Flexitarian Diet: Food List, Sample Menu, Health Benefits, and More

15 min read
Feb 10, 2024
Flexitarian Diet: Food List, Sample Menu, Health Benefits, and More

A diet is only a way of life, and the term "flexitarian" is just a combination of the words "vegetarian" and "flexible." The flexitarian diet is a more accommodating kind of vegetarianism that allows you to enjoy the health benefits of eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains without completely giving up meat products like steak and burgers.

According to U.S. News & World Report's 2022 Best Diet Rankings, the flexitarian Diet came in second place for both best Diet s for diabetes and best Diet s overall in terms of long-term health and illness prevention.

Additionally, it came in second place (after the Mediterranean diet) among the best plant-based diets. Not coincidentally, the diet also placed second in the category of Easiest Diets to Follow in 2022, indicating that its more flexible nature aids in its maintenance.(1)

Following the diet's reputation as one of the healthiest diets available, an increasing number of people are claiming to be flexitarians. In fact, according to a recent national study, 36% of respondents identify as flexitarians, compared to 5% who identify as vegetarians and 3% of vegans.(2)

Discover how the flexitarian diet functions and if this eating style is appropriate for your personal health and wellbeing objectives by reading on.

How Does the Flexitarian Diet Work Exactly?

Author Dawn Jackson (DJ) Blatner, RDN, of The Flexitarian Diet, a Chicago-based book that launched the movement, says, "This diet is best described as "vegetarian-ish," since it emphasizes the health advantages and fundamentals of a plant-based diet while also including some animal proteins to a limited degree."

This suggests that no food is removed or completely forbidden, even though tofu, quinoa, a lot of produce, and other favorite foods for vegetarians may be the cornerstones of your diet .

The term "flexitarian" refers to a way of eating that strongly discourages intake of meat rather than a "lazy vegetarian" lifestyle.

The diet is adaptable, as its name suggests, although there are recommendations about the amount of meat you should eat. As per Blatner's book, individuals who are unfamiliar with the flexitarian diet should start with "Beginner Flexitarian" and avoid meat two days a week.

During the remaining five days, they should consume no more than 26 ounces (oz) of meat in total. As a point of comparison, a piece of chicken or steak the size and thickness of your palm (including fingers) weighs between 4 and 6 ounces, whereas a portion the size of a card deck weighs around 3 ounces.

With a recommendation for a vegetarian diet three to four days a week and a maximum of 18 ounces of meat for the remaining days of the week, the Advanced Flexitarian tier reduces meat consumption even further. Expert Flexitarian, the last level, calls for five days without meat but permits nine ounces of meat on the other two.

(Note that you do not have to eat meat on consecutive days when following any tier of this diet.) These stages are intriguing since research indicates that this is how individuals actually practice flexitarianism.(3)

They don't all adhere to the same "rules," and they have different diet ary allowances for meat. That's fantastic news because it allows you to select the one that best suits your diet ary choices and objectives.

Guidelines for a Flexitarian Diet

Use the following recommendations if you find it confusing to consider in terms of ounces of meat per week.

  • Beginner: 6-7 vegetarian meals out of a total of 21 meals per week
  • Advanced: 9–14 vegetarian meals out of a total of 21 meals per week
  • Expert: 15+ meatless meals of 21 total meals each week

What sets the flexitarian diet apart from other meat-inclusive eating programs, such the omnivorous diet , are these rules outlined by Blatner.

A flexitarian places a higher priority on vegetables, whereas an omnivore consumes as much meat as they like and does not plan to consume vegetables for the majority of their meals.

It's important to remember that you can gradually incorporate meatless meals or even entire days, like Meatless Monday or Tofu Tuesday, into Blatner's diet.(4)

Common Questions & Answers

On a flexitarian diet, what foods do you eat?

A flexitarian diet might be thought of as a "light" vegetarian diet . Even though you can continue to consume animal products like beef and poultry, you should move toward a diet that is more plant-based. This implies that you'll load your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as meals like lentils, beans, and tofu.

What drawbacks might a flexitarian diet have?

Even while qualified diet itians concur that this eating style is healthful, it does not require exercise, which is a good habit, and some flexitarians might need to take diet ary supplements to prevent nutrient shortages.

Can a flexitarian diet help you lose weight?

That is conceivable. Consumers of plants typically eat less meat and have a lower BMI and risk of metabolic syndrome. Plant-based diet s that emphasize foods high in fiber, such as the flexitarian diet , can help you lose weight because they can full you up and stop you from overeating.

