Flexitarian is a term coined to describe individuals who mainly eat a plant-based diet with the occasional meat or dairy added in. The word flexitarian has been around for a while but hit the mainstream in 2008 with the publication of the book "The Flexitarian Diet" by nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner.
Since then, this term (also referred to as semi-vegetarianism) has been a popular moniker to define someone who mostly eats fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with meat and dairy sprinkled into the mix. There are many reasons for someone to choose a flexitarian diet, from health motivations to environmental causes to pure flavor preferences.
What Does a Flexitarian Eat?
Simply put, a flexitarian will munch on just about anything as long as it's sourced well, but the majority of their diet is based on vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. The term flexitarian is a combination of the words "flexible" and "vegetarian," and the philosophy behind this diet is to consume plant-based foods but with the flexibility to add in other types of ingredients as they see fit. Often, the meat, cheese, seafood, eggs, and milk that a flexitarian eats fall into the category of sustainably sourced, pasture-raised, free-range, wild-caught, and organic.
Flexitarians also tend to avoid processed foods, refined carbs, and sugar. This means a lack of desserts, white bread, white rice, pastries, bologna, bacon, sausage, soda, and deep-fried food, to name some examples.
How Often Do Flexitarians Eat Meat?
There's not a set amount of meat a flexitarian can eat, it's mostly up to the individual. However, in Dawn Jackson Blatner's book she suggests up to 28 ounces of lean meat per week as the maximum intake. Or, even better: three ounces of lean meat three times a week. This can include beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, crab, lamb and any ingredient that's not high in fat.
Do Flexitarians Eat Dairy?
Dairy is often part of a flexitarian's diet, though like meat it's consumed in moderation. Most of the dairy recommended in flexitarian recipes comes in the form of yogurt, eggs, and small doses of lower-fat cheeses such as feta, Parmesan, and ricotta. While some dairy is involved, overall this type of food plays a small role in the flexitarian meal plan.
Pros and Cons
One of the biggest pros to a flexitarian diet comes in the form of health benefits. Nutritionists have long promoted a plant-based diet as being better for the human body both for digestion reasons and maintaining a healthy weight. Studies have shown that people who eat less meat also lower their chance of metabolic disease and type-2 diabetes. Eating less meat also has been touted as being better for the environment. Eating occasional meat that's sourced well helps maintain biodiversity, lowers greenhouse gasses, and keeps the soil and animals on farms and ranches healthy.
On the con side, it's slightly harder to get all the nutrients one needs from a mostly plant diet, and without careful consideration of the foods that go into each meal, there can be nutrient deficiencies. Maintaining a healthy flexitarian diet takes work and solid meal planning. The common elements lacking from a plant-based diet include vitamin B12, zinc, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. These can be sourced through supplements and making sure meals include other, non-meat sources of these nutrients. Great foods to add these vitamins and minerals into the daily menu include kale, walnuts, chia seeds, legumes, chard, flaxseeds, and whole grains.
Flexitarian For Beginners
When switching to a flexitarian diet it's best to start small—it's easier to make lasting changes to a diet in steps rather than through a drastic overhaul. Take a look at the week's menu and plan accordingly. Try to limit dairy and/or meat protein to once a day in small quantities. For example, the flexitarian diet doesn't include grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches. Instead, go for a BLT on whole-wheat bread and make your other meals of the day vegetarian (even better if you swap the bacon for tempeh).
Try and make substitutions for ingredients where possible. Nuts can give a crunch where croutons or bacon bits used to. Yogurt can add a touch of sour creaminess to a dish. Or try a cauliflower or whole wheat crust instead of pizza dough made with white flour. Bake your potatoes and fries instead of seeking out deep-fried foods, and roast vegetables with a fraction of the olive oil it takes to pan cook them. Meat portions can be cut in half and eggs are a good source of protein in any meal.
Weekly Sample Menu
- Breakfast: Chocolate Banana Breakfast Quinoa
- Lunch: Falafel Kebabs
- Dinner: Carrot and Coriander Soup With Ginger (serve with whole-grain bread)
- Breakfast: Breakfast Burrito With Tofu
- Lunch: Potato Leek Soup (serve with whole grain crackers)
- Dinner: Thai Weeping Tiger Grilled Beef Salad
- Breakfast: Berry Breakfast Pizza
- Lunch: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
- Dinner: Beef and Celery Stir-Fry
- Breakfast: Breakfast Quinoa with Chocolate and Peanut Butter
- Lunch: Vegetable Frittata
- Dinner: Slow Cooker Bean and Bacon Soup
Flexitarian Vs. Omnivore
An omnivore is a scientific term used to describe beings that eat meat and plants. Humans are natural omnivores, though the first humans didn't have access to endless meat and dairy as we do today. A flexitarian is an omnivore, but the diet focuses more on eating as our ancestors did. That means consuming a lot less meat, skipping refined carbs and sugars, and filling the plate with as many healthy plants, nuts, seeds, and whole grains as possible. It's safe to say all flexitarians are omnivores, but not all omnivores are flexitarians.
There has been a lot of research surrounding plant-based diets, and many reports have associated this method of eating with lower incidences of all cancers, especially colorectal cancers. Eating as a flexitarian diet also may help prevent type-2 diabetes and lower the risk of heart disease. While these claims can't be proven 100 percent, it's well known that eating a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains and fruits, and avoiding refined carbs, sugars, and excess fats is good for the body and overall health.