The Flexitarian Diet is a trendy new healthy eating plan that truly lives up to its name — but what exactly does it entail? This system may appeal to people who struggle to stick to vegan or vegetarian diets, as it's similar but more flexible when it comes to what you can and cannot eat. With the new year fast approaching, now is the perfect time to learn more about the Flexitarian Diet, its benefits, and possible meal plans.
What is a Flexitarian Diet?
Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner laid out the Flexitarian Diet in her book The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life ($15.29, Amazon) to help eaters minimize their meat intake without cutting it out entirely. The diet's name is made from the combination of the words "flexible" and "vegetarian," as it's mainly a plant-based diet eating regimen that allows the occasional animal product.
There's no list of rules or set definition of flexitarian, but Blatner's system adheres to the following principles: fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains should comprise a large part of your diet; protein should come from plants rather than animals; eat some meat and animal products from time to time; opt for minimally processed foods; and limit added sugars.
The nice thing about the Flexitarian Diet is that you don't have to kill yourself trying to eat healthy. If you go out to a restaurant with your family, you don't have to suffer through another measly salad or skip eating out entirely. Instead, you can pick heartier meals that may contain meat or other animal products and feel OK that you're still sticking to your diet.
It's not surprising that many celebs are fans of the Flexitarian Diet given the variety of foods you can eat. "I’m sort-of-ish vegan now," model Christie Brinkley said in an interview with The Cut. Brinkley has referred to herself as a "flexible vegan" in the past, as Mozzarella cheese is the one thing she just can't give up — and she doesn't have to on the Flexitarian Diet. Though Brinkley says she avoids all red meat and poultry, she will occasionally eat fish if that's all that's available.
Flexitarian Diet Pros and Cons
It's difficult to study the benefits of a Flexitarian Diet considering the ratio of animal products to non-animal products someone consumes will vary. What researchers can do is look at the benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet, as well as the effects of eating meat and other animal products.
The Mediterranean diet, which is considered one of the best diets, is similar to the Flexitarian Diet. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are prioritized, just as they are by flexitarians — but you can also eat white meat, fish, and dairy. We would argue that the Mediterranean diet checks all the boxes of a Flexitarian Diet and would be a good diet to follow if you want to be a flexitarian but need a bit of structure. The laundry list of benefits of the Mediterranean diet include boosting heart health, speeding weight loss, reducing cancer risk, increasing fertility, extending life, balancing blood pressure, and promoting better vision — so why not give it a try?
One downside of a Flexitarian Diet is that you run the risk of developing nutrient deficiencies. A 2013 review published in the journal Nutrition Reviews found that vegetarians were often deficient in vitamin B12, which is integral to the body's process of making red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, so vegetarians and especially vegans tend to take vitamin B12 supplements.
Vegetarians and vegans are also more likely to be deficient in iron and zinc, per a 2003 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Fortunately, upping your vitamin C intake will help your body absorb more iron.
Flexitarians may also have to deal with omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies, however foods like walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds can produce a plant-based version of omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid. And ultimately, the flexitarians can usually avoid any of these issues by ensuring they eat some animal products on a regular basis.
Flexitarian Diet Plan
Because the Flexitarian Diet promotes healthy unprocessed foods and limited animal products, your meals will look similar to those of other diet plans. Flexitarian recipes can be whatever you want them to be, but the following are some ingredient ideas to get you started:
- Fruits: apples, berries, oranges, grapes, cherries
- Veggies (starchy and non-starchy): Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green beans, squash, corn, sweet potato
- Whole grains: teff, quinoa, freekeh
- Nuts, seeds, and healthy fats: walnuts, cashews, almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, peanut butter, avocado
- Milk alternatives: soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk,
- Herbs: oregano, mint, basil, turmeric, ginger, cumin, mint
- Condiments: apple cider vinegar, nutritional yeast, reduced-salt soy sauce, ketchup without added sugar, mustard
- Beverages: sparkling water, tea, coffee
- Animal products: free-range eggs, organic poultry, wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat, organic dairy from grass-fed animals