The Flexitarian Diet: Complete Guide, Food List + 6 Great Benefits

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By choosing the flexitarian diet, people can reap the health benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet while having the flexibility to eat non-vegetarian foods without feeling like they are cheating or breaking their diet.

But, what is a flexitarian diet? What types of things are on a flexitarian diet food list or a flexitarian diet meal plan? Is a flexitarian diet a plant-based diet, or do flexitarians eat meat and animal products? Is this diet good for weight loss?

In this flexitarian diet guide, we will discuss what the flexitarian diet entails, its benefits, and what you can eat on a flexitarian meal plan. We will also provide a flexitarian diet food list to help you get started if you decide it is a good option for your needs.

We will look at: 

  • What Is a Flexitarian Diet?
  • What Are the Benefits of a Flexitarian Diet?
  • What Can You Eat On the Flexitarian Diet?

Let’s get started!

A notebook page that says flexitarian diet and lists off food items, surrounded by a variety of food such as vegetables fish and meat.

What Is A Flexitarian Diet?

The flexitarian diet is so named because the term “flexitarian“ combines the words “flexible“ and “vegetarian,” which characterizes the flexitarian diet as a mostly plant-based diet with the allowance of some meat and other animal products in moderation.

In this way, the flexitarian diet can be thought of as a flexible alternative to a strict vegetarian or vegan diet but closer to a fully plant-based diet than a normal omnivorous diet.

A lot of people have the desire to follow a plant-based diet but do not want to completely give up all meat and animal products.

Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner created this diet so that people could experience the health and environmental benefits of vegetarian eating with the “permission“ or built-in allowance to enjoy some animal products and meat in moderation without feeling like they were “cheating“ on their diet or “breaking the rules“ of vegetarian eating.

Adherence to a weight loss diet or healthy dietary approach generally decreases if the diet is too restrictive and causes people to feel like they have to give up some or all of their favorite foods permanently.

A variety of healthy foods such as fish, vegetables, nuts and healthy fats.

Knowing that you are permitted to enjoy some of your favorite foods as part of the healthy lifestyle or dietary approach you are taking can greatly improve long-term adherence, and thus success, on a weight loss diet or healthy eating plan.

Essentially, the flexitarian diet encapsulates this concept within the microcosm of allowing for a small amount of meat, poultry, and other animal products on an otherwise vegetarian diet or plant-based diet.

Plus, there can be some nutritional benefits of having small amounts of fish, poultry, and even red meat in your diet.

Therefore, there may even be health benefits of choosing the flexitarian diet vs a vegetarian diet, and adding eggs and dairy products also provides nutritional benefits of a vegetarian or flexitarian diet vs a vegan diet.

Because flexitarians are able to eat eggs and dairy, they are not considered vegans.

Additionally, because vegetarians eliminate meat, poultry, fish, and seafood, but these products are allowed in moderation on the flexitarian diet, flexitarians are not vegetarian.

However, flexitarians still follow a plant-focused diet.

A variety of foods on a plate and a piece of paper with flexitarian diet on it.

What Are the Benefits of the Flexitarian Diet?

There are several potential health benefits of the flexitarian diet, but because it is loosely defined and has very few rules, what you eat in terms of your own personal flexitarian diet food list or menu plan will impact the specific health benefits of your eating pattern.

With that said, most of the flexitarian diet health benefits overlap those of a plant-based diet since the flexitarian eating pattern minimizes the consumption of animal products.

However, as when following a vegan or vegetarian diet, it is also possible to follow an unhealthy flexitarian diet by eating lots of processed foods high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and sodium. 

Just because you are avoiding animal products does not mean that your diet is going to be healthy; you still need to make nutritious choices and minimize processed and refined foods.

To enjoy the health benefits of a flexitarian diet meal plan, the emphasis should be on eating:

  • Plant-based proteins such as legumes, soy, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, nutritional yeast, and seitan
  • Some eggs and dairy, like a vegetarian diet
  • Small amounts of fish, poultry, and high-quality meat in moderation as you see fit.

Here are some of the potential benefits:

A thin person holding up a sign that says weight loss.

#1: Weight Loss

Any plant-based foods are lower in calories yet quite filling due to the high water and high fiber content of vegetables, legumes, and plant-based proteins.

Many people find impressive flexitarian diet weight loss results because they are able to feel fuller on fewer calories and maintain the caloric deficit necessary to lose weight.

Indeed, several research studies have found that people who follow a plant-based diet may lose more weight than those following an omnivore diet.

Additionally, if adherence to a flexitarian diet long-term is improved because of the added flexibility, you may find that you are able to lose weight and maintain weight loss in the long term because you adopt this eating pattern as a lifestyle diet rather than a short-term weight loss diet.