Is cheese allowed on a flexitarian diet?

It is theoretically possible to follow a flexitarian diet and consume any food, including cheese. However, as cheese comes from animals, you shouldn't overindulge (e.g., by eating it with every meal).

Reducing your intake of animal products and increasing your intake of plant-based foods is the aim of a flexitarian diet .

For breakfast, what do flexitarians eat?

In theory, breakfast is whatever the person on a flexitarian diet wants to eat. Having said that, the aim of this eating philosophy is to fill your plate with as many plant-based foods as you can. Oatmeal, a fresh fruit and vegetable smoothie, and toast with an egg or avocado are a few effective morning options.

Possible Health Benefits of a Flexitarian Diet

The flexitarian diet is suggested for those who are interested in becoming vegetarians or vegans, as well as sometimes for those who were vegetarians or vegans in the past and may have suffered from diet ary inadequacies due to staying entirely meatless.

This is because the advantages of being a vegetarian also apply to this diet. However, because it emphasizes vegetables without being anti-meat, it's also a fantastic choice for anyone looking to lead a better lifestyle, according to Liz Weiss, RDN, of Liz's Healthy Table in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Here's a closer look at a few potential advantages of the eating strategy.

Reduces the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance

Not surprisingly, considering that it ranked second in the Best Diet s Overall category and second in the Best Diet s for Diabetes in the U.S.

News & World Report 2022 Best Diet Rankings, a study found that a vegetarian diet—the more stringent version of the flexitarian diet—was more effective than a “diabetes-friendly diet” at lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.(5)

For six months, each of the 74 study participants ingested the same amount of calories. Some adopted a vegetarian diet , while others focused on cutting back on sugar, processed carbohydrates, cholesterol, and saturated fat.

It's interesting to note that vegetarians lost more intramuscular (the fat stored inside your muscles) and subfascial (the fat that lines your muscles) fat. Muscle-stored fat can affect your metabolism and cause insulin resistance, which can result in type 2 diabetes.

According to one study, flexitarians were less likely than nonvegetarians to develop type 2 diabetes.(6)

Furthermore, this same study shown that flexitarians had lower BMIs than nonvegetarians, despite the fact that obesity is one of the main risk factors for type 2 diabetes.(7)

Boosts Heart Health

A vegetarian diet reduced participants' risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, according to one review.(8)

Additionally, a sizable exploratory investigation discovered that individuals who ate a semi-vegetarian (also known as flexitarian) diet were at a decreased risk of stroke and heart disease.

After tracking over 450,000 Europeans for ten years, the researchers discovered that those who were at least 70% plant-based (referred to as "most pro-vegetarian") had a 20% lower risk of passing away from heart disease than those who were at least 20% less plant-based (referred to as "least pro-vegetarian").

The researchers came to the conclusion that eating more veggies instead of meat could be an easy approach to reduce your chance of dying from a heart attack. It's important to note that this study has limited credibility because it was not published in a peer-reviewed journal.(9)

Contributes to a Longer Life

Additionally, studies indicate that flexitarians may live an average of 3.6 years longer than their more carnivorous colleagues. This is probably because to the lower risk of illness.(10)

In the meantime, red and processed meat consumption was linked to slight increases in overall mortality rates, cancer death rates, and heart disease death rates, according to a study including almost half a million participants.(11)

Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

The planet benefits from a flexitarian diet, which are often overlooked, according to Los Angeles-based dietitian Sharon Palmer, RDN, aka "The Plant-Powered Dietitian."

Palmer claims that you can lessen your personal carbon footprint by eating less meat and more whole-plant foods including beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US are caused by the livestock and agriculture sectors.(12)

Is Easy to Follow

According to Blatner, another significant benefit of adopting a flexitarian diet is its simplicity and adaptability, which raises the likelihood that the diet will be followed for the duration of one's life.

Helps You Save Money

This diet plan doesn't call for any unusual or expensive foods, so shopping shouldn't cost any more than they usually do. Furthermore, if meat is your main ingredient in every meal these days, you might be able to save money by avoiding the butcher. The flexibility of the diet with regard to what you eat also extends to financial flexibility.

In fact, a research that compared meat-heavy government-recommended weekly meal plans with equivalent plant-based seven-day meal plans revealed that vegetarians can save as much as $750 a year on their food costs.

