As part of our ever-growing quest to consume less animal products in a bid to save the planet, you’ve probably come across the term flexitarian.
Our first thought was that it was something to do with eating vegetables while touching our toes, but it turns out it has nothing to do with physical flexibility.
So what does this term mean? Can it actually help you save the planet? And should you be doing it? We took a deep-dive into the world of flexitarianism.
Flexitarian essentially means eating a diet that is predominantly plant-based, but allows meat.
It involves making a conscious decision to drastically reduce your meat consumption, but it is much more flexible than veganism or vegetarianism.
Hence the name. Lots of people use the flexitarian diet as a pathway towards a plant-based lifestyle.
It acts as a stop-gap between eating too much meat and becoming a full-on vegan. We can see the appeal.
Veganism is tough. It requires sacrifice, careful decision-making and despite a number of major brands offering more vegan options, your choices are still limited.
Being a flexitarian is less rigid and allows you to make your contribution to helping the planet and eating healthier, while still allowing for the odd, drunken Donner kebab.
But there has been some furore over the growth of flexitarianism.
Some people have claimed that it’s not really a thing, or it’s just a cynical marketing ploy to pander to guilty meat-eaters.
So what’s the answer? Is it legit? And are there any benefits?
Nutritionist Charlotte De Curtis thinks there are.
‘It’s much less strict and often easier to adhere to than a strict vegan diet,’ Charlotte tells Metro.co.uk.
‘And usually there aren’t any strict measures like counting calories or macros.
‘The biggest potential benefit is the fact that a typical Western diet is red meat, dairy, artificially sweetened and processed foods with minimal plants.
‘A flexitarian approach will likely see an increase in micronutrients being consumed (vitamins and minerals), which is a huge benefit for overall health.’
Nutritionist and self-proclaimed flexitarian, Rhiannon Lambert, agrees that there are benefits when you cut down on eating meat – but she thinks that it’s really only processed meat you need to be wary of.
‘In the largest study of diet and disease ever to be undertaken (and still ongoing), it reported in 2013 that processed meat increased the risk of death, while no effect was seen for unprocessed red meat,’ explains Rhiannon.
‘Unprocessed, properly cooked red meat is actually very healthy.
It’s rich with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and loaded with healthy proteins and fats that have profound effects on our health.’
So if you are looking to reduce you meat intake, Rhiannon suggests that not all meat is created equal – and when it comes to health, eating good-quality meat produce can can be good for you.
However that doesn’t address the argument about meat production and the environment.
Rhiannon thinks that a flexitarian approach could be a simple way to get the best of both worlds.
‘Going flexitarian and eating a more plant-based diet may sound like a major dietary adjustment but the benefits that can be seen are impressive,’ she explains.
‘There are countless studies showing vegetarians and vegans live longer and have a lower risk of some serious diseases than meat eaters. Although, these groups are generally more health conscious than meat eaters anyway.
‘We are all unique and what works for one person may not work for the next. But, once you start eliminating whole food groups, you do run the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
‘It’s not that restrictive diets such as raw or vegan can’t be followed, it’s just too easy to get them wrong.
It is for this very reason that I didn’t join in on Veganuary, but I do enjoy the odd #MeatFreeMonday, and that’s why I consider myself a flexitarian.’
Recently, Aldi launched flexitarian burgers, which were a combination of meat and beans.
And last year Byron launched a flexitarian burger made of 70% British beef and 30% sautéed mushrooms.
If the trend continues, there might soon be more options for those of us who want to occupy the middle ground between carnivore and vegan.