The Flexitarian diet: how eating less meat can help you be healthier

Thinking of going Flexitarian? Here's everything you need to know.
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  • The Flexitarian diet and other plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular, with many of us trying to reduce our intake of meat for both environmental reasons, as well as the added health benefits.

    The Flexitarian diet, otherwise known as ‘causal vegetarianism’ or ‘flexi-vegetarianism’, is following mostly a vegetarian diet, but with the occasional addition of meat.

    If you’re looking to try out more vegetarian and vegan dishes, but are not willing to take the plunge and completely cut out meat consumption then, a Flexitarian diet might be for you.

    What is a Flexitarian diet?

    Dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner came up with the diet as a way to eat more plant-based meals, but without totally giving up meat and animal products. Flexitarianism is not about cutting certain foods from your diet or restricting yourself, it’s rather about adding healthy foods to your diet, such as lentils, nuts, seeds and beans.

    Vegetarians eliminate meat products from their diet, while vegans eliminate all meat and animal-derived products, such as eggs, milk and cheese. However, a Flexitarian diet enables you to be flexible with your food choices – upholding mostly a vegetarian diet, while only occasionally eating meat.

    So you’ve been putting off turning vegetarian or vegan in fear you will miss out on burgers and steaks or spend your life hungry, a Flexitarian diet might be the perfect compromise for you. It’s more of a lifestyle choice, rather than a diet – so you can fill up on fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains – without missing out on the meat.

    Flexitarian recipes

    Adding other sources of protein like beans is key to the Flexitarian diet

    What are the main principles of a Flexitarian diet?

    • Eat mostly plant-based foods, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
    • Eat protein rich vegetables, such as tofu, lentils, chickpeas, teff and hempseed
    • Animal products, such as diary and eggs are still permitted
    • Only eat meat, fish, and poultry occasionally

    What are the pros of a Flexitarian diet?

    Eating a Flexitarian diet can provide you with several health benefits.

    Maintaining a diet that is rich in healthy fats and fibre are good to eat for a healthy heart, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps ward off diabetes.

    A Flexitarian diet may also be good if you are looking to shed some pounds naturally. Flexitarian’s limit fatty meats and processed foods, and eat more plant-based options, which are lower in calories.

    While a Flexitarian diet benefits your health, reducing the consumption of meat and animal products can help the environment by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels.

    Flexitarian diet

    What are the cons of a Flexitarian diet?

    If you are thinking of adopting a Flexitarian diet, it is crucial to be aware that you are still getting all the nutrients your body needs. Make sure you eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and it t is also a good idea to keep an eye on your iron levels. As you will be eating less red meat, your sources of iron will drop – ensure you are eating foods high in iron, such as dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and asparagus, as well as beans and lentils.

    MORE: Our favourite healthy vegetarian recipes to inspire you in the kitchen

    Vitamin C is also a great way to increase iron absorption, so add some sweet peppers to your salad and a small glass of fresh orange juice to your breakfasts.

    Other possible nutrient deficiencies you should be aware of if adopting a diet that includes less meat and fish are:

    • Vitamin B12 – try fortified non-dairy milk and eggs
    • Zinc – try whole grains and legumes
    • Calcium – try tofu, nuts and dairy
    • Omega-3 fatty acids – try flax seeds and chia seeds

    What foods can I eat on the Flexitarian diet?

    On the Flexitarian diet, you can pretty much eat everything – do not fear!

    However, the supermarket vegetable aisle will become your new best friend. There are absolutely no limits to the amount of fruit, vegetables and legumes you consume. Get to know which vegetables are great sources of protein, as you will be limiting your meat intake.

    When you do occasionally opt for a meat meal, try to only consume lean meat, poultry and fish, as well as low-fat cheese and healthy whole grains.

    Flexitarian diet

    A wide range of vegetables will help you ward off nutrient deficiencies

    To get you started, here are some foods  you should  eat regularly:

    • Proteins – tofu, soy, lentils and spirulina
    • Non-starchy vegetables – dark leafy greens, peppers, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower
    • Whole grains – buckwheat, quinoa, bulgar and brown rice
    • Nuts and seeds – dried fruits, sunflower seeds, walnuts and almonds
    • Non-dairy milk – coconut milk, almond milk and soy milk

    What foods should I avoid on the Flexitarian diet?

    To get you started, here are some foods  you should avoid:

    • Fatty meats – bacon, ham, lamb chops and sausages
    • Processed foods and pre-packaged meals
    • Refined vegetable oils
    • Refined sugar
    • Soft drinks

    Have you tried the Flexitarian diet? Would you like to go? Head over to our Facebook page and let us know your thoughts!