*Disclaimer: This blog post is written in partnership with Danone Canada.
My approach as a Registered Dietitian is that all foods can fit! I never labelled my way of eating, as I couldn’t find any that would describe it perfectly – until I discovered the flexitarian movement.
The flexitarian diet is a plant-based lifestyle that promotes flexibility, variety and inclusiveness, with minimal restriction. Plant-based foods make up the base of this diet but it still includes fish, eggs, dairy and small amounts of meat.
I was thrilled when Danone Canada asked me to partner with them to help answer Canadians’ questions about the flexitarian diet! Over the last weeks, I’ve joined two live Instagram Q&A discussions with Canadian online personalities @CassieDayyy and @JeSuisCoolDad, discussing everything about the flexitarian diet from its benefits to how you can adopt it yourself, and I figured I could host a little Q&A here on the blog as well. If you’re interested in learning even more, you can find a comprehensive and informative article about the flexitarian diet on the Canadian Nutrition Society website here. So with that, let’s get started!
1. What’s the difference between being vegetarian and flexitarian?
The flexitarian diet has been described as a semi-vegetarian diet. The flexitarian diet, just like a vegan or vegetarian diet, is rooted in plant-based foods. However, animal foods such as fish, eggs, dairy and small amounts of meat also have a place on your plate – foods which aren’t included in most types of vegetarianism.
2. What are the health benefits to following a flexitarian diet?
The main benefit of joining the flexitarian movement is the inclusion of a diverse set of nutrient-dense foods, both plant- and animal-based. Consuming more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein sources provides your body with more fibre, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
The flexitarian diet can also contribute to the prevention of chronic disease and is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers. Research even found that adopting a flexitarian diet is associated with a 19% reduction in premature death!
Knowing that 44% of Canadian adults over the age of 20 years old live with at least one common chronic disease, it comes as no surprise that the flexitarian diet shares many of its dietary principles with Canada’s Food Guide.
3. Is it more expensive to follow a Flexitarian diet?
Actually, adopting a plant-based lifestyle such as the flexitarian diet could save you a few bucks! Meat is often labelled as expensive, and the cost for plant-based protein options such as canned legumes, tofu and edamame are sometimes less expensive than their animal-based counterparts. I compared the price of a few common high-protein foods in the chart below:
(for a portion containing 25 g protein)
|Chicken (90g)||$1.60 (breasts)|
|Beef (90g)||$1.20 (ground)|
$1.78 (stew cubes)
|Salmon (125g)||$2.40 (canned)|
|Eggs (208g – approx. 4 eggs)||$1.44 (large)|
|Tofu (312g)||$1.71 (extra-firm)|
|Lentils (312g)||$0.81 (canned)|
|Edamame (227g)||$2.00 (frozen)|
Data from the nutritional value comes from the Canadian Nutrient File and prices were sourced from Atlantic Superstore’s website on Thursday, September 9th, 2021, for stores in Saint John, New Brunswick.
4. Are there some food I need to avoid on the Flexitarian diet?
Nope! All foods can have a place. The flexitarian diet does emphasize the importance of incorporating more plant-based foods, but animal products can also be included.
5. Is there something I need to be aware of before starting a Flexitarian diet?
Drastically increasing the amounts of fibre-packed foods you eat, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, could have gastro-intestinal effects on some people. I recommend gradually increasing the amounts of fibre-rich foods you eat and drinking enough water to help support your digestion!
6. Will the Flexitarian diet help me lose weight?
The flexitarian diet is not a weight loss diet. It’s a non-restrictive and practical approach to eating that includes more plants, but still allows you to eat animal products. Yes, studies indicate that plant-based eaters may weigh less – but that’s not what matters the most. I have a non-weight-centric approach and I believe in focusing on feeling good and energized in our bodies, which is what eating nutrient-dense foods can contribute to!
7. Will I eat enough protein on a Flexitarian diet?
Yes! Definitely! Make sure you include a source of protein in all your meals making up at least 1/4 of your plate. You can also include protein sources in your snacks to make them more filling! Here are some examples:
- Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, beans
- Soy products: tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, fortified soy beverage, edamame
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy: cheese, milk, yogurt
- Meats: chicken, turkey, beef, pork
8. What are your tips to make vegetables taste good?
It’s all about the seasoning and the cooking method! Here are a few of my tips to make vegetables more enjoyable:
- Roasting them or using an air fryer to crisp them up.
- Using herbs, spices and a high-quality olive oil to give them some taste. My favourites are garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cumin and parsley. I also like to sprinkle parmesan on broccoli!
- Dip them into a tzatziki sauce, or any condiment of your choice.
9. How do I get started in the Flexitarian movement?
The goal of the flexitarian diet is to be accessible to your way of eating without making you feel restricted or deprived. For some people, it may be to include a salad or roasted vegetables as a side at supper time. For others, it may be introducing one day of plant-based eating per week.
A way to gradually introduce plant-based protein foods to your diet is to mix them with foods you are familiar with and enjoy. For example:
- Making a comforting chili using ground meat, textured vegetable protein and canned beans
- Adding some lentils to spaghetti sauce
- Mixing in some canned lima beans to a vegetable soup
- Adding tofu to a stir fry
10. What are some recipes I can try to include more plant-based protein in my diet?
When it comes to recipes, I got you. Here are some fan favourites here on the blog:
Before you go!
I hope this blog post was an informative introduction to the flexitarian diet and inspired you to introduce more plant-based foods to your everyday life! I only touched on the health and economical benefits, but the flexitarian diet also has many benefits for the environment, which you can find out more from this article on the Canadian Nutrition Society website.
Let me know if you consider yourself a flexitarian or how you plan on joining the movement in the comment section below!
Once again, thank you to Danone Canada for sponsoring this blog post.
1. Willett W et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet. 2019;393(10170):447-492.
2. Yogurt in Nutrition Initiative for Sustainable and Balanced Diets. What is a flexitarian diet or flexitarism? 2019. https://www.yogurtinnutrition.com/what-is-a-flexitarian-diet
3. Springmann 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-e461.
4. Derbyshire EJ. Flexitarian diets and health: a review of the evidence-based literature. Front Nutr. 2016;3:55.
5. Government of Canada. Prevalence of chronic diseases among Canadian adults. 2019. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/chronic-diseases/prevalence-canadian-adults-infographic-2019.html
6. Huang R et al. Vegetarian diets and weight reduction: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Gen Intern Med. 2016;31(1):109-116.