The flexitarian diet is a plant-based diet with the occasional addition of meat. Find out if this is right for you.
What is the flexitarian diet?
The flexitarian diet, also known as flexitarianism, is a dietary approach that primarily focuses on plant-based foods while allowing for occasional consumption of meat and other animal products. The term “flexitarian” is the combination of “flexible” and “vegetarian,” and it reflects the flexible nature of this dietary approach.
Flexitarians are also known as flexible vegetarians, casual vegetarians or vegivores. Quite simply there are no rules. Some flexitarians will have a meat-free meal once a week while others will only eat meat and other animal products such as fish or dairy on rare occasions.
Flexitarians primarily emphasise fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds in their diets but do not completely eliminate animal products.
Flexitarians enjoy exploring a wider range of plant-based foods, flavours, and cuisines. This dietary approach encourages creativity in the kitchen.
Flexitarians can participate in social and cultural events that involve meat-based dishes without feeling excluded or restricted.
While flexitarians focus on plant-based foods, they may still enjoy the taste and texture of meat, making it a part of their diet for occasional indulgence.
Some key principles of the flexitarian diet
- Plant-Based Emphasis: Flexitarians prioritise plant-based foods and aim to make them the foundation of their diet. This includes consuming a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, tofu, and nuts.
- Limited Meat Consumption: While flexitarians include meat in their diet, they do so in moderation. They may choose to eat meat on certain days of the week or limit their meat intake to smaller portions. The types of meat consumed may vary, but lean, sustainably sourced and higher welfare options are often preferred.
- Flexibility: One of the defining features of the flexitarian diet is its flexibility. People following this approach can adjust their meat consumption based on their preferences, health goals, or ethical considerations. Some days may be entirely plant-based, while others may include animal products.
- Quality Over Quantity: Flexitarians tend to prioritise the quality of the food they consume over quantity. They may opt for organic, locally sourced, or ethically raised animal products when they do choose to include them in their diet.
- Health Benefits: The flexitarian diet is associated with several health benefits, including weight management, improved heart health, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and certain types of cancer. This is largely due to the emphasis on whole, plant-based foods.
- Sustainability: Many people adopt the flexitarian diet for environmental reasons. Plant-based diets generally have a lower environmental impact compared to diets high in meat and dairy, making flexitarianism a more sustainable choice.
- Flexitarian Meal Planning: A typical flexitarian meal might consist of a large salad with a variety of vegetables, beans or tofu for protein, and a small portion of lean meat or fish. However, there is no strict meal plan or set rules, allowing individuals to adapt their meals to their tastes and nutritional needs.
Why would people decide to reduce their meat consumption?
The flexitarian diet is very popular, especially with people who do not want to commit to a full vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. A semi-vegetarian diet allows individuals to adapt their eating habits to their lifestyle, preferences, and specific nutritional needs. This can be especially appealing to those who want a less restrictive approach to eating.
Some people use flexitarianism as a stepping stone to gradually reduce their meat consumption and transition to a fully plant-based diet.
Surprisingly the adepts of flexitarianism are not only people who want to reduce their meat consumption but also vegetarians or vegans who decide to reintroduce meat into their diet.
The motivations behind adopting a flexitarian diet are quite diverse:
- Many people choose a flexitarian diet to manage their weight or even lose weight. The emphasis on plant-based foods, which are often lower in calories and saturated fat, can contribute to weight control.
- A flexitarian diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease due to its focus on plant-based foods, which are rich in fibre, antioxidants, and heart-healthy nutrients.
- Research suggests that a plant-based diet, even with occasional meat consumption, may reduce the risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
- Some individuals find that reducing their meat intake can lead to improved digestion and reduced gastrointestinal discomfort.
- The routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture to promote growth and prevent disease has raised concerns about the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, posing risks to human health.
- Many flexitarians are motivated by environmental concerns. Plant-based diets generally have a smaller ecological footprint compared to diets high in meat and dairy, making flexitarianism a more sustainable choice.
- The production of meat is associated with significant greenhouse gas emissions like methane and carbon dioxide. To meet the demand for meat, vast areas of land are cleared for livestock farming. This deforestation releases stored carbon in trees and soil, contributing to increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
- Large-scale animal farming generates significant amounts of manure, which can contribute to water pollution and emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, both potent greenhouse gases.
- The meat industry also requires significant energy inputs for activities such as feed production, transportation, and processing, leading to further emissions. Meat production is also water-intensive.
- A substantial portion of the world’s grains is used to feed livestock. This practice diverts valuable resources that could be used to feed humans directly.
- Many animals in the meat industry are raised in crowded and stressful conditions on factory farms. These environments can lead to poor animal welfare, including limited space to move, lack of access to the outdoors, and practices such as debeaking, tail docking, and dehorning.
- Concerns also exist regarding the treatment of animals at slaughterhouses. Inhumane practices, such as improper stunning and killing methods, can cause unnecessary suffering.
- Some ethical arguments challenge the notion of “speciesism,” which is the belief that one species (humans) is inherently superior to others. Critics argue that the exploitation and suffering of animals for food production is ethically problematic in the same way that other forms of discrimination, such as racism or sexism, are ethically problematic.
- The meat-centric Western diet and global demand for meat contribute to resource inequity and can limit access to food for vulnerable populations. This raises ethical questions about global food distribution and security.
Where do I start?
- Take one step at a time. Commit to one meat-free day a week at first such as Meat Free Monday. When you eat meat, think better meat and think smaller portions.
- Change the way you shop: go local, go seasonal, go sustainable. Buy more fruit and vegetables and less meat, fish and dairy.
- Value your food: inquire where it comes from, how it is produced and make sure you do not waste it.
- Choose organic or free-range meat.
- Choose sustainable fish (looking at local species, seasonality and fishing methods)
- Gone are the days when a good meal had to include meat. Vegetarian food is fun, balanced, diverse and filling. Surf the web for recipe inspiration, browse my recipe selection and invest in a few vegetarian cookbooks.
The flexitarian diet provides a flexible and adaptable approach to eating that can align with a wide range of personal values and goals.