Educational Articles

Flexitarian diet: what you need to know

Download article as .pdf

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:

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.
3Willett W et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet 2019;393(10170):447-92.
4Yogurt in Nutrition Initiative for Sustainable and Balanced Diets. 2019. What is a flexitarian diet or flexitarism?
5Springmann M et al. Health and nutritional aspects of sustainable diet strategies and their association with environmental impacts: a global modelling analysis with country-level detail. Lancet Planet Health 2018;2(10):e451-61.
6Schmidt CV and Mouritsen OG. The solution to sustainable eating is not a one-way street. Front Psychol 2020;11:531.
7Singh RK et al. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. J Transl Med 2017;15(1):73.
8Derbyshire EJ. Flexitarian diets and health: a review of the evidence-based literature. Front Nutr 2016;3:55.
9FAO and WHO. 2019. 
Sustainable healthy diets – guiding principles. Rome.
10Hallstrom E et al. Environmental impact of dietary change: a systematic review. J Clean Prod 2015;91:1-11.
11Nelson ME et al. Alignment of healthy dietary patterns and environmental sustainability: a systematic review. Adv Nutr 2016;7(6):1005-25.
12Aleksandrowicz L et al. The impacts of dietary change on greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and health: a systematic review. PLoS One 2016;11(11):e0165797.
13Jarmul S et al. Climate change mitigation through dietary change: a systematic review of empirical and modelling studies on the environmental footprints and health effects of ‘sustainable diets’. Environ Res Lett 2020;15:123014.
14Canada’s Food Guide. 2019. Eat protein foods.  
15Canada’s Food Guide. 2019. Limit highly processed foods


© 2024 CNS-SCN - Canadian Nutrition Society