There are so many different variations on plant-based diets. “Vegetarian” and “vegan” are just the beginning. With all the variations like “flexitarian” (usually-but-not-always vegetarian) and pescatarian (vegetarian except fish), it makes sense that a term like “flexi-vegan” would arise.
So, what is a flexi-vegan diet? A flexi-vegan diet is a mostly but not fully vegan diet. Flexi-vegans may eat vegan on some days but not others. They may be fully vegan at home but flexible when eating out. Compared to “flexitarian,” flexi-vegan suggests more avoidance of dairy and eggs, too—not only meat.
In this post, I’ll break down some reasons you might choose to go flexi-vegan and some reasons why you might not! I’ll also list out 10 Practical Tips for going flexi-vegan. And I’ll explain how you can make this diet affordable, too.
Why Go Flexi-Vegan?
There are a lot of reasons you may be considering flexi-vegan diet. Some of the most common reasons are the health benefits, environmental impact, the impact on animals, and it’s convenience relative to a fully vegan diet.
Health Benefits of Being a Flexible Vegan
Most of the health benefits of going fully vegan actually also apply to going flexi-vegan. One time I actually got into an argument with a vegan dietitian about this.
I was trying to argue that a vegan diet is the healthiest diet for preventing cancer and heart disease. But this dietitian argued back that, based on the research she’s seen, it’s only been shown that eating a mostly vegan diet is healthier. She said going fully vegan hasn’t actually been shown to be the #1 healthiest diet.
Evidence That Flexible Vegan Diets Are Just About as Healthy as Fully Vegan Diets
Indeed, if you look at studies of Blue Zones—geographical areas that host the longest-lived populations on the planet—they all eat a plant-based but not fully vegan diet. This suggests great things about a flexible vegan approach, as long as it’s based around whole foods.
Similarly, many of the popular physician-authors who promote a plant-based diet for health reasons do not promote a strict, fully vegan diet. Instead, they promote a plant-based diet, meaning mostly vegan and focused on real, whole plants!
Dr. John McDougall, the creator of the influential McDougall Diet, openly says that it’s fine to eat some meat on special occasions.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, the creator of the Nutritarian Diet, similarly suggests that it’s fine to eat animal products (or processed foods) with about 10% of your calories—but stay vegan with the other 90%. (This is around 200 calories per day of potentially non-vegan or processed food.)
There is at least one good study showing that vegans have a lower and healthier average body-mass index (BMI) compared to pescatarians and lacto-ovo vegetarians. That data suggests going vegan may be healthier than flexi-vegan, at least regarding weight... But I think if you’re going flexi-vegan with health in mind, you will do just fine.
Environmental Impact of Being Flexi-Vegan
You can find a lot of conflicting data out there about how a vegan diet impacts the environment, but the general consensus is that going vegan helps fight climate change, deforestation, ocean acidification, and other environmental problems.
If that’s the case, then we can expect that being flexi-vegan helps, too.
There’s no magic reason that being 100% vegan would completely save the rainforest but going 70% or 90% vegan doesn’t even help a little.
Reducing your intake of meat, dairy, and eggs will help decrease global demand for these foods and therefore decrease the greenhouse gases emitted, the land being used for animal agriculture, and the waste run-off in the long term.
Reducing Animal Suffering with a Flexi-Vegan Diet
Many people feel awful when they see images or videos of animals crammed in tiny cages on factory farms or being killed at slaughterhouses. But even if you don’t go fully vegan, you’re still helping if you take a step in that direction.
Less suffering is less suffering. Less killing is less killing. It’s a good thing when you remove even part of your support from the animal agriculture industry
You don’t need to live a 100% vegan life in order to have a major impact on reducing animal suffering.
In fact, if you influence even just one other person to go flexi-vegan with you, you might already be having more impact than someone who goes fully vegan on their own.
The Convenience of the Flexi-Vegan Diet
The obvious main reason for many people to go flexi-vegan is that it can be way more convenient than being vegan. You can just eat vegan when it’s easy to and then don’t worry about it when it’d be hard to.
The difficulty or inconvenience of being vegan can really vary from person to person. It depends a lot on your social circle, the city you live in, and maybe the type of person you are.
For me, being vegan has never been that hard. I have vegan friends. I’ve had vegan roommates for most of my 12+ years as a vegan. For quite a few years now, I’ve had a vegan kitchen. I know how to find veg-friendly restaurants and order vegan food. So it’s easy for me. But…
Some people really do find veganism to be difficult. My dad has told me a few times that he would consider going vegan, but my step-mom would hate him for it—and none of his friends or extended family would get it.
