The Flexitarian Diet: A Dietitian’s Perspective

by | Jun 28, 2021

The term “flexitarian” may not be in your everyday vocabulary. So what the heck is a flexitarian diet then? Well, it’s essentially a semi-vegetarian diet. It’s rich in plant foods but does not completely cut out animal products. The definition of a flexitarian diet is flexible in itself, therefore, it can be somewhat difficult to define. But before we dive into this diet review, allow me to introduce myself!

My name is Tony Stephan, and I’m a dietitian business coach. I help RDs make more IMPACT and more INCOME through nutrition coaching. However, before becoming a dietitian business coach, I was an RD nutrition coach. I served thousands of nutrition coaching clients over a time span of 12 years. My successful nutrition coaching business is what led me to where I am today. Now let’s review the claims about this nutrition trend and determine if it actually lives up to the hype! 

What Is A Flexitarian Diet? 

A flexitarian diet emphasizes plant foods and contains minimal animal products. It isn’t straightforward, though. One person might continue eating red meat once a week while another person might totally cut red meat out. One person might totally eliminate dairy products and poultry while another person might incorporate those foods every day but in much smaller portions.

The diet can vary from person to person, but in general: less meat products are consumed when compared to the standard American diet. Consider the flexitarian diet as pro-plant, not anti-meat. It offers a lot of the same health benefits that a vegetarian or vegan diet consists of without the complete restriction of meat / animal products. Its flexibility is one of the most appealing aspects of this eating pattern!

Health Benefits Of A Flexitarian Diet

A flexitarian diet has been compared to the Mediterranean Diet which also consists of mostly plants while not totally eliminating animal products. The Mediterranean Diet has been associated with a decreased risk for heart disease, certain types of cancers, and Alzheimer’s. It may be safe to assume a well-planned flexitarian diet may provide similar benefits.

There was a recent review of literature done in 2017. Their findings suggest flexitarian diets may be associated with several health-related benefits! These include improved metabolic health markers, improved blood pressure, and a decreased risk for type 2 diabetes. Flexitarian diets may also play a role in management and treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics even published a position paper on vegetarian diets, which would technically include a flexitarian eating pattern. They believe well-planned vegetarian diets (including vegan diets) are healthful and nutritionally adequate. They also believe these diets may provide several health benefits in the treatment and prevention of certain chronic diseases. 

Potential Environmental Benefits 

One systematic review from 2016 suggests dietary shifts that include a reduction in the intake of animal foods could result in a 7% decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While this may not seem like a significant decrease in GHG emissions, the findings are promising. Reductions in environmental impact were proportionate to the reductions in the intake of animal foods. Nevertheless, more research still needs to be done. 

The Bottom Line

Flexitarian diets can consist of whatever level of animal food restriction you seek. It may be a great solution for anyone wanting to improve their health while also improving the health of our planet! The flexibility is appealing and may help people eat healthfully for the long-term. 

If you’re a dietitian looking to start your own nutrition coaching side hustle, you’re in the right place. I’m proud to be a part of the movement of dietitian entrepreneurs who are making more IMPACT and more INCOME!


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