Often referred to as 'casual vegetarianism,' the flexitarian diet appears to be regaining popularity. Interestingly, 23 per cent of British consumers consider themselves to be ‘flexitarian’ with some of their main motivators being health, variety, price and a desire to eat a more natural, unprocessed diet. Meat-free meals are often quicker and simpler to prepare, and the average cost per portion (77p versus £1.85 for a meal containing meat or fish) offers obvious advantages during the current cost of living crisis. The renewed interest may also be a result of people taking a more environmentally sustainable approach to food.


Read more about popular diet guides including the keto diet and paleo diet. Interested in following a flexitarian diet? Then check out our Healthy Diet Plan.

Flexitarian diet ingredients

What is a 'flexitarian' diet?

Although there is no official definition, a ‘flexitarian’ diet refers to a style of eating that endorses mostly plant-based foods while enjoying some meat and other animal foods in moderation.

How does a flexitarian diet work?

This eating style refers to one that is primarily, but not strictly vegetarian. The diet recognises that meat and fish are important sources of nutrients including protein, fat and certain micronutrients, whilst also reflecting environmental and ethical issues, including animal welfare and intensified agricultural systems.

Given its name, this style of eating is flexible – there are no ‘rules.’ Some adopters choose to include poultry, fish or red meat once per week (or more) while others eliminate red meat but include other sources of animal foods. There are also no set calorie or macronutrient goals, but rather a focus on building the plant-based nature of your diet.

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What can I eat on a flexitarian diet?

People adopting this style of eating emphasise whole, plant-based, minimally processed foods over animal ones. When opting for meat or fish, it's best to choose good- quality produce from predominantly pasture-fed and free-range animals and wild caught fish.

Foods to enjoy include:

  • Plant proteins such as beans and pulses such as soya, tofu, tempeh, lentils
  • Nuts, seeds and other healthy fats including olive oil
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Wholegrains and pseudo cereals such as quinoa, buckwheat and teff
  • Eggs, dairy, poultry, fish and meat from predominantly wild, free-range and pasture-fed stocks

What foods should I limit on a flexitarian diet?

As well as eating animal proteins less frequently or in smaller portions, a flexitarian diet aims to minimise processed foods, refined carbs and added sugars, and such as bacon, sausages and salami.

Read more about how much meat is safe to eat.

Indian sweet potato and dhal pie in a mini casserole dish

Will I lose weight following a flexitarian diet?

Those who follow a vegan, vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet typically present with a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who adopt an omnivorous diet. The findings of a 2015 study reported that a group of postmenopausal women who followed a semi-vegetarian diet for 20 years had significantly lower body weight, BMI and body fat, compared with their non-vegetarian equivalents.

However, in addition to notable dietary differences – a vegetarian diet is higher in fibre, lower in fat and calories – that may account for weight loss, there may be an element of restrained eating which contributes as well. Therefore, until further research is conducted, it's difficult to say whether adopting a flexitarian diet is a sure-fire choice for sustained weight loss.

Is a flexitarian diet healthy? A nutritionist’s view…

With its name a play on two words – flexible and vegetarian – and no strict definitions, a flexitarian diet is one that focuses on whole, plant-based proteins and other minimally processed foods, while enjoying meat, dairy, eggs and fish in moderation. This style of eating aligns with current dietary guidelines and focuses on nutrient-dense foods while limiting saturated fat, sugar and salt.

The emphasis on plant foods means the diet shares many of the health benefits associated with vegetarian diets but without the need to follow a 100 per cent plant-based diet.

The strongest evidence appears to lie in the diet’s ability to reduce the risk of many modern health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer. Furthermore, a flexitarian diet may also play a role in the management of inflammatory bowel conditions, such as Crohn’s disease.

Consuming more plant-based foods increases your fibre intake, which has benefits for gut health and digestion, and by replacing animal foods you may have a more subtle impact on the environment.

That said, it’s important to remember the lower bioavailability of some nutrients, for example iron and protein, from plant foods meaning you may not be able to absorb these nutrients as efficiently. The consequence of this is that the environmental footprint of such plant foods may not be quite as straight forward when calculated on a nutrient density basis, and you may need to make changes to your diet.

Read more about how to get enough iron as a vegetarian.

Should I follow a flexitarian diet?

The flexibility of this diet makes it very appealing. If you're thinking about adopting it, be sure to plan your food choices well to prevent nutritional deficiencies and to help optimise the diet’s health benefits.

In practical terms, this means building a plate based on fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds with beans, soya, dairy or eggs most of the time, with the occasional addition of quality meat or fish. It is also important to ensure you are eating enough to satisfy your specific requirements, including your energy needs.

Flexitarian recipe suggestions

Vegetable tagine with apricot quinoa
Double bean & roasted pepper chilli
Indian sweet potato dhal pies
Spring chicken in a pot
Spicy chicken salad with broccoli

Like this? Read more

What is the planetary health diet?
What counts as five-a-day?
What is a balanced diet for vegetarians?
What is a pescatarian diet?
How to eat a balanced diet

Have you tried following a flexitarian diet? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below...

This article was last reviewed on 13 December 2023 by Kerry Torrens

Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London's top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.

A nutritionist (MBANT) Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).


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