What is a Flexitarian Diet?

Healthy eating and environmental conservation are both becoming major priorities for many people these days. There’s been a lot of talk about sustainable diets lately, but what exactly is a sustainable diet?

Sustainable diets are intended to address the increasing health and environmental concerns related to food production and consumption. This means imbalanced diets that are low in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains but high in red and processed meat are responsible for the greatest health burden worldwide. The environmental impacts of food production are similarly disconcerting. Agriculture is responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, over application of fertilizers and other chemicals in some areas has led to pollution in our surface and ground waters.

Sustainable diets were designed to combine the challenges of creating a food system that supplies healthy diets for a growing population while also reducing its environmental impact.

This is where the flexitarian diet comes in. The name, Flexitarian, is a combination of the word flexible and vegetarian. Created by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, this diet is designed to help people reap the benefits of a plant-based diet without having to give up meat and animal products entirely.

The Flexitarian Diet can aid in weight loss, reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Environmentally, reducing meat consumption decreases greenhouse gas emissions and helps preserve natural resources. It’s obvious why so many people are shifting to more plant-based diets.

Guidelines for a Flexitarian Diet

The Flexitarian Diet has no specific rules or recommended numbers of calories per day. In fact, it’s more a lifestyle than a diet. It’s a great option if you’re interested in a more healthy lifestyle without necessarily having to follow a strict diet. Below are a few guidelines you can follow to maintain a flexitarian diet.

  • Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
  • Focus on protein from plants instead of animals.
  • Be flexible and incorporate meat and animal products from time to time.
  • Eat the least processed, most natural form of foods.
  • Limit added sugar and sweets.

Foods to Eat on the Flexitarian Diet

A flexitarian diet puts emphasis on plant proteins and other minimally processed plant foods while limiting animal products. Below are some flexitarian-friendly foods you can incorporate into your diet.

  • Proteins: Mushrooms, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, legumes, lentils.
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Greens, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, cauliflower.
  • Starchy vegetables: Winter squash, peas, corn, sweet potato.
  • Fruits: Apples, oranges, berries, grapes, cherries.
  • Whole grains: Quinoa, teff, buckwheat, farro.
  • Nuts, seeds and other healthy fats: Almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, peanut butter, avocados, olives, coconut.
  • Plant-based milk alternatives: Unsweetened almond, coconut, hemp and soy milk.
  • Herbs, spices and seasonings: Basil, oregano, mint, thyme, cumin, turmeric, ginger.
  • Condiments: Reduced-sodium soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast, ketchup without added sugar.
  • Beverages: Still and sparkling water, tea, coffee.

The goal of a flexitarian diet is to emphasize plant-based foods, while still allowing meat and other animal products in moderation. When incorporating animal products, choose the following when possible:

  • Eggs: Free-range or pasture-raised.
  • Poultry: Organic, free-range or pasture-raised.
  • Fish: Wild-caught.
  • Meat: Grass-fed or pasture-raised.
  • Dairy: Organic from grass-fed or pastured animals.

Due to its flexible nature and focus on what to include rather than restrict, the Flexitarian Diet is a popular choice for people looking to eat healthier.

To learn more about flexitarian diets, check out the video below.