So going vegan is a lot harder for some people. And when you go flexi-vegan, you take away almost all the difficulty of veganism, while keeping many of the benefits. You just say: “I’m gonna be (mostly) vegan when I can, but I’m not beholden to it.”
This makes a “flexible vegan diet” a lot more do-able and approachable to a lot more people.
With the proliferation of plant-based milks, veggie burgers, veg-friendly restaurants, and the like, many people are projecting flexi-veganism to really be the future.
Some People Can’t Go Fully Vegan Due to Specific Health Issues
Some people have health conditions that make veganism a less doable option. Or at least they have been told that their health condition makes veganism less doable.
Some examples of these might be problems with iron and anemia, problems relating to protein in some way, or problems relating to calcium and bone density.
There are actually many different ways to go about eating a vegan diet, so many of these health problems could be troubleshot while staying on a vegan diet. But I think this is a common reason why someone might choose a flexible vegan diet instead.
And it makes sense. If your physician or dietitian is telling you that your vegan diet is causing you problems, you’d have to be pretty committed to veganism in order to keep pursuing a fully vegan diet in the face of that!
I think it’s totally reasonable to just opt for a flexi-vegan diet if it helps you solve your health issues whatsoever!
Having an Impact Without Going Fully Vegan?
I have a big post outlining a bunch of the ethical reasons to go vegan. But do you really need to go fully vegan to have that impact and fulfill those ethical reasons?
Well, it depends on your personal reasons for doing it. So it’s a complicated answer.
With many of the reasons you’d pursue a vegan diet, a flexi-vegan diet will get you a similar result or at least a part of that result.
Something that I often like to point out to vegans is that your personal purity of getting to a 100% vegan diet isn’t necessarily the most important thing.
Most of the impact that you can have as a vegan happens in the first 90 to 99% of your veganism. If you just cut out meat, dairy, and eggs, that matters way, way more than cutting out every possible animal byproduct like carminic acid, lanolin, monoglycerides, cholecalciferol, and so on.
I really don’t think it’s that useful for vegans to be obsessing over every single animal by-product that could possibly be in their food.
If you read through my posts where I answer whether specific products are vegan (such as Powerade), you’ll notice that I emphasize this point of view. I’m just not as strict as some vegans.
I’m very aware that the first 99% of my veganism is so much more important than the last one percent. So once I’ve gotten the first 99% of my veganism taken care of, I’d rather spend my limited time and energy focused on other things, not obsessing over the last traces of animal products in my food.
So in this sense, I actually promote a sort of flexible vegan diet for everyone. But here’s another question to consider:
If You Think It’s Wrong to Kill Animals… Wouldn’t You Completely Stop Killing Them?
Usually, if we understand something to be truly wrong, it’s not okay to keep doing it a little bit. We should completely stop doing it.
For me personally, when I see videos of animals being killed in slaughterhouses, it does feel wrong to me.
I understand that animals kill each other in nature and all that, but it’s just undeniably very sad to see these animals being raised for the sole purpose of being exploited and killed. We just treat animals like things, like property, like trash.
That’s why, for me, even though I support other people being flexi-vegan, I choose to pursue a more fully vegan diet. I still don’t obsess over every animal by-product, but I do think a vegan diet takes an ethical stance which a more flexible vegan diet cannot.
So this would be the one strong reason that I’d say to be vegan rather than flexi-vegan: If you think it’s wrong to exploit and kill animals on principle, I think being fully vegan does make that statement much more clearly. (And taking the Liberation Pledge makes this statement the most clear.)
But still, your diet is not the only tool you have to express your ethics. You can fight animal agriculture through so many other means like protest and legislative reform. So again, I don’t think you need to be obsessive over the minutiae of your diet to live out your vegan ethics.
10 Tips for Going Flexi-Vegan
If you’ve decided that a flexible vegan diet may be right for you, here are some practical tips to get you started.
1. Focus on Adding New Foods.
This is a tip that works for new vegans, too, but it seems especially practical for flexi-vegans.
If you’re solely focused on removing foods from your diet, you may end up feeling deprived. You may feel that this diet is difficult.
Instead, focus on adding new things to your diet. Focused on exploring new foods. Focus on finding new favorite meals or going to new veg-friendly restaurants.
If this is your approach to going flexi-vegan, you’re likely going to have a much more enjoyable time of it.
And even if you eventually fall off of your flexi-vegan lifestyle, you will have gained knowledge of several new meals you love. So trying flexi-vegan with this approach can only impact your life for the better!
