If you like to follow trends, in my opinion, this is the one to choose when it comes to healthy eating:flexitarianism. In essence, it is the same plan that many of us in the nutrition field teach our clients without giving it a name. But if all it takes for people out there to become interested in healthy eating is a fashionable term, that is fine with me!
A flexitarian is a person whose diet is mostly vegetarian but sometimes includes meat, fish and poultry. The word became popular in 2008 with the publication of the book “The Flexitarian Diet” and is now constantly used when talking about healthier ways to eat.
Many vegetarians don’t really like the term flexitarian or semi-vegetarian (another common way of saying it), however, the reality is that both “currents” are mainly choosing this lifestyle for the same reasons: health benefits, animal rights, or environmental protection.
Choosing vegetarianism as a lifestyle in the United States is not that common. Despite the fact that the numbers have been growing in the last decades, according to a study done by Vegetarian Times and Live Science, only 3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet.
Why? Well, being a vegetarian is not always easy. At least not if you want to do it the right way. By that I mean, really having a plant-based diet.
Unfortunately, many vegetarians don’t take the time to learn about what they’ve chosen as a lifestyle: they don’t learn how to cook, how to eat the right foods so that nutrition deficiencies are not developed, and most importantly don’t commit to the basic premise of this system: to eat more veggies!
It worries me to see vegetarians that rely mostly on refined carbohydrates, cheese (if allowed by their type of vegetarianism), sugar, and excessive amounts of soy products that try to “mimic” the meat versions of them (e.g. sausages, burgers, and other types of deli meats).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m against vegetarianism. I admire those who follow it in its true essence. I have witnessed in my circle of friends and fellow nutritionists that when done right, vegetarianism is one of the healthiest ways of eating. But once again, it requires lots of dedication and a body of knowledge that supports your food choices on a daily basis. Besides, it is not a system that works for everybody as we’re all biochemically different and therefore have different nutrient needs.
I think that being a flexitarian is the “happy middle” between being and omnivore and being a vegetarian. As the term suggests, it is a “flexible” system. So in my opinion, you don’t have to follow specific numbers when deciding how often to eat meat, poultry or fish (I’ll just call them “meats” for simplicity).
For me, being a flexitarian is all about making a conscious decision to reduce the amount of meats and substantially increase the amount of plant-based foods that you eat. It also means to that you care and commit to improving your health.
There is enough evidence that shows the health benefits of a diet that is mostly composed of foods that come from the earth and not from animals.
A plant based-diet has a direct impact in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer; it supports the immune system, prevents type II diabetes, promotes a healthy digestion, and last but not least, helps with weight management.
So what are you waiting for? Start making an effort toreduce your dependency on meats. They’re not the only protein source in the world. How about legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)? They are delicious and budget friendly.
How about exploring new types of vegetables and including them in every meal? (yes, even breakfast! Or you’re going to tell me that you’ve never tried a delicious omelette with tons of spinach, onions and mushrooms? Well, you don’t know what you’re missing!).
Either as a trend follower or as someone who cares about their health, good luck and welcome to flexitarianism!