By Megan Smiley, Jun 19 2018 04:34PM
Are you a flexitarian or thinking about being one? Flexitarianism is when you mainly follow a plant-based diet but eat a bit of everything at times.
It’s definitely something I think I could, or rather would, be willing to do. I have many friends who are pescatarians, vegetarians or vegans but the fact that I’m a big believer in variety in your diet for both health reasons and because I love eating lots of different types of food, I’ve struggled to entertain the idea of any of them. That is apart from one week as a young teenager I declared to my carnivorous family that I was going to be a veggie after watching an animal welfare video at school. As I said, it lasted a week. It’s not that I eat lots of meat, I have at least one meat-free day a week, my lunches are pretty much always vegetarian but giving up dairy, meat and in particular fish and seafood would be a struggle for me, especially when eating out and when my husband is involved (he’s your typical omnivore who thinks meat is that the focal point of a meal). So flexitarianism could be the solution.
I’m not the only one, as flexitarianism is becoming pretty popular for a combination of reasons including: environmental, ethical and health. Reducing the amount of meat and dairy consumption and therefore production is unquestionably beneficial for the environment and reduces an individual’s carbon footprint. Depending on where you source your non plant-based food from, the ethics and morals of production and distribution of these products are often pretty questionable, particularly in mainstream, low-cost products. Then the health benefits, and this is the bit I get a little stuck at as I’m completely on-board with the environmental and ethical reasons, but does cutting back on massive food groups -meat, fish, dairy – really make you healthier?
I guess the health issue is a little bit of a grey area as it depends on the individual’s starting point. Are you eating lots of meat especially processed meat and too much dairy? Do you hardly eat any fruit, veg and legumes? If so cutting back on the processed meat and increasing plant-based food is going to be good for you. But cutting back on all meat, fish and dairy means you’re going to be reducing important macronutrients (mainly protein and fats) and micronutrients (minerals and vitamins). So ensuring you get all the nutrition your body needs to operate at it’s best becomes more difficult and you need a greater level of understanding of food and functions that different nutrients support. I am not saying you can’t be a healthy flexie, pescie, veggie or vegan but you have to put in a little more effort to get a balanced diet. And this is at a time when the UK population is struggling with balancing the amount of food they eat vs the amount of food their bodies actually need, hence approximately a third of the population being overweight and a third being obese. So I’m sure you can see why I’m not all that confident that everyone is going to manage to achieve a balanced diet ensuring all important nutrients are included!
As with all diets, a little knowledge can be dangerous, and I feel flexitarianism could lead to people becoming nutrient deficient in many areas, therefore I think once again (all my blog posts seem to finish like this!) it’s about getting that balance right. So before you dive into a new diet have a think about how you will ensure you get enough of those important nutrients you’re cutting back on – where will your protein, omega 3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, zinc, iodine, vitamin B12 amongst many others come from? How much is sensible to cut back? Using a food tracker like My Fitness Pal will give you a break down of the nutrients in your food and is a good way of ensuring you’re getting the right amounts.
As I see it, flexitarianism is on a spectrum and you can choose where you put yourself on it, be it just one meat-free day a week or being a vegan apart from the very odd occasion, and that’s what I like about it – it’s flexible for you and your life. For me, I think I will try and ‘flex it up’ a little more for the environmental and ethical reasons, but for health (and selfish reasons- I like a variety of food too much) I’ll still make sure I get enough meat, fish and dairy for what is right for me. So choose what’s right for you and give it a go, but remember to think before you flex!