What is a Flexitarian Diet?


A flexitarian diet sounds like a flexible diet. Some may think the name implies that you get to flex in and out of diet mode. But flexitarian is the combination of two words—flex and vegetarian. Honestly, it isn’t even a diet—it is just a way of eating.

Rebecca Jilek, MPH, RD, LD, CDE, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center explains, “It is a lifestyle of eating less animal-based protein and more plant-based protein. But it allows for some animal-based protein.”

The author of The Flexitarian Diet, Dawn Jackson Blatner even breaks it down to describe different levels of flexitarianism:

  • Beginner – two meatless days a week.
  • Advanced – three to four meatless days a week.
  • Expert – five or more meatless days a week.

Since you are not counting calories or limiting the amount of food you consume, some may not consider this an actual diet, but a change of lifestyle. Instead, you are choosing to fill your daily intake of food with more plant-based foods.

“Studies show that vegetarians typically weigh less, have lower bad cholesterol, and decreased the risk for type 2 diabetes and cancer,” says Rebecca. “Because this way of eating is primarily plant-based, dietitians believe you will get many of the same benefits of a vegetarian diet.”

The term flexitarian was created to describe a person who understands that vegetarianism is a smart and healthy way to eat, but does not choose to commit to eating no animal-based food. Someone following a flexitarian lifestyle primarily eats:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Soy products

“This is not for someone that wants to buy ready-to-eat meals,” says Rebecca. “Processed foods should not be part of this lifestyle plan. You have to be willing to buy whole foods and prepare meals.”

This way of eating may also mean you have to supplement your diet with alternative protein sources and vitamins. Animal-based proteins supply your body with B12, zinc, iron calcium and omega 3 fatty acids. When you cut back on meat and poultry, you may need to mindfully add those nutrients into your diet through nuts, flax seeds, fortified food products or vitamins.

If you need help keeping your weight goals on track, talk to your primary care physician or schedule an appointment at the St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center by calling (859) 212-4625. You can also watch our free medical weight management seminar online.