flexitarian reducing meat healthy sustainable eating
5 min read
A flexitarian diet is one that reduces intake of meat or animal products. This can mean different things to different people but even if you're reducing red meat intake from 2 meals to 1 meal a day, you're still a flexitarian...

The word ‘flexitarian’ comes from combining the words flexible and vegetarian - and that describes the eating habits perfectly, but you certainly don’t need to label yourself a flexitarian to follow this dietary pattern or if you're moving towards a more environmentally friendly diet. 


Flexitarian eating is particularly popular for people who are mindful of their health and the planet, but still want to have flexibility and perhaps eat meat at social occasions or avoid strict rules. Flexitarian diets typically still include the other food groups, such as wholegrains, dairy, fruit and vegetables, but rely on more non-meat sources of protein such as legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, eggs and tofu.


Flexitarian diets have become increasingly popular, and this is a great step towards reducing your environmental impact as research shows that animal products in general, have a greater impact on the environment than eating plants.


Nutrients to consider


A well-balanced flexitarian diet should be nutritionally adequate and in fact, longitudinal research and meta-analyses have shown that reducing meat intake is associated with improved health outcomes. So, for most people without specific dietary needs, changing to a flexitarian eating approach and not eating meat every day, can result in a decreased saturated fat intake which is important for preventing or managing chronic disease. 


Given that meat is traditionally the primary source of protein and iron in Western diets, it's important that meat is substituted with a plant-based source of protein and iron, rather than simply cutting it out. As with all eating habits, variety is key to ensuring you're meeting all your nutritional needs.


Consuming foods from each of the five food groups everyday is key to nutritional adequacy. These include:

  • High protein foods - meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and legumes, and tofu, edamame, and tempeh
  • Vegetables - it's important to eat a wide variety of colours
  • Fruits – a range of colours is key here too!
  • Wholegrains and cereals - wholegrain breads, cereals, rice, pasta and crackers
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives - milk (cow’s milk or a calcium fortified plant-based milk), cheese and yoghurt.


For more information on specific nutrients that are relevant when reducing meat intake, please see our education on protein, iron and omega-3s.


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