2. Consider Making Your Kitchen Fully Vegan.
I love this tip. It may not be for everyone, but I think it’s super practical if it works for you.
When you’re taking on something like a flexible vegan diet, it can be easy to fall into “slippery slope” problems. Since you’re not committing to any strict amount of vegan-ness in your diet, there’s not necessarily any specific standard to hold yourself to—unless you create one.
Choosing certain spaces in your life that are fully vegan (or at least mostly vegan) will help ensure that the term flexi-vegan actually means something.
Obviously, if you live with roommates or family that do not want a vegan kitchen, then this may not be an option.
But generally, I think one of the most common sense ways of being a flexible vegan is to eat fully vegan (or almost fully vegan) at home, while being more flexible outside of the home.
This is because usually when people go vegan, the most difficult part is eating vegan at parties, restaurants, other people’s homes, and so forth.
By just focusing on trying to mostly be vegan at home, you can free yourself up to care less about whether you’re eating vegan food outside of the house—while still having a diet that benefits from a lot of the upsides of veganism.
3. Decide Which Foods You’re Most Trying to Avoid.
Are you most disgusted with beef and other red meat? Or do you think that chicken and turkey actually cause more suffering in the world?
If you’re trying to achieve a certain health impact, then that might shape which animal foods you most try to avoid, too.
You don’t need to completely swear-off any food necessarily. But just knowing how you rank the foods can help you make decisions on the fly.
If you’re in a restaurant and there’s one dish that has cheese and one dish that has chicken, do you know which one you’d choose based on that? Or is it more about taste, calories, or other factors?
It’s just useful to reflect on what the underlying purpose of this flexi-vegan diet is for you. Then you’ll be able to make decisions that consistently fall in line with that underlying purpose.
4. Find Veg-Friendly Restaurants in Your City.
If you live in a big city like New York, London, or LA, there might be literally dozens of all-vegan restaurants nearby that you don’t know about yet.
If you’re in a smaller city or in the countryside, you might not have any vegan or vegetarian restaurants. But you can still look into which restaurants in your area have more veg options.
Happy Cow has both a map format and a list format. In either, you can see all the veg-friendly restaurants in your area, with ratings, prices, reviews, pictures, and more.
I believe Yelp also allows you to sort by veg-friendly restaurants, but I haven’t even tried doing it much myself because I like Happy Cow so much, I just always use that.
5. Ask Friends to Explore Veg Food with You.
I was blessed to have a few friends who were interested in exploring vegan food with me when I was getting started.
Even if your friend doesn’t want to be flexi-vegan with you or anything, it’ll be great if can you find someone who is down to at least try vegan foods with you.
If you know any vegan or vegetarian friends already, chat them up and see if they’ll give you any tips or meet up to talk about it over lunch.
Having veggie-leaning friends and community can make a world of difference compared to going it alone and feeling like no one around you understands.
6. Eat the Healthiest Plant Foods in the World.
One of the great benefits of being a flexible vegan is that you’ll hopefully be eating a much healthier diet than the average person. But one easy way to make sure that’s the case is to focus in on a few extra-healthy foods.
See if you can incorporate any of these foods into your diet:
• Dark leafy greens: spinach, kale, collards, arugula, swiss chard, rainbow chard, mustard greens, etc.
• Berries: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, grapes, etc.
• Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, arugula, brussel sprouts, collard greens, bok choy, watercress, radish.
• Allium vegetables: onions, garlic, leek, shallots, chives.
• Other affordable “superfoods”: flaxseed, chia seeds, turmeric.
These are some of the most cancer-fighting and antioxidant-rich foods in the grocery store. So even if you’re going flexi-vegan for health reasons, I think it makes sense to start with some of these foods.
7. Go Vegan for Certain Days of the Week.
One way that you can go flexi-vegan is by adopting a regular habit of eating meatless Mondays. Or meatless weekdays in general. Or whichever days work for you!
Alternatively, you could make a commitment to always eat a vegan breakfast or a vegan lunch. Whichever meals you most commonly eat alone or prepare yourself may be the easiest ones to switch over to vegan because you won’t have any non-vegan social pressures.
If you always have dinner with non-vegan family members, it may be more difficult to get them all on board with you. But they probably won’t object to you packing a vegan lunch.
8. Use Animal Foods Only as Condiments.
Another way to cut your consumption of animal products is to simply limit your portion sizes.
You might find it helpful to view animal foods as condiments. You can just add little pieces of meat or just a small serving of cheese onto a dish to get some added flavor from it. The animal foods don’t need to be a central source of your actual calories to fill you up.
