What is a flexitarian diet?
A flexitarian diet is a predominantly plant-based diet that on occasion allows meat or other animal products. It’s thought to be healthier, and kinder on the planet by reducing carbon emissions caused by meat consumption.
Flexitarian quite literally means, a flexible vegetarian - so if you want to reduce your environmental impact, but can’t quite swear off burgers forever, it could be the diet for you.
Read on to find out about the benefits of a flexitarian diet, what you can and can’t eat, as well as tons of ideas you can meal plan.
Possible health benefits of a flexitarian diet
Leading a flexitarian lifestyle may have various health benefits associated with being vegetarian or vegan. This comes from consuming less processed foods and more fruits, vegetables, beans and grains.
What do you eat on a flexitarian diet?
There are no strict rules when it comes to being a flexitarian as you can still eat animal products from time to time. It’s instead based on the idea that you eat plant-based foods for the majority of your meals, reducing sugar, processed foods and meat.
Foods you can eat include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Plant-based milk
- Plant proteins such as beans and lentils
- Tofu and meat alternatives
- Eggs and dairy products if you are majority vegetarian rather than vegan
Foods to avoid or limit include:
- White and red meat
- Processed grains including white pasta and bread
- Animal fat in products such as gelatine
- Processed food such as sugary drinks and cakes
Potential risks associated with a flexitarian diet
A flexitarian diet doesn’t completely exclude any food groups so there aren't any clear-cut associated health risks. With that said, reducing the consumption of meat can have its negatives, particularly when it comes to protein.
Meat is a dominant source of protein, a key macronutrient that helps to maintain and grow muscles in the body. Many vegetarians struggle to get enough protein into their diet, so it’s important to replace meat with other plant-based sources where possible. This includes greek yoghurt, chickpeas, peanut butter, beans and almonds.
Many animal products such as beef, fish and eggs are also high in vitamin B12 which keeps our blood cells healthy and helps to release energy around the body. Not having enough B12 can make you feel tired and weak, sometimes leading to a deficiency and anaemia.
Other deficiencies to watch out for include calcium, iron, zinc and omega-3 fats. These nutrients are often found in meat, fish and milk so it’s important to still incorporate these products into a flexitarian diet.
Flexitarian meal plan
A flexitarian diet includes plant-based foods with every meal. Make sure to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day and include alternative sources of protein, iron, calcium and omega-3 fats.
Here are some ideas for a flexitarian meal plan:
- Green or fruit smoothie
- Greek yoghurt and berries
- Oatmeal with chopped fruit and nut butter
- Egg muffins with spinach and tomato
Tip: add vegan protein powder to your smoothie or yoghurt to get a source of protein
- Burrito bowl with chopped peppers, sweetcorn, beans, brown rice and salsa - option to add chicken
- Mediterranean salad with tomato, cucumber, feta or mozzarella and rice
- Lentil tomato soup with wholegrain crackers
- Halloumi, falafel and salad wrap
- Asian stir fry noodles with peppers, broccoli, beans and green beans - option to add chicken, prawns or pork
- Bean or mushroom burgers with sweet potato fries and salad - option to swap to meat burger
- Roasted sweet potato and lentil curry with wholegrain rice - option to add prawns
- Aubergine parmigiana with a side salad
- Fruit such as a banana, apple, orange or berries
- Unsalted nuts
- Carrot sticks and hummus
- Protein bars, drinks or balls
To summarise, a flexitarian diet is a healthy choice that combines a balanced, vegetarian diet with occasional meat to ensure you get the full range of nutrients and vitamins your body needs.
Take a look at our healthy eating guide for more information on how to eat well. You can also find out more about superfoods as well as various diets that might be right for you including going gluten free and a high fibre diet.