As people become both better informed about the health implications of what they choose to eat and the environmental impact of those choices, many are turning to a flexitarian diet.
Most of us understand what it means to be vegetarian, vegan or even pescatarian, but what is a flexitarian diet? Is it easy to become flexitarian? Are there any health benefits to eating this way? And how can you adapt what you eat if you want to go flexitarian?
What is a Flexitarian Diet?
Flexitarian is a portmanteau word, which means it is made up of 2 other words. In this case, flexible and vegetarian.
What this means in reality is eating a mostly plant-based diet – like a vegetarian or even vegan – but adding the occasional piece of meat, fish or other animal products.
The principles of flexitarianism started spreading when a Chicago-based dietitian named Dawn Jackson Blatner published a book advocating its merits called The Flexitarian Diet in 2009. Since then, numerous diet plans and cookbooks have been snapped up across the globe as people embraced the idea of loading up on veggies and cutting back on meat.
Other terms for this pattern of eating are semi-vegetarian or demi-vegetarian. And as the names imply, this ‘half’ approach to reducing meat consumption seems far less challenging for many people than committing to no animal products at all.
It is Easy to Become Flexitarian?
As I said above, the very flexibility of this diet appeals to many people.
Deciding to become a full-blown vegetarian or vegan is a major change of lifestyle and mindset and is a step too far for many people who want to limit the amount of meat and fish that they eat, but don’t want to drop it all together – either because they like it too much or would find it inconvenient to do so.
In contrast, following a flexitarian diet means increasing the plant-based portion of your traditional meals and learning to substitute some of the meat that would normally go on your plate for plant-based alternatives.
For many, trying to become semi-vegetarian is the first step in a conversion to complete vegetarianism or veganism further down the road. Lots of us find the idea of overhauling the way we eat appealing, but lack the nerve to dive straight in and totally revamp our dinners without testing the waters first.
Experimenting with a flexitarian meal plan allows you to try new things, safe in the knowledge that you haven’t failed if you suddenly feel like eating a steak or enjoying a chicken curry. It also offers reassurance if you are concerned that you might not get all the nutrients that your body needs if you cease consuming meat. The same is true if you aren’t ready to swot up on what you should be eating to compensate for not eating it.
Is a Flexitarian Diet Healthy?
One of the big attractions of a flexitarian meal planning is that there are no hard and fast rules.
Having said that, introducing this type of diet often leads to 3 lifestyle changes:
- Eating more plant-based foods – Including plenty of fruit and vegetable, along with a variety of whole grains and legumes, in your diet has proven health benefits. Leaning towards a vegetarian or vegan meals can have positive effects on such modern health issues as diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer, as well as helping with weight loss. See here to read more about possible health benefits of being flexitarian.
- Giving more consideration to the meat and fish that you eat – If you are only going to eat meat a couple of times a week, you’ll probably want to ensure that it is both comparatively good for you and of decent quality. Many flexitarians ditch the red meat in their shopping baskets for chicken, turkey and fish – which are generally considered smarter choices health-wise. Sustainable, ethically sourced meat and fish is usually preferred over factory farmed animals.
- Reassessing portion size – Although meat and fish etc are allowed, but amount that goes on the plate is often less than an old-school omnivore would choose. For flexitarians, the meat is one small part of a balanced meal which celebrates plant-based food.
Why Become Flexitarian?
There are many motivations for adopting this lifestyle change. Here are just some:
- Ethical Choices – This can relate to animal welfare, environmental concerns and humanitarian issues.
- Animal Welfare – Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of raising animals and killing them for food. And other people have issues with the way that those animals are raised prior to slaughter. Factory farming has had bad press over recent years – for good reason.
- Environmental Concerns – Eating flexitarian is good for planet earth. Animal production results in the clearing of land for pasture and animals themselves emit methane gas into the atmosphere. Far less energy is required to grow plant-based protein than animal – about 11 times less! A recent report claimed our global food-related emission cut be cut by 70% by 2050 if everyone became vegan.
- Sustainable Food Production – Moving to a largely plant-baed diet is far more sustainable than continuing to produce vast quantities of meat and fish.
- Help To End World Hunger – It has been argued that we could feed the global population successfully if we focused on plant production and not animal husbandry.
- Health Benefits – Us Aussies are famous for our throwing a steak (or prawn!) on the barbie, but we probably do it too often. We are big meat eaters and it isn’t great news for our health. Heart disease and weight gain have direct links to large meat consumption. Switching to more vegetarian meals would be a move towards better health for many of us.
- Affordability – I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that a rack of lamb is a real treat. The days of cheap lamb and plentiful steaks appear to be gone and a week of animal-based meals is pretty expensive – especially if you prefer to buy organic meat or cuts that have been raised ethically. In comparison, a bag of chickpeas (a fabulous source of multiple nutrients including lots of vitamins and minerals and a good hit of protein) are ridiculously cheap. And delicious, if you know how to cook them. (If you have an air fryer and would like to make a seriously addictive chickpea snack, see here.)
Read here for more inspiration on cutting meat from your diet.
How do you Become Flexitarian?
The beauty of this way of eating, as we’ve said before, is that you can ease yourself into it over an extended period of time.
There are lots of suggested guidelines and meal plans online, but it all depends on you and what you want to achieve from adopting this way of eating.
Some people like to make 1 or 2 days a week completely vegetarian. Ideas like Meat-Free Mondays have gained traction over the pandemic and from a starting point of a couple of veggie days a week, many people have expanded the concept to 4 or 5 days.
Other people prefer to look at what they eat in terms of 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, resulting in 21 meals in total. When trailing a flexitarian diet, they may begin by aiming for 2 meat-free meals a day – giving them up to 7 meat-based meals over the 7 days. From there, they begin to swap in more plant-based meals until they reach a threshold that suits them.
Is the Flexitarian Diet for Future of Eating?
Certainly, becoming flexitarian – or at least adopting some of the ideas behind it – has a lot going for it.
As we become more health conscious and are increasingly made aware the fragility of our beautiful home planet, many of us are looking for ways to live that reduce our impact on the world around us.
Flexitarian is an acceptable compromise for many and we feel it will continue to gain in popularity.