If you do want to follow this diet for weight loss, you should be trying to maintain a caloric deficit of approximately 500 calories per day (through diet and exercise) to lose one pound of fat per week.

A stethoscope and a heart.

#2: Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

The flexitarian diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease because a diet high in fiber, antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease.

#3: Lower Blood Pressure and Cholesterol 

A flexitarian diet meal plan high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and other high-fiber, antioxidant-rich foods can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, two of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

#3: Reduced Risk of Diabetes

Studies have found that plant-based diets can reduce the risk of diabetes by about 20%. 

This is thought to be due to the fact that plant-based diets can aid weight loss, and foods found on a flexitarian diet food list or other plant-based diet meal plan tend to be high in fiber, low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and low in added sugar as long as you are making nutritious whole, natural food choices.

Studies have also found that in people who have type 2 diabetes, following a plant-based diet results in a greater decrease in HbA1c levels (3-month average of blood sugar readings) compared to eating an omnivorous diet.

A globe and a tree.

#4: Reduced Risk of Cancer

Plant-based diets that are high in vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds and low in processed foods have been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.

#5: Better for the Environment 

Although not a health benefit of the flexitarian diet, plant-based diets are better for the environment due to the lower carbon emissions necessary to raise plants for consumption relative to livestock.

#6: Fewer Nutritional Deficiencies 

One of the main health benefits of the flexitarian diet vs vegan or vegetarian diet is that by including moderate amounts of meat and animal products, this diet can potentially avoid some of the nutritional deficiencies that can occur with vegan diets or vegetarian diets, including low iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Occasionally having meat and other animal products with these nutrients can help prevent potential plant-based diet and nutritional deficiencies.

A large variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.

What Can You Eat On the Flexitarian Diet?

Although Dawn Jackson Blatner’s Flexitarian Diet Book does provide specific amounts of meat to have each week when you are transitioning to a flexitarian diet, it is unnecessary to follow any defined rules about how much meat or animal products to eat on a flexitarian diet.

In addition to this diet being flexible in terms of its allowance for the consumption of meat and animal products in moderation, it is also flexible in terms of the number of calories you eat and the specific foods that you have in a flexitarian meal plan.

As with a vegan, vegetarian, or Mediterranean diet, there isn’t a certain number of calories per day you need to eat.

Rather, the flexitarian diet is a dietary approach rather than a specific weight loss diet. You can follow the flexitarian diet for weight loss, weight management, or even weight gain.

The number of calories you should eat on this diet depends on your body size, activity levels, and weight loss goals.

A large variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.

You do not need to count calories to follow the flexitarian diet, though if you are trying to lose or gain weight, it can be helpful to do so.

To this end, there isn’t a specific list of flexitarian foods to eat or a defined flexitarian food list to avoid.

Overall, the goal of the foods you should eat on a flexitarian meal plan follows the principles of a healthy lifestyle dietary approach rather than a restrictive weight loss diet.

The key principles of a flexitarian meal plan approach include the following:

  • Eat mostly vegetables, legumes, fruits, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.
  • Focus on plant-based proteins rather than animal-based proteins.
  • Focus on consuming the most natural, unprocessed foods and minimizing processed foods.
  • Limit added sugar, refined grains, hydrogenated oils, excess salt, and artificial and chemical ingredients.
  • Allow yourself to be flexible and permit animal products occasionally or in moderation as you see fit.
A large variety of colorful fruits and vegetables at a market.

Ultimately, the flexitarian diet can be seen as a flexible, semi-vegetarian diet that falls under the umbrella of a “healthy lifestyle diet“ rather than a restrictive weight loss diet that eliminates specific foods.

There isn’t a comprehensive flexitarian diet food list because, technically, any food is permitted, though the emphasis should be on plant-based foods and whole, natural, unprocessed foods.

The emphasis should be on plant-based proteins like soybeans, tofu, seitan, beans, lentils, hummus, peas, nutritional yeast, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, plant-based milk alternatives, and spices.

Examples of flexitarian diet meal plan breakfasts include Greek yogurt with berries and nuts, cottage cheese with melon, a vegetarian omelet, or a tofu scramble with vegetables.

Examples of flexitarian diet meal plans for lunch and dinner include veggie burgers, salads with vegetables and legumes or eggs, lentil burgers, quinoa stuffed bell peppers, occasional fish or chicken, seitan, tofu stir fry, etc.

For more ideas about what to eat on a plant-based diet, check out our plant-based diet guide here.

A large variety of foods for a plant-based diet.
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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