The vegetarians consumed greater servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in comparison to the meat eaters.(13)

Keeps You Well Nourished

According to a position paper, vegetarian diets are higher in nutrient-dense foods than nonvegetarian diets.(14)

Furthermore, Blatner notes that the flexitarian diet places a high priority on produce, which will probably reduce your intake of packaged and processed foods, which are frequently loaded with added sugar and salt.

For those who don't want to be overly rigid about giving up their favorite animal-based foods, it's fantastic, according to Weiss.

Improves Skin Health

Add lots of greens to your plate for a radiant complexion. According to a recent review, a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts , and legumes is high in nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and E and polyphenols, which are antioxidant plant compounds that help neutralize damaging, skin-aging free radicals, lower inflammation, protect against UV exposure, and build collagen and other skin support structures.

Possible Impact of a Flexitarian Diet on Weight Loss

A plethora of eating regimens and diet s seem to guarantee weight loss, with the flexitarian diet being regarded as one of the most reputable.

One reason is that, according to Keri Gans, RDN, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in New York City and the author of The Small Change Diet, if you take advantage of the occasion to eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you'll probably feel full on fewer calories than you're used to, which makes losing weight practically inevitable.

In fact, a study found that people who consume plant-based foods typically had a lower body mass index (BMI), which is a measurement of total body weight, than people who eat meat.

Does the Flexitarian Diet Have Any Drawbacks?

If followed in a balanced manner, the flexitarian diet shouldn't pose any health hazards because it doesn't entirely eliminate any one food group.

The flexitarian diet technically might consist only of cereal and pastries with an occasional dose of chicken or beef, but Blatner emphasizes that eating more nutrient-rich foods is just as important as cutting less on meat.

A Potential Need for Dietary Supplements

However, cutting back on meat consumption could have drawbacks, particularly if you don't substitute it with nutrient-dense foods and plant-based protein sources.

According to one study, vegetarian diet s that aren't well-planned may be lacking in important minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fats. However, according to studies, these shortages can be avoided with a thoughtfully planned diet .

Flexitarians can satisfy their needs for protein from occasionally meat, fish, or chicken dishes; calcium from milk, cheese, and yogurt; vitamin D from milk; zinc from seafood; and omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish and seafood, in contrast to staunch vegans or vegetarians who abstain from dairy and fish entirely.

Together with other non-animal sources of important nutrients, all those food sources can be consumed.(14)

Furthermore, despite the fact that multivitamins are a contentious topic, a review indicates that taking a daily multivitamin may assist ensure that you achieve your needs for all nutrients, and that nutritional supplements can promote optimal health.(17)

Blatner agrees that taking a multivitamin can help make sure you're getting enough of these vital minerals.

Doesn’t Mandate Exercise

Although there are no hard-and-fast guidelines for exercise in the flexitarian diet , you should still incorporate exercise into your routine.

Blatner strongly advises flexitarians to engage in strength training for at least two days a week in addition to at least thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week (or strenuous exercise for twenty minutes, three times a week).

If you exercise for 20 to 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you will be well on your way to meeting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that people obtain at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity workouts every week.(18)

But choosing an activity that makes you more likely to exercise on a regular basis—whether it's dancing, swimming, or walking the dog—means being "flexible" about what you do, says Blatner.

Getting Started on the Flexitarian Diet

Fortunately, starting a flexitarian diet doesn't require remodeling your kitchen or restocking your pantry.

Instead, buy more fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and nut butters, tofu, and veggies in favor of animal items like meat, chicken, and fish the next time you go grocery shopping. When canned beans are on sale, you can purchase extra and save money.

Buy seasonal vegetables and choose canned and frozen varieties that are low in sugar and sodium to reduce your food expenses. Visit your local farmers market, which will offer a plenty of selections, to eliminate the guesswork involved in finding in-season fruits and vegetables.

If you prefer nondairy milks over dairy ones, such as almond milk, you can find them in the store's center aisles and refrigerated department. However, giving up dairy is not necessary.

Once you've done your grocery shopping, begin living a flexitarian lifestyle by implementing the three steps Blatner suggests below.

Here are three easy steps that anyone new to a flexitarian diet can take.

1. Reportion Your Plate

Blatner suggests increasing the amount of veggies and decreasing the amount of meat and grains. Aim for a meal that has fifty percent fruits and vegetables, twenty-five percent whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain pasta), and twenty-five percent lean meat, chicken, or fish (or beans or tofu on meatless days). To boost up the veggies, load up on greens like kale, lettuce, or arugula.

