The flexitarian diet

Are you struggling to make the transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet? Flexitarianism offers a happy medium, says Jenny Liddle

The term “flexitarian” was coined more than a decade ago and is a merging of two words: flexible and vegetarian. Most flexitarian diets are mainly plant-based, with the occasional inclusion of meat and dairy and usually with ethical considerations for how these were produced. Flexitarian can be thought of as a direction rather than a category. The focus is on reducing our intake of meat and dairy, whilst recognising and respecting that we all have very different views, experiences and resources. Current research shows that high levels of meat consumption harm the environment, our health and the welfare of animals and the flexitarian diet is a perfect way to help with all of this. It is a very inclusive diet. It doesn’t say you can’t eat certain foods but instead enables people to experience exciting new foods and dishes in addition to those they already enjoy.

The next big thing?

Flexitarianism is set to be the next big food trend over the coming year with sales of vegetarian foods in the UK predicted to grow by 10 per cent in 2016, and 35 per cent of Brits choosing to call themselves flexitarians. However, it’s hardly surprising with meat now being part of fewer meals and one in six or 18 per cent of Brits now claiming they are eating more non-animal sources of protein. And a study, commissioned by Linda McCartney Food, backs this up, concluding that we’re about to see a surge in this lifestyle phenomena.

The concept of flexitarianism is also popular in the US. Pat Crocker and Nettie Cronish, authors of Everyday Flexitarian, estimate that between 30 and 40 per cent of Americans are flexitarians, while a survey by the Vegetarian Research Group found that 23 million people follow a “vegetarian-inclined diet”.

With the recent World Health Organization report linking the consumption of red and processed meat to cancer, it seems a sensible option to adopt a more flexible diet. And eating less meat is dramatically better for the environment – a UK study showed that Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in self-selected meat-eaters are more than twice as high as those in vegans.

So why is this lifestyle trend on the rise? Research by data analysts Mintel reveals that almost half, or 48 per cent, of Brits see meat-free products as environmentally friendly and 52 per cent see them as healthy. Plus, for some it’s a good way to embrace vegetarianism without making the break from meat and dairy altogether.

UK cities like Bristol are leading the way with flexitarianism. Bristol is the first ‘flexitarian city’, where citizens thrive on sustainable and healthy diets. Their aims include increasing the number of restaurants and cafes in which the range of choices for people eating out reflects a balance which is healthy for people and the planet, and educating the general public about the benefits of flexible diets.

No need for rules

For those who are interested in the flexitarian diet, but don’t know where to start, a good idea is to start going meat- and dairy-free when you are at home and more flexi when you are out, which can work really well. Allowing one serving of animal-derived food daily can help to ease your transition, especially if you choose your favourite. Then you can gradually decrease the animal-based meal to just weekends and eventually eliminate them altogether when you’re ready. Take one small step at a time. You could then maybe aim for one meat-free day a week. Remember, flexitarianism is convenient. Preparing meals shouldn’t be particularly time-consuming. Eating out is doable, and you don’t have to obey any ‘rules’.

Eating global foods is an easy way to get more plant-based foods into your diet – for example, falafel is a Middle Eastern dish that can be eaten with a hummus dip. An Italian pizza always goes down a treat – there are lots of protein-rich melty alternatives to dairy-cheeses out there. Or you could try a simple Indian curry, using a meat-free mince and lots of veggies.

Also, try swapping to vegan desserts – this is a great way to reduce your intake of animal products without feeling that you’re missing out. You can still enjoy cakes, ice cream, scones and fruit pies – just swap eggs for mashed bananas in cakes and use soya milk in scones and vegan margarine in pies. Plus there are lots of vegan brands of ice cream on the market.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself! Vegetarian and vegan food is fun, balanced, diverse and filling. There are countless recipes out there on the web and plenty of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks to inspire you.

Jenny Liddle is a member of the Flexitarian Bristol group (www.flexibristol.org). For more information on the Flexitarian Diet, visit www.theflexitarian.co.uk

Did you know?

Cutting down meat is cheaper. Vegetarian meals are, on average, 60 per cent cheaper than meat-based equivalents.

Making the transition

Nutritional therapist Eli Sarre offers some advice on how to get started on the flexitarian diet.

The best approach to transitioning towards a flexitarian diet is to begin swapping in and experimenting with a diverse abundance of nutritious plant foods. If eating out, a Thai meal is a reliable option. Go for tofu dishes and partner with rice noodles for a vegetarian and healthy option.

Wholesome and rich soups and stews filled with plant protein are nourishing and sustaining and make easy affordable weeknight meals.

Be sure to include alternative protein sources. Good protein sources include: quinoa, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds. Fresh green vegetables and salad leaves provide protein while sprouted seeds are also excellent.

Vegetables are full of fibre and valuable nutrients: think seven to nine a day! A good way to start is to include fresh or raw fruit and veg with every meal and snack. Make smoothies and juices part of your everyday routine. Try adding complex carbohydrates like sweet potato, beetroot and squash to your recipes; they will fill you up and provide a sustained energy boost.

If you are seeking an alternative to oily fish, include one to two tablespoons of freshly ground linseeds to your diet each day. Chia seeds and walnuts are also excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Eli Sarre is a qualified nutritional therapist and the communications manager for Essential Trading Co-operative (www.essential-trading.coop).

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