The Flexitarian Diet: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide

Sarah Gaur

October 12, 2022

Flexitarian Diet is a perfect mix of vegetarian and meat-based diets. The flexitarian diet is a healthy diet that does not involve following strict dietary  rules and calorie counting. In addition, it gives all the benefits of plant-based food keeping  meat in moderation. The flexitarian diet is gaining popularity today because it has various health benefits. In addition, since the diet is primarily vegetarian, it reduces calorie intake. 

The flexitarian diet is an excellent way to cut back on animal products and eat more plant-based food. Following the flexitarian diet means eating more seeds, beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, etc. These foods are excellent  sources of protein. In addition, it also has a positive impact on the environment because of reduced consumption of meat which reduces the carbon footprint. 

Apart from the positive impact on the environment, the Flexitarian Diet has many health benefits. A semi-vegetarian diet encourages eating more fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, high in fibre and antioxidants that promote good health. 

People follow the Flexitarian Diet because of its flexible nature. Therefore, the Flexitarian Diet works best for people looking to eat healthier but don’t want to follow rigid diet plans. In addition, there is no need to do a pantry overhaul or kitchen makeover to follow the Flexitarian Diet. 

What is the Flexitarian Diet?

With a flexitarian diet, you’re being flexible by primarily focusing on plant-based foods but with small amounts of mindfully chosen animal products. It is a semi-vegetarianism eating plan that focuses on following a vegetarian-like diet. All plant-based foods are highly encouraged in a flexitarian diet. That means eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. However, it would be best to avoid or limit plant-based junk food. Instead, a flexitarian diet focuses on nutrient-dense plant-based foods. 

There is no need to eliminate meat from your diet to take in the benefits associated with vegetarianism. Therefore, the flexitarian diet allows you to have vegetarian or plant-based food most of the time while enjoying burgers, meat, or steak whenever you desire. In addition, a study suggested that the flexitarian diet comes with many health benefits like helping in weight loss, lowering the risk of heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, and promoting overall good health. 

Flexitarian Diet is ranked 2nd best diet overall because it is easy to follow, straightforward and healthy at the same time. In addition, it is a carefully planned semi-vegetarian diet that provides the right amount of nutrients by limiting the meat intake, which helps lower the levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in the body.  

The flexitarian diet suggests a person to :

  • Include more plant protein and fewer animal products,
  • Limit the intake of refined sugar and sweets.
  • Eat fruit, vegetables, lentils, nuts, legumes, and whole-grain foods more often.
  • Eat less processed foods and focus on eating natural forms of food
  • Incorporate animal products and meat from time to time 

What to Eat and Avoid on a Flexitarian Diet?

The diet focuses on eating primarily from five “flex food” groups:

  • Flex Food Group One: Beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, eggs, and vegetarian/vegan versions of meats
  • Flex Food Group Two: Vegetables and fruits
  • Flex Food Group Three: Grains like barley, corn, millet, oat, quinoa, rice, wheat, and pasta
  • Flex Food Group Four: Dairy
  • Flex Food Group Five: Natural flavour-enhancers like spices, buttermilk ranch, chilli powder, cinnamon, Italian seasoning, herbs, fats, oils, butter spreads, sweeteners, granulated sugars, honey, chocolate, ketchup, mustard, salad dressing, vinegar, and low-fat sour cream. 

The diet is very individual and depends on the person and their health goals. As for how often you should be eating meat, the following guide might help.

  • If you’re a beginner, do without meat two days a week and have no more than 1 kg over five days.
  • In case, you’re an advanced flexitarian, follow a vegetarian diet three to four days a week and have no more than 500 grams of meat during the rest of the week.
  • If you’re an expert flexitarian, follow a vegetarian diet for five days, allowing yourself to eat up to 250 grams of meat on the other two days.

Eat less:

  • Chicken, turkey, red meat, pork
  • Refined grains such as white pasta, white bread, white rice
  • Animal fats, such as butter
  • Overly processed foods (this includes the boxed plant-based meat substitutes)

Benefits of the Flexitarian Diet for Health

There are many health benefits of following the Flexitarian Diet as it is rich in nutrients, antioxidants, proteins, and fibres. Flexitarian Diet provides the same health benefits as other vegetarian diets without limiting the food intake. In addition, eating flexitarian includes whole grains and other whole foods beneficial for treating various diseases. Some of the health benefits of the Flexitarian Diet are listed below: 

Help Manage Or Prevent Diabetes

A study suggests that the Flexitarian Diet may help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes. The Flexitarian Diet emphasises on  eating plant-based foods like legumes, fruits, whole grains, seeds, vegetables, and nuts and limits most animal products. Therefore, nutrient components of plant-based diets help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Plant-based diets treat type 2 diabetes and reduce macrovascular and microvascular complications. In addition, the risk of type 2 diabetes is significantly lower among those following a plant-based diet than those who don’t because people following a plant-based diet have a lower body mass index that helps in protection  against type 2 diabetes. 

