What Does a Flexitarian Diet Consist Of?

Steve Russell - January 26, 2023

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On the list of popular diets — paleo, vegan and keto — flexitarian is less known. As the name suggests, it has a more relaxed list of criteria. The name comes from the word flexible and vegetarian, creating a happy medium less focused on meat consumption. 

When entering the flexitarian diet, some stumble over its lack of hard lines — how often do you eat meat? Is this a weight loss plan? Crack the answers to understand if flexitarian may be a food experiment worth trying.

Planning Your Meals — What Can You Eat?

The definitions of flexitarianism are inconsistent. However, this leaves grace for any who identify under this diet umbrella. The consensus is it is a primarily vegetarian diet where you can eat meat once per week. You could also follow dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, allowing yourself to have meat as much as five days a week, or around 26 ounces.

It all depends on the level of effort you want to dedicate — so long as you actively attempt to reduce your meat consumption, you are flexitarian. It may be wise for those who switch to take it slow if they’re used to eating a meat-filled diet. On the other hand, you may find yourself already eating flexitarian and didn’t know there was a word for it.

Regardless, flexitarians still prioritize plants above all else, consuming more as a way to obtain nutrients long lost in modern diets. It is also a political stand, as this diet is one of many with an environmentalist lean — in short, less meat means fewer carbon emissions and animal cruelty. Therefore it is better for the environment.

Now that you’re familiar with some of the basics, let’s outline the answers to a few other frequently asked questions:

  • So, I can still eat everything I want, including meat, fish and eggs? Yes, just limit overall consumption, attempting to decrease it from your average amount.
  • Is there a calorie deficit associated with flexitarianism? No, since this is not a weight loss diet, there is nothing to count, including calories or macronutrients. The only thing to measure is the number of days you eat meat.
  • Will eating less meat cause nutrient deficiencies? Though meat provides nutrients like zinc, iron and protein, there are plenty of plant-based sources for a balanced diet.
  • Can I be flexitarian if I have medical restrictions like diabetes or Celiac? Yes, since none of the guidelines for flexitarianism force anyone to eat gluten or anything that would risk your health, it should be fine. You can also consult a doctor if you’re worried about adverse side effects for medical conditions.

Benefits of Being Flexitarian — Why Less Meat?

Despite meat having plenty of significant advantages for the body, the prioritization of meat has caused humans to eat fewer plants, including legumes and grains. This is especially true as meat is often the focal point of a meal, with vegetables lingering as a side in smaller portions. Increasing the portion sizes of vegetables, fruits and even dairy can have surprisingly positive benefits on the body — and the environment.

The Body

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans outlines the dietary recommendations based on dieticians’ advice. Collectively, flexitarian diets align with the suggestions outlined in this text for a balanced, nutritious diet.

There are plenty of health claims for every diet trend, including flexitarian. It is true, on the whole, it will benefit your overall health. Studies show a decreased risk of ischemic heart disease in 48,188 participants. The increased nutrients like fiber and antioxidants contribute to better blood pressure and cholesterol, so the parallels are understandable. Subsequently, the diet mitigates any ailment related to high sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, such as the likelihood of diabetes.

These health boons could ultimately lead to a longer life expectancy, an area of research sure to increase priority as meatless diets become more popular.

The Environment

One of the most accessible individual impacts we can make on the environment is changing our diet. There are a few aspects to consider, though on the whole, consuming less meat causes an individual to have less of a carbon footprint and a negative environmental impact.

The body sometimes can’t absorb nutrients from plant-based foods and animal sources. This is critical to consider because even though you can get all the nutrients you need with a plant-focused diet, increasing the amount to account for nutrient density could increase the environmental footprint of your diet.

Even though this is an essential consideration, animal food products still account for 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. With rising populations, agricultural stress must decrease to meet climate goals. A study from the University of Oxford concluded these findings if individuals switched to more plant-based diets:

  • We could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49%.
  • We could use 76% less land for food production.
  • We could minimize eutrophication by 49%.

Diet Myths Everywhere — What Is True?

Myth: Weight Loss is Certain

The flexitarian diet is not primarily concerned with weight loss. However, this does not mean weight loss could not be a side effect of the dietary switch since you’re more likely to eat less calorie-dense meat and processed foods. Maintaining a healthy weight is a more realistic expectation. 

However, studies do show individuals are more likely to lose weight on a vegetarian diet than not. Since flexitarians eat more akin to vegetarians, it’s possible with regular exercise, this could help with excess fat.

Myth: Unless You’re Vegan, You’re Not Helping the Environment

Flexitarianism is still a plant-rich, or plant-forward, diet. Though environmentally an individual may not be reducing their carbon footprint as much as a vegan, it doesn’t mean they aren’t committing to more widespread change. It also has the opportunity to provide similar, if not more, health benefits depending on the individual. This includes more diverse bacteria in a person’s digestive system, increasing immunity and maintaining blood sugar.

Myth: Children Shouldn’t Be Flexitarian

Newborns and children under the age of two have vastly different dietary needs. Always consult noteworthy nutritional changes with a professional. However, a study concluded a semi-vegetarian diet would provide the necessary nutrients for anyone over two years old. Encouraging children from a young age to consume vegetables and fruits regularly may reduce the likelihood of classic healthy food resistance.

Myth: You’ll Spend Just as Much on Groceries

Switching to flexitarianism may save you money, depending on where you live. Generally, meat prices in America are up 11% from last year, compelling changes in consumption and buying habits. 

You could save up to $900 or more in grocery bills alone a year. You may also save money in unexpected ways — reconsider the chest freezer on your wishlist. Powering this external source is money out of your wallet, and though many flexitarian staples can live in the freezer, they take less space generally than meat.

What Does a Flexitarian Diet Consist Of?

There is meat, fish and eggs in a flexitarian diet — nothing is off the table. The core of this diet is to limit meat consumption and increase the nutrients humans may be lacking. You may consider a flexitarian diet to experiment with new recipes with ingredients not commonly found in your home. 

You could also see if decreasing meat consumption helps your body feel better. Regardless of your purpose, the environmental impact could keep dieters motivated to stay on track.

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.