The Flexitarian Diet is a type of semi-vegetarian diet that embraces eating loads of plant-based foods, but instead of saying a hard no to animal products, you just eat less meat and more nutritious foods. What you end up with is a flexible approach to eating that research suggests has many health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease.
A Flexible Approach to Eating
When people hear the words vegetarian or vegan diet, some have this image of eating lettuce all day. The Flexitarian Diet includes meat but does so in a way that you don’t eat meat daily, and when you do, it’s in smaller portions. The food pyramid for the Flexitarian Diet looks a little different, but it’s completely sustainable.
We’ve begun seeing the Flexitarian Diet show itself in diet rankings, and more people are gravitating toward the idea of not eating as much meat, both for health reasons and for environmental factors, like leaving a smaller carbon footprint or doing their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from animal farming.
No matter your reasons for being interested in the Flexitarian lifestyle, we’ve taken a closer look at what it means to be Flexitarian and how the food pyramid is structured for following the Flexitarian Diet.
What It Means to Be a Flexitarian
If you’re a Flexitarian, it means that you follow a primarily vegetarian diet but that you’re not going to turn down the occasional steak or spicy chicken pasta. Many people try vegetarian diets or plant-based diets hoping to become healthier but find that it’s just too difficult to give up meat, so they give up on their goals altogether. The Flexitarian Diet is a flexible solution that makes it easier to stick to your healthy goals.
It also doesn’t help that the world of vegetarian diets can be confusing. First, there are vegans, who eat no animal products whatsoever, and they often exclude using any products made from animals. For vegans, it’s often about more than just the diet itself.
Then there are different types of vegetarian diets. Some eat dairy or eggs as long as no animals are actually harmed. Others will eat fish but not touch red meat. Some vegetarians eat a clean diet, and others have no issue with refined carbs or added sugar.
Flexitarian combines the words flexible and vegetarian to describe a way of eating that’s adaptable, healthy, good for the planet, and easy to stick to.
Being Flexitarian means that you favor more plant-based foods but that you’re not entirely vegetarian or vegan. Some call it being semi-vegetarian, and that’s accurate too, but Flexitarian better describes the flexible nature of the diet and how you can adapt it to fit your health goals and preferences.
Basics of the Flexitarian Food Pyramid
Because plant-based foods are the main focus of the Flexitarian Diet, the food pyramid looks a little different from the standard one you’re used to. With the Flexitarian lifestyle, fresh, whole plant foods, including most fruits and vegetables, make up the bottom foundation of the pyramid.
This includes every type of produce imaginable, including moistly non-starchy vegetables. Still, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a potato in the Flexitarian lifestyle, so you can adapt it to include or exclude starchy vegetables as you please.
The next layer of the Flexitarian pyramid includes two equal sections, one packed full of whole grains and the other packed with beans, legumes, and plant-based proteins like tofu and tempeh.
The middle of the pyramid is where portions begin to taper a little. The middle of the pyramid includes nuts and seeds, and then also dairy. With the Flexitarian Diet, you want to avoid processed foods while eating fewer animal products. So, you want to eat “clean” dairy (no sugar-loaded yogurts or processed cheese spreads) in small amounts.
On the next level up are eggs, healthy fats, oils, spices, and small amounts of sugar. It’s best to get your sugar in natural forms rather than processed sugars.
At the very top of the pyramid is where we find animal protein. Animal products are something you can enjoy when eating Flexitarian, but you can enjoy them in moderation. Here’s a quick recap of the Flexitarian pyramid.
Foods to Enjoy in Abundance on the Flexitarian Diet
- Vegetables of all varieties (but watch out for starchy vegetables if you want to lose weight!)
- Fruits of all varieties
- Whole grains, like brown rice, bulger, quinoa, farrow, etc
- Plant-based proteins
Foods to Enjoy in Moderation on the Flexitarian Diet
- Oils and spices, sugar
Foods to Enjoy in Small Amounts on the Flexitarian Diet
What Does a Day of Flexitarian Eating Look Like?
So, what does the average day of eating the Flexitarian Diet look like? If you’ve been considering Flexitarian to reduce your meat consumption and cut out processed foods in favor of nutritious plant foods, the first thing you need to know is that you don’t need to cut out a bit of yumminess.