This is actually how Dr. Joel Fuhrman recommends viewing animal products in some of his Nutritarian diets. If something is viewed as a condiment, you’re unlikely to over-eat it.
9. Build the Vegan-ness of Your Diet Gradually.
Any diet change that you can sustain long-term is going to make a much bigger difference for your body and the world than anything you burn out and quit doing.
With a flexi-vegan diet, you’re already removing a lot of the difficulty and potential barriers from a vegan diet. But still, it’s useful to remember that there’s no need to rush things.
Start with changes to your diet that seem easily doable. You can always add more later. Enjoy this diet. Find a balance that really works well for you.
10. Remember Your Reasons for Doing This.
So many people start a diet and then quit after two weeks. That is really not enough time for a diet change to have an impact.
Diet has major effects on human health and on the broader world, but it’s an impact that only plays out over years and decades. So you need to be able to stick with this. That’s where it’s so important to know your why.
If you’re going flexi-vegan for health reasons, you may want to periodically revisit the research, videos, or books that inspired you to take the leap.
If you’re pursuing a flexi-vegan diet for the environment or the animals, you may want to periodically re-watch documentaries covering the suffering and pollution caused by factory farms. Even though it may be emotionally upsetting, it will remind you why you’re doing this.
It’s so easy to just forget about the horrific suffering that animals are experiencing constantly on factory farms. It’s so easy to just put it out of mind.
But if you want to have integrity about pushing back against what you know is wrong, then you need to find ways to remind yourself about the reality of things.
Try to stay in touch with some of that urgency by bearing witness to the impact that the Standard American Diet is having on our world. That will give you the motivation to choose to keep eating in a more plant-based way.
How to Make a Flexible Vegan Diet Affordable
If done right, switching to a more plant-based diet can actually save you money because many common plant foods are very cheap. These include rice, beans, oats, pasta, and other staples. Vegetables tend to be pretty cheap, too.
The stuff that can potentially really drive up the cost of your flexi-vegan diet are the following:
- Mock Meats, frozen vegan pizzas, vegan ice cream, and other vegan replacement foods.
- Going out to vegan restaurants all the time.
- Organic food. (Read why I don’t eat many organic foods myself.)
- Fresh fruit, depending on the variety.
- Nuts and nut butter (besides peanuts—those are cheap).
As I mentioned in my post about the actual cost of a vegan diet, I eat quite cheaply at around $200 a month. (Actually, recently, I’ve probably been spending closer to $250 a month.)
The way to make a flexi-vegan diet cheap is to cook a lot of meals at home using staple foods like grains and beans.
One major tip to cut down your grocery expenses is to buy frozen produce rather than fresh. It’s not always quite as delicious, but frozen fruits and vegetables pack just as much nutritional punch as fresh ones, while being generally much cheaper. You also don’t have to worry about them going bad nearly as quickly.
You can also be mindful of which fruits you’re choosing. Some of the more exotic fruits, especially those out of season, can be very expensive. But your basic bananas and apples can be very affordable.
Going Flexi-Vegan: A Stepping Stone or the Final Goal
A lot of people begin their plant-based journey by taking small steps like eating meatless Mondays or reducing their meat consumption. So even if you plan on going fully vegan eventually, it makes sense to start with something like a flexi-vegan or even flexitarian diet.
Personally, I was lacto-ovo-vegetarian for two years before I went fully vegan. (That means I stopped eating meat, but I kept eating dairy and eggs. Check out my ultimate glossary of vegan terms here.)
Being a vegetarian before going vegan made both transitions easier for me than a transition directly to veganism probably would have been.
As you explore a more plant-based diet, just pay attention to how you feel. Then you can always keep adjusting your diet and consider taking more steps as you go.
Being flexi-vegan can be a great way to get your feet wet with plant-based eating without necessarily declaring any permanent changes or taking on the potentially more difficult parts of a vegan diet.
Hopefully, this article gave you a good introduction to flexi-vegan diets. Really it’s a flexible undertaking, as is obvious in the name. You can do it however you want. So best of luck, and always just keep evolving toward what feels most right for you!
Two More Recommendations for Your Plant-Based Journey
1. This is the best free video training I’ve found on plant-based nutrition. You’ll learn how to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and obesity—all with plant-based food. Watch the free “Food for Health Masterclass” here.
2. This is the best vegan multivitamin I’ve found in my 14 years of being vegan. It has vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3—and nothing else. Translation: It only has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount).
If you found this guide helpful and you want to hold onto it, just save the Pin below to your Pinterest “Flexi-Vegan” or “Plant-Based Diet” board!