A meatless diet has long been considered a positive step toward reducing our impact on the environment, and a 2010 United Nations study confirmed that consumers can help fight climate change by eating less meat. But even those Americans who are deeply concerned about the environment are often unwilling to commit to a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet.

A meatless diet has long been considered a positive step toward reducing our impact on the environment, and a 2010 United Nations study confirmed that consumers can help fight climate change by eating less meat. But even those Americans who are deeply concerned about the environment are often unwilling to commit to a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet. That’s where the idea of a “flexitarian” diet comes in: it’s largely plant-based but allows wiggle room for small amounts of meat, fish and poultry, preferably focusing on those that have been raised in the most sustainable way possible.


Angela Douge, dietician and creator of the Effortless Eater blog and community, thinks the flexitarian idea is “awesome” and says American consumers might shift toward this lifestyle for many reasons. “My clients have concerns about heart disease and diabetes,” she says, as well as concerns for the environment and a desire to be mindful about where their food comes from. A lifelong vegetarian, Angela grew up with a very health conscious Dad. “He was what today we’d call a vegan,” she says. But for those of us who were raised eating at the opposite end of the spectrum, Angela acknowledges that it can be daunting to move in the other direction. “I might tell someone who eats steak every day to cut back to steak once a week. Go one goal at a time.” And though you don’t have to eat tofu to be a flexitarian, you might want to give soy-based foods a chance because of their sheer versatility. Some people find it easy to substitute a soy-based “burger” for their usual meat, Angela says. For consumers put off by such substitutes, focus on adding more vegetables to your meals and try to taper down the meat gradually.


A flexitarian lifestyle means embracing new things. If you’re intimidated by some vegetables or just need to increase your repertoire, Angela suggests taking a healthy cooking class to learn some new dishes and preparation techniques. Beyond soy, there may be foods out there that are healthy and high in protein that you never knew existed. Amaranth, for example, is a very nutritious seed that can be cooked as a cereal or added to soups or stews. Quinoa is a South American grain that’s simple to cook, versatile and contains all the amino acids that make up a complete protein.