Flexible + vegetarian = flexitarian. A flexitarian diet encourages more plant-based foods while allowing meat and other animal proteins in moderation.

Flexible + vegetarian = flexitarian. A flexitarian diet encourages more plant-based foods while allowing meat and other animal proteins in moderation. It is heart-healthy and a good choice when you want to eat healthier but don’t want to go completely vegetarian or vegan. The flexitarian diet is more a lifestyle than an actual diet because it has no clear-cut rules, nor any calorie or macronutrient requirements. In 2019, the flexitarian diet was ranked No. 3 in the Best Diet Rankings by U.S. News & WorldReport. It also took second in the Easiest Diet to Follow category. 

The basic principles are as follows.

Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes and whole grains.

Eat more protein from plants and fish, and less from animals.

Incorporate meat and animal products sometimes, keeping the amounts moderate.

Eat the least-processed, most-natural form of each food.

Limit added sugars and sweets. 

Choose plant-based fats (avocado, vegetable oils, nuts) over animal fats (butter, cream) more often than not.

There are several health benefits to this way of eating. Consider the following. 

Diets rich in fiber and healthy fats are good for heart health. Fiber helps remove cholesterol from our bodies, and plant-based fats provide energy and nutrients. Plants are the best source for both fiber and healthy fats. 

Following a flexitarian diet may help you lose weight because it limits higher-calorie, processed foods and encourages plant-based foods that are naturally lower in calories. You’ll feel fuller on fewer calories due to the increased fiber and bulk in plant-based foods.

Because it encourages more fiber and less added sugar, eating a predominantly plant-based diet can help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. 

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes all have nutrients and antioxidants that may help prevent cancer, especially colorectal cancer.

A flexitarian diet may also be better for the environment. It typically takes fewer fossil fuels and less land and water to produce plant-based foods than animal-based foods.

Because the flexitarian diet doesn’t exclude any food group, it shouldn’t pose any health risks. You can meet your protein, iron and zinc requirements with occasional meat, fish or poultry meals; your calcium and vitamin D needs with dairy products; and your omega 3 fats needs with fish and seafood.

Thinking about becoming a flexitarian? Focus on adding more foods to your diet rather than on taking foods away. Increase your daily intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy and meatless proteins, including beans and eggs. 

You could start by forgoing meat two days a week. Or maybe choose to eat animal products daily but only for dinner. As you begin to eat more plants, you may find that you can eliminate meat more often. When you do eat meat, cut back on the quantity, keeping portions to three to four ounces. Make 75 percent of your meal plant-based with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You can swap out meat in your favorite recipes for beans, using a fourth a cup of beans for every ounce of meat that you replace. 

The best thing about the diet is the flexibility. You don’t need to do a kitchen makeover or pantry purge; instead the next time you go shopping, just buy fewer animal products and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You don’t have to stick to any rules at all, just include some or all of the basic principles at each meal. 

Whatever diet you choose to follow, remember that exercise is also an important part of a healthy lifestyle.