Flexitarianism – What’s the Deal?
It seems like every year there’s a new buzz word to pigeon-hole us. Millennials, metrosexuals, flexitarians…flexi-what? Flexitarianism has been chosen as 2018’s most healthy diet – so it deserves placing under a lens.
What is Flexitarianism?
Flexitarianism is a mash of the words flexible and vegetarianism. It’s a term used to describe people who mostly follow a vegetarian diet, but occasionally eat meat and fish. There’s no rule or definition regarding when fish or meat is eaten, it’s just eaten less often.
Flexitarianism as a term is probably older than you might think. Although it’s only come into popular use fairly recently, it has in fact been around since the 1990s – not because flexitarianism is by any means new!
Flexitarianism has been around for most cultures for most people for most of our living history. But modern farming and food industrialisation has meant that meat as a commodity has become very cheap and easily available, and we’re eating it more than ever before!
The average American is steadily increasing meat consumption still to this day! According to a report published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, meat consumption went up by 15% in just the two years between 2002 and 2004!
The biggest meat-eaters are the Australians and Americans. Us Europeans eat relatively little compared to most other countries:
Why go Flexitarian?
In 2017, flexitarianism was considered by the U.S.News World Report on Best Diets as among the top three (of 40) most healthy diets to follow. If there’s one diet that you should adopt this year, it’s this one.
They rated it as:
- Third best diet overall, behind the DASH and Mediterranean diet (the Mediterranean diet is, in fact, a flexitarian one!)
- Third best diet for healthy eating
- Second best diet for easy to follow
- Third best diet for diabetes
Flexitarianism is great for the anyone who likes the idea of vegetarianism or even veganism, but isn’t yet prepared to give up all meat and all fish. It’s a happy halfway house!
- It’s healthier than a meat-heavy diet, and may protect against a range of diseases including: heart disease, cancers, bowel disease, mental health, cognitive decline, diabetes and weight control
- It’s healthier for the planet: if everyone went flexitarian or vegetarian, the carbon footprint would dramatically reduce
How much meat is too much?
OK, so you’ve decided that you’ll give this flexitarianism a go. You’re not into labels so you’re not going to tell your pals just yet. You might just say, “I’m giving a healthier diet a bash”.
Unlike veganism or vegetarianism where the rules are reasonably obvious: cut out meat and fish or cut out anything from an animal. Flexitarianism doesn’t offer quite such a clear cut rule.
So how do you know how much meat is too much? You can jump right in or start off slow. Ideally, you want to get to a place where you’re eating no more than 70g red and processed meat per day.
In my view, you should be looking to have whole days that are vegetarian – maybe eating meat only at weekends and say one day during the week. You choose, as long as it’s less than you eat now.
That means most of your meals most of the days are vegetarian. But on Fridays you might want a fish supper, on Saturday you might want a chicken jalfrezi whilst out with friends.
Some weeks will be meat heavier than others. You could be on holiday with the family and find yourself eating in restaurants every night.
That’s fine, but just go back to your flexitarian habits when you get back home- same as you would with the booze! You generally don’t drink at home to the extent you do whilst away – it’s no different.
How to be flexitarian
- Many people start their flexitarian journey by sticking to a meat-free Monday. It’s a movement popularised by the McCartneys – and is extremely easy to follow. Mondays are vegetarian – boom! Or you could go one step further and say Mondays are vegan!
- Eat meat only in the evening meal. That means you’re vegetarian two thirds of the time! Breakfast could simply be cereal and fruit with yoghurt; lunch could be an egg salad and then in the evening, a lamb curry. If you find yourself having a sausage sandwich for breakfast because work is doing a briefing-over-breakfast, then you know you have to skip meat for the rest of the day.
- Cut your meat portions. If eating meat just once a day is a step too far at this point, then half the amount of meat you’d normally eat with each meal. Whatever works for you, although I suspect this one is the one most likely to fail!
- Eat more fish. Fish is healthier than meat, it has a lot less saturated fat and a lot more unsaturated. In fact, even if you choose one of the options above, I’d still suggest you swap a few of your meat dishes with fish.
- Eat more poultry. If there’s one group of meat you should aim to cut back on first, it’s processed meats: bacon, sausages, hams, burgers. Instead, choose lower fat meats such as poultry: chicken and turkey in particular.
- Experiment with meat substitutes. Vegetarianism and veganism have boomed in popularity recently, and with that has come a rocketing market in meat substitutes such as tofu, tempeh, mycoprotein (marketed as Quorn™), soya meat among others.
Seb is a writer and blogger of food and nutrition. He holds a bachelors and a masters degree in nutrition science, and has studied sports and exercise nutrition at postgraduate level. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and believes passionately that we can all live with a little less meat.