What does Flexitarian mean?
What do you get when you add ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarian’?
Ding ding, Flexitarian is your answer.
The word has been bouncing around for a few years now, but has gained even more popularity since studies reflected that 34% of us Brits have reduced our meat intake recently. So what exactly does flexitarian mean?
The diet is essentially a form of casual vegetarianism. A flexitarian eats a mostly plant-based diet, but hasn’t completely cut out meat. Exactly how much meat a person may consume is up to them, but a common choice is eating plant-based during the week and relaxing the diet on the weekend.
Flexitarianism was originally designed by nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner back in 2010, as a healthier way of eating that doesn’t eradicate meat from your diet altogether.
Why go Flexitarian?
Many people choose to switch to flexitarianism for similar reasons they might adopt vegetarianism. Perhaps you want to eat a little healthier but don’t want to completely cut out some of your favourite foods. You may have concerns about animal welfare, environmentalism or ethical issues.
Following a diet that lowers the consummation of refined foods containing lots of sugar and salt, whilst also boosting the amount of fruit, vegetables, legumes and grains you consume can certainly have a wide variety of health benefits.
Health and Wellbeing
There aren’t a great deal of studies focused on the health benefits of flexitarianism at present, but there is a lot of available research into the benefits of vegetarianism and veganism, which can definitely be applied to the flexitarian diet.
Research has shown that plant-based eating can assist in the health of your heart, as a study at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that individuals following a plant based diet had a 32% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (1).
The flexitarian diet could also help with weight loss. One study reflected that participants of a plant-based diet lost 9.3 pounds more than those following a standard diet (2). This could be partly related to the replacement of fatty foods such as meat, dairy and processed foods with protein packed, high-fibre, low-carb plant-based alternatives, as these items have all been found to help with weight loss.
It’s no secret that food production is a major contributor to climate change and pollution, and switching to a plant-based diet can have a surprisingly big impact on the environment. A reduction in our meat intake can help preserve resources and decrease pollution.
A 2018 study published in Nature predicted that following a plant-based diet (with just one portion of red meat per week) could reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to food by 56%. The report found that sticking to a flexitarian diet could “limit the impact that the food system has on climate change, water scarcity and pollution in the coming decades.” (3)
How do I go Flexitarian?
Dawn Jackson Blatner recommends that new flexitarians should start simple. Plan two meat-free days a week and spread eight small portions of meat between the rest of your meals. You can work up to five completely meat-free days and three small portions. If this still seems too fast for you, simply following the Meat-Free Monday trend is a fantastic place to start.
A well-balanced flexitarian diet should be planned properly, however, to ensure you don’t miss out on any essential vitamins or minerals such as vitamin B12, iron, and calcium. Many sources suggest taking a B12 supplement when following a fully vegan diet. You can also find vitamin B12 in fortified cereals and plant milks. Iron can be found in lentils and dark, leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli. Plant milks, almonds and wholemeal bread are all great sources of calcium, and you can boost your protein intake with beans, pulses and soya products like tempeh.
What can I eat?
The flexitarian diet allows for a lot of versatility and trying new things. You’re able to add lots of vegetables, legumes and proteins to your plate. If you’re looking for a super nutritious flexitarian diet, it is probably a good idea to avoid consuming too much of foods such as processed meat, added-sugar items, fast food and refined carbs.
A typical flexitarian diet may include: at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, plant based proteins such as tempeh, chickpeas and lentils, less processed and fast foods, and the occasional animal product like eggs or dairy.
There are plenty of options for your daily flexitarian meals, such as:
- Oatmeal with plant-based milk, topped with fruit and nuts
- Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and apple slices
- Fruit smoothie
- Whole-wheat toast with avocado
- Granola with plant-based milk
- Sweet Chilli tempeh wrap with peppers, black beans and guacamole
- Mixed green salad with spiced chickpeas, avocado, tomato and cucumber
- Quinoa and broccoli stir-fry with tempeh pieces
- Veggie burger on a whole-wheat bun
- Mediterranean lentil soup
- Pad Thai with tempeh
- Stuffed Portobello mushrooms
- Butternut squash and black bean frittata
- Tempeh taco slides with tomato and cabbage
- Plant-based chilli
Overall, the flexitarian diet is a popular choice because it’s a great entry point to a plant-based diet. You have the health benefits of a plant-based diet, but without some of the potential restrictions. Viewed as an easier lifestyle alternative, a flexitarian may not have to worry about what’s on the menu when going out to eat. The lack of harsh guidelines appeals to many, and seems to help people stick to the diet for longer.
Whatever lifestyle and diet you choose, grab life by the plants!
- Brown, J. (n.d.). Are there health benefits to going vegan? BBC Future. https://www.bbc.com/future/ article/20200122-are-there-health-benefits-to-going-vegan
- Clinical Research, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington, DC, USA. (2013, May). A multicenter randomized controlled trial of a plant-based nutrition program to reduce body weight and cardiovascular risk in the corporate setting: The GEICO study. S Mishra 1, J Xu, U Agarwal, J Gonzales, S Levin, N D Barnard. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2013.92
- Springmann, M., Clark, M., Mason-D!Croz, D. et al. Options for keeping the food system within environ mental limits. Nature 562, 519–525 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0594-0