Flexitarian diet: what you need to know
It’s no secret plant-based diets* have increased in popularity over the last few years. In fact, in 2021 more than 50 per cent of Canadians reported a willingness to reduce their meat consumption1. Evidently, there is a demand for more flexibility and versatility in diets and as such, the flexitarian diet has grown in popularity with nearly 10 per cent of Canadians having adopted it as their preferred dietary approach2.
Whether you are already embracing the flexitarian diet, or interested in learning more, this article explores some of the key details and benefits of this flexible plant-based diet.
What is a flexitarian diet?
The flexitarian diet is a semi-vegetarian diet. The term flexitarian combines the words flexible and vegetarian. The flexitarian diet corresponds to an omnivorous diet that focuses more on plant-based foods and less on meat. It is a dietary approach that is inclusive, diverse and balanced, and is rooted in eating nutritious plant-based foods, varying amounts of fish and dairy, and lower quantities of meat3,4,5. It provides a realistic, flexible way to eat more plant-based foods, while promoting variety and inclusiveness of foods, and being adaptable to people’s dietary needs, preferences and cultures.
The flexitarian diet is an example of a sustainable healthy diet and provides an accessible foundation for a healthy and balanced lifestyle6. It is an attractive choice because of its focus on variety rather than restriction, but also because of cost savings associated with eating less meat1, and the benefits to one’s health and the planet.
Health and environmental benefits of a flexitarian diet
The food diversity and balance offered through the flexitarian diet help us get the nutrients we need to support optimal health and gut health, while also reducing risk for chronic diseases7.
In flexitarian diets, and through the diversity of foods consumed, we are exposed to nutrient-dense foods high in dietary fibre, high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, all of which can contribute to a higher diet quality. In addition, flexitarian diets are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and obesity8, and research has shown that adopting a flexitarian diet is associated with a 19% reduction in premature death5.
Globally, studies have shown that a shift to plant-based diets is not only beneficial to our health, but also the health of the planet9. Flexitarian diets may minimize the environmental impact of food systems across the globe, relieving pressures on the ecosystem with less land, water and energy use10,11,12,13. Flexitarian diets are also estimated to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50 per cent8. Additionally, by promoting variety, flexitarian diets enable diverse food production and support the global biodiversity of plants, animals and microorganisms.
By neither eliminating nor over-relying on any type of food, flexitarian diets not only support a healthier lifestyle and planet, but also promote the pleasure of eating to suit different taste preferences, dietary needs and more.
Looking to get started with a flexitarian diet?
Here are some simple modifications you can make to experience it for yourself:
- Consume plenty of plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits and whole grains, which provide key nutrients like vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre and healthy fats.
- When purchasing your groceries, remember to prioritize a good balance between plant and animal protein foods in your shopping cart. Try to select, more often, items that come from plants, such as pulses (for example beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils), soy products (for example tofu, soybeans, fortified soy beverage), nuts and seeds14 – you’ll be amazed by the variety of options available!
- Try consuming a more diverse mix of meat/protein sources, including varying amounts of fish and dairy, particularly fermented dairy products like yogurt.
- Limit highly processed foods** that are high in sodium, added sugars and saturated fats15.
- And most important of all – have fun enjoying a varied and diverse diet that doesn’t require you to eliminate any food!
With a few simple tweaks, anyone can adopt a flexitarian diet and enjoy its many health and environmental benefits.
* Plant-based diets encompass a variety of diets including vegan, vegetarian, and semi-vegetarian.
** Highly processed foods are those processed or prepared foods and drinks that add excess sodium, sugars or saturated fat to the diets of Canadians, and can include sugary drinks, chocolate and candies, fast foods, frozen entrées, bakery products, processed meats15.
This article was developed by Danone Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Nutrition Society to educate Canadians about the benefits of adopting a flexitarian diet.
Danone® used under lic., © 2021 Cie Gervais Danone. All rights reserved.
1Sylvain Charlebois, Director Agri-Food Analytics Lab, Dalhousie University. 2021. COVID-19 Beef consumption.
2Sylvain Charlebois, Director Agri-Food Analytics Lab, Dalhousie University. 2021. The Canadian protein market: Today and tomorrow.
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14Canada’s Food Guide. 2019. Eat protein foods.
15Canada’s Food Guide. 2019. Limit highly processed foods.