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What is a flexitarian diet?

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27 October 2021|3 min read

Key points

Nothing in life fits perfectly into a box. Your identity. Your family. Your lifestyle. It’s all perfectly imperfect.

The same goes for the diet you choose to follow. Vegan? Vegetarian? Plant-based? There’s another option and it’s just the right kind of workable that may be perfect for you. 

Flexitarianism. 

“Over the last five or so years people have been talking more about vegetarianism and veganism,” says Dietitian Simone Austin, “There’s talk about whether it’s more healthy to be a vegetarian. For people that are interested in eating more plant-based foods but don’t want to eat those foods exclusively, flexitarian may be a good choice.”

So, what is a flexitarian diet? And is it right for you? Read on for the low down on how to flex it in your diet.

What is flexitarianism?

According to Simone, a flexitarian diet has probably been a thing since before it had a name.

“In the past, people were maybe saying that they weren’t eating red meat, or they were eating a bit less meat, but they weren’t necessarily vegetarian. I think people have been doing that for quite some time. But it seems lately that people want to label it,” she explains.

Now it has a name, what is a flexitarian vegetarian? Basically, someone who is a flexitarian that follows a semi-vegetarian diet. That is, a diet that’s primarily vegetarian but with some meat or fish.

The plant-based and vegan difference is that a plant-based eater is probably more likely to follow a vegetarian diet. 

Someone like David Attenborough might come to mind when you think of vegans but he actually follows more of a flexitarian diet. There’s an interesting fact for the day!

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Basically, someone who is a flexitarian that follows a semi-vegetarian diet.

The benefits of a flexitarian diet

For people considering going flexitarian, Simone says that there are a number of potential benefits. These include:

Flexibility

It says it in the name, really. A flexitarian diet allows you to be more flexible with what you eat. You don’t have to lock yourself into any particular way of eating.

Health

Research has shown that flexitarian diets, such as plant-based or Mediterranean diets, may be beneficial for your health and mood.

Environment

Eating more plant-based foods and less animal source foods may be more sustainable for the environment in areas such as climate change and water use.  

Longevity

If you don’t feel like you have to give up certain foods, you may be more likely to stick to a flexitarian diet longer term.

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With flexitarianism, if you want to eat a small amount of red meat then you can.

What does a flexitarian shopping list look like?

The beauty of flexitarian meal ideas is that they can contain whatever you want them to. 

You might have a mix of high protein vegan foods, ample servings of vegetables for each day of the week and even some fish or lean red meat. If you’re wondering how to encourage your child to eat vegetables, you could also get them involved in the shopping or meal prep to expose them to different foods. 

“With flexitarianism, if you want to eat a small amount of red meat then you can,” explains Simone, “It might be that you feel like your body needs the red meat or maybe your iron levels are low. Whatever the case, you have the flexibility to build your meal plan as you choose.”

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Eating more plant-based foods may be more sustainable for the environment.

Embracing the imperfect 

On that point, Simone also says that you shouldn’t feel the need to label your diet.

“The EAT-Lancet Commission report really talks about not necessarily having to be vegetarian or vegan. Instead, it talks about moving to a plant-based way of eating to protect not just our health but also the planet,” she says.

Simone also notes that when you don’t label yourself or your diet, it’s actually quite freeing. It gives you the flexibility you need to eat the way you want and need to for your body at a particular moment in time.”

So, let’s embrace the imperfect. Eat well. Enjoy food. It’s all very simple really. 

Related:

Simone Austin is an accredited Practising Dietitian, an Advanced Sports Dietitian and President of Sports Dietitians Australia. Her passion for optimising sports performance and health through nutrition has led Simone through her 25+ year career working with some of Australia’s top sports teams.

Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board September 2021.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any concerns or questions about your health you should consult with a health professional.