Could flexitarianism be the diet for you?

What does it mean & is it for you?

With many different factors affecting how and what we eat, everyone’s diet can be different. Whether that’s because of lifestyle, preferences, beliefs, knowledge, health or even money, finding a diet that’s tailored to you can be a game changer.


What is flexitarianism?

Put simply, it means being flexible with your diet. There are no rules to stick to, it’s about eating less meat and choosing a more plant-based diet to help the environment and help improve your health. A flexitarian diet could mean having a plant-based diet in the week and having a cheeky cheese pizza at the weekend. Or not cooking meat and fish at home but eating it when you’re out for dinner.

There’s no judgement to the diet, if you want to lead a plant-based lifestyle but you have a bit of cow’s milk in your drink when your local coffee shop has run out of soya milk (heaven forbid!) or you fancy a cream cake, embrace it and move on. Following a flexitarian diet can also help reduce your carbon footprint versus a diet that includes meat, if you don’t want to, or you’re not ready to, go full vegetarian or full vegan.


What are the benefits?

Health

One of the health benefits to going flexitarian and reducing your intake of meat, especially red and processed meat, can be helping to reduce your intake of saturated fat. It’s worth knowing that the more white you can see on red meats, the more fat it contains. So when you’re deciding what to have with dinner, try going meat-free, choosing beans or lentils or a low-fat meat substitute like tofu or Quorn instead – or if it has to be meat, choose turkey or chicken.

The HSE in Ireland recommends trying to keep red meat to less than 18oz per week – 3oz of cooked meat looks like the size of the palm of your hand.

And let’s be honest, adding more vegetables and beans to your diet are never a bad thing!

Animal welfare

Becoming flexitarian may also make you think more about ‘farm to fork’ – how the meat on your plate got there and how it was produced. If you’re still eating some meat, buy the best quality you can afford.

Environmental

By going flexitarian and eating less meat, you can help to reduce your carbon footprint. Switching to a healthy vegetarian diet can reduce water consumption by 35-55%. The meat industry also has a negative effect on food security, global warming, pollution, deforestation and land degradation. A plant-based diet has three times more of a positive impact on the environment than washing your clothes in cold water and four times more than recycling!

Did you know: Globally, animal farming provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of global farmland? A bit of food for thought there…


What does it mean for my diet?

It means you can make your diet personal to you, and flex it to suit your lifestyle. For example, if you’re trying to save a few pennies stop buying meat in your weekly shop and put the money you would have spent in a pot and see how much is in there at the end of the month. It also means you’ll probably discover more meal ideas and food than you might have done previously – opening up your food choices!


Can I still get all my nutrients?

Like with any diet and lifestyle, it needs to be varied and well planned with foods from all the food groups, including your five-a-day, to be healthy and nutritious. Don’t worry that you may be lacking in protein by cutting out meat, as plant-based choices such as beans, lentils, soya and nuts are good sources of protein, too. If you’re cutting foods out of your diet, make sure you replace them with ones that are nutritionally similar such as swapping cow’s milk for fortified soya milk and meat for bean and lentils to help maintain your iron intake. Try researching some yummy recipes and plan in advance what you’re going to cook, making sure to include your five-a-day.


Where do I start?

Go at your own pace.

If you’re an avid meat eater, try meat-free Mondays to begin with. If you’re a vegetarian and you like the idea of veganism but you’re not quite ready yet, try using alternatives throughout the week but maybe not at the weekend. Here are a few ideas you can try:

• Swap from cow’s milk to non-dairy alternatives, such as fortified soya, fortified almond, fortified oat or fortified coconut milk

• Supplement (half and half) or swap meat with cooked lentils for example in a shepherd’s pie or use soya mince

• Swap meat for tofu in stir fries

• Choose a bean wrap at lunchtime rather than a ham sandwich

• Try vegan cheese – you could always try half and half with your normal cheese

If you’re not too bothered about meat but wouldn’t call yourself a vegetarian, you could stop buying meat and fish and maybe only have it when you’re eating out – you could save yourself money, too. If you really don’t want to give up meat and fish but want to do something positive for the environment, choose sustainable fish and go local instead.

Whatever way you want to tailor your diet, why don’t you try something plant based each week and being more flexible with your diet*? You might be pleasantly surprised.

*If you have an on-going medical condition, please consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your current diet.