Flexitarian, vegan, pescetarian, vegetarian, beegan, the list of diets, or ‘nutritional lifestyle’ choices, is becoming more and more vast as time goes on. But why? Why are so many people choosing to stray away from the traditional carnivore diet that our ancestors embedded in us? In this article, we will take a look at one of these diets in particular. Get ready to find out more about the flexitarian diet!
What is flexitarianism?
What exactly does it mean to be a flexitarian? In simpler terms, a flexitarian diet is basically a ‘relaxed’ vegetarian. Some may say, a ‘part-time’ veggie. Someone that considers themselves a flexitarian, would follow a vegetarian diet the majority of the time, but does eat meat on an occasional basis. Some flexitarians also cut out other animal products from their diets most of the time too. Each flexitarian adheres to their own set of rules when it comes to their meat and animal product consumption. For example, one person following a flexitarian diet might eat meat once a week, and another might only have it at special events. The beauty of the flexitarian diet is in its name – it’s flexible! Think of flexitarians as having a fridge full of plant-based foods, with one or two packets of sausages thrown in from time to time. They simply can’t resist!
Some people that decide they want to follow a flexitarian diet often work their way up to barely having any meat at all. Cutting meat out all of sudden can be very hard on a body that is so used to consuming a large amount of meat. That would be like going from no exercise to running a marathon, not particularly ideal. So, if you are thinking of joining the flexitarian crew, you will be better off starting by cutting meat out slowly, until it is almost gone from your diet. But remember, there are no set rules so you can eat meat as and when you please, within reason. But, if you decide to have meat everyday aside from Fridays, then I’m afraid you couldn’t really call yourself a flexy.
Why do some people choose a flexitarian diet?
This answer really varies between people, as each individual will choose their diet for their own unique reasons. However, two broad and overarching reasons that some may decide to be a flexitarian is for both health and environmental purposes.
By reducing your consumption of meat, and substituting it for a different source of protein, you can help to fight severe environmental issues such as climate change, as well as pollution in the air, water and soil, and so much more. Why? Because meat (and dairy) farming produces around a huge 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (The Guardian)! Some people believe that by following a flexitarian diet, and reducing their meat intake, will also help reduce their carbon footprint and allow them to live a more sustainable, environmentally friendly life. A win-win for most!
In addition to doing their bit to help the planet, some flexitarians follow the diet in order to better their overall health. And it really does show! Because there are no specified ‘rules’ to a flexitarian diet, it can be quite difficult to properly analyse what health benefits it enables. However, as a general rule, reducing your intake of meat can lead to weight loss, reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes and heart disease, and also potentially lower the risk of getting cancer, amongst other health benefits.
A flexitarian can often see weight loss occur because a diet that consists of a high consumption of ‘processed’ meat is typically very high in calories. When this is replaced by more plant-based foods, the calorie intake is much lower. Salt content is often less too.
What about lowering the risk of heart disease and diabetes? Well, vegetarian diets (which flexitarians follow most of the time), contain an abundance of healthy fats and can be fibre-rich. Both factors help contribute to a healthy heart. A more plant-based diet will also typically mean less sugar and less unhealthy fats are eaten, which can help to reduce the risk of diabetes. In fact, a study conducted by Diabetes Care discovered that the amount of people with diabetes (type 2) was lower in flexitarians by 1.5%, than that of non-vegetarians (NCBI).
What foods do flexitarians eat?
A flexitarian diet can actually be very broad. And it doesn’t have to be boring at all! A plant-based diet has endless opportunities for delicious food! A list of some (but not all) of the foods that can be eaten by flexitarians are as follows:
- Whole Grains: brown rice, barley, oats, quinoa, buckwheat
- Legumes: beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, chestnuts and more
- Healthy fats: coconut oil, avocados, olive oil, chia seeds
- Proteins: tofu, nutritional yeast, spirulina, edamame, eggs
- Meat in moderation
Get creative in the kitchen!
PROS of a Flexitarian Diet:
- Reduces your carbon footprint and therefore helps the environment
- Reduces the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes
- Reduces the risk of heart disease, and related health issues
- Dense in nutrients
- Can be cheaper
- Helps with weight loss
- Is extremely flexible to fit your lifestyle and dietary needs
CONS of a Flexitarian Diet
- Could potentially mean your intake of iron is less, which can affect energy levels
- It is restrictive (but the good news is that you can train your body to enjoy a new flexitarian norm)
Celebrities follow a flexitarian diet too
The first time flexitarian diets became more well known and overwhelmingly popular was in 2009 when Paul McCartney, who is a fully-fledged veggie now, launched his concept known as Meat Free Mondays. The idea was to encourage people to have one day per week where they do not consume any meat products. Even just doing this can lead to both environmental and health benefits, he explained. There is a whole list of celebs that follow the diet, including the likes of Gwenth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Beyonce & husband Jay-Z and good ol’ Jamie Oliver.
What is the general opinion on flexitarianism?
The consensus around flexitarianism tends to be pretty bashed by all other diets. Many meat-eaters believe that plant-based diets in general are a load of trash, whilst vegetarians and vegans think that flexitarians are ‘cheaters’ or ‘part-timers’. Some could argue that they kind of are! But overall, the overwhelming majority of flexitarians are just trying to do good for the environment and their health. So why hate them for it? They like the idea of cutting down their consumption, without having to 100% restrict themselves from time to time. What’s the harm in that!