Weight Loss

Flexitarian Diet is a balanced diet that limits the intake of meat products. Therefore, it has lesser calories compared to an omnivorous diet. In addition, a study showed that plant-based or vegetarian food provides essential nutrients while lowering cholesterol and saturated fat in the body, which results in weight control. 

The Flexitarian Diet helps maintain weight because it limits the consumption of refined sugar and highly processed food and encourages the consumption of lower-calorie food. Therefore, people following a plant-based diet lose more weight than those who don’t. 

Prevent Cancer

A Flexitarian diet  is close to a vegetarian diet. And vegetarian diets are associated with lowering cancer risk. The flexitarian diet is about eating high-fibre foods like whole grains, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables. A diet like this can reduce the risk of cancer. Therefore, healthy dietary patterns and limited consumption of red and processed meats can lower the risk of cancers. 

Heart Health

Flexitarian Diet is a flexible approach to focusing on a plant-based diet or food. For example, a study suggests that low frequency of animal food consumption,and higher consumption of  plant-based foods like nuts, vegetables, whole grains, and fruit are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular or heart diseases. 

A Flexitarian Diet can lower cholesterol levels. As a result, a healthful plant-based diet helps prevent various heart diseases. Another study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that vegetarians had a 32% lower heart disease risk than non-vegetarians.

Improves Skin Health

A Flexitarian diet is rich in fruits, veggies, nuts, and legumes. In addition, these food categories contain vitamins A, C, and E, and polyphenols that help neutralise damaging, skin-ageing free radicals, lower inflammation, protect against UV exposure, and build skin’s support structures, including collagen, notes a recent review.

One-Week Flexitarian Meal Plan

To give you a better idea of what it’s like eating as a flexitarian, here is a sample week of meal plans for a beginner flexitarian who gives up meat two days a week.

Whole-grain toast with eggsBurrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, and leafy vegetablesNoodles with tomato sauce and white beans
Coconut yoghourt with berries and almondsWhole grain chapati with hummus, vegetables, and green beansGrilled fish, baked sweet potato, and chickpeas
Oats with apples and cinnamon, milled flaxseedSalad, shrimp rice with corn, avocado, and black beansLentil soup with whole-grain roti
Upma and steamed bananaMethi rice along with a vegetable lentil curry of choice.Vegetable sambar with brown rice/2 multigrain roti with non-veg curry of choice.
Scrambled eggs with sauteed veggies and fruitsBowl of sauteed vegetables with paneer kebab and green chutneySteamed rice with pepper chicken
Scrambled tofu with roasted cauliflower and spicesHave a cup of moong dal, bhindi sabzi, and two rotis.Chicken curry with mixed vegetables and a fresh spinach salad
Idli and sambharA bowl of khichdi with sprout saladA bowl of fish curry with brown rice

Need some help brainstorming other meat substitutes?

  • Meat sauce on pasta—tempeh “meat” sauce on pasta
  • Chicken stir-fry—edamame stir-fry
  • Steak burrito—black bean burrito
  • Turkey chilli—3-bean chilli
  • Ground beef tacos—lentil tacos
  • Chicken breast—tofu cutlet
  • Hamburger—bean burger
  • Lunchmeat sandwich—chickpea salad sandwich 

Downside of the Flexitarian Diet

A Flexitarian Diet is a well-planned diet with high nutritional values; however, there can be some nutrient deficiencies because of the lack of meat and other animal products. 

Study shows that eating less or no meat can cause a deficiency of vitamin B12. Therefore, people following the Flexitarian Diet may be at risk of having health problems caused by B12 lack. As with any diet that decreases meat consumption, a flexitarian needs to be mindful of consuming enough plant-based foods to avoid potential protein and iron deficiencies. 

People following the Flexitarian Diet may have a low iron intake because plant-based food has low iron bioavailability. The Flexitarian Diet can be difficult to follow for a daily meat eater. In addition, consuming plant-based food may lead to a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids because it is found mainly in fish. Nonetheless, a well-designed eating plan can avoid those deficiencies.

