegetarian women.
Depending on the number of times you include animal products on the flexitarian diet, you might have to pay more attention to adding additional plant-based sources of iron. These include whole grains, leafy greens, seeds, beans, lentils, and soy.[xiv]
It Might Be Hard For Daily Meat-Eaters
It might be challenging for people who grew up in potatoes and meat household to transition to eating vegetarian meals. Nevertheless, the flexitarian diet is designed around adopting a healthy lifestyle that works for different types of people, which might mean going without meat two days every week and enjoying your pork, chicken, or beef on the remaining five days.[xv]
Is The Flexitarian Diet A Healthy Option For You?
The flexitarian diet shares many similarities with other commercial diets:
- The Mediterranean diet is largely a plant-based diet with more emphasis on fish, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. In the same way as the flexitarian diet, studies show that the Mediterranean diet might also aid weight loss[xvi].
- The vegetarian diet removes several categories of foods, including dairy, legumes, and grains, without restricting meat consumption other than eating unprocessed and organic animal products.
- The vegetarian diet includes different types of food except for animal proteins, but you can eat eggs and seafood.
Whether you refer to it as a semi-vegetarian diet or the flexitarian diet, the lifestyle is well balanced and supported by many nutrition experts. As a result, it’s comparable to the current suggestions for a healthy diet from the United States department of agriculture and provides many health benefits.
The USDA dietary guidelines recommend a daily intake of whole grains, protein, dairy, vegetables, and fruits. The USDA also notes that protein could be sourced from either animal or protein sources and the flexitarian diet shift the balance to emphasize additional plant sources.[xvii]
The current USDA guidelines and the flexitarian diet supports finding a suitable calorie level. Although there is no formal calorie counting in the flexitarian diet, the author includes sample meal plans based on a 1500-calorie diet to help lose weight. Nevertheless, a person’s daily calorie intake might vary based on age, weight, height, sex, activity level, and other factors.
How Much Does The Flexitarian Diet Cost?
The flexitarian diet plan doesn’t require expensive unique recipes or meal replacements. Instead, you should choose to eat meals that better fit your budget. Although you might spend more money on fresh farm produce every week, it balances out because you tend to spend less on meat.
Furthermore, there are no exotic ingredients needed, so groceries should not be pricier than usual. The diet’s personalized nature gives users a more financial wiggle room by preparing lunch or dinner from any fresh produce available.
What is the Main Benefit of the Flexitarian Diet?
What Should You Eat on the Flexitarian Diet?
How Frequently Do Flexitarians Consume Meat?
What Are the Health Benefits of the Flexitarian Diet?
• It's nutrient-dense
• Possibly decreases risks of cardiovascular disease
• Aids weight loss
• More affordable
• Reduced risks of type II diabetes
What Are the Cons of the Flexitarian Diet?
What Do Flexitarians Eat for Breakfast?
Is the Vegan Diet Better than the Flexitarian Diet?
- [i] Blatner DJ. The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2008.
- [ii] Derbyshire E. Flexitarian diets and health: A review of the evidence-based literature. Front Nutr. 2016;3:55. doi:10.3389/fnut.2016.00055
- [iii] U.S. News and World Report. The Flexitarian Diet.
- [iv] Spencer M, Kurzer A, Cienfuegos C, Guinard J. Student consumer acceptance of plant-forward burrito bowls in which two-thirds of the meat has been replaced with legumes and vegetables: The Flexitarian Flip™ in university dining venues. Appetite. 2018;131:14-27. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.08.030
- [v] Blatner DJ. The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2008.
- [vi] Kim M-H, Bae Y-J. Comparative study of serum leptin and insulin resistance levels between Korean postmenopausal vegetarian and non-vegetarian women. Clin Nutr Res. 2015;4(3):175-181. doi:10.7762/cnr.2015.4.3.175
- [vii] Locke A, Schneiderhan J, Zick SM. Diets for health: Goals and guidelines. Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(11):721-728.
- [viii] De Smet S, Vossen E. Meat: The balance between nutrition and health. A review. Meat Sci. 2016;120:145-156. doi:10.1016/j.meatsci.2016.04.008
- [ix] Rizzo NS, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Sabate J, Fraser GE. Nutrient profiles of vegetarian and nonvegetarian dietary patterns. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113(12):1610-1619. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.06.349
- [x] Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(5):791-796. doi:10.2337/dc08-1886
- [xi] Agrawal S, Millett CJ, Dhillon PK, et al. Type of vegetarian diet, obesity and diabetes in adult Indian population. Nutr J. 2014;13(1). doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-89
- [xii] Derbyshire EJ. Flexitarian diets and health: A review of the evidence-based literature. Front Nutr. 2016;3:55. doi:10.3389/fnut.2016.00055
- [xiii] Kim M-H, Bae Y-J. Comparative study of serum leptin and insulin resistance levels between Korean postmenopausal vegetarian and non-vegetarian women. Clin Nutr Res. 2015;4(3):175-181. doi:10.7762/cnr.2015.4.3.175
- [xiv] Derbyshire EJ. Flexitarian diets and health: A review of the evidence-based literature. Front Nutr. 2016;3:55. doi:10.3389/fnut.2016.00055
- [xv] Spencer M, Kurzer A, Cienfuegos C, Guinard J. Student consumer acceptance of plant-forward burrito bowls in which two-thirds of the meat has been replaced with legumes and vegetables: The Flexitarian Flip™ in university dining venues. Appetite. 2018;131:14-27. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.08.030
- [xvi] Mancini JG, Filion KB, Atallah R, Eisenberg MJ. Systematic review of the mediterranean diet for long-term weight loss. Am J Med. 2016;129(4):407-415.e4. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2015.11.028
- [xvii] U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025. Published December 2020.