Is a Flexitarian Diet Gluten-Free – and Healthy?

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So many ways to eat. So little time.

We’ve talked about popular diets in the past, including Keto, Whole20, Paleo, and Mediterranean to explain which are gluten-free and which are not. Another popular diet is the Flexitarian diet, created by registered dietitian and nutritionist, DJ Blatner and brought to the mainstream with her book, The Flexitarian Diet.

What is Flexitarian?

Flexitarian is a combination of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian” which perfectly describes the main basis of this way of eating: flexible but with a focus on vegetarian or plant-based foods. Like the much-endorsed Mediterranean diet, flexitarians eat mostly plants, but still eat some meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish.

Flexitarians are encouraged to substitute meat proteins with plant proteins as often as possible. Suggested plant proteins include:

Beans: white, kidney, pinto, black, fava, garbanzo, refried, lima, lupini
Pulses: lentils*, dried peas
Soy: tofu, tempeh (confirm gluten-free status), edamame
Nuts: peanuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, walnuts
Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, chia, flax, sesame
Nut & Seed Butter: peanut, almond, sunflower, tahini

* Due to the risk of cross-contact with gluten-containing grains, lentils should be labeled or certified gluten-free.


How Nutritious is a Flexitarian Diet?

Blatner claims that the Flexitarian diet is healthy and nutritious, with “gut-friendly fiber, vitamins and minerals, and beneficial phytochemicals, the chemical compounds within plants.”

According to Blatner, some of the benefits of eating the flexitarian way include:

  1. Boosting muscle and increasing the feeling of fullness (protein and vegetables provide fiber)
  2. Powering muscles and helps to prevent food cravings (quality carbs)
  3. Protecting cells (vegetables providing nutrients)
  4. Helping the body absorb more nutrients from vegetables (healthy fats)

Eating as a flexitarian can provide adequate nutrition, like the Mediterranean diet, if you are taking in enough nutrient-rich foods in each category. Since the flexitarian approach to eating is flexible by nature and encompasses many choices, it may be easier to adopt than more rigid diets and eating plans.


Adopting the Flexitarian Diet

Like any new habit, making changes to the way you eat or what you eat takes time. One 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology concluded that it takes 66 days for a new habit or behavior to become automatic. Give yourself time to adjust to a new dietary pattern change. You’ll have both a learning curve and an adoption curve to handle.

Blatner provides some quick and easy tips as you begin your habit change:

  1. Start by changing the proportions of food groups on your plate: Less meat and more vegetables is a good place to start.
  2. Make protein swaps (see the list of plant protein options above).
  3. Try new recipes. Blatner recommends trying one vegetarian recipe per week to expand your plant-based options.

In addition to these tips, Blatner also suggests becoming a flexitarian in phases rather than all at once. She divides the Flexitarian diet into three levels:

Beginner: Consume 6 – 8 meatless meals per week (approximately 26 ounces of meat/poultry per week)

Advanced: Consume 9 – 14 meatless meals per week (about 18 ounces of meat/poultry per week)

Expert: 15+ meatless meals per week (about 9 ounces of meat/poultry per week)


So… Is the Flexitarian Diet Gluten-Free?

Technically, “flexitarianism” is not a gluten-free diet. However, through some easy substitutions, any gluten-grain based food or dish can be made gluten-free. With the flexitarian focus on plant-based foods, you may want to try some of the many alternative grains and flour substitutes out there.

As with Mediterranean, Keto, Paleo, and Whole30 diets, being mindful of the potential gluten content in grains, flours, sauces and thickeners, and packaged foods is important when adopting a Flexitarian diet.

Need some help planning more plant-based gluten-free meals? Check out GIG’s 4-Week Vegan Gluten-Free Meal Plan to get started.


Disclaimer: GIG does not endorse any particular diet. We provide educational information to people living gluten-free. With any change in diet, consult your healthcare provider.


The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.


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