Is the Flexitarian Diet Right for Me?

A flexitarian diet is typically considered safe and healthy for most people. However, thanks to this diet’s flexibility, you can adjust what you eat depending on your fitness goals, intolerances, food allergies, nutrition needs, and health status. As with any diet, be thoughtful and self-aware about approaching it, ensuring you don’t overthink it. For example, if you have diabetes, it’s essential to make sure that you do not replace highly-processed carbs in the place of meat. Talk to your doctor about choosing the right foods for your blood sugar levels on a flexitarian diet. Since semi-vegetarian diets can sometimes decrease iron intake, pregnant women should be cautious. Pregnant women must consume ample amounts of iron-rich meat while following this diet.

Additionally, the diet is budget-friendly. Given that the cost of meat can be high, you may even save money. Finally, the flexitarian diet is easy to follow and nutritionally balanced. 

The Bottom Line

The idea behind a flexitarian diet is simple: You plan to eat a plant-based diet but allow for a bit of meat. The diet is easy to follow with no strict dietary and calorie intake rules. Instead, flexitarian eating encourages the consumption of healthy plant-based food and fewer meat products to benefit both in moderation. 

Following the flexitarian diet has a lot of health benefits because it is rich in nutrients, fibres, and proteins. Therefore, the diet helps prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases and helps in weight management.

However, with all the benefits, the Flexitarian Diet has some downsides. Cutting back on some animal products might also mean deficiencies in vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, calcium, iron and omega-3 fats. When adhering to a flexitarian diet, you must replace meat with plant-based protein and iron sources. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What do you eat on a flexitarian diet?

A. The flexitarian diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, with the occasional meal of meat, dairy and seafood. If you’re following a flexitarian diet, you will be consuming more vegetarian meals and having non-veg on certain days in moderation.

Q. What are the disadvantages of a flexitarian diet?

A. Some vitamins and nutrients are mainly present in meat products; therefore, following a flexitarian diet can cause a deficiency of vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. Also, people who eat meat daily can find it challenging to follow a flexitarian diet. 

Q. How often does a flexitarian eat meat?

A. There is no fixed or set amount of meat that a flexitarian should eat while following the diet. The amount of meat intake depends on the individual. No matter what level you’re at in your flexitarian journey, the meat-eating days don’t have to be consecutive and can be spread out throughout the week.

Q. Can you eat oatmeal on a flexitarian diet?

A. Yes, you can eat oatmeal on a flexitarian diet. Oatmeal is plant-based, filled with nutrients, and provides antioxidants that are very beneficial for health. 

Q. Can you lose weight on a flexitarian diet?

A. Yes, a flexitarian diet helps in managing weight loss. A Flexitarian diet is low in calories because plant-based foods provide all the essential nutrients to the body while lowering the saturated fat and cholesterol in the body. Hence, people following the flexitarian diet lose weight more quickly. 

Q. Do flexitarians eat fish?

A. Seafood is not entirely restricted. However, you do want to limit animal protein from fish. You can eat fish occasionally. 

Q. Is Flexitarian better than vegan?

A. Both Flexitarian and vegan diets have their pros and cons. In addition, it depends on the person which diet he can follow easily. But a vegan diet is based only on plant-based foods, whereas a flexitarian diet allows you to have plant-based food and meat both in moderation. Therefore, a flexitarian diet could be slightly better if you want to have the health benefits of both plant-based food and meat products in your diet.

Q. What would happen if everyone stopped eating meat one day a week?  

A. Different studies showed that going meatless just for one day can positively impact the environment and health, and it can be cost-effective. In addition, swapping out meat once a week will help reduce greenhouse gases.

Q. Do flexitarians live longer?

A. Eating a flexitarian diet is centred around eating more plant-based foods. It leads to a 35% lower risk of death from respiratory disease, 10% lower risk of death from cancer and a 13% lower risk of death from all causes. As a result, a flexitarian diet might promote a longer lifespan.

About the Author

A nutritionist by profession and a writer by passion, Sarah holds an MSc. in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics from Symbiosis Institute of Health Sciences, Pune. She believes in changing lives, one meal at a time with a holistic approach towards overall healing. Her mission is to modify the nutritional habits and behaviors of our next generation to optimize their long-term health and reduce the likelihood of metabolic diseases. Apart from working, she loves to sing, swirl scribble and spread smiles.

Related Articles


Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your health is our priority. Talk to one of our experts and get the best plan for you today.
Chat With Us