2. Reinvent Old Favorites

Replace the meat in your favorite recipes with beans right now. For every ounce of meat you would normally use, replace it with ¼ cup of beans.

Blatner suggests umami, or delicious flavor that is akin to meat, by combining low-sodium soy sauce with mushrooms, potatoes, green tea, and tomato sauce. Lentils and chickpeas are adaptable and might be less expensive than chicken, pig, or beef if you're not a fan of beans.

3. Refresh Your Recipe Repertoire

Every week, try a different vegetarian recipe. Consult with friends about their recommendations or browse cookbooks and vegetarian periodicals. (Blatner offers a variety of dishes in The Flexitarian Diet .)

Are you looking for some eye-catching vegetarian recipes online? See the list of sources of inspiration below.

A Comprehensive List of Foods for a Flexitarian Diet

The diet includes all food groups; however, there is a limited amount of animal protein and a greater focus on plants and plant-based proteins.

Foods to Eat on the Flexitarian Diet

  • Plant proteins: Any type of bean, pea, or lentil, including red lentils, black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, and white beans
  • Whole grains: This include barley, sorghum, buckwheat, brown rice, quinoa, oats, and both sweet and white potatoes.
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Dairy milk and plant milk
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Tofu
  • Healthy fats: These consist of olive oil and avocado.

Any vegetarian diet can benefit from these foods as well.

Foods to Limit on the Flexitarian Diet

Blatner believes the diet is about making wise food choices overall, not only about consuming less animal products, even though no food group is completely cut out. For this reason, the diet also suggests limiting your consumption of the following.

  • Animal protein: This covers red meat, poultry, and turkeys.
  • Seafood: When it comes to meat consumption, seafood is a healthy option since it is categorized as an animal protein.
  • Processed refined grains: Rice, bread, and pasta made of white materials are included in this.
  • Animal fats: This covers cream, butter, and whole milk.
  • Highly processed foods and beverages: like pastries, soda, chips.

If you decide to consume alcohol, make moderated drinks. One drink or two for males and up to one for women each day is considered moderate alcohol consumption.(19)

A 12-ounce can of light or standard beer, five ounces of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot (jigger) of hard alcohol are all considered drinks.(20)

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and other seafood are very beneficial. Research has linked eating seafood to improved mental health, including a lower risk of depression, improved mood, and improved brain and eye function in the developing fetus during pregnancy.

Seafood can offer satisfying choices for people who are trying to maintain or lose weight because some varieties are low in calories and high in protein (7 grams per ounce).(21, 22, 23)

A Three-Day Menu Example for a Flexitarian Diet

Here's a personalized diet plan from Blatner that follows the flexitarian diet .

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Avocado, spinach, whole-grain bread with sprouts, and an egg
  • Lunch: Market bowl filled with roasted sweet potato cubes, chopped tomatoes or greens, chicken or chickpeas, and ranch dressing
  • Dinner: Tacos with cabbage slaw, guacamole, salsa, corn tortillas, and seasoned white fish or lentils
  • Snack: Cucumber sticks with hummus or apples and pecans

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Peanut butter and diced apple with oatmeal
  • Lunch: Mexican bowl with chopped peppers and romaine, black beans or chicken, brown rice, guacamole, and salsa
  • Dinner: Mediterranean plate with lemon-dill brown rice, cucumber-tomato-feta salad, and chicken or chickpeas
  • Snack: Clementine and almonds or grape tomatoes and mozzarella sticks

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Smoothie made with spinach, banana, rolled oats, and 2 percent plain kefir
  • Lunch: Asian dish with quinoa, coleslaw mix, ginger dressing, and chicken or edamame
  • Dinner: Burger night with sweet potato fries, veggie dippers with ranch dressing, and a beef or bean burger
  • Snack: Berries and dark chocolate or carrots and almond butter

Where to Look for Flexitarian Diet Recipe Inspiration

In brief

Eating a flexitarian diet ought to make you feel better all over, with more energy and less weariness. A diet like this one could help you lose weight if you are overweight, especially in the long run because it is a lifestyle plan rather than a diet that comes and goes quickly.

You'll eat fewer processed foods that are higher in sugar, sodium, and bad fats, as well as a generally better diet . You will be consuming meals that are more in line with the diet ary Guidelines for Americans instead.

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