Flexitarian eating

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Do you want to improve your health, increase the amount of plant-based, minimally-processed foods you eat, such as vegetables?

Are you interested in looking after the planet and reducing your environmental footprint by choosing more sustainable and ethically sourced meats, dairy, eggs and seafood?

If you answered YES to either of the above than the ‘FLEXITARIAN’ way of eating may be for you  …

Flexitarian eating = Flexible + mostly vegetarian; a semi-vegetarian, way of eating.1

The flexitarian way of eating promotes conscious consumption for the betterment of the planet and our health. It is a flexible plant-based style of eating, which aligns well with the healthful Australian Dietary Guidelines.3

Flexitarians choose minimally-processed, sustainable and ethical whole food and drink choices. Different to a vegan style of living and eating where no animal products are consumed or worn, and or the vegetarian, where no or some animal products are consumed, flexitarians eat a modest amount of ecologically and ethically conscious meats, dairy, eggs, and seafood.

Flexitarianism focuses on a flexible and healthful way of eating with ecological, ethical and health mindfulness rather than restriction or rigid rules, and appears to be growing in popularity globally.1,2

The potential health benefits of eating the flexitarian way for everyone including those living with and or at risk of diabetes …

Growing research suggests that vegan and various types of vegetarian eating, including flexitarian (semi-vegetarian), may help to reduce type 2 diabetes risk.5 Whilst robust scientific evidence supports vegetarian ways of eating being associated with improved glucose management; HbA1c reductions.6

In addition, an increased healthful plant-based food and reduced meat, especially processed meats, intake has been associated with improved heart health1,4 and reduced cancer risk.7 It is important to note the World Health Organisation (WHO); International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified processed meats (ie ham, bacon, salami) as carcinogenic to humans (potentially cancer causing).8  

Any potential improvement to heart health and or reduced cancer risk is exciting news, especially for people living with diabetes who are at increased risk of heart and vessel problems and certain cancers.9

The flexitarian way of eating

  • is associated with improved HbA1c; glucose management and reduced type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer risk.1,4,5,6,7,8,9

How to start the flexitarian way of eating:

As you’ve already perhaps digested, the overall aim is to eat more healthful, minimally-processed, plant-based foods and modest amounts of ecologically and ethically-friendly sources of meats, dairy, eggs and seafood.

However, the flexitarian way of eating is about flexibility. There are no strict rules or restrictions. Aim to be flexible about how you might like to start shifting towards the flexitarian way of eating and living. You might like to try some of these suggestions below

ENJOY MORE VEGETABLES, try one or more of the following:

Add vegetables at breakfast e.g.

  • Mushrooms on toast
  • Tabouli and hummus toasted wholegrain wrap
  • Avocado, tomato and English spinach or rocket grainy bread bruschett

Add vegetables at lunch e.g.

  • Make a large salad for the week ahead e.g. a garden or roasted vegetable salad, tabouli or a healthful coleslaw and make into different types of lunch options throughout the week e.g. ethically produced egg and coleslaw wraps or tabouli, hummus and falafel salads
  • Simply add English spinach or rocket, tomatoes, avocado, capsicum, grated carrot or herbs like basil to your sandwiches or toasties


Get some VEG-inspiration (Vegspo); learn about and try new types of vegetables; their health benefits, what nutrients they contain and how best to cook them via Veggycation.


MINDFUL food choices and ways of eating, including being mindful of our ultra-processed foods and drinks intake:


Flexitarian eating in a nutshell:

  • Plant based proteins; legumes, lentils, kidney beans, soybean; tofu, tempeh
  • Non-starchy vegetables: spinach, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, capsicums, lettuces, zucchini,
  • Starchy vegetables: sweet potato, taro, yam, corn
  • Fruits; berries, kiwi fruits, apples, bananas, oranges, pineapple, cherries, fresh dates
  • Whole grains; oats, whole wheat, quinoa
  • Healthy oils, nuts and seeds; olive oil, all nuts and seeds; pecan, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, and avocado
  • Sustainable; organic and ethical free-range eggs, grass/pasture fed meats, dairy and seafood
  • Herbs and spices i.e. basil, rosemary, turmeric
  • Water; plain, water with freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice added and or herbal teas
  • Ultra-processed foods and drinks: Soft drinks, processed meats ie. sausages ham, bacon, devon, salami, white bread, pastries, cakes, cookies, croissants, chocolate, lollies, ice cream, muesli bars fast foods ie hamburger, fries, pizza, chicken nuggets, fried foods etc.
  • Unsustainable and inhumanely produced meats, dairy, eggs and seafood refer to ‘ethical eating’ link above


Eating the flexitarian way is about shifting towards more conscious consumption, being increasingly mindful of our health and that of the planet’s; reducing our ecological footprint now for a healthy future.

For more information and/or to speak with a dietitian please call the Diabetes NSW & ACT helpline 1300 342 238.

Did you know?

The average Australian adult eats a maximum 2.5 out of the recommended 5 serves of vegetables per day10

35% of Australian Adults’ energy intake is coming from highly processed foods and drinks11


  1. Derbyshire E.J. Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Front Nutr.2016; 3: 55. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216044/
  2. Dagevos H. Flexibility in the frequency of meat consumption – empirical evidence from the Netherlands. EuroChoices.(2014) 13(2):40–5.10.1111/1746-692X.12062: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1746-692X.12062
  3. National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC): Australian Dietary Guidelines Published: February 2013:
  4. Satija A, Bhupathiraju S. N, Speigelman D, Chiuve S.E, et al. Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-based diets and the risks of coronary heart disease in U.S. Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017; Jul 25; 70(4):411-422 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109717375216?via%3Dihub
  5. Tonstand S, Butler T, Yan R, Raser G.E. Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009; May; 32(5):791-9796. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/5/791.long
  6. Yokoyama Y, Barnard N.D, Levin S.M, Wantanabe M. Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiocasc Diagn Ther. 2014; 4(5): 373-382. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4221319/
  7. Orlich M.J, Singh P.N, Sabate J, et al. Vegetarian dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancers. JAMA Intern Med. 2015; 175(5):767-776 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2174939
  8. IARC Press Release; IARC monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat. 2015: https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr240_E.pdf
  9. American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes. Clinical Diabetes, 2018, Jan;36(1):14-37.
  10. Australian Bureau of Statistics; National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.001~2014-15~Main%20Features~Daily%20intake%20of%20fruit%20and%20vegetables~28
  11. Australian Bureau of Statistics; Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.007~2011-12~Main%20Features~Discretionary%20foods~700

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