How to be a flexitarian

23 October 2017 by
First published: 23 May 2017

How to be a flexitarian

It’s the health world’s latest buzzword, but if you’re still unsure what it’s all about, we reveal how to be a flexitarian.

There’s no denying flexitarianism is the health word of the moment. A comfortable middle ground between being a regular meat-eater and strict vegetarian, the diet choice sees participants eat a reduced amount of meat per week, thus not restricting their intake entirely but cutting back enough to make a significant change to their diet, the environment and the welfare of animals. The term is a merging of two words – flexible and vegetarian – and although thought to have originated more than a decade ago, has recently become increasingly popular, with nearly 35 per cent of Brits now sporting the label. It may be trendy, but it’s sticking around, too: a recent study commissioned by Linda McCartney Food concludes that we’re about to see a surge in this lifestyle phenomenon.

Why the sudden interest? Many attest the movement’s current popularity to its ease and inclusivity; flexitarianism is a direction rather than a category, and as the research on excessive meat-eating soars, it’s an easy way to make a difference. Indeed, according to Mintel, almost half of Brits see meat-free products as environmentally friendly, while 52 per cent see them as healthy. Thinking of going flexitarian? We spoke to the flexi experts to find out everything you need to know.

It’s good for your health

The NHS recommends that an adult eats no more than 70g of red or processed meat per day to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even cancer,’ explains Mike Botha, owner and founder of Hooba Foods. ‘But it’s not easy to cut down on our favourite foods.’ Cue flexitarianism! ‘At Hooba we believe in less meat, not necessarily no meat at all. Even substituting one or two meals a week for a meat-free alternative can make a big difference. You may even find that reducing the meat you eat reduces your waistline, too!’

It’s good for the planet

‘Flexitarianism is not just good for you, it is good for the planet, too,’ continues Mike. ‘Seven billion people live on Earth. We rear 70 billion farm animals to feed us. That’s us well and truly outnumbered! Do we really need all these farm animals? The truth is that we don’t. We “grow” enough food to feed 12-15 billion people. You don’t need to go completely vegan to make a difference, just cutting down on your meat consumption is good for you as well as the planet.’

Meatless meals can be exciting

Myth: meat-free meals are boring! ‘If you want to enjoy your meatless meals, don’t just revert to a boring salad,’ says Lynette Sinclair from Tideford Organics. ‘Yes, plant-based foods should be at the heart of your preparation but try experimenting with different vegetables and learn a new recipe every week. Asparagus is in season right now. Drizzle some spears with a fresh white miso, tamari and mint leaf dressing and you have yourself a delicious vegetarian meal that’s gluten-free too.’ For more recipe inspiration and handy ways to get more veg into your life, sign up to Tideford’s #PledgeToEatMoreVeg newsletter at tidefordorganics.com/ethos/.

It’s not a sacrifice

Get in the positive mindset!’ encourages Gary Johnson, chef and product developer for Goodlife. ‘More and more people now want to cut down on the amount of meat they eat – for lots of different reasons. Whether it’s for a healthier lifestyle, environmental concerns or just because they want to get more veg into their diet. It’s not a sacrifice, it’s an enhancement.’ You might also see a posivite change to your bank account, too. Vegetarian meals are, on average, 60 per cent cheaper than meat-based equivalents.

Start small

The beauty of flexitarianism is that it’s not restrictive. Sure, you can still enjoy meat, but you can also enjoy the art of experimenting without it. The key? Making small changes. ‘Being flexitarian is all about making small, simple changes, it’s not a fad,’ explains Gary. ‘You could just be taking part in Meat-Free Monday or switching to a veggie option for a few nights a week – it’s easy to fit into everyday life. Start small and build up the amount of vegetarian meals you eat – that way you have more chance of making the change a permanent one.’

Try something new

‘It can be daunting to try anything new for the first time and food is no exception. We all like what we like,’ admits Gary. ‘However, life is about experiencing all the great tastes that are out there. Combinations like beetroot and feta cheese, that we put into our sausages, are so good we can’t believe they’re not top of everyone’s menu. We’ve worked hard in our kitchen at Goodlife HQ so you don’t have to. So try something new, make good choices for yourself and your family and you’ll never look back.’ Still stuck for inspo? Head over to goodlife.co.uk, where you’ll find a whole host of simple veggie dinner ideas. A Goodlife mushroom and spinach kiev served with a side of greens and sweet potato, for example, will have the whole family satisfied.

Love your freezer

Centring your meals on veggies can have its problems. Products can perish faster, buying fresh can be harder and then there’s the horror of an unripe avocado. Bethan Hamilton, national educator and nutritionist at Vega, has the solution. ‘I know that feeling when we find our fruit and veg has gone off. That’s why I’m a big fan of stocking up my freezer,’ she says. ‘Each morning I can grab a handful of frozen fruit to whizz up a delish breakfast smoothie, and in the evening, I can use my frozen veggies to throw in a stir fry or make a batch of chunky soup to last a week!’

Keep an eye on protein

A common worry is that you cannot get all of your protein needs from a plant-based diet,’ says Bethan. ‘However, simply by including a variety of veggies, beans, nuts, seeds and wholegrains in your diet, you can get all your essential protein building blocks.’ If you’re still concerned, or living a lifestyle that requires a higher protein intake (training a lot, for example), Bethan recommends a plant-based protein supplement. ‘If you want a convenient source of plant-based protein, incorporating Vega into your diet can make things quick and easy. Vega Clean Protein is a complete, multi-source blend of premium plant-based protein made from pea, hemp, alfalfa and pumpkin, while Vega Essentials is made from pea, flaxseed and hemp.’

Meal prep is your friend

It might seem like a pain at the time, but planning and prepping your meals is the easiest way to ensure you’re making conscious food choices throughout the week. ‘Plan what you are going to eat during the week,’ says Bethan. ‘It will take away the stress of late-night rummaging for dinner inspiration, and you’ll also use up exactly what you’ve purchased, saving you time and money! A personal favourite is using leftover butternut squash to make a risotto for my weekday lunch. That way I’m sorted with a delicious midday meal, Monday to Friday.’

Get inspired

‘Follow plant-based bloggers, subscribe to a plant-based magazine or treat yourself to a brand new cookbook,’ advises Bethan. ‘Whatever works for you, there’s a huge variety of plant-based recipes that will inspire you to get in the kitchen and make them from scratch. Build up your own collection of plant-based meals you want to try!’ It might also help to start being that person and taking pictures of your food – that way you’ll be constantly motivated to eat Instagram-worthy rainbow meals that are exciting, tasty and wholly nutritious. ‘Think Instagram-worthy bowls!’ says Bethan. ‘Layer up with piles of different coloured fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans and wholegrains. Not only will this look like a piece of art, it will help to keep you fuller for longer with the variety of plant-based foods on your plate which all have different proportions of vitamins, minerals and fibre.’

Want more? Learn about reductionism here or discover how to eat your way to recovery.