Some people find it easier to adapt to a mostly vegetarian diet by working toward the change in phases. As you’re starting out, you can begin by following a plant-based diet for 3-4 days a week, including animal foods in moderation on the remaining days. This might mean an egg or yogurt parfait for breakfast and a single serving of meat for lunch or dinner, but not both.
As you work toward further reducing your meat intake, you can add one additional day of vegetarian or plant-based eating per week until you’ve found a happy spot where you don’t incorporate meat every meal of every day and instead enjoy mostly plant-based foods nearly every day of the week.
An example of a typical day might look like a one or two-egg omelet packed with veggies and maybe a sprinkling of cheese, with whole-grain toast or fresh fruit to go along with it. Lunch might be a giant salad topped with your favorite veggies and legumes. For dinner, maybe lentil soup with a bit of ham or bacon, just for flavor.
Another day, you might go with apple cinnamon overnight oats to go along with your cup of coffee, colored to just the right shade with a touch of creamer. Nut butters or peanut butter and whole-grain bread make for an easy lunch. Dinner might be fatty fish, like salmon, brown rice, and sweet potato fries.
These are two examples of menus for your meat consumption days. Other days of the week, you would adhere strictly to a vegetarian diet,
The thing to remember about the Flexitarian Diet is that, unless you’re doing it with a specific plan for weight loss or addressing a specific health concern, you have the freedom to adjust your meat consumption from day to day. Maybe you don’t eat animal protein for a week but then spend a day at a party where plant-based, nutrient-dense foods are nowhere to be found.
The words flexible and adaptable are key with the Flexitarian lifestyle. Follow the food pyramid, forgo meat and animal proteins on most days for the most health benefits. This is a great option for semi-vegetarians that want to move a little more toward a plant-based diet.
Benefits of Eating Flexitarian
There are a lot of benefits to adopting the Flexitarian Diet. Any time you add more nutritious plant foods to your diet, you’re going to see some health benefits, especially if you’re replacing highly processed foods with nutrient-packed foods instead.
A lot of research has gone into looking at the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Whether a person is a vegetarian or follows a plant-based diet, there are known benefits, including lower body mass index and lower bad cholesterol. The Flexitarian Diet argues that you can still enjoy a juicy cheeseburger or grilled chicken and not give up all the benefits of the nutritious foods you eat.
Some health benefits of following the Flexitarian Diet with a focus on plant-based foods include:
- Lowered risk of heart disease
- Reduced risk of nutrient deficiencies
- The Flexitarian eating plan makes it easier to lose weight
- Reduction in high blood pressure
- Lower bad cholesterol levels
What foods can a flexitarian eat?
A Flexitarian follows a mostly plant based diet but still eats small amounts of meat. This includes a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, beans, and plant-based sources of protein. Red meat and other types of animal protein are eaten only in moderation.
How often does a flexitarian eat meat?
Most Flexitarians eat meat once or twice a week, sometimes less. There’s a range of normal among Flexitarians when it comes to eating meat. Some eat it only on special occasions, while others enjoy meat weekly.
Is the flexitarian diet expensive?
The Flexitarian Diet isn’t any more expensive than most other diets. Plant based foods, like fresh fruits and veggies are affordable if you shop in season. Grains and legumes are also budget friendly. Most find that when they purchase less red meat, refined grains, and other processed foods that their grocery bill actually decreases.
What are the rules of the flexitarian diet?
The main rule of the Flexitarian Diet is to focus on eating less meat and more vegetarian foods and plant proteins. Aside from that, there aren’t really any hard and fast rules. Many Flexitarians eat meat or dairy products like dairy milk once or twice a week, but you’ll find it’s different from person to person.
Giving the Flexitarian Diet a Try
The Flexitarian Diet is a way to enjoy fresh, wholesome foods while eating less meat and processed foods. Most find that the Flexitarian Diet is healthy, rewarding, and sustainable. So, pile your plate high with plant-based goodness and maybe add a card deck-sized portion of salmon once in a while. Enjoy and eat to live your best life.