Not ready to be veggie? Neither are we! Dietitian Laura Tilt explains us how a flexitarian diet can deliver us the benefits from both worlds.
Part time veggie, meatless Mondays – the growing trend for eating more plant-based foods and less meat
has officially gotten it’s own name – flexitarianism. And according to market experts at Wholefoods, it’s set to be one of the biggest food trends in 2017.
There’s no one description of what a ‘flexitarian’ is– but the idea revolves around choosing to eat a mostly
vegetarian or plant-based diet with the occasional meal containing meat or fish thrown in.
Think of it as a mid-point between being a meat-eater and a vegetarian – if you’ve been thinking about
going veggie, or want to eat a more plant-based diet but worry it’s too strict or you’ll miss Sunday dinner;
flexitarianism is a good halfway house.
As well as the ethical and environmental benefits (sustainability experts Forum for the Future confirm our
love of animal proteins causes more climate change than all forms of transport combined) there are plenty
of health paybacks that come with a plant-based diet.
Research shows that high intakes of red and processed meat (think ham, burgers, sausages and salami)
can increase the risk of bowel cancer, so choosing to eat less meat – or replacing some meat with plant
proteins - could help to reduce your risk. Current advice is to consume no more than 500 grams of cooked
red meat a week - that’s 3-4 meaty meals, leaving plenty of scope for plant-based feasts.
Eating more plant foods also means eating more fibre – the part of plant foods we don’t fully digest. As
well as sweeping waste and harmful substances through your system, high fibre diets protect against
several types of cancer and heart disease. For every 10-gram increase in fibre, experts estimate we can
reduce our risk of bowel cancer by 10% – that’s a small change for big benefits.
Fibre also has the added benefit of keeping you feeling full (helpful if your goal is weight loss) and it
nourishes your gut bacteria, which play a vital role in digestion and immune function.
Being a flexitarian is kinder on your wallet too – in one U.S. study, researchers estimated a plant-based diet could save us £600 a year; which is good news for your bank balance.
If you’re worried about protein intake, rest assured you won’t go short –proteins from peas, lentils and
beans are leading the way, with pulse-based protein powders now boasting similar levels of protein to the
whey based originals.
Being flexitarian doesn’t have to mean ditching dairy or even eggs though - it could be as simple as starting with one meat-free day per week, or going meat-free Monday-Friday.
As with most diets flexitarianism is open to interpretation, but if you replace a few meaty meals with pulses and wholegrains, then add fruits and vegetables you can’t go far wrong. And with environmental concerns at the forefront, flexitarianism really does seem like the diet of the future.
Dietitian & Columnist for Women's Health